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Sep 2

New Mutants: Dead Souls

Posted on Sunday, September 2, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Well, this is an odd book, and no mistake.  Be warned, by the way, that it’s one of those books where I can’t really talk about why it works without giving away big chunks of the plot.  If you were planning to read it anyway, I’d go and do that first.

Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Gorham’s New Mutants: Dead Souls is ostensibly a New Mutants miniseries.  Issue #1 establishes the premise: Karma, who inherited a mega-corporation during Marjorie Liu’s run on Astonishing X-Men, has recruited a bunch of superheroes to investigate paranormal phenomena.  The book kicks off as some sort of mystery-of-the-month horror title, with this random team visiting aftermath of an Alabama hurricane and dealing with an outbreak of zombies.  This turns out to be the result of somebody stealing from the body of a victim who had magical powers, and whose spirit is accordingly no longer at rest.  It’s quirkily and atmospherically done, but it’s basically a standard horror story.

Yet it’s also apparent from the off that there’s something not quite right here.  It’s clear that the real point of the team is only known to Magik and Karma, and everyone else is kind of aware that they’re not being filled in.  That’s clearly a plot point.  So is the fact that they didn’t actually go to Alabama to deal with the zombies or help the hurricane victims; Magik had something else in mind.

But on top of that, it’s a strange sort of New Mutants team.  The squad is led by Magik, and consists of Rictor, Boom-Boom, Strong Guy and Wolfsbane – so two core New Mutants characters, a couple of who were in there for a bit towards the end but are mainly associated with other things, and a member of X-Factor.  They’re just about entitled to lay claim to the name, but hardly likely to scratch many nostalgia itches.  Was this bunch really Karma’s first choice?  What’s Magik, the one who barely functions as a member of the human race, doing in charge?  And didn’t Guido kill Rahne’s kid in an X-Factor story, admittedly when he wasn’t in his right mind?  Are we just forgetting about that?

I’m so used to minis pretty much ignoring that sort of thing and asking to be taken entirely on their own terms that it comes as a pleasant surprise to find that these are not bugs, but features.  No, this version of the New Mutants doesn’t make any sense.  That’s the plot.

But Rosenberg sets it up slowly, since the first half of the series continues the story-of-the-month pretence.  Issue #2 sees the group visiting a research base at the Arctic, which is being menaced by a frost giant.  That issue establishes the villain as Xi’an’s brother Tran, who was absorbed into her back in Marvel Team-Up #100, but has apparently escaped.  Meanwhile, the rest of the team are starting to show their disconcertment at some of Magik’s leadership choices.  Still, it’s a basically self-contained issue.

Issue #3 has the New Mutants trying to rescue a plane where Tran has taken over the pilot and driven all the passengers crazy.  This is where the series shows its hand on a number of points: Rahne has signed up for this because it’s supposed to be the New Mutants, but her patience at being hauled around on unexplained missions and asked to team with Guido has finally snapped.  Boom-Boom, still in NextWave mode, isn’t just flaky, she’s drunk.  And the mission is supposed to be to capture Tran so that Karma can figure out what to do with him – yet Tran insists that he’s the one trying to save the world from Xi’an.

This seems to end in a great heroic sacrifice as one team member is left aboard when the plane crashes, setting up a funeral in issue #4 where Illyana can lament her performance as leader before realising where things went wrong – except that this is all an illusion and we return to finish off the airplane story.  Normally that sort of thing really annoys me, but it’s beautifully set up here with the misdirection of doing two genuine one-shot stories and feigning a third.  That’s clever, and it works.

At any rate, if you’re paying close attention by this point – and it’s one of these things that emerges more clearly when you read it as a whole – you’ll have noted that people do keep asking why Karma has enlisted this particular crew.  And at least twice, our attention is specifically drawn to the fact that Dani Moonstar would have been a much more sensible choice than Magik for leading the mission that Karma’s has supposedly entrusted to her.  It’s a great slow build, until we finally establish that, yes, of course she tried Dani first.  And plainly, that didn’t work out so well.

