[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
Released only four months after Uncanny X-Men #159 (“Night Screams”), to which it is a sequel, X-Men Annual #6 features more work by Bill Sienkiewicz. Inked by Bob Wiacek, Sienkiewicz’s Neal-Adams-esque pencils are once again gorgeous, but the story here lacks the impact of “Night Screams.” At almost twice the page count, “Blood Feud” can’t possibly recapture the laser-beam intensity of its precursor. And the powerful mood of Gothic horror that was so persuasive in Uncanny #159 proves difficult for Claremont to maintain at this greater length. After a strong, eerily hallucinogenic beginning wherein a nightmare of Kitty’s apparently metamorphoses into a more gruesome nightmare of Storm’s (the entire sequence strikingly colored by Glynis Oliver), matters swiftly lose focus, and the creepy mood created by the grotesquerie of the opening is leeched away by a needlessly over-extemporized plot.
Uncanny #159 maintained its tone of horror even when it settled into superheroic proceedings, thanks to the clarity and simplicity of the premise: X-Men vs. Dracula, no more, no less. Here, matters are much more weirdly tangled. Storm teams up with Dracula against her will while Kitty is possessed by Dracula’s daughter, Lilith (who is a vampire but not a vampire, but still vulnerable to certain anti-vampire spells, but not when she is possessing Kitty ...?). Also, half the X-Men get bitten by vampires, but by the end are fine. (Colossus is not a vampire because he “didn’t lose enough blood.” Well, that’s convenient.)
And apropos of nothing, Claremont writes the last stand of “Rachel Van Helsing,” the only character in this story with a proper and fully fleshed out character arc. Which would be excellent if we cared about Rachel Van Helsing, but why should we?
In terms of continuity, X-Men Annual #6 has the dubious canonical distinction of being the issue in which Kitty’s parents finally split up. The divorce was alluded to as being imminent in Kitty’s very first appearance back in 1979. Here, in the 1982 annual, this extremely light background thread is concluded. Much is made of the split early on, with Sienkiewicz taking an almost sadistic delight in delineating Kitty’s manic teenage angst. If Claremont were in better form, he surely would have tied in the Dracula/Lilith material to Kitty’s familial woes, perhaps making the entire struggle into some kind of metaphor to give this story an emotional resonance. But, as with the previous three annuals, Claremont again just can’t be bothered.
Geoff has noted that Joss Whedon seems to have learned everything he knows about serial writing from Chris Claremont. But the lesson in how to do a good vampire story that also incorporates teen angst ...? Clearly Whedon picked that one up somewhere else.