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A not-so-intriguing tale of X-Men and Spider-Man in the sewer trying to save some angry geeks from mysterious kidnappers and more than a handful of sewer lizards is mostly saved by Chris Bachalo’s fantastic passionate art, even when it veers off the map a bit.

Wolverine, Storm, Gambit, Emma Frost, and Spider-Man continue to track down some angry “losers” that are spewing venom online and have been abducted. The mystery guest in charge of the lizard kidnappers is finally revealed in this issue and it’s a decent surprise. Unfortunately some other surprises don’t fare as well. The issue ends on a high note, though, with our X-Men in serious and intriguing peril.

The writing and plotting here by Victor Gischler is adequate. There are occasional bits of very fun dialogue, usually by Wolverine, Spidey, or the always bitchily charming Emma Frost. However, the arc, several issue in now, continues to have more bark than bite. Poor Storm and Gambit are relegated to the unsatisfying straight-men rolls, delivering the flavorless functional lines that drive the plot forward. Both characters could be deleted from the tale with little affect to the overall story. This piece of Gischler’s story is set up to deliver at least three big moments, which is kind of a lot for a 20-page book, but the penultimate reveal has surprisingly little punch, which lets the air out of a lot of the build up they’re working toward in this issue.

As usual, Bachalo’s art has an unbridled enthusiasm that is contagious. He pulls out all the stops in “X-Men” #9 the same way he would the biggest crossover event book or a favorite pet project. Bachalo’s art is risky, which means that it doesn’t always pay off, occasionally resulting in muddy too dark panels or storytelling that doesn’t quite work. However the highs he reaches by taking those risks are well worth the occasional lows. This issue is no exception; Watching Wolverine slice up lizards in a sewer as rendered by Bachalo is some of the most fun comics reading you’ll get this month. Additionally, the character design work Bachalo does here is phenomenal, although he drops the ball a bit on the second surprise, as visually it’s not nearly as exciting as we’re led to believe. There’s a richness to Bachalo’s work that requires second and third reads. It’s unfortunate in this case that the story can’t live up to the art in that same rich way.

Overall this series has been underwhelming in areas, but Bachalo’s art raises it up to one of the more interesting X-books out there. It’s worth picking up every month just to find out what visual surprises Bachalo has in store.