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May 27

New Mutants #18 annotations

Posted on Thursday, May 27, 2021 by Paul in Annotations, x-axis

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

NEW MUTANTS vol 4 #18
by Vita Ayala & Rod Reis

COVER / PAGE 1: Karma, apparently readying herself to fight in the Crucible. Behind her, a symbolic representation of her brother Tran, via the white rabbit that he manifested as in Otherworld via Mirage’s powers.

PAGES 2-4. Dani calls up Tran so that Xi’an can speak to her.

Basically, Karma explains the plot. The best telepaths on Krakoa can’t get Tran’s mind out of her body, so they’re going to have to kill her and resurrect her instead. Since Krakoa frowns on outright suicide, this means the Crucible. We’re seeing an increasing undercurrent of scepticism about Krakoan rituals in books like Way of X, but this story plays the Crucible pretty much straight – it’s a second chance, it’s liberation, it’s paying a symbolic price.

The flashbacks show Marvel Girl and Emma Frost attempting to separate Xi’an and Tran without success, as further explained in the next data page. That summary describes it as a “psychic rescue”, which refers back to the silent issue from New X-Men #121. Jean and Emma were the two psychics in that story as well, as indeed they were in its homage, Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey & Emma Frost #1.

PAGE 5. Data page. Pretty straightforward exposition, as far as it goes.

“Initial psychic bonding occurred during a conflict, in which Karma absorbed Tran’s ‘life essence’ in total.” This is the ending of Marvel Team-Up vol 1 #100, Karma’s debut. The idea of the original story was that Tran was the “bad” sibling who enjoyed using his powers, and she was the “good” one. She wears a costume with the white parts of a yin-yang symbol, and he wears one with the black parts. As she absorbs him, the complete symbol appears on her costume. It’s not exactly subtle. Nonetheless, Tran has been almost completely ignored in subsequent stories, rather than treating him as a component part of a merged personality.

“Tran gained influence over Karma for a time, and succeeded in releasing his ‘soul’ from her through magical interference.” This is the plot of the miniseries New Mutants: Dead Souls, as is Magik using the Soulsword to get Tran back into Karma’s body.

PAGE 6. Recap and credits.

PAGES 7-13. The battle in the Crucible begins.

The logic of this battle is all a bit weird. Up to now, Crucible has generally been presented as more of a ritual battle, where there’s no serious competition going on; after all, the whole point of the exercise is for the pre-ordained mutant to die. Dani and Karma appear to be having a genuinely competitive fight, which is weird. What happens if Karma wins?

The decision not to use powers is presented as a symbolic deference to Tran, but might also reflect the fact that they both have rather invasive psychic powers that they don’t particularly want to use against one another in public.

Meanwhile, Scout asks Warpath for advice on how to deal with the kids who have fallen under the influence of the Shadow King. She explains that Laura is not really available to talk to because she’s getting over the events of X-Men #18-19 (even though she doesn’t remember it).

Also recognisable in the crowd are…

  • The Beast, presumably the blue shape on the left hand side of page 7 panel 1.
  • Warlock. Remember Warlock?
  • Magik.
  • Cypher and his wife Bei
  • The Shadow King
  • Bling!
  • Glob Herman
  • Wolfsbane, with a partially obscured Chamber next to her.
  • Broo
  • Nanny from the Hellions
  • Armor
  • Oya and Dust
  • Cannonball and Sunspot, evidently visiting from the Shi’ar for the occasion. That might be Magma next to them.
  • Strong Guy
  • Both Pixie and Sprite
  • Pyro of the Marauders
  • Fauna, sitting on someone’s shoulders
  • Doop
  • Mondo
  • Maxine and Manon
  • Nature Girl
  • Anole, Rain Boy, Cosmar and No Girl
  • Jubilee
  • Match
  • Indra

There’s nothing they like more on Krakoa than to come out, have a few drinks, and watch a close friend being bludgeoned to death. Wolfsbane quietly leaves at the end of the scene, either because she doesn’t want to watch this or she’s still preoccupied with her own search for her missing son.

