Back when Marvel announced that the X-Men were going to be fighting vampires, it made a number of people upset. For the most part these were X-Men fans annoyed that their favorite heroes were getting dragged into a battle with flavor-of-the-moment monsters while the rest of the Marvel Universe was off having fun in the new Heroic Age. But one voice of complaint had a very specific reason for its grievance: Marvel writer Mark Millar, you see, was planning an upcoming arc
in his "Ultimate Avengers" series in which superheroes were going to be the targets of a vampire conspiracy.
At the time I kind of laughed it off, believing that such a contentious mix-up couldn't possibly happen, that Marvel would do a better job of communicating with itself, and that showman Millar was making a big scene because that's the sort of thing he enjoys doing. Then this week I had the opportunity to sit down and read the first issue of Millar's "Ultimate Avengers 3" next to the second issue of the current arc of "X-Men." And you know what? Mark Millar is entirely justified in being upset.
You see, in Victor Gischler's current "X-Men" storyline, entitled "Curse of the Mutants," different clans of vampires have united and created a secret plan to turn all mutants into vampires in order to increase the power of all vampire-kind. In Millar's "Ultimate Avengers 3," different tribes of vampires have united and created a secret plan to turn all superheroes into vampires in order to increase the power of all vampire-kind.
And the reason Millar should be angry about this is not only did Gischler's story show up on shelves first, it is also much, much worse. Because while Millar's book has an over-the-top, not-taking-itself-too-seriously action movie tone to it, Gischler's is mired in convoluted issues of vampire science and politics and peppered with the sort of dialogue that could have been ripped from the diary of a fourteen-year-old aspiring goth poet.
If you need to be brought up to speed on the difference between the two books, here's a quick primer: "X-Men" is taking place in the standard Marvel Universe in regular continuity, while "Ultimate Avengers 3" takes place in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, what is supposedly a more modern setting with characters who behave more realistically. For evidence of this difference in levels of "realism," compare the hairstyle choices of the two Blades. In "Ultimate Avengers 3" Blade has pretty normal-looking hair with sideburns. In "X-Men," Blade has opted to go with a shaved head save for two lightning shaped patches that combine into a bi-hawk, plus a mustache lifted from the biker from the Village People.
Or you could just look at the basic plots. In "Ultimate Avengers 3," vampires make a plan to turn superheroes into vampires. They do this by attacking said superheroes, turning some into vampires, and then the remaining superheroes must fight back. The book's mostly concerned with setting up massive action set pieces and giving Blade excuses to have your standard Mark Millar-level ridiculous dialogue, and while not great, it's also not awful, and there are some genuinely fun moments. It manages to introduce more characters and twists into the story than I thought it would be able to while not feeling rushed.
In "X-Men," vampires make a plan to turn mutants into vampires. Which they did by in the last issue by blowing up a vampire in broad daylight so they could infect one former mutant, Jubilee, with a vampire virus, lure her to them, and then use her as bait to draw in the rest of the mutants as they stage a rescue mission. Which seems convoluted, sure, but apparently in standard Marvel continuity having overly-convoluted plans is just something that vampires intrinsically do, like not crossing running water or compulsively counting things. And the X-Men make up for it by preparing to fight back with their own equally convoluted plan, which involves bringing Dracula back to life and hoping he can take care of the rest of the vampires. That makes sense in a certain way -- if you're in a Dracula fight you might as well bring the biggest Dracula you can find with you. And absent some sort of Mecha-Dracula, actual Dracula would seem to best fit the bill.
But the real victim in "X-Men" #2, even more than Mark Millar, is Jubilee. Which is to say that the real victims here are Jubilee fans. Jubilee spends most of this issue unsuccessfully dealing with a vampire infection that causes her to uncontrollably spout lines that even Stephenie Meyer would hesitate to write. Here are some examples:
"I'm afraid. Afraid to touch the darkness, but I can't stop myself.
"Every second I delay is like a knife-twist in my soul."
"The emptiness inside me. Clawing my guts. Make it stop." Jubilee hasn't exactly gotten the best treatment since being depowered and kicked to the side despite having a small but dedicated fanbase. But the worst thing about her latest affliction is how generic it's been. Her character's actions and dialogue could have been given to any young female member of the X-Men lineup and absolutely nothing would have changed. I consider myself lucky I'm not much of a fan of the character, because it means I'm mostly just upset by the dialogue itself.
So if the idea of vampires fighting against superheroes sounds like a premise for a story you'd like to read, I'd recommend choosing Millar's "Ultimate Avengers 3" over "X-Men." Unless you're fond of unnecessarily complicated plots that crush all logic that stands in their way or you're just really a big fan of Marvel's mutants. Personally I'm not sure that Millar's first issue has me interested enough to keep reading, but I do feel sorry for him and his remarkably poor luck that someone else at his own company put the same story on the shelves a month earlier and potentially soured people on the concept before he could even show up.