Karma’s actual plan here is more to do with reuniting herself with her brother, the other half of her soul, and using the New Mutants to find magical phenomena that she can exploit for her company.  She’s kind of talked herself into thinking of this as a good thing, but we’re very much led to believe that this is how she’s rationalised ideas that were generated by Tran when he was effectively part of her.  Even without him, she is missing something in her soul, and she is very much not the good guy here.  This version of the New Mutants have been selected precisely because they’re trusting enough to sign up for pretty much anything that appeals to their brand loyalties, and shambolic enough not to ask the awkward questions – or at least not to ask them very effectively, since Rictor realises all the problems from the outset, but never manages to do anything very coherent about them.  Rahne and Guido are distracted by each other, Magik is too busy worrying about her adequacy for the role, and Tabby is… well, Tabby is drunk.

I’m not familiar with artist Adam Gorham, but his work here is appealing.  I like the awkwardness of his Magik, whose frankly dreadful haircut seeks exactly right for a character who surely wouldn’t regard it as any sort of priority.  There’s good detail across the board, a strong sense of location when the series goes to different places, and some inventive layouts in the Dr Strange issue.  And he can do Warlock, a character that many artists struggle to incorporate into their personal style.

This series could have been very annoying if it had played as “look at the bozos who thought they were the New Mutants”, but it’s got more sympathy for the team than that.  Rahne and Guido do reconcile.  Rictor is being genuinely heroic.  Magik is well aware of her deficiencies as team leader, and if she’s utterly unable to bridge the gap to actual leadership, or even letting the team into her confidence, she’s at least capable of figuring out that Karma must have an ulterior motive for putting her in that position.  The general sense is that these guys could be the New Mutants, if only there was someone to play the leader.

The predictable story here would be for Magik (or someone else) to rise to the occasion and be that leader.  That doesn’t happen.  Instead, the series unexpectedly ends on a cliffhanger, with no indication of where the story is going to be picked up.  Presumably it’ll be in one of Rosenberg’s X-Men stories.  If you bought these six issues expecting to get a self-contained New Mutants story you could justifiably be annoyed by that.  But I’ll be happy to see more of this. It ducks and weaves and wrongfoots the audience, but does so very well.  And for us completists, it’s nice to be taken by surprise once in a while, when something seemingly marginal turns out to be part of a bigger picture after all.

Bring on the comments

  1. Michael says:

    And here’s one of the rare times when I disagree with you. This series was hamfisted, awkward, and a hot mess, which doesn’t do any of the characters any favors at all. This is something I’ve seen a lot in Rosenberg’s other work–the Multiple Man mini, Astonishing X-Men, and so on. Everything feels like the characters are half a degree or more off-model from their usual selves, action points seem disconnected from one another, and the stories often feel like they’re running on a minute sense of fast-forward, skipping a second every so often for a jumpy feeling. The Multiple Man series makes no sense, and everyone in Astonishing acts kind of like a jerk to each other.

    This series asks us to take a lot on faith as readers, and to stick it through to the end for the revelations, and then it ends on a cliffhanger which really annoys me, since there was never any indication that this wouldn’t be self-contained or important to follow-up stories.

    And why exactly is Tran even an issue? Karma absorbed him back in Marvel Team-Up #100, which came out in 1980. A plot point from 38 years ago which has almost never been referenced since, seems an odd thing to dredge up at this point in such a fashion. And we’re talking about a character who spent several years being possessed by the Shadow King. (Of course, one wonders how she ever absorbed him in the first place, since that was a bizarre extrapolation of their twin status and shared power set…)

    And the cliffhanger, which threatens to do rather unhappy things to Dani and Warlock among others, annoys me simply because I don’t have any faith at the moment that either of them will make it out intact, and they both deserve better…

    So while I want to know what happens next to these characters I like, I’m not excited about having to follow another Rosenberg story after I was ready to swear him off as a lost cause who simply doesn’t jibe with my tastes as a reader.

  2. Moo says:

    “I don’t have any faith at the moment that either of them will make it out intact, and they both deserve better…”

    What are you worried about? Gravestones in the MU come pre-inscribed with: “Back in 5 minutes”.

  3. Si says:

    Thanks, Paul. I’d probably have read the first issue and dumped it because of how it appears. It’s very disappointing that Boom Boom has become though. Nextwave is the bad joke that never goes away.

  4. Michael says:

    It’s not death I’m worried about, as that’s the X-Men equivalent of “Gone to the store for milk and eggs.”

    It’s when they make ill-advised changes to the characters that take years to be fixed… like depowering Jubilee and turning her into a vampire. I don’t really want to see, for instance, a merging of Dani and Warlock (Moonstarlock?) because that’s the sort of nonsense that might last far longer than necessary.

