As if to test how much attention X-Men readers are paying to the various spin-offs and one-shots they’ve been doing, Marvel has taken the decision somewhere along to line to make this seemingly innocuous spin-off into something strangely essential to the plot.
The issue sees Storm and Gambit — characters with similar skill sets (if not powers) and a history of working together — teaming up to steal Dracula’s body from the heart of Vampire Island. It makes perfect sense to team this pair up, and strangely, this could have made for a reasonably satisfying issue of the main series, if only editorial were willing to break out of the fairly narrow idea of what an X-Men story has to be these days.
Kim’s writing is remarkably good. He has fun with Emma’s dialogue, certainly, and the story itself is nicely structured and paced. In all honesty, any writer who remembers enough X-Men history to have Gambit call Storm “Stormy,” and feels comfortable enough to reference Storm’s claustrophobia without turning it into a major plot point — well, they get my vote. It is a little unclear why, having just told Wolverine that his position in X-Force means their friendship is over, Storm feels able to kill, herself, but in fairness she does feel bad about it. Maybe that’s the difference. It’s hard to say, and probably required some editorial intervention to clean up.
Generally, though, this is strong stuff, with hints of Claremont and Morrison’s X-Men showing through at different times. Even though I don’t particularly care for the “Curse of the Mutants” storyline overall, this feels like the X-Men I grew up enjoying, but manages to avoid feeling outdated.
Artistic duties are performed by Chris Bachalo, making a welcome return to the X-Office. Bachalo’s style lost me for a while, but he’s back in fine form here. There’s a little too much of his stock-in-trade “panels slightly too small for their contents” and the zanier layouts do his fight scenes no favors, but it’s the most enjoyable I’ve seen his work be in a long time. It’s slightly worrying to see 7 inkers and 2 colorists, which suggest that someone, somewhere was running late, but thankfully it hasn’t harmed the book as much as it could have, presumably due to Bachalo’s own strong visual identity.
The big thing this book has going for it is that it is, far and away, the best thing to come out with the “Curse of the Mutants” name attached. In fact, it almost works well enough as a stand-alone piece to recommend buying even if you’re not following the ongoing story. Give it a chance, and you might be surprised.