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Thursday, September 6, 2012

X-amining New Mutants #4

"Who's Scaring Stevie?"
June 1983

In a Nutshell 
The New Mutants help track down someone who is stalking Stevie Hunter. 

Scripter: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Sal Buscema
Finisher: Bob McLeod
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Louise JonesEditor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
At her studio, Stevie and Karma discuss the disturbing phone calls Stevie has been receiving, and the fact that police are unable to help her. At the mansion, Professor X calls a meeting of the New Mutants and tells them that though he gathered them under the influence of the Brood, they all have a place at the school and he'd like them to stay. They agree, and then Karma tells Xavier about Stevie's situation. He agrees to let the New Mutants investigate so long as they submit their plan to him for approval. At Stevie's apartment, they trace one of the phone calls to a nearby phone booth, and Rahne is able to track the scent to the local high school. With Sam and Rahne keeping watch, the rest of the team goes inside to flush out the culprit. When one of the boys sees Stevie, Rahne senses his surprise and fear, and through their rapport, points him out to Dani.


The boy, Peter Bristow, one of Stevie's students, races off, and the New Mutants give chase. They follow his car to a construction site, where a fire breaks out. Karma takes possession of Peter while Roberto puts out the fire. At Stevie's apartment, Dani uses her power and learns that Peter has a crush on Stevie, but because he's been abused by his father, he thinks he needs to hurt Stevie to show her he loves her. Professor Xavier arrives and the authorities take Peter into foster care, with Xavier promising to help with his therapy. He's pleased with the good the New Mutants have done, but says he still wants a report on how their performance could be improved by tomorrow's class. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Bob McLeod steps down as the regular penciler as of this issue, with long time Marvel artist Sal Buscema coming aboard. McLeod stays on as the inker, and the transition is relatively seamless, with the art in this issue looking not all that different from the previous three issues. 

This is technically the first issue of the series in which Professor X appears free of the Brood's influence, and he openly acknowledges that he was subsconsciously guided to form the team in order to gather future hosts for the Brood, which puts a unique spin on the New Mutants origins, making them one of the few teams to have their origin rooted in becoming hosts for a parasitic alien race.  


A Work in Progress
Sam continues to struggle with turning while blasting, though he manages to at least turn up, to his great satisfaction.


The "mixer" the New Mutants end up at in this issue is the same one the local kids invited them to in issue #2, though Dani mentions their standing invitation despite not being at the mall when it was made.


It's established that Sam's invulnerability while blasting extends to whomever he's carrying, and that Karma can't move as quickly when she's possessing someone.

Rahne mentions desiring to stay as a wolf.


While out in public, Lilandra is seen wearing a turban to hide her feather-hair.


I Love the 80s
Not that this issue is trying to present itself as a deep mystery, but I'm sure you were shocked to discover the new character we'd never seen before until page 2 of this story turned out to be the culprit.


There's talk of mulled cider again.


Professor X notes that the New Mutants have been raised in a more rebellious age than the X-Men.


He also helps Bobby build the device that would enable the "*69" capability on phones.


Sam says he once tried to dance "like that Travolta fellow".


Claremontisms
As a wolf, Rahne sees the world as "patterns of energy".


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Professor X is back to his old tricks, wiping memories of the New Mutants' involvement.


Young Love
Lilandra and Professor X awkwardly make out. 


My Hero, Thomas Magnum 
Roberto insists his idea to go into the dance and flush out Stevie's stalker will work because it worked for Magnum.


Bob McLeod on stepping down as New Mutants penciller
"This was my first regular penciling assignment, and I wasn't prepared to knock out the pages as fast as I had to. That's what led me to deciding to leave penciling it after the third issue. I wasn't happy with the quality of my work. I needed more time to do good work."

Buchanan, Bruce. "The New Mutants: From Superhero Spinoff to Sci-Fi/Fantasy." Back Issue August 2008: p65.

Teebore's Take
While not reaching for the same heights as "God Loves, Man Kills", this issue shares some of that story's pretensions, serving, essentially, as an after school special on the subject of child abuse. What really saves the story is the strong character work Claremont puts into the New Mutants. Dani's angst is well established at this point, but we get our first sense of Karma's character, as she is the one most adamant to help Stevie and steps up in a leadership role. Later, Sam's joy at being able to turn while blasting and "finally doing something right" is palpable. Claremont also undercuts some of the pretension with some genuinely humorous moments, such as Sam and Rahne, on the lookout, watching while their teammates essentially go to a high school dance while they're left out in the cold. The end result is a fairly forgettable one-off story, but one that does a nice job of continuing the exploration of the book's still-new stars.  