    Though I also hate it when they bring back characters I like… just to kill them off for another extended period of time.

  5. Moo says:

    Ehh… even if he does something drastic, it’s going to be short-lived. The New Mutants film is going to be released one way or another next year (see link) which likely means Marvel will want the comic versions of the characters to remain intact and recognizable.

    http://wegotthiscovered.com/movies/x-men-dark-phoenix-the-new-mutants-may-released-via-disney-merger-goes-ahead/

  6. Chris V says:

    I mostly agree with Michael. Not because I am genuinely concerned with how Marvel are mangling these characters.
    Simply due to the fact that I also found the writing to be quite bad and the artwork was an eyesore.

    I do think that Rosenberg started to pull the series together with the final issue, where we finally found revelations.
    However, getting there was a mess. Writing some really bad stories, and then tying it all together with a nicer bow still leaves a lot of the contents to be poorly executed.
    I could do without ever seeing such horrid art again also.

    Then, Rosenberg adds on that “twist ending”, which didn’t work for me. I would have rather seen a conclusive ending.
    Did I mention just how poor the artwork was yet?
    I got the feeling that Rosenberg wasn’t really planning to pick this up again, but that the ending was meant to be an “EC Comics style” ending, playing in to the horror tropes.

    The series was originally planned when the New Mutants movie was soon to be released. The movie was billed as setting the New Mutants characters in a horror plot.
    That seems to be the playground Rosenberg was working in with this comic.
    I’m wondering if there was a wider point to any of this outside of having a New Mutants comic book to read when the movie hit theatres.

  7. Ben says:

    Was the art really that bad? From what I’ve seen it’s pretty good. Each character has their own style and it’s consistent and dynamic. If an ongoing X-Men had this art I’d be happy – rather than chopping and changing. I haven’t read it though, and am only going by the released images, but the art on this looks good, really good.

  8. Chris V says:

    Art is subjective. I didn’t like it, in the least.
    It has a very rushed look to it, to my eyes.

  9. Mikey says:

    Sad to see others didn’t enjoy this. I thought it was a total blast, hilarious and gorgeously drawn.

  10. Dazzler says:

    Very obviously this was meant to be a New Mutants horror title out in TPB in time for the movie’s original release. Perhaps less obviously (and I haven’t read it) I think it’s probably safe to assume that yeah the ending is probably just a classic horror cliffhanger trope.

    Movie could hit or flop, series could hit or flop. So Marvel would be free to launch a series or just let it die. I’ll go spoil the ending for myself, but I sincerely doubt this was always intended to be a prelude to something hugely important.

  11. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    The final issue mentions some officer of O.N.E. as a potential client of Karma’s company. I think the same guy – and if not him then definitely the O.N.E. – appears in Rosenberg’s current Astonishing arc. I think the New Mutants will pop up there.

    I’m also in the apparent minority of people who enjoyed this miniseries a lot.

  12. ASV says:

    I liked it quite a bit as well, and I’m glad because I haven’t really cared for anything else I’ve read by Rosenberg. The Uncanny relaunch was frankly looking extremely lackluster to me, but I guess there’s some hope here that it could be OK.

  13. Mo Walker says:

    I thought Matthew Rosenberg did a wonderful job of connecting this series to various iterations of New Mutants. He clearly enjoys utilizing obscure bits of X-Men continuity. Though I agree using Strong Guy was a bit of a stretch, but on the other hand his first appearance was New Mutants v1 #29.

    I enjoyed the mostly done-in-one issues but kept wondering how Dead Souls was going it end. By the midpoint of issue 6, I realized this should have been issue 4 or 5 if Rosenberg was going for a semi-traditional ending.

    Adam Gorham’s artwork was a bit hit or miss for my taste. Faces and bodies on some of the pages did not look fully rendered. I wonder if another inker would have helped.

    Based on the preview pages for November’s Uncanny X-Men #1 and some prognosticating on my part, I believe Rosenberg’s Multiple Man and Astonishing X-Men runs will end on cliffhangers that are continued in the 10-part Uncanny story line.

    This may be a blasphemous thing to say, but at this point there is no need to resurrect Doug Ramsey (yet again) when Prodigy can easily fill that role.

