Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Goodbye New Mutants!
When I began reading Journey into Mystery, I unknowingly stepped directly into a cross-over between Journey into Mystery and the New Mutants. The New Mutants, Xavier's second class of young people, had many adventures crossing over into Thor's universe and Asgard. Dani Moonstar, in particular, became a Valkyrie, a legacy she still carries to this day.
The New Mutants, when introduced alongside Uncanny X-Men, which differentiated itself by being a title about school students. They where of course trained in the use of their powers - but sending them on missions and into danger was never the focus of the group. The multi-cultural cast did of course get into quite a few hair-raising situations - with the series being nicely portrayed by Chris Claremont, who was later joined by the incredible Bill Sienkiewicz, who transformed the originally mundane art of the series into a cornucopia of experimental drawing and coloring styles.
Alien member Warlock, introduced to the series by Sienkiewicz, was a living/walking art piece - a style of which is still used today when depicting the shape-shifting technomorph.
The New Mutants, after their heyday, gradually fell off the map. Things where done to try and mix things up -- sister to X-Man Colossus, Illyana Rasputin, was utilized quite a lot, as she had an interesting demonic backstory, in addition to her natural mutant teleportation abilities. New costumes where introduced (which where really awful; they should have stuck with the school colors), and Magneto was made headmaster of the school, on his supposed path to redemption. (I didn't work; and it didn't help when the kids ran away on their own, either)
Eventually New Mutants was re-invented by Rob Liefeld - who took team leader Cannonball, and various ancillary mutants over the years, and placed the group under the leadership of the enigmatic solider: Cable, who turned the team into a strike-first rebel group, counter to the X-Men's ideals. After issue #100, the series was retitled X-Force -- a series I grew up reading during the 90s. The New Mutants, quite simply, where co-opted by their more edgy team lead by Cable. Slowly, but surely, elements of the original team of New Mutants where picked up over the years. Dani Moonstar returned briefly, working undercover with the terrorist group "The Mutant Liberation Front". Robert DeCosta, aka Sunspot, became a popular mainstay on the team -- but beyond that, anything resembling the more innocent New Mutants had completely vanished.
That changed in recent years, however, when Marvel revived the New Mutants. There where some failed starts and stops, as the formula of the next generation of X-Men was tried out -- but it was a complete return of the original cast that really brought the series back into the limelight. Cannonball, Dani Moonstar, Sunspot, Karma and Magma returned - but most notable where the returning dead. Illyana had previously succumbed to the mutant disease "The Legacy Virus" - but was returned as her teenage-hellspawn version, much to the delight of longtime fans. Warlock, who had also perished in the intervening years, was returned to functional status.
Douglas Ramsey, aka Cypher, was another fan favorite returned from the grave. He was an interesting character in early New Mutant issues - but was ultimately one of the group's first fatalities - because, at the time, people thought his mutant ability to understand any language was one of the most useless powers possible. Fast forward from the 80s to the modern day -- and suddenly the ability to read and understand any language (especially the language of computers) is an indispensable ability.
This new iteration of New Mutants has gone on for 49 issues - with the soon to release this month, issue #50, being the series finale. I stepped into the series very late - but I was deeply gratified by the issues and stories I was able to read, before the series once again falls back into obscurity. The cross-over with Loki and Journey into Mystery made me aware of how sharp, witty, and funny writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning where with this series. I was joining the series at the perfect point, as well, as the title was under-going a change back to the less mission-based lives of the characters, and back to a more average life, like when they where trying to simply be school students.
The thing is - they where no longer teenagers, or students. They where young adults, trying to strike out on their own and live among normal society, and be an example to others as mutants. Teenage groups and heros are a dime a dozen - but this young adult group seemed to hit a right note with me, seeing as I'm a young adult. (Becoming less so with every year! But that's beside the point) Just the mandate of them trying to make it on their own was very connective for me, as I'm living on my own for the first time in my life. There's one issue that entirely focused on the group taking a break, to go partying, in celebration of Warlock's birthday. Instead of a big mission, there where a number of excellent character moments, which made the issue a highlight for me. (It was issue #41. Before the Journey into Mystery cross-over. I back-tracked a little.)
Fan favorite characters where being introduced into the group, becoming great additions to the cast. Blink, a fan-favorite returned-from-the-dead character was revived as an energetic, but well meaning, teleporting mutant. She is quite liked in X-Men fandom, because of her alternate reality counter-part from the Age of Apocalypse series.
