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Thursday, August 16, 2012

X-amining X-Men Annual #6

"Blood Feud!"
1982

In a Nutshell
The X-Men fight Dracula. Again. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciller: Bill Seinkiewicz
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In upstate New York, Rachel Van Helsing returns home to discover Dracula waiting for her. Meanwhile, at the X-Mansion, Kitty is tremendously upset upon learning her parents are getting divorced, and runs off to her room, where she fails to notice an encroaching shadow. That night, Storm dreams of draining the X-Men's blood and reuniting with Dracula. When she awakens, she realizes Dracula is summoning her and departs to meet him, unwilling to endanger her friends' lives. Kitty watches her go, then attacks Colossus. Storm arrives at a manor in Cornwall, and is greeted by Rachel, now a vampiric thrall of Dracula. Breaking his word to release his hold on her, Dracula sends Storm to steal the Darkhold, a book containing the Montessi Formula, a spell capable of destroying Dracula once and for all. Once she retrieves the book, she's attacked by Kitty and Colossus, the later now a vampire, who take the book for themselves and leave Ororo to flee the police with Dracula.


Later, Storm awakens in Dracula's crypt as he's about to fully turn her into a vampire in order to use her against Kitty. Just then, the X-Men arrive, having traced the Blackbird Kitty stole, and attack. When Kitty and Colossus join the fray, Dracula escapes through the manor's catacomb. The X-Men follow and Wolverine is bitten by Dracula, turning him against his teammates. Kitty attempts to use the Montessi Formula, but is stopped by Nightcrawler, who says using the spell would have cost Kitty her soul. Realizing Kitty is being possessed by his daughter Lilith, Dracula calls her out, but is staked by Rachel. The X-Men and Rachel escape as the manor collapses around them, and Wolverine stakes Rachel to spare her the agony of death by sunlight. Lilith-as-Kitty reappears, explaining how she sought to destroy her father using the Montessi Formula, possessing Kitty and enthralling Colossus to that end. Telling the X-Men that with Dracula's death, Storm and Wolverine will be free of his control, she disappears, leaving Kitty with no memory of her recent actions. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue opens as Kitty learns her parents are getting divorced.

In addition to Dracula, the villain of this story is Lilith, Dracula's daughter (not to be confused with Lilith, the Ghost Rider villain from the 90s). In a nutshell, she was transformed into a vampire (but one with different weaknesses than the traditional vampire) by a gypsy curse and set to forever haunt Dracula. Whenever she dies, she reappears by taking over the body of someone else (usually a woman who hates Dracula and wants to see him defeated). She bummed around Marvel's various horror and occult titles in the 70s and the early 80s before "dying" for good, though judging from Wikipedia, she's since popped up again.


Like Lilith, Rachel Van Helsing (granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula's enemy from Bram Stoker's novel) comes from Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series, where she was a frequent antagonist of the title character. Oddly enough, it seems her death in this issue, after first being turned into a vampire by Dracula, has stuck, something of an ignoble end for the character, on a few different levels...


Both the Darkhold and the Montessi Formula are also staples of Marvel's horror/occult titles. I believe that Dr. Strange will eventually use the Montessi Formula to eliminate all the vampires on Earth, though as so often happens with these things, it weakens over time and vampires come back. 

A Work in Progress
It's said that Professor X is on Muir Isle during this story (it's also kind of cute that Colossus is doing homework, one of the few times we see the new X-Men doing that). 


Storm has a nightmare of the day her parents were killed and she was trapped in rubble. 


Nightcrawler is aware of the Darkhold and is able to recognize it by sight. 


Storm snaps at Cyclops that she's the leader of the team.


Though Rachel has been transformed into a vampire and seeking death, Storm is unable to kill her.


Later, Wolverine puts her out of her misery.


In addition to Storm, both Wolverine and Colossus are at least partially turned into vampires in the course of the story, though they're all returned to normal by the end of the issue. 

I Love the 80s
Kitty has Rolling Stones posters in her bedroom.


Young Love
A Lilith-possessed Kitty tries to seduce Colossus before turning him into a vampire in a scene that reads an awful lot like sexual assault. 


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops Kitty
Learning about her parents' divorce, Kitty displays some mad awesome angst.


Teebore's Take Obviously, this issue is a sequel to Uncanny X-Men #159, but while that issue was a successful attempt to drop the X-Men into gothic romance, the follow-up falls flat. Bill Seinkiewicz returns to pencil the story, and though his panel layout and figure work are just as strong, the art this time around lacks the mood and atmosphere of the first story. The X-Men are only tangentially necessary to the story: Storm's connection to Dracula (which, it's revealed out of plot necessity, Dracula didn't sever after all) provides their in, but otherwise, they are simply pawns in a struggle between Dracula and his daughter (and Lilith's plot is ridiculously complicated). Claremont tries to get some mileage out of the various character's approaches to killing their enemies (chiefly Storm), but that material was handled ad nauseum (and better) in the Brood story. Once more, nothing here is terrible, but it's all rather perfunctory and unnecessary. Which, unfortunately, pretty much sums up all the annuals from this era.  