More visibly, Cosmar and co walk out. They’re offended by the fact that Dani refused to kill Cosmar and thus allow her to be resurrected without the distortions to her body (in issue #15). It’s worth noting that Cosmar has a point. As she points out later in the issue, her condition is not an inherent feature of her mutant powers; it’s the result of accidental self-mutilation before she understood how to use those powers. This, apparently, does not constitute a good reason for using Crucible. But Karma isn’t using Crucible for the intended purpose either, which was to enable depowered mutants to qualify for re-powered resurrection, and dissuade them from simply committing suicide. Karma and Tran’s condition isn’t an inherent feature of their powers either. You can make a case that this is about clearing the way for Tran’s resurrection after the destruction of his physical body, but there’s still a definite sense that the rules are being bent for Karma in a way that they weren’t for Cosmar.

PAGES 14-17. Scout tries to talk to her friends.

Scout makes all the right points but (consistent with her rather limited social experience) has no real instinct for how to get her point across. Hence Wolfsbane taking her aside to offer some advice on how to do it properly. At least, that’s probably meant to be the idea; Scout’s approach doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me.

Cosmar’s group are experimenting with consciousness transfer into the dead bodies in the Boneyard (from X-Factor), which apparently anyone can just wander around if they feel like it. These bodies are supposed to be there to enable Prodigy to study mutant decomposition. Rain Boy claims that these people all gave permission for their bodies to be used like this, which is plausible, since they were all presumably resurrected.

Scout’s flashback shows two scenes. The bottom one is her first encounter with Laura (as Wolverine), from the opening arc of All-New Wolverine in 2016, with her sisters Zelda and Bellona. The top one is presumably meant to show her being possessed by Esme in X-23 vol 4 #4. Neither of these scenes really illustrate the point Scout is making, which is about being manipulated by the people who created her and her fellow clones.

PAGES 18-20. Karma is killed in the Crucible.

Karma hesitates about whether it’s really such a good idea to bring Tran back, but ultimately returns to thinking that what’s important is to give him the choice.

“Sự tự do!” = “Freedom!”

PAGE 21. Wolfsbane takes Scout to the Shadow King.

This seems to remove any doubt that the Shadow King is openly on Krakoa, and is recognised by that name. This is simply bizarre. Amahl Farouk is a mutant, but the Shadow King is an evil psychic entity, and the idea that he’s being allowed to just wander around Krakoa is just not credible even within the framework of the Krakoan amnesty. Even less plausible is Wolfsbane having enough trust in the guy to simply leave Gabby with him. But there we are.

PAGE 22. Data page – a memo from Magik. Basically, she’s decided that focussing on power training has been a mistake and that she and Warpath want to focus their efforts on finding a way for the kids to feel like they’re making a meaningful contribution to Krakoan society. This ties in somewhat to ideas in Way of X #2, that a successful society needs to provide direction in order to provide meaning.

“Tôi đã có bạn” = “I’ve got you.”

PAGE 23. Karma is resurrected.

Strangely, there’s no mention here whatsoever of Tran, who was supposed to be the point of the exercise. Instead, the focus is entirely on Karma being free of him. Oddly, Karma has chosen to be resurrected with her cyborg leg.

PAGE 24. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: PARTY HAIR.

Bring on the comments

  1. Drew says:

    “ Oddly, Karma has chosen to be resurrected with her cyborg leg.”

    That HAS to be an art error, right? Why on Earth would someone who lived 99% of their life with a functioning limb, then lost it painfully, give up a chance to get it back?

    And as long as we’re talking about Karma, where’s Face these days? If there’s anybody with a legitimate claim to go through the Crucible, it’s that guy.

  2. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    They’re not going to use resurrection to “fix” the few disabled characters they have.

