Picture it: Staten Island, 1992. I’m five years old and about to read my first X-Men comic: a beat up, coverless copy of issue Uncanny X-Men 159.
Did this issue leave me with both a lifelong love of the X-Men and a totally reasonable fear of Dracula? Yes. Is it a good place to start reading X-comics? Absolutely.
With Chris Claremont writing, Bill Sienkeiwicz on pencils, Bob Wiacek on inks, Glynis Wein on color, and Tom Orzechowski as letterer, this is exactly what I picture when someone says “classic X-Men”.
We open with the current team (Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Shadowcat) bursting into a surprised woman’s apartment. They were expecting Misty Knight, who had said they could crash at her place at any time—something she never communicated to her roommate, supermodel Harmony Young. Charmed by the team, she agrees to let them stay. Harmony is a much nicer roommate than I would be, for sure.
Kitty is supposed to meet up with her parents, and begs Storm to accompany her—so after an extremely brief makeover from Harmony, the two head out for the evening.
Later that night, Kitty calls the apartment to check in. She wants to speak to Ororo, but she’s not there—even though she left Kitty hours ago. As the team panics, readers see Ororo’s lifeless body in an alleyway, bleeding from the neck. Extremely suspicious injury location!
In St. Vincent’s Hospital, doctors try to save Ororo’s life. She’s unconscious and bleeding from a neck wound, and lost a lot of blood. It’s a miracle she isn’t dead, and she’s in no condition to give a statement or explain what happened. Fortunately she has the apartment’s phone number in her wallet, and Wolverine and Colossus rush over to see what’s happening. The working theory is that it was some sort of maniac—considering that nothing was stolen, and her only injury appears to be the damage to her throat. Now, if you’ve ever seen a vampire story play out before, surely you can predict where this is going. But if you’re unfamiliar with the genre, this is going to BLOW YOUR MIND.
Ororo has regained consciousness, thanks to the doctors. The doctor explaining the situation to Logan mentions one problem—they wanted to give her a blood transfusion, but there was something odd about Ororo’s blood. It didn’t match anything they’d ever seen. Logan’s thought bubbles explain to the reader that this is due to the mutant genes, and that this places Ororo and the team in danger of having their identities discovered.
The doctor reminds them that Ororo has gone through a trauma, and though she doesn’t remember what happened, she will need time in the hospital to recover. But as they reach her hospital room, they find that she’s already ready to leave! She doesn’t want to put the team at risk of exposure, and she feels a lot better….but she is afraid of the night in a way she had never been before.
They take Ororo back to the apartment, and the team promises to take care of her. She waves them off and tries to sleep, but is tormented by dark thoughts. She hears a voice calling, and opens the window, letting a mist inside.
The art and narration here do an amazing job of setting the scene. Most vampire stories are sensual, and this definitely fits the bill— her out of focus face (the coloring and texture completely unlike everything else so far), the hand grasping the window. Claremont has never once used two words when he can use ten, but it really helps show how Ororo’s mental state is a little wild. (Of course, all this was lost on me when I read this as a kid.)
Kitty returns to the apartment after a few days with her family, and the mood is grim. The others explain that Ororo was attacked, and isn’t doing well— but refuses to see a doctor. Kitty doesn’t take this well, especially since she’s been having fun all weekend while her friend is wasting away. She rushes in to check on Ororo, straight through the wall.
Ororo looks terrible, and recoils when Kitty tries to open a window and get some sun in the room. She’s acting shifty, too—she has a beautiful new scarf around her neck, monogrammed with a “D”, but either can’t or won’t explain where she got it. Kitty is suspicious, and then some light reflects off of her Star of David necklace, and Ororo flinches.
Kitty has seen enough to put the clues together, and leaves crying after Ororo reacts violently to her attempt to touch the mysterious scarf. She confirms with Logan that Ororo’s injuries were to her neck, and that seals it: she knows what’s happening to Ororo.
