Oct 9, 2020
Meet the New Mutants: Marvel Graphic Novel #4
It might sound dumb now, but back in 1982 when the New Mutants graphic novel was announced, I took that as a sign that The Uncanny X-Men was getting canceled. Please bear in mind I was just a teenager and my access to behind the scenes news was scarce. And yeah, Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman all had multiple titles then, so the concept of a property having more than one comic wasn’t unheard of. It’s just that at the time, superhero teams didn’t get spin-offs, and I hadn’t realized how popular X-Men was. So when this graphic novel hit the shelves, I viewed it with, well, unjustified hostility. Sounds silly now, I know.
So while I did buy the New Mutants comic, for the longest time I never actually sat down and read it from cover to cover. I finally got around to it recently because I had planned to review this story, the very first appearance of the team, to coincide with Fox/Disney’s New Mutants movie… which has just been delayed for the fourth time due to the coronavirus. But since I’m stuck here in the condo and have grown tired of playing with the cat (okay, truth be told, the cat is tired of playing with me), I’ve got lots of time on my hands, so I’m sticking with the original plan. Let’s get ‘er done!
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Our story opens with—
Has anyone ever actually said “What the blazes”? I suppose you gotta say something instead of “Holy s—t” or “what the f—k”. It’s a family friendly comic, after all. The woman gets over her initial shock and says it’s a wolf, but I’m looking at pics of wolves and not even red wolves are quite that, well, red. You’d think the woman would mistake the wolf for a dog instead. Hmm, page two and I’m nitpicking already. Not a good sign.
The woman sees the wolf change shape in midair to a sort of half-human, half-wolf hybrid. It lands hard and changes into a boy. Oh, wait, sorry; it’s a girl. With that Annie Lennox buzz-cut, I got all confused. The girl is naked, with her propriety only preserved by a strategically placed forearm. Man, I can’t imagine any comic today even implying teenage nudity. Maybe because it was a graphic novel, they could get around it? The woman recognizes the girl as “Rahne Sinclair”, and I’ve spent years wondering how to pronounce that. The woman talks about delivering the girl and going on about her “anomalous DNA matrix” and methinks our protagonist is more than a simple country doctor.
Suddenly, an angry mob shows up with… oh, okay, this is just so damn silly. The mob has torches! And I’m not using the English term for flashlight; they’re burning brands. What, they didn’t sell flashlights in Scotland in 1982? I’ve heard the Scots are a frugal lot; perhaps there’s just one flashlight in the town that everybody uses. The leader—and of course he’s carrying a bible—calls the doctor “Lady Moira”. Ah, so she’s Moira MacTaggert. Bible Thumper thinks the wolf-girl is possessed or something but Moira doesn’t back down, and he and his torch-bearing loons back down. Moira covers the girl in her coat (who seems to be… the bane of the locals!) and carries her off, knowing only one person who can help her: Charles Xavier.
We cut to Rio De Janiero, Brazil, and a young man named Roberto da Costa scores a GOOOOOOAL in a
soccer football game. In the stands, Robert has fans, including a black man and a white woman who are his parents. Okay, doing some research and… wow, Brazilian race relations are really complex. And ugly. And this? Having parents of two races? Honestly, it was pretty daring at the time; I certainly don’t remember any mixed-raced couples in comics during that era. Roberto gets blindsided and no one sees it. Huh, Brazilian refs are as visually impaired as the American ones. Roberto doesn’t stand for it, and he tackles one of the punks and the boy proceeds to kick his ass. It turns out he and his teammates are racists and consider Roberto to be “an animal” no matter how rich his dad is. All of this is enough to trigger Roberto’s powers.
Why he’s as black as… a sunspot! Roberto passes out and while everyone freaks out and flees, his mom runs to her son’s side. This event doesn’t go unnoticed, as a mysterious person watches via high altitude camera. Cut to Cameron County, Kentucky. A teenage boy named Sam Guthrie is starting his first day working in the coal mine. Guthrie’s pa died of black lung and he’s had to give up a scholarship to support his brothers and sisters because ma’s too proud to go on welfare. Damn, Sam, you’re just a dead dog away from being a country song.
Sam heads down into the earth with the other miners and starts to learn the trade, but bad luck follows the Guthries and his first day on the job, there’s a cave-in. One of the men is pinned by some timber and Sam stays behind to help, but it’s no use, because the rest of the mine’s a-comin’ down around their heads. Guthrie’s adrenaline spikes, and the next thing we know…
He’s fires off like some… cannonball! The other miners think it’s some kind of miracle, but our mystery watcher knows what’s what. He thinks Sam could be of use, and when he’s done with him, he’ll be as dead as Da Costa. Cut to the Medicine Bow mountains, near Sundance, Colorado. Okay, Claremont is making these places up; these names are too cool to be real. (Checks internet… huh. Okay, I stand corrected.) A teenage girl sits cross-legged on the mountainside meditating and it looks like she’s about to become a meal for a passing mountain lion. But no, the mountain lion is the girl’s pet or friend. She calls him Ridge Runner and suddenly I’m getting Elfquest flashbacks.
The lion is spooked by something and it turns out to be an old man. I can relate; old people scare the hell out of me, too. The old man is the girl’s grandfather and he calls her “Moonstar” and tells her she’s gotta leave the mountains and go elsewhere to learn how to use her gifts. In fact, he’s sending her off to learn from a guy named Charles Xavier. Moonstar freaks out and is totally against a) leaving home and b) learning anything from a white man. Her stress triggers her power, which seems to be that she can create holograms of bad stuff, in this case her grandfather getting a beating from two Iron Man knockoffs. So, in other words, it seems that she can… psyche people out. Moonstar is horrified at what she’s done, but her grandfather forgives her. Our mystery voyeur is watching, and it turns out he’s Donald Pierce.
Who? You know, Donald Pierce? Hellfire Club? The one drawn to look like Donald Sutherland? The one with the bionic arms? Look, just Google him. He’s got some woman hostage, and she sounds like one of Sebastian Shaw’s lackeys and Pierce seems to be keeping her around to have someone to monologue too. That night, Moonstar wakes up and senses something’s wrong with her grandfather. She rides out and finds him dead.
She realizes that somehow, Grandpa had foreseen his death, and that’s what she pulled out of his mind earlier. Moonstar swears revenge, and we cut to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters where Moira MacTaggart has brought young Ms. Rahne Sinclair.
It seems Charles has another case on hand, too: Xi’an Coy Manh AKA Karma, who first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100 about two years prior. Xavier is conducting some tests and it seems Karma has some pretty impressive psychic abilities. He asks her for a demonstration, but Xi’an is a little reluctant because it’s against her “beliefs”. MacTaggert agrees to play guinea pig, and it turns out Manh can control other people completely while still retaining her own body’s mobility. MacTaggert’s eyes go all white like Batman, while Rahne wolfs up, ready to chew up Manh. Fortunately, Xavier gets the wolf girl to stand down with a telepathic command.
As Xavier takes the ladies on a tour of the mansion, Manh gives an infodump on her background, all about how her (evil) twin brother had the same abilities and liked using them. She has a younger brother and sister who live in New York, and she’s also a Pisces. Okay, I made that last part up. Rahne thinks the powers come from Satan and Xavier tries to disabuse her of that notion. Over lunch, Manh asks Xavier for help learning how to use her powers, but Charles can’t; the X-Men are gone and he’s tired of sending people off to die. Ah, now if I recall correctly, the X-Men were off in space at this point fighting the Brood, and Chuck thought they had died. Fortunately, Moira is able to turn Chuck’s head around and the girls can stay.
Manh points out she doesn’t have time to be a student, while Rahne exposits that even though Moira treats her as an equal, the girl is but a peasant and MacTaggert a laird… or something. Chuck suggests Manh can ditch her job and work for him full time. Chuck then gets a letter from Black Eagle about Moonstar, asking him for help. It’s time for a road trip!
Cut to the next day and the group finds Black Eagle’s body laid out on a wooden platform, in accordance with Cheyenne funeral rites. Xavier explains the man was far wiser than he. Well, if he was and he saw what was coming, why didn’t he find a phone and call Xavier warning him of dudes in hi-tech armor? Xi’an wonders aloud how they’re going to find the man’s granddaughter, and right on cue the gang is exposed to a scene out of Apocalypse Now when Xi’an freaks out because it’s one of her childhood memories brought to life. Chuck tries to gain his bearings to resist the mental assault of her Vietnam War flashback, when suddenly a real bomb goes off.
Nearby, Moonstar is on the run from the guys who killed her grandfather, and they’re zoomin’ around on hoverboards with handles. Ridge Runner (and now I’m starting to think that name sounds more like a Transformer) tries to help but the mountain lion gets thrown off a cliff and dies. Moonstar gets grabbed and the dude threatens to drop her too, but…
Well, dude, I guess… karma’s a bitch! Moonstar is freaked out by the possessed dude talking with a girl’s voice, and how he’s turned on his buddies, stunning them with his scooter gun. Manh removes the guy’s helmet so Xavier can do his thing. So these helmets make the guys immune to Chuck, but not Manh? Okay, I guess?
Moonstar attempts to whammy them with her powers, but Chuck mentally tells her to stop and uses her first name: Danielle. Apparently, Danielle hates that name and all things white and tells the gang to take a powder, but Manh sees that Moonstar’s shoulder’s has been dislocated. She sets it and Xavier explains to the girl that she’ll be a danger to herself and everyone else without training. Danielle reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, Xavier reads the goon’s mind and discovers who’s behind it all, and who his other targets are. Xavier is going to have to call his friend in the Illuminati and get them to send the big guns to save those other kids.
And you see? Here’s where retconning blows. Chuck is going into danger with a bunch of untrained kids, when according to Brian Michael Bendis, at this point he’s close friends with all kinds of superheroes. Hell, now that I think about it, why isn’t he calling up some former X-Men? Beast, Angel, Iceman, Havok, Polaris? This is child endangerment. I mean, even worse child endangerment than he’s normally involved in.
The next day, Moira heads off with Xi’an and Moonstar to Rio where they check into a hotel, and boom! Cops come busting down the door. It seems Moira did the right thing and called Roberto’s folks, and it turns out somebody tried to abduct the boy and wound up maybe getting a female classmate instead. Moonstar wants to mentally nuke the cops, but Xi’an wins out and possesses one. Xi’an and Moonstar make a break for it, but Moira chooses to stay behind and try to convince the cops what’s really going down. That night, the girls use a mini-Cerebro in a wristwatch (provided by Moira) to track down Roberto, who they find sneaking out of the house. He heads to a bad neighborhood where we find out the bad guys abducted Roberto’s girlfriend to get him to surrender. They start roughing him up and his girl figures they’re doomed, but…
Somebody should tell artist Bob McLeod those masks aren’t supposed to move. Roberto puts up a good fight, but it turns out these are the dudes Wolverine cut up during the Dark Phoenix saga, which makes sense; Pierce is a cyborg and he probably gave these guys upgrades. Now I’m thinking maybe that mask is supposed to move, because it’s part of what’s left of the guy’s face?
Roberto runs out of gas and is about to die, when Xi’an and Danielle jump in for the save. While Xi’an has one try to shoot the others, Moonstar creates an image of what they fear most: Wolverine. The good guys seem on the verge of winning, but a disoriented Roberto clocks Xian. Her host is free and takes a shot at the boy, but his girlfriend takes the bullet for him. Moonstar devastates the shooter’s mind with an ultra-powerful image of Wolverine and it breaks him. Roberto blames himself for his girlfriend’s death and yeah, it kind of is his fault. Roberto agrees to go with the girls to get his revenge.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, Chuck and Rahne are on a country back road when their car gets blasted by Sam, who’s wearing the uniform of the enemy. Hey, the family’s gotta eat, right? Rahne bails out of the car at Chuck’s command and shifts to wolf form, and she helplessly watches as she sees a bad guy drag Xavier’s unconscious body out of the burning wreckage. A chopper then shows up with more goons, and one addresses Sam as “Cannonball”. Sam insists he saw a girl and they tell him to shut up and get the bald dude in the ‘copter, because their scanners don’t show any other human life forms nearby. Rahne watches the chopper fly off and despairs, but then she catches Chuck’s scent, and soon she’s on the hunt. Rahne is able to track the chopper to a facility nearby and gets by the dogs and fences in her were-half form. Inside…
…Pierce explains he’s going to pretty much mindrape Charles. Fortunately (or conveniently, however you want to look at it), the ladies are on hand and Danielle can mindlink with Rahne due to her affinity with animals. But before a rescue plan can go into action, Sam almost slams into Rahne. She morphs into a wolf and Sam hesitates, then Moonstar gives him the illusion fear whammy, making him relive the mine cave-in. The guards are alerted by Sam blowing through a wall and attacking Rahne, but Roberto brings the rest of the wall down on them.
Danielle and Rahne head in, but before Xi’an and Roberto can, Sam is back. He plows into the ground, but Xi’an is too scared to focus, so she picks up a machine gun to lay down cover fire while Roberto rips up every machine in sight. Inside, Pierce decides to just kill Xavier rather than have him rescued. Rahne rushes in and puts the bite on Pierce’s arm, only to discover it’s bionic. He slams her into the control console by Chuck while Danielle slips in through the tried-and-true method of the air vents.
Danielle’s down! But Rahne isn’t, despite what might be a punctured lung. Roberto comes punching through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man, but before he can say, “Oh yeah!”, Sam blasts into him from behind. Xi’an tries to make the save, but Pierce has a electro-shocker in his arm. And now Xi’an’s down!
Pierce tells Sam to “get rid of them” and when Sam finds out it’s a euphemism for “kill”, he finally realizes he’s working for the bad guys. He refuses and finds out his powers have conked out. Pierce is ready to put a bullet in the boy’s head… when he finds he can’t. Rahne has managed to shut off the mind whammy device, and now Chuck’s in the driver’s seat. Pierce is strong-willed, but compared to Professor X, he’s minor league. Xi’an takes over and the gang knows they have to get Rahne to a hospital. Problem is, what to do with Pierce? A member of the Hellfire Club has a solution: leave Pierce to her. Since Donald has proven to be a disloyal prick, the Hellfire Club will take care of him. In case you’re wondering, Pierce doesn’t die. Why the Club let him live (albeit in a secret prison), I have no clue. If you know, feel free to comment.
Sam wonders what he should do, and Roberto suggests a bit acerbically that he should go off with his boss. The gang leave Sam feeling confused, and judging by his expression, pretty damn guilty. To be fair though, Sam didn’t know he was working for a mutant hating supervillain; he probably thought Pierce’s outfit was what dudes back east normally wear.
Later, back at Xavier’s mansion, the four kids try on their new uniforms, each one with their own feelings and misgivings regarding becoming Xavier’s students. The doorbell rings, and it’s Sam, who’s here at Xavier’s invitation. Roberto’s still a little suspicious, but Rahne stands up for her fellow buzz-cut mutant. The story ends…
…with Xavier looking on at his new batch of mutant students.
So, a few things. The first is the story moves really fast, but I don’t mind that at all. Chirs Claremont and Bob McLeod tell a tight tale in just 47 pages. I can’t imagine how many issues it would have taken Bendis, or worse, Hickman to tell the same story. Like I said earlier, I do find it a little annoying that Chuck doesn’t call in reinforcements. I know time is of the essence, but c’mon, Avengers have quinjets, the Fantastic Four has a “pogo plane”, and Warren Worthington AKA Angel is rich and can charter a private jet. I get that Moira, Danielle, and Xi’an are actually a decent team who can take care of themselves, but Chuck is running around with a fourteen year old girl who just found out two weeks ago she can turn into a wolf.
But other than that weak plot point, overall this is a strong story. Claremont is able to write kids well; to me the five sounded authentic, with their youthful anger, their uncertainties, their arrogance, and their inexperience. If that makes me sound down on kids, let me point out a lot of those adjectives can apply to adults like Clint Barton. My point is, kids should be portrayed as possessing some of these traits and not be written like miniature adults. Claremont gets that. And I also didn’t think it was too unrealistic when these kids bested the adults; Claremont made a good choice with a rogue Hellfire Club member working with limited resources as the bad guy.
Next week: I take a look at more New Mutants goodness with one of their most iconic stories, and one of the main inspirations for the not-so-soon to be released movie: the Demon Bear Saga!