Tuesday, 10 January 2012
UXM Annual #6: "Blood Feud!"
I still don't understand how scepticism can work in the Marvel Universe. Some poor berk from Bard College gets mocked at the start of this annual purely for asking whether his lecturer Rachel van Helsing is related to the guy who showed up in "that stuff Bram Stoker wrote about?". This question earns him derision from Rachel and from his friends, but this is a world in which superheroes are practically commonplace, and magic too. There's a guy a few miles down the road who calls himself the Sorcerer Supreme, and no-one bats an eyelid. And yet you'll still be mocked for asking if vampires are real? Hell, even if they didn't exist yesterday, they might be around now, a by-product of a magical experiment, or as new foot-troops slapped together by HYDRA. I'm not advocating a policy of total gullibility, or anything, but I'd think there'd be very little someone living on Earth-616 would want to dismiss out of hand (especially when you really are one of Van Helsing's relatives, and you get jumped by Dracula only a few panels later).
But I digress. Actually, can you digress if you haven't actually started yet? Put another way, am I digressing from a digression?
Anyway, we've got 39 pages to get through, best make a start. We've been away from the mansion for a little while: let's check in. Gosh, who would have thought it? Katherine Pryde is throwing a hissy fit. Her parents have decided that their recent attempts at reconciliation aren't going to work, and have split up for good. Naturally, Kitty is convinced this is all about her, and is more than willing to tell anyone counselling understanding rather than another strop-pocalypse that she hates them because they're taking her parents' side (whatever that even means) and everything is unfair and rubbish and rubbishly unfair and she wishes she was dead. Or something.
This is not the first time I've sung this song, of course, but to reiterate - an awful lot of teenagers are entirely unbearable, and the fact that this particular one is believably unbearable doesn't stop her being a horrible pain to read. It's like being a teacher again, without the ability to assign detention.
Clearly Storm has had enough as well, because later that night, having regressed back into the undead state of mind Dracula pushed her into back in UXM #159, Kitty is the first person she bites. Shame Kitty wasn't wearing her Star of David necklace, huh? Perhaps she's given up on Judaism and started worshipping her own stupid whiny face, like seemingly everybody who was reading this comic at the time.
(Of course, maybe Ororo just chose Kitty at random for her first port of call. After all, it's... any port if you're Storm? Huh? Huh?)
Ororo works her way through the rest of her comrades, "Granting each a moment of supreme ecstasy before casting them into eternal oblivion." Sounds a bit like a girl I used to know. With her team-mates dead and drained, Storm changes herself into a bat, flies to Dracula, and then lets him screw her.
OR DOES SHE?
No, she doesn't! Obviously. It was actually a narrative device based around a phenomenon we've all experienced, known as "dreaming". God job we sorted that out. Storm is convinced the dream was a summons from Dracula himself, which means he's broken his promise to leave her alone. She heads out into the night to confront him.
Kitty watches her go, but her thoughts are strange. "She answers the call. At last, the final game is afoot." I'm not sure what's gotten into Sprite, but at least she isn't bawling and screaming any more. If she is possessed, I say let's give it a chance for a while. Believing she needs help, "Kitty" seeks out Peter, and either hypnotises, kills, or fucks him, it's pretty hard to say.
A day later, and Storm has reached the source of Dracula's call, a castle in Cornwall, of all places (maybe hard cider and clotted cream makes the blood taste sweeter). She makes her entrance - and her point - by blasting apart the front gate, and striding in. There she meets Rachel vH, who now describes herself as "Dracula's... consort", and soon after, the man himself.
Storm demands to know why Dracula has broken his word, which is really kind of like asking a rottweiler why it ate that delicious bone whilst your back was turned. Dracula is less than impressed by her tone, but he's in a good mood this evening - he knows that Storm will return to his service sooner or later; once she finally shuffles off this mortal coil, she will be born anew as a vampire. Such, indeed, was Rachel's fate, Dracula's enemy in life, she is his thrall now she is dead. Dracula admits that he had little choice but to summon Ororo to aid him, and Storm admits that she has even less choice than to help him out, though in exchange for her ceasing to struggle, she has Dracula agree to keeping the other X-Men out of whatever caper he has planned, and that no-one be hurt.
Dracula, it transpires, is interested in Storm's skills as a thief - he wants Ororo to steal a book steeped in anti-vampire law from a building too holy for him to enter (in a town named Pendarrow - I presume Claremont is referring Pencarrow, but perhaps he's nodding to Constance Fecher), placed there by Rachel whilst she was still alive. Not even Rachel knows every trap in the place, though, a precaution in the event she ended up in this exact situation. Storm's talents are sufficient to get her some way inside, but before she can reach her goal, she's shot in the back by a crossbow-wielding Kitty. Storm can tell something is up with her kitten (perhaps the lack of unbearable solipsism?), and with Colossus, who's shown up too. Whoever or whatever is wearing Kitty's face has come for the book as well, intent on destroying their "beloved sire" Dracula. Storm hasn't time to figure out what any of this means, her wound is bleeding at a worrying rate and the local security guards have just shown up.