Next Issue
We look at Special Edition X-Men #1, featuring Dave Cockrum's final regular X-Men work, and then the intercompany X-Men/Teen Titans crossover.  

7 comments:

  1. Agreed that this isn't a great sequel to, as I've said before, one of my personal single favorite X-Men issues of all time, #159. But I always love seeing more Bill S. in Neal Adams mode.

    As an anal kid, it bugged me that this annual really didn't fit neatly anywhere in continuity. This is probably the best place for it, but wasn't Cyclops just about to leave with his dad to go meet his grandparents? As much as I love Cyclops, it's really his inclusion in the issue that makes it hard to place. If he wasn't here, I would assume he was in Alaska while the X-Men were fighting Dracula.

    But Claremont never seemed that concerned with where his annuals fit (as seen most painfully with the Longshot/Mojo/X-Babies annual in a few years). Which seems odd because he went out of his way to make limited series fit, as we'll see soon with Wolverine being written out of the main title for his solo series.

    "This issue opens as Kitty learns her parents are getting divorced."

    For some reason I feel like Kitty learned this a lot. I know every issue is someone's first, plus maybe I'm misremembering, but I thought her parents' divorce was mentioned like it was a new development about three or four times.

    "Oddly enough, it seems her death in this issue, after first being turned into a vampire by Dracula, has stuck..."

    And as Rachel's creator, Marv Wolfman, said here, "I resented Chris killing off Rachel Van Helsing for no apparent reason."

    (It's part of a longer diatribe on comic book death in general.)

    "Nightcrawler is aware of the Darkhold and is able to recognize it by sight."

    Recognizing it on sight is a bit much (but then again I guess his mom was a witch after all), but I love that whenever someone/something of European origin is introduced into a story, Nightcrawler is familiar with the subject. First there was Dr. Doom, then Dracula himself, and now the Darkhold.

    "We look at Special Edition X-Men #1, featuring Dave Cockrum's final regular X-Men work, and then the intercompany X-Men/Teen Titans crossover."

    Wow, two Claremont X-Men stories I've never read! Though I do own the Special Edition story in a Marvel Masterworks volume. I should check it out before next week.

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  2. @Matt: As an anal kid, it bugged me that this annual really didn't fit neatly anywhere in continuity.

    That's okay, it bugs me now. I do think this is the best place for it, but it still doesn't really fit. In addition to the Cyclops issue you mention, Kitty makes no mention of being demoted which, given her reaction in #168, seems odd (granted, this is a problem shared by Special Edition X-Men #1) and, in general, it doesn't feel right that the X-Men are just back at the mansion, doing homework while Xavier is apparently on Muir Isle, following everything that happened in #167.

    But, this issue has to follow issue #159 but can't occur immediately thereafter (which is where some chronologies place it) because it opens at the mansion. So it has to occur after the X-Men return from space (and the mansion has been rebuilt). I suppose you could maybe put it in between #173 and #174 (which is where I'm placing the unintentionally hilarious X-Men at the Dallas State Fair issue for lack of a better place), but that's moving it out pretty far from its original on-sale date.

    (Now that I think about it, isn't it kinda odd that we never get a reaction from any of the X-Men to the mansion being rebuilt and the Bermuda Island base being abandoned?)

    As you said, the annuals definitely seem to be an afterthought to Claremont, at least until Art Adams comes aboard, in terms of story and continuity (though the Longshot one is the most egregious example of the continuity problem). I wonder if maybe it's because he doesn't know, when writing them, exactly when they'll be published, and thus, can't slot them as easily into the regular series? But then, you'd think he'd just write a spot in for them later in the series, like with Wolverine and his LS.

    For some reason I feel like Kitty learned this a lot.

    Me too. Part of it, I think, is that she learns they're separated, then that they're trying to work it out, then that they're ultimately getting divorced. But if memory serves, I don't think she "learns" about the divorce again after this, though I'm sure it comes up.

    And as Rachel's creator, Marv Wolfman, said here, "I resented Chris killing off Rachel Van Helsing for no apparent reason."

    I can't begrudge Wolfman that sentiment one bit. If Claremont had done it as part of significant story or to impart a significant theme or something, it'd be more defensible, but here it reads like the death of a one-off character when she was very much not that.

    I love that whenever someone/something of European origin is introduced into a story, Nightcrawler is familiar with the subject.

    At this point it's getting dangerously close to being laughable/unrealistic, but I do enjoy it as well. And it helps that most of his European knowledge has pertained to more occult-ish things and not, say, the ins and out of Europe's economic situation.

    I should check it out before next week.