Next Issue
Uncanny X-Men #170, the conclusion to the Morlock story, and New Mutants #5, guest starring...Team America...

12 comments:

  1. "Bob McLeod steps down as the regular penciler as of this issue, with long time Marvel artist Sal Buscema coming aboard."

    "Our Pal" Sal! One of my favorite artists when he has time to draw well. In the 70's, he was Marvel's main workhorse, illustrating tons of comics on a monthly basis, and his work suffered for it. When handling only one or two books a month, and especially when inking himself, I love him. His work on Spectacular Spider-Man didn't impress me much when I was a kid, but as an adult, it's among my favorite Spider-Man runs.

    Anyway, I like Sal. he's a stronger penciler than McLeod, and McLeod's inks look great on him. Sadly, I don't think this pairing lasts very long.

    "...I'm sure you were shocked to discover the new character we'd never seen before until page 2 of this story turned out to be the culprit."

    These early done-in-one issues of New Mutants really feel like a weekly dramatic television series to me -- as opposed to Uncanny, which until recently read like an adventure serial, but which now reads like a soap opera (in a good way).

    "As a wolf, Rahne sees the world as "patterns of energy"."

    Whaa...? Did this ever come up again?

    "Professor X is back to his old tricks, wiping memories of the New Mutants' involvement."

    At some point he swore this off. I know he specifically stated in issue #101 that he wasn't going to be doing it anymore. Maybe he thinks it's okay only when it relates to his students (as he did it frequently when the X-Men were teenagers, but stopped when they became adults).

    "My Hero, Thomas Magnum"

    Hooray!

    I want to find and watch the episode of Magnum where he went to a high school dance to flush out a crank caller.

    "Bob McLeod on stepping down as New Mutants penciller"

    Wait, what? An artist realizes he's too slow for a monthly job, so he quits the title instead of just working at his own pace and letting it ship whenever, no matter how late? What kind of crazy world was this?!?

    "...New Mutants #5, guest starring...Team America..."

    F*ck yeah!

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  2. @Matt: His work on Spectacular Spider-Man didn't impress me much when I was a kid, but as an adult, it's among my favorite Spider-Man runs.


    Yeah, he's an artist that's definitely growing on me as I get older. I think I first encountered his work during his rushed 70s period (when he was apparently Marvel's go-to-guy for every book), and it turned me off, but I've since seen some of his other work and gained a better appreciation for it. At times, it even reminds of his brother's work, which I routinely love (at least/especially when inked by Tom Palmer).

    Sadly, I don't think this pairing lasts very long.

    I think Sal sticks around in some capacity until Seinkiewicz, but I don't recall how much longer McLeod sticks around.

    These early done-in-one issues of New Mutants really feel like a weekly dramatic television series to me

    Nice observation - I definitely get that feel from them as well.

    Whaa...? Did this ever come up again?

    Kinda. The actual explanation is more involved, and deals with the fact that as a wolf she perceives the world through smell and hearing as well as sight, but the whole "patterns of energy" description is one of Claremont's favorites (he uses it with Magneto at one point, and I'm pretty sure both Storm and Phoenix were said to be able to perceive the world that way at one point or another).

    So the fact that Rahne perceives the world differently as a wolf definitely sticks around, though I don't think Claremont's description of that as seeing the world as patterns of energy is specifically used again.

    At some point he swore this off.

    He did. This Xavier is definitely a rougher, tougher authority figure, even without the Brood influence (probably, as you mention, because of his increased concern for his new students).

    I want to find and watch the episode of Magnum where he went to a high school dance to flush out a crank caller.

    Ditto, if such an episode actually exists. How awesome would it be if it did?

    What kind of crazy world was this?!?

    A different one, that's for sure :)

    F*ck yeah!

    If only it were that Team America...

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  3. I really like this cover. Some of the faces aren't great, but the figures and overall composition are really solid. It feels like we're looking at the scene from an unusual angle, skewed just a bit from what might be the more standard full-on, straight-ahead shot of Sam cradling Rahne — another Pieta, if you like, although that's an overused label to me; you can only hold a limp body so many ways. The fact that the Cannonball effect is just beginning adds a real split-second frozen-moment-in-time tension to the piece, too, in addition to Sunspot precariously holding the girder above his friends. And the colors are lovely.

