Thursday, July 19, 2012
X-amining Marvel Graphic Novel #4
In a Nutshell
After they are targeted by Donald Pierce, Professor X somewhat reluctantly takes on a new class of young mutant students.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Bob McLeod
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
In Scotland, Moira MacTaggert rescues a young mutant werewolf named Rahne, and decides to take her to Charles Xavier. In Brazil, Roberto Da Costa gets into a fight at a soccer game, causing his super strength to manifests, frightening the crowd. In Kentucky, Sam Guthrie arrives for his first day of work in the coal mines, only to be caught in a cave in. In order to save a co-worker, he blasts out of the mine like a cannonball. In Colorado, a young Native American woman named Moonstar is told by her grandfather Black Eagle that he's sending her to study with Charles Xavier to gain control over her psychic mutant abilities. Donald Pierce, having split from the Hellfire Club and captured his former associate Tessa, monitors these activities, and decides to strike against these new mutants and Professor X.
That night Moonstar finds Black Eagle dead, realizes he's been murdered, and swears vengeance. In New York, Professor X, along with Moira and Rahne, examines another young mutant, a woman named Shan who can mentally possess people. After some prodding from Moira, Xavier, grief-stricken over the missing X-Men, reluctantly agrees to take on the girls as students just as a letter from Colorado arrives. Xavier, Rahne and Shan arrive in Colorado and help Moonstar fight off a group of armored henchmen sent by Pierce to kill her. Reading the mind of one of the attackers, Xavier learns Pierce is targeting the other mutants. He sends Moira, Shan and Moonstar to Brazil to find Roberto while he and Rahne go to Kentucky for Sam. After a run-in with the Brazilian police, Shan and Moonstar follow Roberto to where Pierce's men are holding his girlfriend Juliana hostage. In the ensuing fight, Shan and Moonstar help Roberto defeat Pierce's men, but Juliana is killed saving Roberto. Roberto, Shan and Moonstar agree to find Pierce and make him pay.
In Kentucky, Xavier and Rahne are attacked by Sam, who has been duped into working for Pierce. Xavier is captured, but Rahne escapes and follows Xavier to Pierce's base. Pierce intends to use a device to absorb all the information in Xavier's mind, leaving him a vegetable. As Shan, Roberto and Moonstar arrive, Sam discovers Rahne, and a fight breaks out between the young mutants and Pierce's men. When Sam realizes Pierce intends to kill the mutants, he turns on him. Rahne attacks Pierce and is seriously injured, but manages to shut off the mindtap device, allowing Xavier to use his telepathy to take control of Pierce. Unwilling to leave him behind and unable to wait for the authorities because of Rahne's injuries, Xavier reluctantly turns Pierce over to Tessa, who promises the Hellfire Club will deal with him. Two weeks later, Shan, Roberto, Rahne and Moonstar gather for the first time as Xavier's new pupils, when they are joined by Sam, whom Xavier invited to join the school as well. Looking on as his students welcome Sam, Xavier's grief lessens, and he realizes his dream is still good.
Firsts and Other Notables
The issue marks the first appearance of the New Mutants as a team, as well as the vast majority of its members: Sam Guthrie (Cannonball, who can blast through the air like a cannonball), Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane, who can transform into a wolf and human/wolf hybrid), Dani Moonstar (Psyche, who can project images of people's greatest fears and commune with animals), and Roberto Da Costa (Sunspot, who can convert solar energy to raw strength, his body covered by a black energy field when he does so). However, none of the characters receive their code names in this issue, and Moonstar's first name is never mentioned.
They are joined by X'an Coy Mahn, called Shan (Karma, who can mentally posses people), a refugee from Vietnam who is the oldest of the New Mutants. She made her first appearance in Marvel Team-Up #100. X-Men #165 will depict the genesis of the New Mutants, as Moira urges Xavier to take on Karma as a student. Karma is eventually revealed to be a lesbian, though no mention of that is made here (or for awhile). Karma has a twin brother who shares her power, and used it in service of their criminal uncle (as detailed in her first appearance). Her younger siblings, whom she is responsible for looking after, are also mentioned, and they will, more or less sight unseen, come to play a significant role in Karma's narrative for the next several decades.
In addition to the main characters, a number of minor recurring supporting characters are introduced, including Rahne's fundamentalist guardian, Reverend Craig and Roberto's father, Emmanuel Da Costa.
The villain of the issue is Donald Pierce, former member of the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, who has split from the Club. An anti-mutant bigot, he became fed up with working with the mutants in the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club and has begun a crusade against mutants.