    Calisto didn’t get an eye back either.

    Just accept it.

  3. Allan M says:

    I’ll be optimistic and hope that the Karma leg thing will come up next issue, because it would be utterly insane just to breeze by it. Ayala’s in the midst of a story where characters are wanting to use resurrection to fix problems with their bodies. Karma choosing to go through Crucible to remove Tran from her brain but also then keep her severed leg – and using non-Krakoan technology, at that – absolutely needs to be explained on-panel. I’m unconvinced that there’s a credible explanation of why Karma wouldn’t want her leg back, but Ayala damn well needs to try. I guess setting an example for Cosmar et al. to accept your body as it is?

    Minor point: we don’t actually know if Callisto’s eye is back or not. She’s wearing the eyepatch, but that might be out of habit.

    The Shadow King reveal is the really baffling part of the issue. Reviving Farouk is one thing – though the timeline of when Cerebro began backing up mutant minds is, as ever, inexplicable, since Farouk dies when Storm’s still a kid – but the Shadow King isn’t a mutant! It’s like extending an invite to the Trask family to come to Krakoa since they have a long-standing connection with mutantkind. Technically accurate, but… no?

  4. The Other Michael says:

    The difference between using resurrection to fix Callisto’s eye and Xian’s leg is that Callisto has lived a lot longer with only one eye than Xian has with a prosthetic leg… and there is literally no decent in-universe reason why she shouldn’t be resurrected with all relevant body parts.

    That’s the problem with portraying disabled characters in comics… whenever you introduce a way to heal/cure/fix/whatever them, you have to jump through hoops to justify not doing it. Xavier, who spent decades in a wheelchair, is wandering around perfectly fine after being resurrected (first in Fantomex’s body, then a clone of his own).

    Given that we’ve seen the resurrection process used to finetune new bodies (Quentin) and apparently introduce new/alternate/tinkered powersets (Monet), and alter personalities/memories (Omega Red), there’s evidence that the Five can bring you back and make any changes you or someone else deem worthwhile.

    So… Xian had to SPECIFICALLY request that she be brought back in her disabled condition. And truth is, we haven’t seen nearly enough of her over the years since she lost the leg to know if this is now part of her core identity, or WHY she’d want to continue this way, when she spent the overwhelming majority of her life as a fully abled person. I wonder if any writer will actually tackle this.

    In other thoughts: it’s weird that while we see Sam and Roberto in the crowd, they’re not in the final scene greeting their resurrected friend when they’ve known her longer than almost anyone else.

    And it’s still ludicrous to have the Shadow King wandering around free and clear and having people like Rahne place trust in him.

    And Anole is a weird choice to put into what’s essentially the dysmorphia subplot, simply because he’s rarely been seen to be that unhappy with his mutation and appearance.

    And yeah, it feels like the mutants are being inconsiderate assholes in refusing to let Cosmar die so she can have her appearance reset to normal, given that for her, this is a new thing and a byproduct of her powers, not an actual mutation. (I wonder, can Masque alter her appearance for her?)

    This storyline sometimes feels like 2 steps forward, 1 step back in terms of character progress and growth and consistency.

  5. Chris V says:

    So…Shadow King obviously is still in possession of Moira from the “Muir Isle Saga”.
    He saw Moira’s plan to establish Krakoa from life nine.
    Is now possessing the entire island of Krakoa.
    His plan is to accelerate the war between humans and mutants, which is why Moira’s actions seem to be counter-productive to stop post-humanity.
    This was not Hickman’s original plan, but he needed to scrabble an ending together.
    The Shadow King will be defeated.
    Afterwards, humans and mutants will live together in peaceful coexistence.
    Suddenly….oh, let’s say…El Tigre (X-Men #25-1966) stabs Moira, leading to reality restarting. The End

  6. Jon R says:

    Yeah, this issue was just so weird.

