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Apr 12

New Mutants #1-9

Posted on Sunday, April 12, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

With hindsight, New Mutants may be the strangest of the first wave of Krakoan books. Not because of the concept, which is nothing more elaborate than reuniting the cast of the original New Mutants series, and throwing in stories about trainee characters from other eras too. Basically, it’s the series for any characters who are trainees now, or played that role in the past. Simple.

No, it’s the structural choices that are strange. The first seven issues feature two quite separate arcs, with different characters and different creative teams, taking issues in turn.

Issues #1, #2, #5 and #7, by Jonathan Hickman and Rob Reis, follow the original New Mutants into space. Sunspot decides to try and persuade Cannonball to come back to Earth, and the New Mutants wind up getting into assorted scrapes before coming back home again. They don’t get to bring Sam with them, but they do indeed get to establish a permanent gate to the Shi’ar Empire.

With Hickman writing, you might expect this to be an important arc, but in fact it’s a fairly throwaway comedy. The potentially important stuff is the groundwork for the future. It introduces the Brood King Egg which goes on to play a part in X-Men. It creates the connection between Krakoa and the Shi’ar so that they can interact more frequently in future. And it brings in some politicking about who’s running the Shi’ar Empire these days. But in terms of this story, right now, it’s crazy antics with those crazy kids.

You could reasonably be annoyed by the way the New Mutants are written here – which is to say, pretty much as idiots. Particularly so if you were a big fan of Al Ewing’s take on Sunspot, where his lunatic self-confidence was largely vindicated by the Batman-like success of his plans. Hickman’s Sunspot is much more delusional. Rahne seems to be on a permanent sugar rush. It does feel like everyone has lost about five to ten years of maturity in order to reset them to trainee mode.

But then again, it’s also just an aspect of playing the book for laughs. Not all of which are successful, mind you. I still think the alien lawyer Murd Blurdock was bizarrely wasted in a scene that gave him a pretty big build-up and, well, nothing much to do. And the rather rushed wrap-up barely goes through the motions of taking the story seriously. Even so, there’s a certain charm to the whole thing, and Reis’s art plays it colourfully deadpan. He’s one of the few artists who draws the Shi’ar homeworld in a way that makes it look like a city where people might actually live, too – I’ve complained before about the invisibility of the Shi’ar civilians, and they’re not actually in this story either, but it feels more like a world where they’re out there.

Interwoven with all this, in issues #3-4 and #6, is a completely separate story about Armor, Glob Herman, Boom-Boom and the creepy twins from Extermination dropping in on Beak and getting into a fight with drug dealers. This one is written by Ed Brisson, and doesn’t even get a single artist – it’s Flaviano on issues #3 and #6, Marco Failla on issue #4.

Brisson’s arc is much more of a point of continuity with the previous X-books. That’s not so much in terms of plot content, though Brisson’s affection for Glob Herman carries forward. Rather, Brisson is the last writer standing from the previous era. And he and the artists are working in a much more conventional X-books style than Hickman and Reis’s outer space arc. With this, we’re in fairly traditional territory. The mutants try to do something totally reasonable. Some violent bastards show up to try and exploit them. Disaster ensues.

That’s not in itself a criticism. The story calls for something more down to earth, and Flaviano is a solid character artist, who can get Glob Herman’s weird character design to work. I’m not sold on the drug gang character designs, which have some very ugly colour combinations – but the innocently misguided twins are conveyed in quite an understated way.

But… what on earth do these two stories have in common, and why are they interweaving? Since Hickman drops off the book after his opening arc, we know that subsequent issues start bringing members of the cast together, but the stories themselves remain stubbornly separate.

It’s not as if there are obvious parallels between the plot beats. I suppose there’s a minor plot connection in Boom-Boom, a second-tier New Mutant, being left behind so that she’s around to appear in Brisson’s arc, but that’s pretty minor. Maybe the point is the contrast in tone – the elder statesmen trainees swanning around like carefree idiots, while the younger characters are facing something jarringly violent? Or maybe it’s simply a case of wanting to shoehorn that New Mutants in Space angle somewhere, or using Hickman’s name to give Brisson’s book a promotional push?

It’s certainly a strange way to structure a book. But if we set that aside, the individual arcs have been entertaining enough so far. The bigger picture of this title mystifies me a bit, though; it seems to be a grab bag of stories about a broad collection of characters, with no particular unifying theme to hold it all together. Quite good fun, but a sense of direction feels lacking.

Bring on the comments

  1. Luis Dantas says:

    Paul, I can’t help noticing that you give the credits for issues #1-7, but not for #8-9. Maybe you want to discuss those two later issues somewhen down the line?

  2. Team Zissou says:

    The Hickman issues are at least more successful in the comedy than his X-Men stories. I particularly enjoyed the issue that starts with Sunspot recapping an entire issue’s worth of story and just brushing over the previous issue’s cliffhanger. I legitimately thought I skipped an issue before hitting a joke about Bobby confusing readers over that very thing.

    In the meantime, this series reminds of Zeb Wells’ very underrated New Mutants run which I now have an excuse to revisit while we aren’t getting any new comics any time soon.

  3. Chris V says:

    I am guessing that Hickman was worried he wouldn’t be able to meet a deadline while writing X-Men and Giant Size X-Men, so he had the next writer (Brisson) write alternating issues to give Hickman extra time.
    I think, otherwise, Hickman would have finished his story-arc, and then Brisson would have just taken over the book.

  4. Thom H. says:

    Of the entire batch of new X-books, I like the art on this one the best. I need more Rob Reis in my life.

    Aside from that, I think the original New Mutants are absolutely wasted on this silly outer space caper. Is there some reason it had to be these characters in this story? Maybe the personal connection to Cannonball and the Shi’ar Empire, but even then Cyclops could have officially sent anyone to accomplish the same objectives.

    As mentioned, Hickman sets up a few pieces of plot to be picked up later. I wonder if having Cypher off-world for some period of time is going to important down the line, especially since he seems to be the only one on the original NM team who is important to Hickman’s overall plot.

    As a fan of these characters, it’s frustrating to see their potential wasted when other “trainees” (e.g., Synch) get so much more to do.

  5. Chris says:

    I don’t like the home invasion story arc.

  6. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @Thom H
    Wait, was that part with Synch sarcasm that went over my head? All he got to do was show up once and get locked up in in a side-plot that takes him off the board for… however long it turns out to be.

  7. Thom H. says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran: Right, maybe I phrased that wrong. At least Synch got something *important* to do. I imagine he might show up again in a new form or with some interesting information to share. Maybe not.

    But the NM team went to space, swapped a MacGuffin for a teleport door, and came back. Wow. Such a good use of nine characters.

  8. Josie says:

    Chasing a macguffin isn’t a problem in itself. The problem is when the accompanying characterization/humor is awful or nonexistent.

  9. Gareth says:

    I’m still at a loss as to why Mondo and Chamber were in the original cast for this book.

    Echo the comments above about the very nice Reis artwork. Very pleasing to my optic sensors, as Prime would say.

  10. Thom H. says:

    @Josie: I agree with both points. As far as I recall, though, they didn’t even chase it. Didn’t they just stumble onto it and steal it out of spite?

    Chasing it would require at least one of the characters (outside of Sunspot or Cypher) to have a motivation. But Hickman wanted them all to act like bozos instead.

    And then, of course, they brought the space egg home and proudly displayed it without thinking for one minute about any consequences. Because they’re all bozos now.

    Whoever called Dawn of X the “gas leak year” previously, I’m starting to agree.

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