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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 285: X-Men Annual #6

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from X-Men Annual #6, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated 1982. Enjoy!

Who could it be?

It’s Claremont and Sienkiewicz! Two years before they got together on New Mutants! Whoo-hoo!

Why, no, this isn’t a particularly scary page. But this comic stars Dracula! And he seduces Storm! And this comic features a completely bad-ass and heart-rending ending with Wolverine before his actions became clichéd! Yay, good annuals!

Obviously, Claremont likes the words, so this page is full of them. And because it’s an annual, it’s not really following a previous issue – Claremont brings in some plot points from the ongoing, naturally, but it’s a standalone story. So we learn where we are, who that woman is, and why she’s in New York. Claremont, unlike a lot of writers these days, acknowledges that culture exists in the Marvel Universe – in other words, Bram Stoker actually wrote Dracula – and Rachel dismisses the idea that she’s in any way connected to the vampire legend. Of course, we’re reading a comic book, so we know that’s bullshit, but I like that Claremont addresses it. Then, of course, Claremont immediately lets us know that Rachel is lying, so that’s fine, and then he catches us up by telling us that Dracula is dead. Phew! Of course, Claremont once again immediately undercuts that with the creepy speech at the end of the page. Even though we don’t see anyone yet, the cover of this comic and the fact that a reader isn’t an idiot tells us that Rachel is absolutely wrong. But Claremont gets us into the story with his usual verbose aplomb.

This is before Sienkiewicz changed his style, so it’s much more conventional than he’d later become. Obviously, he knows how to put together a page, but on a book with Dracula and creepy stuff going on, it would have been more interesting to see this exact script drawn two or three years after this. Anyway, Sienkiewicz sets the scene with the idyllic glimpse of Bard College, and then we move inside. You’ll notice that even though the panels are very small, Sienkiewicz does a really nice job moving our eyes across the page. In Panel 2, Phillip is on the left side, looking toward Rachel, who’s standing toward the right. Rachel’s close-up in Panel 3 is facing the “wrong” way – to the left – but notice that her eyes lead us to the right. In Panel 4, Sienkiewicz leads us from Rachel in an arc toward Phil, who’s moving toward the third row on the page. Rachel is moving across the page nicely in the third row, especially in the last two panels, as she enters the house and then looks off-panel to the next page (which is a big splash page). Sienkiewicz knows exactly what he’s doing to move the reader over the page and around Claremont’s words. It’s certainly not as dazzling as Sienkiewicz would later become, but even in these early years, his line was strong and confident, and Bob Wiacek’s inks work well with this style. Glynis Wein doesn’t have a ton to do with the coloring on this page, although I have to think that she used red in Panel 3, where Rachel mentions Dracula, as a nice foreshadow. Back in 1982, you could still probably assume that blonde women were good (you really can’t anymore, although the cliché seems to have swung completely the other way), so Rachel is blonde. I’m not sure if Wein is making that implication, but I’m going to infer it, damn it! Finally, notice Orzechowski’s final word balloon. I assume he creates the word balloons, so when Dracula says “Enter freely, and of your own will,” the balloon’s border is thicker, blacker, and smudgier. Just from that, we get the sense that Dracula is saying those words in a different and more sinister tone of voice. It’s a small thing, but very effective.

So, yeah. I know this isn’t too scary, but come on – really scary first pages are hard to find. Isn’t it enough that Dracula shows up on the next page? Work with me, people!

Next: More Marvel vampires! You know you love them! I’ve already done some scary books, and you can find them in the archives!

14 Comments

This was one of, if not the first, X-Men books I ever read. Loved it.

I just re-purchased this last month. It was a nice transitional book for his art style. I am convinced that if Bill or Klaus Janson had inked it, it would have been a lot closer to the style employed in New Mutants not long after.

The end of this book baffles me though. It looks like someone in the production department redrew a few panels with a blunt Sharpie. And not in the nice Mahfood way. It makes me wonder if the original art was too gory or something.

One of the better X-Men books of its time.

@Greg, this real good annual , is following events from X Men 159 (done by the same tream )

So we in for scarry comics? or will we have gore ones too ?

(Hope to see some of my favorites scaries in here )

I agree that with a different inker, the style might have more closely resembled Sienkiewicz’s NM work. This annual came out in ’82, but I can’t speculate on the exact chronology without knowing what month it was published. I tend to think of Sienkiewicz’s new style debuting in Moon Knight #23, which was cover dated September ’82 (meaning it likely came out in June). It’s unclear whether that was before or after this annual, although given the layouts, my guess is Billy the Sink knocked this out two months earlier, while a fill-in artist tackled Moon Knight #21.

I remember this comic best for Kitty throwing a total, screaming, hitting, five-year-old-style tantrum over her parents’ divorce, even screaming “Shut up you’re not my mother” to Storm when she’s just trying to help. For a fourteen-year-old girl who’d survived several X-Men missions and seen death and tragedy firsthand, this complete regression in maturity was very hard to believe.

ollieno: Yeah, it’s kind of a sequel to #159, but I’m pretty sure I read it before #159, and I wasn’t lost at all. Claremont was pretty good at that – giving you enough information so you didn’t have to go searching through the back issues!