    The Shadow King thing confuses me since last issue Rahne was explicitly calling him Farouk. Okay, she didn’t give call him by either name this issue, but everyone else repeating “Shadow King” just doesn’t work for making him seem in the least bit trustworthy. I can kind of squint and guess at what they’re going for here — Farouk is evil but not the Shadow King entity, but likes the name still because it reminds him of the power he had? And he’s playing repentant and presumably having only the kids call him by that name and everyone else call him Farouk while he gives them the truthful story of how Shadow King tricked and took him over, leaving out the fact that he’s still eeeeevil to some extent all on his own. And.. presumably he laid low for several months after he was resurrected, playing good, until after Arakko where Xavier or whoever was checking in on him got distracted. Which is where we are now, with him making quiet moves on the vulnerable.

    There are stories I’d like to see where this could work, if you take it with a grain of salt. Say Krakoa is so deeply into everyone getting their pardon and freedom that doing something like a parole check-in on the mutants who were evil for evil’s sake is something people are uncomfortable with. Heck, that fits with what happened with Sabretooth. They turned a blind eye to what would obviously happen when you sicced him on humans and then punished him as an afterthought. Now they’re repeating the same thing with Farouk, because everyone wants to pretend immortality means safety and all mutants are one happy family no matter what.

    And I guess that’s where they *are* going with this and someone will mention the background later, but to me they’re going about it backwards. “Farouk is running around offering children candy” is just such a confusing storyline that you need to give the explanation up front. Without that, this is just such a mess.

    Karma’s leg. If I had more faith, her deciding to keep her leg would be interesting and play into the questions of resetting your body via reincarnation. But with all the Farouk stuff, I’m not holding my breath.

    Rahne. I was taking her leaving the battle as discomfort in watching Dani and Xian be doing more them-stuff. With everything going on with Rahne, she was seeming jealous before about not getting Dani’s time. And as far as taking Gabby to Farouk, well, I was taking that as a sign that she was under his influence after they went off together last issue. He’s playing on her needs and insecurities and now she’s on Team Farouk.

    Cosmar and Dani. Can we just have a scene where Dani realizes how she looks like a hypocrite and goes to tell Cosmar that yeah, sorry, she’s just more comfortable doing the crucible for a very good friend in need than for a child she’s known for just a few months? Who again, is a *child*, who Dani is in a teaching/authority position over? I mean, I’m fine with Dani being called out for hypocrisy but it does feel like there are some really good reasons for her to say no here.

  7. Rybread says:

    I’ve been pretty unimpressed with Ayala’s work on the X-Books so far. They are not Howard level bad – their writing has a sense of pacing and general coherency that Howard’s lacks – but some of the the plot decisions and character motivations are bizarre.

    I’ve been a big believer that, despite all its flaws, the Krakoa era has been a positive direction for the franchise, giving us opportunities for a fresh take, interesting story avenues, and to shine a light on characters who haven’t been used properly in years. But that promise is kind of being wasted by some baffling decisions. Williams has her book ripped out from under her and yet Ayala and Howard are being given two titles a month?

  8. Drew says:

    Well, never mind my art error theory — Vita Ayala confirmed on Twitter that Shan chose to be resurrected with her leg still missing.

    It’s obviously a dicey situation, and I believe the statistics that there are many individuals with missing limbs who say if they could be magically healed, they wouldn’t choose that. I personally think Shan’s situation is rather different for a variety of reasons, but I can’t really speak to the mentality either, so I’ll just shut up now.

  9. Chris V says:

    Perhaps it’s about authenticity with some characters.
    Xavier says these resurrected bodies are not clones, he is putting the souls of individuals back in their bodies.
    Maybe the fact that Shan’s last memories are a life where she is missing a limb, if she awoke and that suddenly wasn’t her reality, perhaps it would be too jarring.
    Perhaps the dissonance would cause her to doubt that it was really her, and be skeptical of Xavier’s claims.