He's brought along with him Cole, Macon and Reese, the three Hellfire Club soldiers whom Wolverine attacked in issue #133 and were remade into cyborgs like Pierce. This begins their association with Pierce, a partnership that will last throughout Claremont's run as the four cyborgs eventually join future villain team the Reavers.
Shaw's personal assistant (and, according to a future retcon, secret agent of Xavier) Tessa is kidnapped by Pierce, and later takes him into custody after he's defeated. He'll next be seen escaping that custody.
This issue was on stands as the same time as Uncanny X-Men #164, though to get this issue and the rest of the series up to issue #3 covered before Uncanny #167 (when the X-Men meet the New Mutants for the first time), we're looking at it a bit early. As a result, the New Mutants are gathering in a rebuilt X-Mansion; we'll see it finished for the first time in Uncanny X-Men #164.
Bob McLeod pencils and inks this issue, and is credited as the co-creator of the New Mutants, having designed the majority of the characters. His work is very unique, strong in body language and facial expressions but light, in places, on backgrounds.
Originally, this story was intended by Claremont and McLeod to appear as the double-size first issue of the regular New Mutants series, but according to Claremont, Marvel was doing a big push with their graphic novel line at the time, and as a result, were soliciting books without having finished content. So Jim Shooter decided to appropriate the first issue of New Mutants as a graphic novel, leaving Claremont and McLeod to write and draw a second double-sized first issue for the series proper.
As a result of being published as a graphic novel, this issue is printed on glossy paper, with a square binding and featuring no ads, Bullpen Bulletins page, etc. It originally cost $4.95.
A Work in Progress
Amongst the character traits and background info we learn right away, Rahne is demure and deeply religious, believing mutant powers to be gifts of Satan, Roberto is hot-tempered, skilled at soccer, and initially distrustful of Sam, Moonstar resents authority and fled to the mountains after her power first manifested itself, and Sam is well-meaning but gullible.
As the issue opens, Moira is in Scotland, though she last appeared in New York with Professor X, with no indication that she returning home. Banshee, of course, is nowhere to be found.
Moira mentions that mutants' powers tend to manifest themselves during puberty; I believe this is the first time that is made explicit.
In order to provide for her siblings while studying with Xavier, Shan is given the job of Professor X's secretary, putting her in charge of the day-to-day operations of the mansion. This is a condition which technically exists for the duration of her stay on the team, but little ever comes of it.
Xavier is said to be Moonstar's (deceased) dad's blood brother, a fairly random relationship which doesn't get explored much.
In these early issues, Moonstar's power is depicted as pink images, presumably to set apart them apart in the reader's eye from everything else on the page (similar to how Jean's telekinesis is often depicted with a colorful energy effect that goes unseen by the characters). I never quite got that as a kid, though, and often wondered why people were so frightened of pink outlines that were clearly fake.
Rahne's transitional form, between full wolf and full human, will be depicted in a variety of ways through the years, and here we see it as being almost centaur-like, with the lower half lupine and the upper half more human. It's also revealed that Moonstar's ability to telepathically communicate with animals allows her to communicate with Rahne when Rahne is in either half wolf or full wolf form.
It's also established that Rahne has accelerated healing abilities.
Shan is shown to be a Catholic.
Despite his break from the Inner Circle, Pierce is sticking with the "18th century" motif, even drawing an old flintlock pistol on Xavier.
The New Mutants are given standard issue uniforms (the same style as Kitty originally wore when she first joined the X-Men). Made of unstable molecules, they alter to suit the wearer's powers (such as disappearing when Rahne becomes a wolf). Rahne considers the uniform "daring".
I Love the 80s
Like Thunderbird before her, Moonstar is very resentful of the white man.
Roberto refers to Sam as "senhor", which is either the Brazilian spelling of the word, or a pretty bad misspelling.
Long before Gambit is even a twinkle in Claremont's eye, Karma drops a "cherie".
Rahne, at least in this issue, suffers from one of the worst Claremont phonetic accents.
"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Moonstar spends most of the issue pissed off at the world in general and Xavier in particular, and refuses to wear the belt that is part of her uniform. The tension between the two will color these early issues.
Roberto's motivations throughout this issue are spurned by the capture and subsequent death of his girlfriend Juliana. She is perhaps the first teenager in modern history to call her boyfriend "beloved".
They're Students, Not Superheroes
Moira convinces Xavier to take on new students by insisting that his dream isn't just about training mutants for combat.
As the issue opens, Reverend Craig is leading a lynch mob after Rahne, and they've already shot her once.