I think these are mostly creepy, as in giving us a spooky vibe. It’s hard to find real scary comics, much less first pages, so I’m not sure how successful I’ll be. And while I have some gory comics, I don’t have too many, but I’m going to throw some in, certainly!

Third Man: Issue #22 of Moon Knight was the first one where Sienkiewicz started opening up a bit with his new style. Issue #20, inked by Steve Mitchell, was very much in this vein, so I imagine that if Sienkiewicz had inked this, it might have been a bit more experimental. Of course, Sienkiewicz inked himself earlier on Moon Knight and his work wasn’t quite as insane as it was later, so maybe this book was done right before he made a conscious decision to change and it didn’t have anything to do with the inker. I imagine someone has written about the way Sienkiewicz changed his style – I wish I could read an interview or something about it!

My rough count is 168 words across 8 panels, or 21 words per panel. There are almost 50 words in the establishing panel alone.

Maybe I am alone in this, but I miss this style. Claremont and Sienkiewicz do a really nice job setting the scene here. You have a pretty good sense of who Rachel Van Helsing is by the time you reach the bottom of the page.

I think that Claremont was a Bard alumnus. Just want to point that because usually ESU in the only university in town in the Marvel Universe.

“Back in 1982, you could still probably assume that blonde women were good (you really can’t anymore, although the cliché seems to have swung completely the other way), so Rachel is blonde. I’m not sure if Wein is making that implication, but I’m going to infer it, damn it!”

It’s been a good while but from what I recall of the Wolfman/Colan “Tomb of Dracula” series (where the character was introduced), Rachel was a blonde, so I’d say that Wein is simply following what had been established. (My “Tomb of Dracula” books are a bit hard to get at right now, and my only accessible ToD’s are the Essential volumes which are B&W so any hair color other than black is pretty hard to distinguish.)

Just did a quick Google search and found marvel.wikia.com/Rachel_van_Helsing_(Earth-616) which has a picture of Rachel, and she’s definitely a blonde (even the biography states “Hair: Blonde”).

Tried posting a comment regarding the Glynis Wein coloring comment. But the comment wouldn’t post.

Shorter version, Rachel was established as a blonde–it’s even in the Marvel Wikia article.

At age 10 in 1985, I started buying all X-Men from #94, either in original form or in reprints, and this and X-Men 159 were the two issues I absolutely hated. Annual #8, the Steve Liahola (sp?) ranks up there. I’d be curious to see if they read better now that I’m a grown up. But they just didn’t jive with any concept of the X-Men that I had. Why Dracula?! I read and reread most X-Men from the 80′s multiple times, but these issues sucked. Maybe 12 year old me was missing something.

JosephW: I figured Wein was following the template, but I imagine she was made blonde in the first place because until very recently, “blonde” = “good” in most popular fiction. I imagine it started to change in noir fiction in the 1940s, but it was still a pretty common trope. People have been moving away from it recently, but I wonder when Rachel was created if it wasn’t a subconscious choice by the creators to make her blonde.

def: Some comics just don’t work for some people! I remember reading this so early in my comic-book reading experience that I didn’t think the mixing of the X-Men and Dracula was strange, although it’s a bit weirder now that I know more about the characters. I just thought it was a cool story with a bad-ass ending!

Greg: There’s another reason to make Rachel blonde, and it’s the same reason Buffy Summers was a blonde — to play with the stereotype of the horror-movie victim being the vivacious, pale young woman. When Rachel was introduced in the 1970s, it was meant to be a bit of a shocker that she was professional, reserved, and very, very dangerous…at times, she was more macho than the ostensible male lead, Frank Drake!

I figure you won’t see many visually scary first pages in horror books, anyway. Horror often depends on suprise and anticipation, so the page-turn reveal becomes the major narrative method in older horror-tinged comics. Page one of a horror comic should almost always be setup or at least a soon-to-be-subverted ordinary setting, right? The exceptions would be in media res openings, but those were pretty rare in horror in most media until the last couple of decades.

Nitz: I dunno; isn’t it fairly well-established that people fall into less mature behavior patterns around their parents, and when it comes to issues with parents? In any case, the X-Men, like most superhero comics of its time, tended to have characters behave like “normal” people their age when in “normal” situations, regardless of their more exotic experiences.

I always thought that this was a fairly silly issue, as X-Men and Dracula are not a very easy mix, and Drac just appears out of left field as it were, instead of a standard supervillain. But on the other hand, there was a very good three or four issue run of Dr. Strange (with Leialoha art!) around this time where Strange is trying to destroy the Darkhold book and thereby eliminate all vampires. This brings him much more believably (less abruptly anyway) into conflict with the lord of vampires, even bringing several Avengers into the mix, notably the black Captain Marvel and her ability to turn onto sunlight. Highly recommended!

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