    The first page not only has a brilliant usage of the comics form, but it's done without artwork. Yes, I'll admit that the letterforms are a style of drawing, and of course the absence of artwork in the pitch-black panels is technically artwork itself; something would be there if we could see it. My point stands, though, that it's a neat sui generis comics trick. I wonder how much of it was Claremont and how much was Sal Buscema.

    Professor X: "As you know, my actions in recent months have been governed by the fact that I was possessed by a malevolent alien lifeform."

    "It is known on Earth as Jim Shooter."

    Okay, I joke, but it feels like Claremont is giving an in-story explanation — if not apology — analogous to the editorial mandate that brought the series about, right down to the admission that it's a good idea even if its impetus was compromised.

    Why in Godzilla's name do the New Mutants not wear masks? They would look as unfortunately bland as the original X-Men did, true, although they'd only have to wear the masks when in costume outside of the mansion. It just makes no sense for them to be traipsing around in uniform and using their powers with their faces showing.

    I'd completely forgot that Dani's random ability to communicate telepathically with animals — so who cares if Kitty's a genius — meant that she could "talk" to Rahne in wolf-form. That's probably more a happy accident than a nice touch, as I doubt Claremont was even thinking about it when he was whipping up someone for the Spunky Noble Special Native American slot in New Mutants.

    I felt sure that somebody took over the lettering from Orz halfway through and, wouldn't you know it, according to the GCD's index for the issue it was an uncredited Joe Rosen.

    The whole very-special-episode climax and resolution sort-of don't make sense, I gotta say. Peter's emotionally disturbed, so maybe it doesn't have to, but I just don't quite get the flow of him mistaking abuse for love and him crushing on Stevie to him phone-stalking her because she obviously didn't love him since she didn't physically punish him.

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  4. McLeod stays on as the inker, and the transition is relatively seamless, with the art in this issue looking not all that different from the previous three issues. 

    I honestly think that the art is better, and I say that as no particular fan of Sal Buscema's rendering despite appreciating him as a journeyman professional — which may well have to do with the sheer number of pages he was called upon to draw during my '70s childhood, as pointed out by Matt. His stuff looks good here, largely devoid of my least favorite quirk of his by far, the gaping trapezoidal mouth.

    Anyway, McLeod just might be a competent but uneven penciler who's better used as a finisher/inker when he has a foundation to (no pun intended) draw upon. I'm glad that he saw his his own work lacking and decided to step out of that role.

    There was a great conversation on Twitter a few days ago, by the way, about writers and artists working full-script vs. plot-first / "Marvel style". Kurt Busiek and others had stellar things to say about Sal Buscema's instincts as a visual storyteller that frankly led me to reconsider the guy.

    Dani mentions their standing invitation despite not being at the mall when it was made.

    She could've heard about it, though. It's no Chekhov in Wrath of Khan blooper. 8^)

    He also helps Bobby build the device that would enable the "*69" capability on phones.

    Next time he asks Warren for money, Warren should just say, "Maybe it's time you talked to Reed Richards about patenting things, Professor."

    As a wolf, Rahne sees the world as "patterns of energy".

    Except for Sunspot when he's powered up, whom she ironically sees as a normal person.

    Lilandra and Professor X awkwardly make out. 

    I didn't notice this when re-reading the issue, perhaps distracted by the general awkwardness of it all, but Lilandra is copping some serious over-the-suit Xavier boob in that panel you used.

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  5. @Matt: These early done-in-one issues of New Mutants really feel like a weekly dramatic television series to me -- as opposed to Uncanny, which until recently read like an adventure serial, but which now reads like a soap opera (in a good way).

    Well put. It's strange, though, that the series have slightly (or not-so-slightly) different feels — which I guess isn't that strange if you take the TV analogy into the spinoff realm and look at even Angel vs. Buffy, never mind, say, Lou Grant vs. Mary Tyler Moore.

    @Matt: I want to find and watch the episode of Magnum where he went to a high school dance to flush out a crank caller.

    Really! I don't think that Claremont getting so specific was the best choice, unless there actually was such an episode. Maybe there was, although in that case the reference would've been a little dated (then again, in those days of more common repeats but no DVDs, perhaps not); I've enjoyed the occasional Magnum but wasn't a weekly watcher like my best friend at the time was.