Chris Claremont on the genesis of The New Mutants
“For about the last year since the spring of ’81 Weezie [Louise Jones] and I have on various occasions kicked around the idea of doing a second book. Just in a bullshit sort of framework: “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to do a second book.” “What would we do in it?” “Oh, probably go crazy and have heart seizures and nervous breakdowns and things like that.” The main reason why nothing was ever done about it was that we concluded that putting out a second book, especially considering the fact that there seemed to be no artistic personnel available...we decided to wait until we found someone and then think seriously about putting it together…And what happened was that while we were pretty much solidifying the concept or at least getting it as much into focus as we felt we needed, Mark Gruenwald when into Jim [Shooter]’s office with a proposal for an alternative X-Men book involving the “loose” members of the original team – Angel, Iceman, Beast, Havoc, Polaris- and I suppose any other extraneous mutants that happened to be around, and setting them up on the West Coast…Jim quite properly went to Weezie and said that this proposal was had been made to him, and asked if we had any problems with it…or suggestions, or comments. Weezie pointed out, well, we had our own concept in the works, and we’d had it for quite some time. And Jim said, “Oh, okay, well, let’s hear it.” So then we had to put up or shut up.”
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p109-110
Tom DeFalco on the genesis of The New Mutants
"It wasn't Gruenwald, it was me. Mark and I were handling the Spider-Man books and Jim Shooter noticed that sales were going up. He suggested we do another title. I asked why should we expand Spider-Man if X-Men was our biggest seller? Why not do a second X-Men book? Mark and I always assumed that Louise would edit it.
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p69
Chris Claremont on the concept of the The New Mutants
“This is all tentative in that the book will evolve as we go along, but I would like primarily to keep this focused in and around the mansion, Salem Center, that area of Westchester, New York City – the Northeast primarily, but not any farther than that. I would like to steer clear of the globetrotting, universetrotting, dimensiontrotting milieu of the X-Men themselves, because the idea is to draw as stark and absolute a contrast as possible. These are kids who could go down to the local malt shop, or would like to, which is something, for better or worse, I can’t imagine the X-Men doing.”
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p111
“This is basically the book Jim Shooter always felt The X-Men should be…It finally restores to Xavier a necessity of function that he hasn’t had in The Uncanny X-Men since after the first year of the new team’s existence.”
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p117
“One of the problems that has arisen with The X-Men is that it is a very insular book; there is a very limited interaction between the X-Men and normal people, the world around them. They generally tend to interact on a very extraordinary and extreme plane of reality, with super-heroes or aliens or demons or God knows what else. It’s a very rarefied atmosphere, whereas with this one, we want to go more in the direction of interaction between super-beings and normal people.”
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p118
By 1982, X-Men was rising through the ranks of Marvel's best selling titles. Spider-Man was headlining two titles (Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man) as well as Marvel Team-Up and the Fantastic Four's Thing starred as one half of the rotating duo in the Team-Up-esque Marvel Two-In-One. So it only made sense to the powers-at-be to spin-off a title from the critically and commercially successful X-Men.
Determined to keep the new title in house (where he could maintain control of the overall X-Men narrative) Claremont worked with Louise Simonson (nee Jones) to put together a spin-off book. In doing so, he finally gave Jim Shooter something the editor-in-chief had been after for years: a return to the "X-Men as students of Charles Xavier" concept. Instead of forcing the now twenty-and-thirty-something X-Men back into the classroom, Claremont created a new team of teenaged characters and made them Xavier's students. In fact, one of the defining characteristics of New Mutants is that the main characters are students first, not superheroes. While they wear uniforms and train in the Danger Room, it's for their protection and to give them greater control over their powers. While the conventions of the genre never quite let this status quo remain in place for very long, the effort (or lack thereof) made to maintain it helps give New Mutants a different tone and purpose, which helps set it apart from its parent title.
This issue is (likely intentionally) structured a lot like Giant Size X-Men #1, the last issue to introduce readers to a group of new mutants en masse (and like the Giant-Size team, the New Mutants are also a diverse group: in addition to Sam, from Kentucky, there's the Native American Moonstar, Scottish Rahne, Brazilian Roberto and Vietnamese Shan). It opens with 2-3 pages devoted to introducing each new character, followed by (part of) the team gathering at the X-Mansion before being sent out on a mission, during which the characters split off in an effort to showcase their individual powers and personalities before coming together to defeat the villain. It's an effective technique, and this issue reads something like the pilot of a TV show, with the characters and situations introduced such that by the end, you've gotten something that isn't quite what the series will be, but that's managed to setup what's coming.
Next Issue: New Mutants #1
With the team fully formed, they kick off the first issue of their new regular series.
But first, we return to the X-Men for the first appearance of Binary in Uncanny X-Men #164.