X-Wing: October 2012A column article, X-Wing by: Steve Morris
In a month where Kieron Gillen and Brian Wood ended their brilliant X-Men runs, Dazzler saved the Wild West, and Gambit fought off titanic God-Monsters, what else has been going on in October? SO MUCH, YOU GUYS.
But I’m not going to write about it. Instead, I want to focus on a single title: New Mutants.
If you’ve followed X-Wing, you’ll know that I end every feature with a rundown of the good books, the bad books and then a check-in on New Mutants. The reason why I do this is because the book, which has absolutely every potential to be a fun, vibrant and entertaining series, has been the worst Marvel title around. For years and years. How can such a once-strong franchise collapse in on itself so quickly? With each new story arc or character decision has somewhere come a fresh wave of absolute drivel, which weakened every character in the book and bored the life out of everybody.
I want to explore that.
New Mutants, of course, was made famous by Chris Claremont and artists such as Bill Sienkiewicz and Sal Buscema. Continuing Claremont’s theme of diversity, the series took up the next generation of mutants after the All-New X-Men and was made up of a Vietnamese girl, a Brazilian boy, a Native American, Magik, a Scottishwoman and Colossus’ sister, Illyana. The book took a more youth-orientated look at the world of mutantdom (as a result, the original comics are now a little dated) but really came into its own after “The Demon Bear Saga.” Perhaps one of the best X-Men stories ever written, this storyline advanced the characters and introduced a recurring theme: experimental, risky art styles and innovative narrative styles; married to significant, unique characters.
I’m talking here about Dani Moonstar, Karma, Cannonball, Sunspot, Magma, Wolfsbane, Magik, Warlock and Cypher. They’re the original new mutants and the most important ones (although I love several of the newer ones, like Skids). The book continued for a long while under Claremont, before other writers came on and changed the format and cast over the next few years. Ultimately the book was canceled, leaving the characters in limbo. Mike Carey eventually picked up on Cannonball, while some of the others showed up from time-to-time -- but the team was gone. Fans never stopped demanding for them to return, and ultimately Marvel caved in to popular demand, bringing several of the team together for a book helmed by Zeb Wells and Diogenes Neves.
But a problem soon became apparent. With so many other X-Men books now around – not least of which, there were now books featuring the generations who came after the New Mutants – there was no purpose for the cast anymore. It wasn’t enough to be the younger generation anymore because they weren’t. A purpose was needed and Wells teased that he had one in mind. This did not happen. Instead, his arcs leant on the past heavily, trading on nostalgia over progression. The first arc saw the team fight Legion, Xavier’s crazed son. The second saw them fight the Hellions, their old rivals – and brought Cypher back to life. The third arc saw them fight the Inferno Babies – characters they first met in Inferno.
Nothing moved the characters forward. While everybody else in the book was developed – Legion will now be the protagonist of X-Men Legacy, for example – the New Mutants remained static, enveloped in a bubble of nostalgia. And as they couldn’t move forward, they moved inwards. In came relationships between Cannonball and Moonstar; Magma and Sunspot, as the tone of the book became incestuous and slow. Momentum completely faded, even as the big plan for the characters was revealed to be “Cyclops wants Moonstar to lead the X-Men next.” A very nice idea, sure, although one fans knew would never come to pass. The details were off, too – Sunspot repeatedly spoke the wrong language, while Karma’s family were mysteriously absent.
As Zeb Wells left the book, the characters were in exactly the same place as when he started. Aside from Cypher, who was alive once more. And that’s where the rot really started to kick in. The problem with Cypher is that he has always been an awful, vague character. His powers are to read and learn language, a skillset, which was never cauterised like it should have been. Instead of capping his ability, his powers expanded into nebulous territory, where he could suddenly “read” the “language” of fighting or cities or society. He became monumentally powerful and unstoppable while remaining as blank and boring a character as he’d ever been. And yet he was the central character now.
Just to be clear, the star of New Mutants has always been Moonstar. Cannonball, Wolfsbane and Magik have also got strong personalities, but Moonstar has been the focus since the start, and the strongest character. She was the star of The Demon Bear Saga, and the defacto leader of the team. Over the last few years, her only storyline has been a romance with Cannonball – cut off short – and a romance with X-Man – now cut off short again. Just so we can be clear, I’m saying that the only storyline Marvel gave one of their strongest women was a romance. Can you get anymore regressive than that?
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning promptly removed Cannonball and Karma – two of the most marketable characters by far – and replaced them with Blink and X-Man. Yes. Two founding members of the team were removed in order to bring in some random character who had never touched the New Mutants before. It was utterly bizarre, and left the book lacking star power. The new purpose for the team was decided to be “tidying up loose ends,” while Cypher pushed his way to the forefront of every storyline. It didn’t work. The dialogue was laboured and boring, the storylines non-existent, and the characterisation dire. If not for a crossover with Journey Into Mystery, Magma would never have had a storyline, and Sunspot … well, he DIDN’T actually have a storyline.
The book ignored characters in order to live inside continuity. Rather than give poor Warlock something to do, the book instead decided to close out old storylines regarding characters like Blink and Birdbrain. Weird, obscure stories, which only a very small group within the small group of hardcore X-Men fans could possibly enjoy. The final issue, out last week, encapsulates everything. In it, the New Mutants have a party, and Moonstar talks about the men in her life. Then something dull and uninteresting attacks them for no good reason, so Cypher uses his vague powers to shut it down. There’s no sense of celebration or joy in the book, and the characters have no reason to talk to each other. In fact, they seem totally bored of each other, with nothing new to say which wasn’t already said back in issue #1.
New Mutants vol #3 has been a total waste of time. With no idea what to do with the characters, Marvel have spun wheels on a book for #50 issues without defining anyone (even Magik, who skipped out halfway through the series, had to join Uncanny X-Men before she got something juicy to do) or itself. It’s been a dire ride, devoid of anything to recommend it. Because I’m an optimist, I will list the one success of the book, but please don’t take this as a recommendation. The art was frequently FANTASTIC. Strange artists like David Baldeon, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, David Lopez and David LaFuente (lots of Davids) did some brilliant work on the book, making it seem far more interesting than it ever was.
But New Mutants is now finished. The book is done, and I can’t see it ever coming back. The characters are ruined. There is no premise or reason for them to exist. Cannonball, Magik, Sunspot and Wolfsbane are in different books. Moonstar, the star, was once thought to be the successor to leadership of the X-Men. Now she’s in limbo again, having been devastated. Marvel had no idea what to do with this book, right from the start, and the fanbase have slunk away in disinterest. It’s a cautionary story for publishers: Nostalgia won’t get you anywhere anymore. If you’re going to bring back a fan-favourite series and some of your best characters, you’d better have a damn plan for how to use them. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a book like this. New Mutants is the new standard for horrible comic book production.
Coming November – All-New X-Men, a relaunch for X-Men Legacy and an X-Factor wedding.
See you afterward!
NEW MUTANTS UPDATE:
- The End.