Welcome to “Off The Shelf”, our comic book reviews of recent titles. These are designed to be brief reviews of current books and series that we think you should check out.
Today, Sam reviews New Mutants #17-- Written by Vita Ayala, Art by Rod Reis
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New Mutants #17
Written by Vita Ayala
Art by Rod Reis (“rayse”)
The New Mutants was the title that really got me interested in comics. It started with the Demon Bear arc and quickly spread from there to other X-related titles. But New Mutants has always had a place in my heart.
Well, almost always. The original team of Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Mirage, and Sunspot, with Magik, Magma, Cypher and Warlock joining not long after, featured not only great stories about nearly getting eviscerated by giant magical bears but highlighted the relationships the students had with each other. The original five X-Men were very much teenagers of their time – fine, upstanding young citizens all. This new class of Xavier’s also were typical teenagers of their time, which being the early 80’s meant moody, uncertain, and not so optimistic about the future as the previous generation. This made them imminently more relatable to teens at the time, like myself, who were making their way through all of the awkwardness and awesomeness of adolescence.
In the ‘90s the team changed dramatically in makeup and direction. The introduction as Cable as the new de-facto leader of the team basically turned them from high-schoolers to mercenaries. The team makeup varied considerably, with some key members either leaving or getting killed off. Eventually the New Mutants were no more, and the team became the much more hard-edged X-Force – although their main nemesis at the time Stryfe certainly was more hard-edged and had more of those hard edges too.
An entirely new team was brought in in 2003 lead by Dani Moonstar. While the title originally started as the New Mutants that lasted only a year, with the title changing over to X-Men: Academy X. It marked more of a return to form, however the new class never really hit it off with readers. Reviewer Alex Richardson wrote that the characters were pretty much generic tropes, with their personalities being “one note to the point of barely being present”. Some really questionable and downright cringey writing choices, especially a romance between a teacher and a student, made this title rather forgettable.
The title went on extended hiatus until finally coming back as part of the current X-Men arc in 2019. Not only did the title come back, but the focus returned to the original team members, including formerly dead members Doug Ramsey and Rahne Sinclair. The theme and tone of the book changed as well. Writing once again focused on the relationships of the reconnected team members, and their role changed from being teachers to something more like mentors to the youngest mutants, shaping them less academically and more in identity as mutants and citizens of Krakoa.
Which you think would be easy, given that Krakoa is basically a paradise for mutants, aiming to be for all mutants regardless of their prior histories (with a few notable exceptions). However this situation has not quite been as peachy as the intended pie.
Issue 17 begins with Rahne, who has been guilt-struck by the knowledge that her son, whom she had presumed dead, might actually still be alive. This only came to light because her request for him to be resurrected by the five was declined, as it seems his psyche is still somehow still being backed up. The Five haven’t been much help though to her. She feels that she has abandoned him, tying back in to her own shame of her own upbringing. Unfortunately this has left her vulnerable and easy to take advantage of. And the person slipping in to comfort Rahne in her hour is none other than Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King. His very presence on the island baffles me, because if there’s anyone who shouldn’t be on that island and especially palling up to the New Mutants it’s him. In prior issues we’ve seen him cozy up to a band of young mutants who seem to feel a bit more outcast than the others. His intentions remain hidden, but it is clear that he is working to divide the loyalties of the students. As we see him work on Rahne’s feelings of helplessness in order to bring her into his fold, we see her become more and more wolfen, hinting that her rational side may be slipping in favor of her more feral side.
Meanwhile Dani and Xian are in Otherworld have been tasked with returning a vessel to Merlin stolen by Lady Roma, his daughter. What started as an effort to reclaim one of their lost students has turned, as seems often the case in Otherworld, into some sort of quest to solve a problem created by the highly inflated egos if its regents. The quest itself is rather silly and mundane, but it gives Mirage and Karma the chance to further develop their relationship, something which we see progress throughout the issue. When they finally find the missing mutant Josh (no code-name) though, he isn’t willing to return. Josh’s mutation makes him appear as a blue devil with long horns and tail, making him stand out even among the other mutants of Krakoa. However in Otherworld he has found a sort of kinship among those in the kingdom of Sevalith. He explains to Dani and Xian that his appearance is nothing extraordinary to them. Krakoa, he explains, seems to be pushing hard for the mutants to be special, while he just wants to be Josh. While he is warned that staying may mean permanent death should he die, he shrugs that off with an argument that makes a lot of sense, saying: “being functionally immortal is new. I’ve known I could die at any second since I first manifested. But for the first time since then, I’m living”.
While Dani and Xian are away, their wards continue to turn on each other, exemplified by the more physically transformed Anole venting angrily to Gabrielle, aka Honey Badger, about how nobody gets him and those like him who can’t pass for human. It’s in this issue that we see the group siding with Farouk heading in to dangerous territory, swapping minds and bodies, and now contemplating swapping their minds into dead bodies so that they too can pass for human.
I really appreciate how the writers are letting the characters in New Mutants shine. Sure there’s fighting, but the real drama is between the allies here. And by drama I mean full-blown teenage tantrums about “nobody gets me and nobody listens and nobody cares”. The fact that this drama is played out against the old New Mutants team, who started out as angsty teenagers and who are now finally getting decent at being adults. And yet the fact that they’re decent at it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. The teens are self-centered, easily hurt, and reject authority in a way that comes very close to “you aren’t my mom!” And the adults, well, they don’t listen and frankly don’t get them.
I’m a parent of a teenager myself now, and I’m thankful that I haven’t had the door-slamming dramas like those we have seen between Anole and Gabby, though I have had plenty of sulking and eye-rolling. I want to tell him so often that I get it, but I know I don’t. To him I’m a perpetual adult, while I know that I too have been the teenage sulking eye-roller who has a hard time with words. Adulting is hard, and teaching and shaping the next generation to be adults is even harder, especially when some in that generation have reality warping powers or are floating brains. Growing up often involves rejecting and pushing back against those same people you simultaneously rely on for support and stability. But while shaping those entrusted to us by God to be better people is a whole lot harder than it is to train them to fight Apocalypse, it’s also a whole lot more important.
Oh yeah – the artwork! I really appreciate that New Mutants has a very distinct art style quite different from that of the other X titles. Reis’ art manages to evoke the weirdness and surrealness of New Mutants’ Bill Sienkiewicz days without being derivative. Reis got his start doing fantasy and RPG art, and you can definitely see that influence here. In an interview with CBSI, he said that he really likes working with New Mutants because “the weirder the better”. He also puts a lot of detail and drama into his characters’ interactions, showing rather than telling, which is something that is sometimes missing in the other X titles.
Thanks for listening! Stay tuned to Church of the Geek for more comic book deep dives. If you missed us recently or just found us, check out our reviews of Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, or Blankets by Craig Thompson. Please remember to leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts – it helps us build our audience – and you can find and share us on Facebook as well as on Twitter @geekchurch.com. And until Warlock turns into a cappuccino machine, geek be with you.