  14. Zelcandor says:

    I’d argue that Guido is only present because of Rahne. As the cast is a mashup from different eras of New Mutants, one which includes Rahne and addresses each character’s continuity, then you can’t gloss over Rahne’s dead son (which Rosenberg doesn’t) and the best way to get her to move on from that is to have her forgive Guido – hence his presence in the story, even though he was never part of any New Mutants team.

  15. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    To be fair, the most compelling reason not to resurrect Doug Ramsey is the fact that he’s quite alive at the moment. He has just appered in the Hunt for Wolverine – Weapon Lost miniseries.

  16. Luis Dantas says:

    The All-New X-Factor crew has really split, it seems. Doug is now guesting in Daredevil. Gambit was in X-Men: Gold and now has another book. Warlock was in this New Mutants series. Danger and Polaris are in X-Men: Blue.

    Did they ever make an appearance in Spider-Man 2009?

  17. Thom H. says:

    I sought this mini out on Paul’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did. Fun story with some interesting art.

    I find the whole Warlock subplot kind of strange, though. He’s living in a cabin in the woods? He can get beaten up by a group of children? And then at the end I assume he’s being controlled by Karma, so does infecting her break that control or make it stronger? Confusing.

    As for Cypher, I thought it was strange he didn’t make an appearance either as himself or as a Warlock-created duplicate. I assume he’s being held in reserve to sort out the whole mess since he are Warlock are so close.

  18. Rich Larson says:

    I liked this series too. I appreciate Rosenberg using the various threads of the characters history, even including Dr. Strange. I thought that issue was fun and funny and used the feel of the more recent Dr. Strange stories where the Sanctum is quite bizarre. BUT…as Paul mentions, the ending left me very annoyed. A standard horror trope would be revealing that the monster isn’t really dead. This just stops in the middle of the story. I this day and age, I just dropped almost 25 dolllars for a story that doesn’t end and might never continue. Or if it does it will be in a book I might not read. That leaves me a very irritated customer. Instead of thinking I’ll check out Rosenberg’s next series, it leaves me leery that it might not be worth it. Caveat Emptor is not a sound marketing strategy for a fragile industry.

  19. Si says:

    The Cypher thing makes me think. We’ve seen lots of characters who are meant to be dead just plain alive with no explanation. But has there ever been a big resurrection story for a character that was already alive and well in other stories? There must have been, right?

  20. Joseph says:

    I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. I’m not sold on Rosenberg yet as a writer. Like Brisson, Guggenheim, Lemire and other contemporary writers he is too quick to always jump into big earth-shattering high-stakes stories, despite the fact of diminishing reader investment in these kinds of takes.

    But this was paced well, generally good character moments, and a surprise ending. Though I’m not sold on the ending itself, it’s good to know the story will continue. And I enjoyed the art as well. Creepy tone, expressive, distinct characterization. How many other artists’ Illyanas are interchangeable with any other blond woman save for her sword?

    I suspect my overall opinion of Madrid and Extermination will be mostly negative, but st least there seems to be an effort to tie up old dangling storylines and to clear the board a bit.

  21. Joseph says:

    Madrox* that is.

  22. Flinkman says:

    I thought this was a wonderful surprise.

    The lineup was interesting, the characters and their history were utilized well, and I genuinely did not see many of the twists coming.

    Very happy to have Rosenberg on the main X-Books now…can’t wait to see this followed up on.

  23. Jeff says:

    This series was great. Rosenberg clearly cares about all the fringe X characters, and does a fantastic job with their voices. Rictor shined, there were great twists, a nice sense of tension as time passed with the team… just everything was well thought out and uses so much X Men history. Nothing is off limits for Rosenberg. He pulls from all corners of the X universe, no matter how bad some stories were or how obscure, he pulls from everything that came before. Reading his stories always feels like the payoff for being an X men completist. I thought the art perfectly fit the tone as well.

    Love this guy

  24. wwk5d says:

    It was hit or miss for me. Much as with astonishing, the characters at times just felt a bit…off. There were times when I enjoyed their interactions, and there were other times where I kind of cringed.

    I’m still not sure how the Warlock/Dani stuff tied into the main story. And yes, Warlock getting beaten up by a bunch of kids was just embarrassing.

    Not sure I quite like Karma’s heel turn, whether it was due to her or Tran or a mix of the two. It just seemed to come out of nowhere prior to this series. I’d understand if Karma had been written in a somewhat dodgy way over the last few years and this was a way to explain it. But using Tran? Eh.

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