Desperate to escape, though worryingly hazy on the subject of exactly what context of "escape" she's going for, Ororo throws herself out the window. She's too badly hurt too fly, but man-bat Dracula grabs her, and whisks her away.
Phew. That's gotten us through to the point where a normal issue would have ended. If anyone has got this far through, I'd suggest grabbing a choc-ice or a dead seagull from the foyer.
Ororo is dreaming - the same dream we've seen her endure before, ending with her screaming beneath a pile of Egyptian rubble beside the broken bodies of her parents. She awakes to find herself buried again - Dracula has enclosed her in a coffin. And he's drunk all of that blood that was pouring out of her back. What a classy guy. Still, I guess he figured it didn't really matter, since next on the agenda is turning Storm into a vampire so she can help him track down and kill Kitty, and burn her book to ashes.
But Big D ain't the only letter in this game, and Ororo is saved at the last moment by her fellow X-Men bursting in. They've traced the Blackbird - which Kitty has stolen - and then Storm's scent. Our heroes have the upper hand to begin with, as they have the element of surprise, but Dracula and Rachel have the element of being hideously powerful motherfucking vampires, and the tide of battle soon turns. That's when pseudo-Kitty shows up, with her hypnotised Colossus still in tow, and Dracula decides he's better off retreating into the catacombs beneath the castle and picking people off one by one. Ur-Kitty follows just behind, as does Colossus, despite receiving a massive stone block to the spine. Clearly Nada-Kitty chose the right minion to enslave - if you're looking for someone who can mindlessly follow you and not get hurt, Colossus is definitely your man. Hell, it wouldn't even be appreciably different from his standard MO.
Cyclops suggests the clearly wounded (to say nothing of frequently mind-controlled) Storm stay on the sidelines, but she is of course having none of it (apparently her magical clothing-change powers are back as well; I thought that idea had been wisely abandoned as far too silly), despite the only thing that scares her more than falling victim to Dracula is heading into the cramped catacombs. The team take the Eyebeam Express to the lower levels, to find Colossus trading blows with Dracula. Storm confronts Rachel whilst the team take on Dracula. The latter fight goes badly when Dracula bites Wolverine and enthrals him, but the struggle to control so much frees Rachel, though she can't persuade Ororo to kill her and end her suffering. Meanwhile, whilst the Deemeister is distracted, non-Kitty arrives to begin the chant. Nightcrawler recognises the spell as being from an ancient grimoire, the Darkhold, which takes one's soul in payment.
(How does Nightcrawler know that? There's a story that would be worth the telling, I think.)
'Crawler manages to distract fake-Kitty long enough to stop the spell, and Dracula does the rest, forcing her to reveal her true form as Dracula's Daughter! And yes, that is the title of a horror film, though surprisingly not by Hammer, which presumably means far less bosom-heaving and soft-core lesbianism.
Whilst Dracula is busy dealing with his distracted daughter, he too is distracted! The irony! This gives Rachel enough room to stake Dracula, and burn him up with a crucifix (which almost finishes her off as well as it burns into her palms). Once he's dead and conveniently buried by a cave-in (almost as though Claremont didn't want them to retrieve the body!), Rachel asks to be staked herself, atop the cliffs of Cornwall, before the sun rises. Naturally, Wolverine volunteers, though he ends the girl's life rather more tenderly than you might have expected. This, of course, is far from his last ever opportunity to practise the manoeuvre.
In return for finishing off Dracula, Lilith (who clearly has daddy issues) releases Kitty and makes good her escape (after some hideously clunky exposition to explain why no-one is left under Dracula's power, or her own, in the case of Colossus), and everything is more or less back to normal. Phew!
This story takes place over the course of two nights.
There are some fairly severe continuity problems with this annual. It clearly has to take place after the team's initial encounter with Dracula in UXM #159, an issue which itself specifically references the events of UXM #157. That however contained the final part of the story in which Xavier lapsed into a coma from which we've not seen him awaken. Yet here Colossus is writing an essay on American history due in when Xavier "gets back from Muir Island." When last we saw him, he was on Magneto's Island, and certainly wasn't in any fit state to mark coursework. The sudden reappearance of Cyclops (last seen visiting his brother along with their father) is also a little strange, but mainly I'm struggling to understand why any of them are in the mansion, given that a) they were all (save Scott) on Magneto's Island in UXM #160, and b) the mansion was completely destroyed in UXM #154.
Maybe there's an explanation coming up in later issues (though I vaguely remember this not being the case), but until then, we'll just have to assume someone has rebuilt the mansion (maybe Angel, since he has the money and probably the time), and that Colossus got tongue-tied talking to Kitty. It's far from a perfect fix, but you can only work with what you're given, right?
Sunday 13th to Monday 14th of May, 1983.