The regular-universe version of Blink, however, never struck the same chord with fans (her being killed off didn't help!) That all changed, as she would pop in whenever and hang out with the team.
Nate Grey, an alternate reality refugee, mysteriously having lost much of his once powerful telekinetic abilities, was also a solid addition to the cast; even if they didn't have sense enough to add a shirt to his uniform.
Cannonball eventually left the team, after some earth-shattering events happening in the X-Men books - which left the role of leader in the hands of Dani Moonstar, who became a highlight of the team. Even though she lost her powers, and is technically no longer a mutant - she still commands the team with care and authority.
She does, however, have some brief stints with renewed powers - in the form of her adopted legacy as a Valkyrie. During Siege, her ties to Asgard brought her into the service of Hela, the Norse Goddess of Death - who needed her help in rounding up the departed souls of the dead.
Series artist David Lopez, also, was a revelation to see -- as his smooth, nuanced, but cartoony and accessible art style portrayed the characters well.
The undisputed highlight of the series simply has to be a wonderful issue, in which Amara Julianer, aka Magma, agreed to go on a date with the devil.
Ok, that needs explaining. You see - during a big Thor-universe event, the New Mutants where trapped in hell - and it is was only through the help of Mephisto (Marvel stand-in for the devil), that allowed them to escape, in exchange to a single date with Amara. Despite the protests of everyone, Amara was determined to fulfill her part of the bargain, and went on a date with Mephisto. He didn't show up in his usual brim-stone and fire self, but rather appearing more like Woody Allen! He tries to wow her, showing off famous deceased (and damned) musicians, re-arranging volcanos to put on a show, and other grandiose displays.
The date was not going well - until Amara changed things, suggesting something more real, and low-key. They went to a restaurant and had an incredible discussion between the two. Instead of trying to impress her, they instead got to know each other. It turns out the personification of evil incarnate isn't such a bad guy. Oh, of course, he still takes souls to eternal damnation - but he lets her in on certain secrets - like that he performs charity work, trying to raise the standard of living among the poor and impoverished. Why would the devil do that? Simple - if those poor impoverished people die at such a young age - they get an easy ticket straight to Heaven. By helping improve conditions, and thus extending their lives, he has more of a chance for them to sin and be claimed by him. All in all, when exploring why exactly he asked for this date - the idea of Mephisto simply wanting to be something else, for one night, other than the personification of all evil, made for a very endearing romantic comedy.
Amara, in fact, even continues dating the devil on the side. During a party she reveals this to her friends, knowing she needs help!
Another highlight of the series has to be the "Exiled" crossover with Journey into Mystery. The ghostly cannibalistic creatures called the Disir are unleashed, as the source of their hatred, a Norse god in hiding (living across the street from the New Mutants) is discovered.
A spell by Loki goes horribly wrong - recasting reality, with the Norse Gods as regular townsfolk. Along with Loki, the New Mutants work to re-awaken everyone - and help fight the Disir.
The series began it's draw to a close with Cannonball and Karma's return to the group - only to suddenly be supplanted by older future versions of themselves.
What exactly was going on? It seems, in the future, Douglas Ramsey is going to take over the world -- his exposure to an alien hard-drive (this green alien-thingy) unknowingly opened up his mind. His powers where already evolving more and more. Beyond being able to speak to computers, he was now able to read the language of magic, and even the fabric of reality.
It's a future version of Douglas that has gone mad, taking micro-management control of the lives of all his friends. The older Cannonball and Karma are equipped with Warlock Armor - meaning the future version of Douglas has dismantled, and used the technology of his good friend Warlock to empower and control others.
The first three-part story arch sets these events up, with "Fear the Future" - with the finale titled "Fight the Future". Reality is over-written, which regular Douglas is able to recognize as not being their correct time-line. Drawn by Felix Ruiz W/ Kelbs, the art style of the final issues has drastically changed. There's a definite attempt to mirror the style of Bill Sienkiewicz - but it leads to an underwhelming final story arch.
One issue remains, which should be releasing this month. Although I jumped onboard briefly, it was a wonderful series to see before it once again disappears. Characters from the series, however, are not disappearing altogether. Cannonball and Sunspot are due to be members of the expanded Avengers roster. After Avengers vs X-Men, where mutant kind was restored - I hope to see Dani Moonstar utilized, especially since she'll have her fear-based mutant powers back.
Most of all, I suppose I just wanted to reflect on what a nice side-trip this was - in reading comics - to finally see young adult characters. I really appreciated seeing that reflected in comics, something in my current life which I could relate to.