  10. Loz says:

    I have to believe that despite the amnesty given to enemies like Apocalypse, Mr Sinister, the Marauders, the Hellfire Club and the like, that even Xavier must have baulked a little on seeing Farouk’s name on the resurrection list. That he, Emma and Jean, along with Proteus, must have done something to safeguard themselves, seeing as his m.o. is to get people on an island to get kinky and then turn evil. I mean, I know that characterisation in these comics is limited to having Logan occasionally call people ‘bub’ and that writers on a tough deadline may just have characters make illogical decisions just to help get the comic to the next fight scene, but even they can’t be cutting this big a corner right?

    Still, they’re bringing Onslaught back, maybe the two will collide and cancel each other out in a puff of non-smoke?

  11. Jon R says:

    Oh yeah, Loz’s reminded me of that aspect. This would definitely be a lot easier to go with if it were just Farouk still alive and coming onto Krakoa for asylum. The fact they resurrected him when there’s a long list of other people still to go is a huge red flag. Mystique should be screaming at Xavier and Magneto over this.

    *Why* wouldn’t he be on the end of the list? His power being useful? Then he probably should have been shown being of real use at some point, like in the Empyre crossover. Making a statement that Krakoa really is for all mutants regardless of sins? Then he should have been advertised publicly early on. Make him a poster boy for mutants who are preyed upon by things outside their control and twisted up into evil who now have a second chance? Ditto.

  12. Chris V says:

    I have no problem with Amahl Farouk on the island. It would’ve been interesting to see him without the parasitic possession, and what type of person he was before the Shadow King.

    The biggest problem is that the Shadow King isn’t a mutant. He shouldn’t be allowed on the island, because he is a being of pure hate whose goal was a war between humans and mutants leading to genocide of mutants.
    As Allan M said, it’s the equivalent of bringing the Trasks to the island.

    The only sense I can make of it is that Marvel editorial doesn’t realize that the Shadow King is not a mutant.
    Didn’t this happen in the Age of Apicalypse too? I thought that they, technically, made the Shadow King a mutant in that story.

    If Hickman thinks that the Shadow King is a mutant, then he would have very great mutant powers.
    Still, he wasn’t listed on the Omega-level mutant list.

  13. Jon R says:

    Chris V: I don’t think the Shadow King is allowed on the island. Rahne was calling him Farouk last issue, and the ‘kids’ are the only ones calling him Shadow King. I think what’s going on is that Farouk is privately embracing the name for himself while publicly running the sympathetic line he gave Rahne last issue. He’s not the Shadow King entity but he’s still twisted by it.

    The problem is that we’re dropped into this with no context and have to dig around with spoons to figure out exactly what they’re going for.

  14. Chris V says:

    So, it’s his “mutant name”. Makes sense, if accurate.

    I could see Xavier’s conversation with Mystique.
    “He’s my oldest enemy. Did you realize he was actually the reason I first thought to found the X-Men? I saw there were evil mutants who would prey on humanity. If I didn’t make priority for him, then how can I say that Krakoa is for all mutants? You want me to resurrect Destiny, but how many would judge me if I didn’t give priority to him, saying Professor X won’t resurrect Farouk because they were always arch-enemies. I must show I am not biased, Mystique.”

    It could make an interesting scene…if anyone cared about characterization and narrative during Hickman’s tenure.

  15. Jon R says:

    Yes! This whole thing has so many interesting threads that someone could use, and it’s just kind of sad.

  16. Si says:

    For me, it’s not so much of a matter of whether the “person” Karma would want to be reborn with both her legs, it’s that Marvel has *so many* characters who are amputees with robot limbs. None of them have ordinary real-world prosthetics mind you, so it has nothing to do with representation. It’s just a weird meme or something.