    @Teebore: So the fact that Rahne perceives the world differently as a wolf definitely sticks around, though I don't think Claremont's description of that as seeing the world as patterns of energy is specifically used again.

    I'd totally forgot about this whole conceit, myself. Now I want to see what the world looks like when she's a wolf and wearing Geordi LaForge's visor.

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  6. @Blam: I really like this cover.

    Me too. It probably deserved more attention than I gave it. Nice analysis.

    The first page not only has a brilliant usage of the comics form, but it's done without artwork.

    Indeed. Something else I should have pointed out. I also wonder how much of it was Claremont and how much was Buscema.

    it feels like Claremont is giving an in-story explanation — if not apology — analogous to the editorial mandate that brought the series about, right down to the admission that it's a good idea even if its impetus was compromised.

    Wow, great reading of that scene. I've never noticed that, but it does seem like that could be the case.

    It just makes no sense for them to be traipsing around in uniform and using their powers with their faces showing.

    Yeah, there's "not being trained to be superheroes" and then there's "protecting your identity". You can do the one without automatically doing the other...

    That's probably more a happy accident than a nice touch, as I doubt Claremont was even thinking about it when he was whipping up someone for the Spunky Noble Special Native American slot in New Mutants.

    Yeah, if anyone is a Mary Sue in the early goings of this book, it's "I've got a ton of special abilities" Dani. I'm pretty sure Claremont used the "Dani can talk to animals, thus she can talk to Rahne-as-a-wolf" in the graphic novel, so it's possible he came up with that particular power with that particular use in mind.

    The whole very-special-episode climax and resolution sort-of don't make sense, I gotta say.

    No, the logic of it doesn't really flow that well, but I suppose we can chalk it up in part to space limitations and in part to Claremont overreaching.

    His stuff looks good here, largely devoid of my least favorite quirk of his by far, the gaping trapezoidal mouth.

    Ha! That mouth is exactly what I associate with Sal Buscema, and it's always bugged me too. Both he and his brother have a tendency to draw people with longer, narrower faces than normal, which is fine, but Sal really exacerbates it with that mouth.

    I'm glad that he saw his his own work lacking and decided to step out of that role.

    Yeah, as Matt suggested, it's the kind of professional introspection and courtesy you just don't see much any more.

    There was a great conversation on Twitter a few days ago, by the way, about writers and artists working full-script vs. plot-first / "Marvel style".

    I think I saw snippets of that, though not at a time that I could go back and read it in full.

    She could've heard about it, though. It's no Chekhov in Wrath of Khan blooper.

    Nah, certainly not, but I figured it was worth pointing out.

    "Maybe it's time you talked to Reed Richards about patenting things, Professor."

    Ha! Part of me is surprised Xavier didn't just give him some kind of Shi'ar device that could trace calls, but I suppose that would undercut the whole "teaching" idea.

    Lilandra is copping some serious over-the-suit Xavier boob in that panel you used.

    Yeah she is!

    Now I want to see what the world looks like when she's a wolf and wearing Geordi LaForge's visor.

    Bwahaha! :)

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  7. "...making them one of the few teams to have their origin rooted in becoming hosts for a parasitic alien race."

    What are the others?

    Already eagerly anticipating the snark for Team America...

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  8. Blam -- "Why in Godzilla's name do the New Mutants not wear masks?"

    Good point. Maybe because they're explicitly supposed to be students, not using their powers in public? The original X-Men were students and superheroes at the same time, so their masks made sense. And a few years from now, when we see the New Mutants' personalized "graduation uniforms", I believe those do all have masks, implying that once they graduate and go out fighting crime, they'll need to hide their identities.

    Blam -- "His stuff looks good here, largely devoid of my least favorite quirk of his by far, the gaping trapezoidal mouth."

    Heh, I actually like those mouths. John Buscema did it too, but not as often as his brother. I'm not sure why, but I enjoy such weird "signature" quirks from certain artists, like Byrne's "flat hand" which I recall you also don't enjoy.

    Blam -- "Kurt Busiek and others had stellar things to say about Sal Buscema's instincts as a visual storyteller that frankly led me to reconsider the guy."

