As above, so below: I've told you about my guilty pleasure of the year already, and now it's time for its opposite number: The book I kept buying, just out of dread curiosity and something indefinable: X-MEN. Or, to use its subtitle, X-Men: Curse Of The Mutants. Or, to use the title it should've had, X-Men: No, Seriously, What The Hell Is This. You may remember, before this series launched, such solicitation promises as "Why have vampires targeted the mutant population? And who's the jaw-dropping new member of the X-Men? The answers to these questions will dramatically alter the Marvel Universe" and "The Curse of The Mutants leaves the X-Men forever scarred!" And, having read the six issue core storyline in full now, I have to say: I think I might be the one scarred from this experience.
It's not so much that the series is bad, because it's not - It's just that it's also not good, or even okay. It's barely there, a void with a trace of lackadaisical contract fulfillment all the way through it. Even allowing for the traditional hyperbole of hype that surrounds any new project launch, X-Men is a staggering disappointment considering what was promised: Yes, Paco Diaz's art is nice enough, but the story... the story... Well, let's start by answering those questions from the solicit, shall we?
Why have vampires targeted the mutant population? Because Dracula's son - who's now in charge of all the vampires, having killed his dad off in an earlier comic that really should've been part of this run, but isn't because, hey, it's comics - wants them to team-up against the humans or something. I'm not entirely sure what his plan actually is, and it never really gets properly explained beyond "You're a minority! We're a minority! We're the same! As long as you ignore that we're undead and want to destroy humanity, but details!"
Who's the jaw-dropping new member of the X-Men? No-one. I think this bears repeating: No-one joins the X-Men during the course of this story. Sure, Blade comes along and helps out, but joining the team? Not so much. Maybe jaws were supposed to drop because it didn't happen. Anyway, he's gone by the end of the sixth issue.
Oh, and here's an extra one: What about the Marvel Universe has been dramatically altered as a result of this storyline? Nothing. In fact, let's be completely honest: Beyond Jubilee being turned into a vampire, the only thing that this storyline did was undo the death of Dracula and rise to power of Dracula's previously unknown son Xarius, which only happened a month before X-Men #1 came out. So, instead of dramatically altering the Marvel Universe, this storyline actually restored the status quo, more or less. "Dramatic!"
I can't help but think that this storyline was rewritten somewhere along the line, maybe in response to it not really having the sales and/or fan impact that it was supposed to. Part of that is due to that whole "restoring the status quo" thing, but it's also because I'd like to give Victor Gischler the credit for not having always planned to have what should've been a large scale set-piece (The amassed vampire army attacking the X-Men's floating island base) happen, essentially, off-panel. Or, for that matter, plot devices like "We remote-control switched off Wolverine's healing power so that he could become a vampire and now that he is a vampire, we're remote-control switching his healing power back on and look! He's normal again and he'll kill all the vampires! Off panel!"
I may be too kind in giving Gischler that credit, mind you; there's a lot happening off-panel throughout this storyline, not least of which the death of Dracula and recovering of his body, both of which happen in other comics altogether, despite being fairly central to the plot here. Never mind the fact that, after he's brought back to life by the X-Men, Dracula pretty much leaves the book until he shows up to take command of the vampires again, which - par for the course here - happens without much drama or reason to be interested. That's a weird hallmark of the six issues here: Everything that you feel should have some level of dramatic tension, interest or whatever just... happens. Sure, there may be some posturing from one or more of the characters, but there's never any excitement or resolution or anything that the reader actually gets to experience. In six whole issues.
(The resolution of the storyline is actually a great example of this: Having slaughtered the vampire army off-panel in the previous issue, the X-Men go all out to attack the vampire stronghold to rescue Jubilee. Once they get there, they break in, off-panel, fight off the guards, off-panel, and by the time they get to Dracula and his cronies, there's a stare-off before Dracula gives Jubilee back to the X-Men. The only action to be seen is Cyclops knocking Blade out - with an eye-beam to the back, weirdly enough - to stop him from attacking Dracula. Because, of course, the X-Men have no issue with Dracula, they had a problem with his son, who's now dead. The end.)
There's a certain futility in being disappointed in a superhero event comic for failing to live up to its hype; it's like being annoyed when the sun sets every evening, after all. But Curse of The Mutants does more than just fail to live up to its hype: It's almost entirely disconnected to the hype, not only failing to answer the questions from the hype (or, really, even acknowledging them. Was the solicit written based on plans that changed in the writing? I guess so) but failing to offer anything to replace those questions. I couldn't tell you why I bought all six issues of this storyline - Part of it was a car-crash quality, I admit, part of it was wondering if it would ever actually go anywhere close to the pre-release hype, but beyond that...? I have no idea. Inertia? Masochism? - but now that they're over, I have no idea whether I feel like it's been a waste of time and money, or a strangely hypnotic example of accidental zen anti-event comics. Let's be safe and just say that they're Awful, shall we?