  17. MasterMahan says:

    As I understood it, the rationale behind the Crucible was preventing depowered mutants from just offing themselves and clogging the queue (which is still about 16 million long, so you wouldn’t think it makes much difference, but anyway). If that’s what it is, why wouldn’t cases like No-Girl or Cosmar qualify? They’re capable of committing suicide in one way or another, and likely to.

    I assume Rahne is under mental influence, but I’ve said “there’s no way these characters would go along with this; it must be mind control” before.

  18. The Other Michael says:

    Drew –

    I saw that… I haven’t seen the supposedly gross ableist comments about the choice to keep the prosthetic leg, and it sucks if people have been mean to Ayala over it. But it still raises an interesting discourse over the difference between characters who want to be altered via resurrection (Quentin, Xavier) and those who put in the specific effort to ensure they’re reborn as they were, even if that includes a disability (Callisto, Karma).

    For someone like Karma, whose injury is relatively recent, it’s harder to believe that her identity is tied into missing a leg, so I hope we get to see more character work to show this. (For Xavier, who’s been disabled so much of his life, we’ve also always seen the underlying desire to walk again, such as his physical therapy after he was cloned following the Brood storyline. There, it makes sense that he’d want to be reborn in a fully-abled body.)

    Honestly, the push and pull between in-story and authorial/audience requirements is always awkward. Barbara Gordon lives in a world with all manner of miracle cures, but refuses to accept them on personal grounds… even though it would make sense for her to accept them, because readers liked a disabled character with such agency. And then the comics -do- fix her, but she was in a wheelchair for so long that it felt like an unnecessary change… And now she’s awkwardly in the middle–pulled back from doing Batgirl-level physicality but not back to a wheelchair.

    *shrug* The entire thing would be easier if they hadn’t make it clear that they can alter -anything- in the Krakoan resurrection process–memories, powers, physical appearance, thought processes.

  19. Mathias X says:

    I think people are overthinking the Shadow King name here. Just as Jean Grey went by Phoenix in the 90s when the Phoenix entity was not present, Farouk’s most prominent identity was the Shadow King, so it’s being treated as a mutant name, but it’s not the demonic entity himself.

    With that said, this Farouk — an insidious groomer, instead of a blob of evil — is far more menacing and scary.

    I’ve been impressed by Ayala’s work, particularly in the way she approaches dysphoria, and I suspect that Karma’s leg is playing into that in some way — she’s more at ease in her own skin, with her own mutilation, than some of the kids are in their bodies. I think it’s more thematic than an oversight.

  20. Chris V says:

    The Other Michael-You make a very good point with your last paragraph. It’s true.

    However, I’m sure the resurrection process is a plot point in order for Hickman to get to a certain spot in his narrative, rather than something that is supposed to exist simply on its own terms.
    So, in that sense, the resurrections had to be established in a way for Hickman to later use it for his own purposes, which leaves things in this state for other writers who are telling their own little stories in this wider direction. They have to work within Hickman’s agenda.

  21. Joseph S. says:

    Friendly reminder, Ayala is non-binary and they use they/them pronouns

  22. YLu says:

    I don’t see why resurrecting Farouk is so strange. He was the Shadow King entity’s pawn and *victim*, and had been since childhood. He’s a hell of a lot more innocent than half the people on the Quiet Council.

    Or he was when resurrected, but now he seems up to no good.

    Speaking of which, is nobody else noticing Wolfdsbane’s weirdly-shaped word balloons in her scene with Scout and Farouk? She’s definitely mind-controlled (or it’s a misdirect to make us think she is).

  23. Mathias X says:

    Thank you for the reminder, Joseph. I wish I could go back and edit my comment. Ayala’s lived experience and activism are a big reason why I have so much faith in their work, and I’m kicking myself for fucking that up.

  24. Loz says:

    I think the Legion TV show was possibly suggesting at one point that Farouk and the Shadow King were distinct entities, but both kind of evil in their own separate ways. I have no problem if Farouk turns out to be bad, even if the Shadow King isn’t around.

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