As the day turns to night, Ororo opens the window again, letting in her mysterious lover…DRACULA! He compliments her beauty, and offers her access to the immortality that she deserves as a goddess. She’s willing, and he’s ready to turn her into a vampire, but….
…before he can go any further, Kitty appears and tells him to “beat it, creep”! She’s changed from her normal teen outfit into what she must think is appropriate vampire-hunting attire, and she’s got a cross—but it does nothing! Turns out that religious symbols only work when you believe in them, and Kitty’s in danger. Fortunately, her Star of David burns Dracula’s hands and he lets her go, and he and Ororo flee into the night.
The others—you know, the adults who didn’t put together neck injury, weird behavior, and pain from sunlight—rush in, and a crying Kitty explains what’s going on. Wolverine is reluctant to make the logical leap to “a vampire did this”, but Kurt points out that Kitty is trustworthy, and mentions that where he comes from, vampires are taken seriously. The team resolved to track Ororo down, and we’re off on a vampire hunt!
The team tracks them to Central Park, where Dracula has taken Ororo to Belvedere Castle. That castle is the home of Count von Count, so now I’m worried about him. This will not be resolved.
The team confronts Dracula, who summons rats and wild dogs to attack them. In a truly delightful moment, Colossus and Wolverine attempt a fastball special directed at Dracula, who simply turns to mist and allows Wolverine to faceplant into the ground. Amazing. Truly the best there is at what he does.
Dracula and I are both laughing.
They continue to fight, and Wolverine attempts to use a cross made from his claws to drive off Dracula—but like Kitty earlier, it doesn’t work due to his lack of belief. Fortunately, Nightcrawler is there, and his cross drives Dracula back. But lightning strikes start coming—Storm’s in the fight, and she’s not on the side of the living.
Meanwhile, Kitty has snuck into the castle. She’s terrified by the idea of having to kill a vampire that used to be her friend, but it seems that Ororo has no such compunctions. She tells Kitty how wonderful the change is, and Kitty begs her to fight it. But it’s clear that between Kitty’s reluctance to fight her friend and Ororo’s vampire AND mutant powers, Kitty doesn’t stand a chance. She drops her stake, and tells Ororo that she wins: Kitty won’t try to stop her.
Storm joins Dracula in the fight against the X-Men, and as the team is taken down, reveals that she’s broken his hold on her mind. She attacks, driving him away from the park. In true superhero fashion, the fight crashes into a restaurant full of civilians having a normal evening. Dracula repeatedly tries to control her mentally, but Storm’s strength is too much for him. She will not allow herself to be made a murderer by Dracula.
In a panic, he grabs a random woman and threatens to murder her unless Storm yields. She drops her stake, but makes it clear: she will never stop fighting him. If Dracula makes her stay with him, she will spend all of her effort and energy to destroy him entirely. And eventually, she will win.
Dracula (and I) are both completely in love with her right now. When he was human, Dracula was a prince, and he saw in Ororo a woman who was strong and courageous enough to be his partner. But he can tell he’s lost, and flees.
In the sunlight, Ororo returns to the team. Kitty and Ororo embrace, and Ororo explains that Kitty’s belief in Ororo’s love helped bring her back from the brink. In the end, love saved the day. It’s a little more heartwarming than the average scary story, but it’s a fun adventure for everyone.
In the interest of being thorough, there’s also a non-spooky subplot featuring Cyclops, Havok, Polaris, and Corsair. Alex and Lorna are living in New Mexico, and the others have dropped by for a visit. The only scary thing here is Corsair’s willingness to abandon his children.
This issue is a fun spooky story, and I recommend it. It stands alone enough that you could read it as your first X-book and enjoy it (hi, it’s me), but the relationships between the characters are so clear that it’s a pleasure to read if you’re a fan of modern X-books. It’s got so many fun classic X-Men elements—Claremont narration, a villain falling for Storm, the team hanging out and clearly being friends, and even a side dish of Summers Family Drama. What more could you ask for?
Liz Large is a copywriter with a lot of opinions on mutants.