    I've read the same. In Comics Creators on Spider-Man, both Gerry Conway and J.M. DeMatteis talk about what a great collaborator Sal is, and praise his abilities. I seem to recall in particular Conway mentioning that back in the 70's, when writing Amazing Spider-Man, he provided full scripts for Ross Andru to maintain the pace he wanted, but he knew that on Spectacular or Marvel Team-Up, he could just give Sal a plot, sometimes only verbally, and let him handle the pacing on his own.

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  9. @Anonymous: What are the others?

    I honestly have no idea; I just like to hedge my bets and not say "the only". Maybe there's another such team out there I just don't know about. :)

    Already eagerly anticipating the snark for Team America...

    Hopefully I won't let you down.


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  10. @Teebore: Wow, great reading of that scene. I've never noticed that, but it does seem like that could be the case.

    I figured you were either going to say, "Yeah, I probably forgot to mention that because it's so obvious," or "Huh, I don't see that at all." So thanks!

    @Teebore: I'm pretty sure Claremont used the "Dani can talk to animals, thus she can talk to Rahne-as-a-wolf" in the graphic novel, so it's possible he came up with that particular power with that particular use in mind.

    You expect me to remember what I read an entire six weeks ago? 8^)

    @Matt: Heh, I actually like those mouths. John Buscema did it too, but not as often as his brother. I'm not sure why, but I enjoy such weird "signature" quirks from certain artists, like Byrne's "flat hand" which I recall you also don't enjoy.

    Right all around... John didn't do the mouth to the extent or frequency that Sal did, but it's probably one of the reasons why I'm not a bigger fan of his art. I appreciate his pencils, but like Brent Anderson he's someone who doesn't really do it for me as a superhero artist most of the time. That Byrne "flat hand" thing is a pet peeve of mine too, yeah, and I suspect that as with the "gaping trapezoidal mouth" (actually one of my rare rejected band names) it's partly because I just don't find it visually appealing on its own merits but also because it seems, for lack of a better word, lazy; Mike Zeck's frequently long and impossibly thin feet fall into this category too. There are plenty of "signature" quirks, as you put it, that are exactly why I like certain artists, too.

    @Teebore: ...making them one of the few teams to have their origin rooted in becoming hosts for a parasitic alien race."

    @Anonymous: What are the others?

    @Teebore: I honestly have no idea; I just like to hedge my bets and not say "the only". Maybe there's another such team out there I just don't know about. :)

    And here I thought you were being humorously understated. Now I'm going to spend too much time trying to think of another actual case of this.


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  11. Blam -- "I appreciate his pencils, but like Brent Anderson he's someone who doesn't really do it for me as a superhero artist most of the time"

    I'm sure you're aware that John Buscema was on record as not getting much enjoyment from drawing superheroes anyway. I admit that his Avengers didn't do much for me, which is part of the reason I've never read Roger Stern's much-lauded run on that title. I love Sal as a superhero artist, but for me, John's best work was on Conan. It was looking at his Conan work that made me finally realize why everyone says he's one of the all-time great artists. That stuff is amazing, and I'm sure it's in part because he actually enjoyed drawing it.

    (He apparently had to fight to get the Conan gig, because Marvel thought he was too good to be "wasted" on it!)

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  12. @Blam: You expect me to remember what I read an entire six weeks ago?

    Heck, I wrote about it six weeks ago and I still had to couch my statement with a "pretty sure" because I couldn't remember with certainty. :)

    And here I thought you were being humorously understated.

    Well, that too. I honestly don't think there's another such team, but, you know, comics...

    @Matt: I admit that his Avengers didn't do much for me, which is part of the reason I've never read Roger Stern's much-lauded run on that title.

    Huh. I adore Buscema's pencils on Stern's run. It is, frankly, the metric to which I hold all other Buscema art (that is, if it looks like it looked during that run, I like it, if not, I enjoy it in degrees based on how far off from the Stern/Avengers art it is).

    That said, my affection for it could just be based on nostalgia/encountering it in my formative years, as it's one of the Avengers era I read the earliest/most often back in the day (I have similar affection for the Harras/Epting run, which was the contemporary run I was reading while devouring the Stern/Buscema back issues). As I've said before, I lack the critical eye and vocabulary to effectively express why I like or don't like certain art, so objectively speaking, I have no good way to defend Buscema's work with Stern. I just know I like it. And that you should still read Stern's run despite the art. :)

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