Hey there, hi there, ho there! Here’s part three of the “To Serve and Protect” storyline, which will hopefully be coming to a close soon. Not because it’s bad mind you. In fact the plot seems to be picking up with this issue. And it’s not like I want it to end because I’m sick of seeing Spidey in yet another comic book, or because it’s an extra review to keep up with. No, I want it to end because if I have to come up with one more clever way to describe these lizard creatures, I’ll go crazy. Squamatan scoundrels? Lacertilian louses? You get the picture.
X-Men, vol. 3 #9: “To Serve and Protect,” Part Three
Written by Victor Gischler
Penciled and Colored by Chris Bachalo
Inked by Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson
Plot: In the sewers of New York City, Wolverine is hacking and slashing through a horde of lizard-men. The creatures scatter when the clawed mutant is joined by teammates Storm, Gambit and Emma Frost, along with Wolverine’s Avenger-mate, Spider-Man. The heroes follow the hybrid humanoids farther into the sewers where they come across a laboratory. The X-Men hypothesize that Dr. Connors is behind the brutal experiments involving the mutilated carcasses found in the room. Spider-Man disagrees and tells the X-Men someone else must be behind the barbaric science experiments, though he is unsure of whom.
Dark Beast, the Age of Apocalypse refugee and X-Men foe, is shown to be pulling the strings on the army of lizard-people. Lars, the reptilian-henchman, reports back to Dark Beast and warns him that the X-Men and Spider-Man were close behind. The Lizard, hooked up to Dark Beast’s machine, warns the evil mutant that he should run away like mammals tend to do. Dark Beast denies the need to flee and proceeds to rant about his desire to further Dr. Connor’s research.
The geeky loner Max, along with the other missing teenagers, is shown to be a captive of Dark Beast. They bicker with one another and demand to know why they were being held captive. The sadistic scientist tells the children that he has no particular interest in any one of them and that there is nothing personal about their abductions. Dark Beast explains the Lizard’s ability to unlock raw, reptilian parts of the brain which turns humans into the mindless lizard creatures. He plans on exploiting that ability with his machine. With the push of a button, the teens, with the exception of Max, are transformed into grotesque, clothes-wearing, pig-tailed lizards.
Max is left behind because Dark Beast has a specific plan for the teen. Max is told by his captor that he is one of the saddest and biggest losers he captured. His outcast status and feelings of inadequacy make him the most susceptible subject to the machine’s effects. Max’s transformation will be of particular interest to Dark Beast.
The X-Men arrive at the secret hideout and are immediately set upon by the teens-turned-lizards. During the fray, Gambit unleashes a large, kinetic explosion which destroys the floor beneath their feet. The battle continues on the level below, but the X-Men and Spider-Man prove successful in taking out the antagonists.
After the fight, a monstrous, mutated Max arrives on the scene and attacks the heroes. The monstrous Max tosses aside the X-Men and swings Spider-Man around by his webbing. Gambit unleashes another powerful attack directed at their foe. Max retreats down the corridor and the X-Men follow him into another room. Spider-Man is too late to stop the team from entering the chamber and the door slams shut. Inside the room, Dark Beast welcomes the X-Men and activates his machine. Emma Frost is protected from the transformation thanks to her telepathy-blocking diamond form, but the rest of the X-Men are not as lucky. Emma is alone and surrounded by scaly, fanged lizard-versions of her teammates.
The Astonishing: The storyline has finally picked up in the third act. The X-Men are out from behind the computer and back in the sewers. We get some decent X-Men action in this issue, at least from Wolverine and Gambit. The ragin’ Cajun gets a nice spotlight with two great panels representing his destructive-yet-powerful abilities. It’s great to see some awesomely-pink explosions in this issue. Especially since I’m a big fan of Gambit and was incredibly disgruntled by the lack of effects his powers received in the Wolverine movie.
Even though the characters still seem to lack depth, this team of X-Men is a nice core group of players. Storm has proven to be a popular field leader, especially adept with sewers despite her claustrophobia and elemental powers. Emma serves as the token telepath every team of mutants needs, and Wolverine and Gambit provide the crucial direct damage. Spider-Man apparently has no role on this team besides providing the connection to the Lizard.
The fact that Spider-Man and the Lizard are in this story doesn’t make it a Spider-Man story though. The revelation that Dark Beast is the bad guy pulling the strings just reinforces the fact that this is an X-Men book. This is a villain I was never big on, but I really like the way he was used in this issue. His morbid curiosity about Dr. Connor’s research, the disgustingly-dissected bodies in his lab and his maniacal monologuing are pure evil scientist. Dark Beast actually believes he’s helping the kids by explaining the process of their eventual transformation to them.
Instead of focusing on the pencil work of Bachalo this issue, I’m going to highlight his coloring technique. The red in the clothing, eyes and backgrounds is used once again in this issue as an impact color. It’s further accented by the use of a lot of green – green lizards, green sewer walls, green shading. The red-green color scheme has a nice effect when combined with Bachalo’s stylized art. The all white panels with the character outlines during the flash of Dark Beast’s machine looks really nice as well.
The Uncanny: I like the direction the story has taken, but this X-Men title seems to be dealing with more supernatural threats. First vampires, now lizard-men, it’s like the X-Men-Files. But if you like the X-Men, you should expect them to take on some paranormal or extraterrestrial excursions from time to time. I wouldn’t mind having the events spread out a bit more, however, with some more grounded stories in between. I wouldn’t mind even seeing just a one shot showing the X-Men relaxing and playing a game of baseball like the good old days.
There are still some questions to the story I’d like answered. For starters, how was Dark Beast able to get the drop on the Lizard? Will Storm and Emma do anything in this book besides bicker with one another? When will Spider-Man be anything other than a talking head?
Spider-Man and his Amazing X-Friends: This is an X-Men comic so it’s not as though Spider-Man should be saving the day, but could he please do something already? He gets tossed aside by the monster version of Max pretty easily. His only purpose so far has been to offer the connection to the Lizard and to catch Emma Frost as she is thrown around, which in all fairness, isn’t that bad. He most likely is also in here to get suckers like me to dish out another $3.99 just because Spider-Man is on the cover. And speaking of the cover, why is Cyclops shown being turned into a lizard? Was Gambit not cool enough to feature on the cover? Oh well, the story is getting better so hopefully Spider-Man will get his chance to shine soon.
Rating: Meh, action, art, character development, story and writing. 3/5 credits at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning