Back in the day, the New Mutants was a superb addition to the X-Men family. The first spin-off of the popular franchise, Claremont was joined by Brent Anderson and Bob McLeod in crafting a new team of youngsters to fill the space left by the X-Men who were thought to have died (imagine!). The series began with a stylish and slick graphic novel one-shot that gave the project a strong statement of support from Marvel. Awkward and lanky Sam Guthrie left his mining family to become Cannonball, Dani Moonstar departed the reservation to take on the name of Mirage, feisty Roberto da Costa turned his back on a life of luxury to become the super strong Sunspot, and shape-shifting Rahne Sinclair left the comfort of Scotland and was known as Wolfsbane. The team was initially led by a mutant previously introduced in the pages of Marvel Team-Up, Xi’an Coy Manh, also known as Karma.
The series ran through several iterations and eventually got taken over by the gritted teeth/bulging muscles of Rob Liefeld who turned the book into X-Force, but that’s another story.
Zeb Wells, Diogenes Neves and Leonard Kirk have revived the book with surprising success, especially given that there are more X-books on the market today than there ever have been before (bar the late 90′s). Rather than bring another group of young mutants into the fold, Wells and Kirk have stick to the formula that gave the series its unique identity and have gotten the band back together, as it were. Later team additions such as Magma, Magick and Warlock are also on hand, but each of the New Mutants has aged somewhat and changed a little in their own way. It’s a little thing, but it is handled so well that you can easily accept these characters as realistic. It’s very much like getting together with old friends, recognizing how much they have changed yet comforted by the ways in which they are much the same as you remember. The high quality of the characters has always been the strength of the X-Men in the past and as a reader of all things X-Men it is frustrating to see how often it is mishandled.
The return from the dead of Cypher probably struck many fans as being a step in the wrong direction and maybe even an obsessive compulsion to get ALL of the members back on the roster. I mean, how useful is a guy whose mutant power is to understand and speak any language? But this was Wells’ challenge, not the readers, and he met the task with so much vigor that I wondered why Cypher wasn’t so well used before.
De-powered, Dani Moonstar felt very much out of place, but her hunting and survival skills tempered by a steel determination continues to make her a fan favorite.
The series unfortunately had to stumble a bit through numerous cross-overs and the like, but finally came into its own. It’s unfortunate that given the sheer number of comics in the stands, a book like New Mutants fell through the cracks. The Fall of the New Mutants begun in July was a roller coaster that should have gotten readers talking online and in shops, but I haven’t heard much bally-hooing at all.
Fall of the New Mutants involves General Ulysses and his marines who were part of an experiment in Limbo conducted by the US military. In Limbo, the marines sought to weaponize a group of mutant babies. When the camp is attacked, the experiment takes a turn for the worse and what was intended as a ‘simpler’ operation becomes a hellish ordeal. Ulysses’ men are changed both psychologically and in some cases physically (many of the troopers have demonic limbs grafted to their bodies to replace parts removed in combat) from their time in Limbo and bear little semblance to the soldiers they once were. The babies are another matter altogether and have been so well trained as weapons that they scarcely have any identity of their own.
Ulysses attacks the New Mutants to kidnap Pixie and bring her back to Limbo, using her ‘soul dagger’ to their own ends. The New Mutants travel to Limbo in a rescue mission only to face impossible odds as both flying demons, Ulysses’s soldiers and the Inferno Babies whittle them down inch by inch.
A rich dramatic adventure that pitted the team against impossible odds and stripped them to their core, the story ended with the New Mutants in ruins, seemingly totally defeated. The sequel of course was Rise of the New Mutants, an epic of operatic proportions, featuring feats of sacrifice and bravery as the team battled the combined opposition in kind.
This will sadly be Wells’ last story on the series and I am sorry to see him go. A new creative team will be taking over shortly, no doubt taking the title in a new direction. I only hope that the new creators hold onto the work that Wells has put into the comic and the strong characterizations that are inherent in the series. I’d hate to see the best mutant book on the stands go downhill again!