Saturday, September 4, 2010

X-men Curse of the Mutants: Storm and Gambit - Bloody Awesome

The ongoing mutants vs. vampires story in the X-men comics has been like one of those weird hybrids you see in zoos or in biology labs that have too much money, too much free time, too much weed, or a combination of all three. It's not quite a crossover, but it's not your typical comic arc. It does have other books tie into it the same way events like Second Coming and Siege often use. Those books each fill in a certain plot hole so that the main book itself doesn't have to waste precious ink on explaining it. It's not lazy because instead of just a few pages glossing over the issue, an entire book is used to make a story out of it. That at least shows that Marvel is trying hard to tell a decent story with this whole mutants vs. vampires arc. That or their weed sucks.

In X-men #2 an incredibly fucked up sounding plan was formulated to deal with the treat posed by Xarus, the son of Dracula. Since sonny boy was trying to prove he had a bigger dick than his old man, the X-men reasoned that they needed to get the old man back in the picture so he could give said sonny boy a spanking. That meant bringing Dracula back to life. It sounds like trying to fight a forest fire with napalm, but sometimes crazy ideas make for crazy awesome stories. However, getting Dracula back to life isn't as simple as stripping naked and doing a resurrection dance in a ring of fire (although that would have still been pretty awesome). They have to get Dracula's head and body back, which were separated. Dracula's head was retrieved by Namor in the Namor: The First Mutant one-shot. Retrieving the body falls upon Storm and Gambit, two characters who have gotten such a shitty share of the spotlight that if it were a pile of blow they would be the baking soda and flour. So for once they get an entire comic that details their journey to find Dracula's body and fans of them should be pleased enough to stop their bitching.

It seems like a story that should have been told before. Storm and Gambit are two characters who go way back. It's easy to forget that they were both master thieves and their friendship goes back longer than their place in the X-men. Even though Storm is married now and Gambit is still the immature pussy hound who has that Death persona lurking inside him, they still work well together. So they're tasked with flying out to a remote Greek island where Dracula's body is being closely guarded by a hoard of vampire followers. It's not unlike the Star Trek fans that hire a full time staff to guard their mint-condition memorabilia. As expected, the island is guarded with plenty of dangers that will end up destroying yet another jet for the X-men. The way they lose these things you have to wonder where the fuck they get the money for these things and who the fuck keeps selling it to them.

They still make it onto the island in one piece. Surviving plane crashes is essentially basic training for the X-men so Storm and Gambit hardly break a sweat. The path is nicely laid out for them, but before they can get to the action the story needs an obligatory flashback to show how they got to this point. It's not completely necessary, but at least there's an effort to show how the team decided to let Gambit and Storm head up this operation. It's also a nice way to remind people that Storm has a history with Dracula. And by history I mean Dracula wanted to bone her. He was less Edward Cullen and more Bill Compton (yes, I'm still using Twilight and True Blood jokes and until they stop being so appropriate I'll still use them).

It's a short, reasonable, and witty way to fill in the blanks. It may seem contrived on the surface, but seeing as how so many comics end up glossing over big plot holes I'm not going to complain. It's like a condom. You'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Herpes sucks and it's not worth it.

So one page of flashbacks should be bearable so the next few pages make more sense. The spread is kind of like a video game that shows Storm and Gambit navigating the island, which is like a cross between Castle Doom and the Savage Land. It's an interesting style that should give Metroid fans a few mini-boners. It also shows a clear passage of time because why the hell would the body of Dracula be in a tomb that takes less than fifteen minutes to go through? Since time in comics is usually more fucked up than an LSD trip in a casino, that's a welcome shift.

It doesn't stay quiet for long though. Eventually they do run into the proverbial grave keepers and they take about as kindly to strangers as Lindsey Lohan does to rehab. But unlike Lindsey Lohan, Storm can fuck them up without getting all pissy with a Nevada judge. She uses her powers to clear the area, but given the setting that's like setting a bomb off in a toilet. You're bound to get some shit on yourself when it goes off.

This isn't a battle they gloss over either. It goes on for a few extra pages, which is nice because it's a pretty bloody battle and Storm really shines. Gambit looks kind of like a pussy in that there are a few shots where he looks like a kid caught masterbating by his mother. At one point he even gets cornered by one of the tougher looking vampires, one for which there is no Twilight or True Blood pun to utilize, and Storm has to save his ass. Instead of doing it with lightning though, she does it the old fashioned with with a sword. And there's just something about Storm using a sword to slice up vampires that brings tears to the eyes of fanboys everywhere.

The battle yields more than just a few fucked up vampires though. In wake of the carnage, a far less monstrous looking vampire offers to help Storm and Gambit. I think it's worth pointing out he does bear somewhat of a resemblance to the True Blood vampires (Eric Northman comes to mind), but I'll try to refrain from referring to him as such. Cut me some slack. The third season is almost over and I'm trying to savor it.

This guy happens to be the first son of Dracula and unlike Xarus, he's the good one. He actually wants to see his father return to the throne. He may just be brown-nosing, but Storm and Gambit do accept his help. Since they're kind of stumbling around in the dark and Storm doesn't do well in small places, they follow his lead. It's basically like trying to find Satan by trusting his snobby little nephew.