    It won't take you long: the actual story, aside from the reprint of Giant Size X-Men #1, is only about ten pages. I considered skipping it, but the Marvel index covers it, it's considered part of the series, and it does feature Cockrum drawing the X-Men.

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  3. I get that red = blood, but I'd have liked this cover better with a moodier background color — maybe a purple, with the block relief of the logo in red instead.

    WTF is up with Kitty's hair in the opening pages?

    I'm not so sure that a 13/14-year-old girl in 1982 — or Kitty, anyway — would have a Rolling Stones poster in her room.

    Scott doesn't sleep with a ruby-quartz nightmask or anything?

    Caption: "Roughly 3,000 miles separate the shores of the United States from those of England. Storm flies it in a day..."

    Me: "... and her arrival will be broadcast later tonight on NBC."

    Sienkiewicz not only draws Wolverine too tall, he gives his mask wildly large flaps. And he shows two separate beams coming from Cyclops' visor.

    Cyclops: "I don't believe it -- she transformed into mist!"

    Me: "You're a frakking mutant superhero, Cyclops. You've seen this kind of thing before."

    Cyclops: "The passage might be booby-trapped!"

    Me: "Well, Kitty's safe then. Up high! So when does How I Met Your Mother start up again?"

    I still don't get how Storm can instantly change into her costume.

    What language is Kitty/Lilith chanting? It doesn't appear to be entirely Latin.

    Apparently Black Canary and The Scarlet Witch share a storage locker and that Lilith stole their clothes.

    On the scale of abrupt epiloguey things, the last page isn't quite "Lykos! You're cured!" but it's close.

    I'm not halfway as enamored of the story or the art in this annual, honestly, as I was of the tighter, moodier story in #159.

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  4. it's also kind of cute that Colossus is doing homework

    On tiny sheets of paper...!

    Peter's writing left-handed. Is that a mistake, a revelation, or a reinforcement of a known fact that I forgot?

    Though Rachel has been transformed into a vampire and seeking death, Storm is unable to kill her.

    Yeah, I call frumious bandersnatch on that.

    Kitty has Rolling Stones posters in her bedroom..

    Ditto (see my earlier comment).

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  5. I'd like to point out we got two Pieta covers in a row!

    I'm not sure what it says about me, but when I first saw the cover I saw Kitty's legs and arms as Storm's legs...pretty much meaning Storm was spread eagle.

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  6. Blam -- "Sienkiewicz not only draws Wolverine too tall, he gives his mask wildly large flaps. And he shows two separate beams coming from Cyclops' visor."

    Yes, he seems more off-model here than he was in issue #159. My first thought would be "different inker", but Wiacek did both issues, so I'm not sure what the difference could be other than Sienkiewicz's evolving style.

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  7. @Blam: I'm not so sure that a 13/14-year-old girl in 1982 — or Kitty, anyway — would have a Rolling Stones poster in her room.

    I wondered about that too. Probably Seinkiewicz or Wiacek is a fan.

    Scott doesn't sleep with a ruby-quartz nightmask or anything?

    I'm pretty sure when we see him sleeping it's via Storm's dream, so the absence can be excused that way.

    Me: "... and her arrival will be broadcast later tonight on NBC."

    Ha!

    And he shows two separate beams coming from Cyclops' visor.

    Yeah, I almost posted that panel. He doesn't even do it consistently.

    I still don't get how Storm can instantly change into her costume.

    So long as you asked exactly zero follow-up questions, unstable molecules.

    (This is a corollary to the "he does it magnetically rule that applies to similar questions about Magneto).

    Apparently Black Canary and The Scarlet Witch share a storage locker and that Lilith stole their clothes.

    Double ha!

    I'm not halfway as enamored of the story or the art in this annual, honestly, as I was of the tighter, moodier story in #159.

    #159 was a much, much better issue. Honestly, I think my recollection of this issue tainted my recollection of #159, because I remember not liking it much until re-reading it for this series. Now I think I was just remembering this one...

    Peter's writing left-handed. Is that a mistake, a revelation, or a reinforcement of a known fact that I forgot?

    Hmm...as far I know, either option B or C (including myself in C).

    Yeah, I call frumious bandersnatch on that.

    Indeed. Also, "Frumious Bandersnatch" is my new band name.

    @Dr. Bitz: I'd like to point out we got two Pieta covers in a row!

    Hey, good catch! I totally missed that.

    I'm not sure what it says about me, but when I first saw the cover I saw Kitty's legs and arms as Storm's legs...pretty much meaning Storm was spread eagle.

    I'm pretty sure whatever that is saying isn't saying anything we didn't already know. :)

    @Matt: My first thought would be "different inker", but Wiacek did both issues, so I'm not sure what the difference could be other than Sienkiewicz's evolving style.

    I too thought "different inker" as well at first. I even went back and double checked that Wiacek did issue #159. >shrug<

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