Nobody should be too surprised when this little deal doesn't exactly pan out smoothly. Not long after Storm and Gambit start following this guy, he leads them down a path that ends up with Storm falling down a hidden shaft. Not only is that bad for someone with serious claustrophobia, there are a few more ugly ass creatures to greet her. She doesn't use her powers, but she has a big fucking sword and that's more than enough for her. While some have made the case that Storm being a married woman has weakened her, those same people would best shut their yaps because she shows that even without powers she makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer look like a pussy.

This little excursion isn't a total loss in that it does lead them to their prize. They eventually wind up in Dracula's tomb where there are some fucked up rituals going on involving some poor saps hanging from a ceiling and some hot vampire chick dressed in gear that even Emma Frost may find objectionable. How that thing is held up with boobs to contain is yet another mystery that may never be explained in comics. Naturally, they don't intend to give up Dracula's body without a fight. So they do what most anyone would do when given an order by a woman dressed in a revealing outfight that hot. They listen to her and go on another blood rampage.

This time when the fighting begins, Gambit isn't so much of a pussy. He kicks most of the ass this time around because Storm is stuck listening to the poor saps hanging from the ceiling. They're not followers of these bloodsuckers. They're victims. The dilemma they face is that they need to bring down the shields to this place so the vampires don't have the home field advantage. However, that involves using her powers and the poor souls hanging from the ceiling looking to be put out of their misery will get caught in the crossfire.

It adds some nice tension as Gambit and Janus hold their own. For once, Gambit is able to kick ass without having to use that douche-bag Death persona he got from Apocalypse. Lately it seems that's been the only way he's been able to one-up anybody, namely in the Hellbound mini. Here he's his old badass self and all the Gambit fan girls out there should have wet panties after seeing these scenes.

Eventually the odds turn against them and Storm has to make her decision. It becomes by far the most dramatic part of this book. She actually has tears in her eyes when she makes her decision. She apologizes to the poor saps she can't save before making mother nature her bitch again and delivering the proverbial haymaker.

With the protective shield now destroyed, the tomb is open for anyone to waltz in for a casual Sunday picnic. Storm does take a moment to gaze over those that were unfortunately caught in the crossfire. She's far less enthused when the X-men arrive via teleportation from Magik and act as the clean-up crew. Now that they're no longer outnumbered and overmatched by the vampires, the battle quickly becomes one-sided. Between X-men like Wolverine, Psylocke, and Colossus they stand about as much chance as Paris Hilton in a spelling bee.

The fight quickly goes down against the vampires. In fact, Northstar even takes a moment to make a Twilight reference in "Go Team Jacob." Seeing as how he's gay and the guys in Twilight have been soaking panties for millions of girls, it makes sense he would be okay with that remark. To this point Marvel has avoided making Twilight comparison even though the whole mutants vs. vampires story is very clearly a blatant exploitation of the Vampire fad. Fanboys like myself don't mind riding the wave of something that's popular. We just appreciate a little honesty because nobody likes to be bullshitted.

Once the fight is over and done with the team takes the body of Dracula and returns to Utopia where X-men #3 promises to pick up. But before the comic ends on a completely predicable note, Storm does take the time to reflect a bit how she failed to save those people the vampires had trapped. She crossed a line in using her powers in a ways that put them out of their misery, albeit in a not so humane way. Gambit makes a good point that it's a hard decision and if she didn't feel bad about it, then that would be cause for concern. It's probably the most personal moment Storm has shown in a comic since her wedding and that's a welcome touch. For Storm fans, it should make this comic worth the inflated price. That whole bloody vampire fight for 99 percent of the book is just bonus.

So there you have it. A plot hole in the mutants vs. vampires arc has been effectively filled and along with Namor: The First Mutant it makes the next issue of X-men possible. It's a creative way to make an arc seem like a major event when really it's about as major as the NFL preseason. It also gives a chance for other characters to shine who haven't had many opportunities either by design or by circumstance. Storm and Gambit really get the most benefit from this little one-shot and even if you're not a fan of the whole vampire thing, they still shine with their unique twist of awesome.

It's a nice, self-contained story. However, there are some shortcomings. The art is probably the most glaring. At times it's wildly inconsistent, looking nice and detailed for a few pages and then looking like someone a kid drew in a grade school art class in others. It's not terrible. It's still a long ways away from being the nauseating page vomit of books like Ultimate Spider-Man. But it does sort of hurt the feel of the book. There are also areas where certain details aren't fully explained. Like what's the story behind those people hanging from the ceiling? It's clear they were unfortunate victims, but how did they get there? That was never explained and took some of the heart from an otherwise dramatic moment.

Overall, this is a book of surprising quality. It takes two popular characters and sends them on an action-packed mission that's full of twist, wit, and a sword-wielding Storm. That earns this book a very respectable 4 out of 5. You may not care for the mutants vs. vampires plot, but when it makes for such action-packed stories like this does it really matter? Has Twilight really traumatized you that much? If so you have more problems than this book can help with and I recommend a healthy dose of True Blood as treatment. Once that gets the Cullen out of your system, pick this book up. It's worth it!

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