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Thursday, September 13, 2012

X-amining New Mutants #5

"Heroes"
July 1983

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants team-up with Team America to fight Viper and Silver Samurai. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Sa Buscema
Finisher: Bob McLeod
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The New Mutants attend a local fair, where Roberto is excited to meet the recently-retired stunt motorcyclist group Team America, though neither group realizes they are being watched. The New Mutants attend Team America's grandstand show when a group of armed thugs suddenly rush in and attack Team America. The New Mutants spring into action to help the bikers and protect the crowd. As the New Mutants gain the upper hand, the Silver Samurai enters the fray, drawing out the Dark Rider, the mysterious bodyguard of Team America. Silver Samurai manages to knock out the rider and remove the helmet, revealing Dani. His objective to capture the Dark Rider complete, Silver Samurai teleports away. Elsewhere, Dani awakens and is taken before Silver Samurai's partner Viper, who demands to know what her connection to Team America is, but Dani insists she has none, and doesn't remember acting as the Dark Rider.


Back at the X-Mansion, Professor X uses Cerebro to determine how Dani was able to exhibit the motorcycle skills she displayed as the Dark Rider. In Washington, Viper and Silver Samurai approach Team America's leader and tell him that if Team America doesn't steal a specific object for them, they'll kill Dani. He gathers the rest of the team, and as they attempt to decide the best course of action, Professor X and the New Mutants arrive. Professor X explains that Team America are mutants, able to project their skills and abilities onto an individual and transform that person into the Dark Rider. Insisting that uncontrolled use of their power will only endanger more lives, he tells them he will train them. The New Mutants, frustrated that Professor X is more concerned with helping Team America than rescuing Dani, decide they will go after their friend, with or without Xavier's help.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue guest stars Team America (later known as the Thunderiders), a group of expert motorcycle stuntman who have the ability to project all their collective skills and abilities onto an individual, causing that individual to appear as the Dark Rider/Marauder (no explanation is given for how that possessed person acquires a black motorcycle, jumpsuit and helmet), and Professor X declares in this issue that Team America are mutants. Based on a line of toys from Ideal Toys (which came up with the idea of Team America in order to re-brand their line of Evel Knievel toys), Team America actually starred in their own series, which lasted twelve issues. Yes, twelve issues. The final issue went on sale a couple months before this one. I have no idea why Claremont felt compelled to use them in New Mutants and reveal them to be mutants, nor if he was ordered to feature them by Jim Shooter.


Viper and Silver Samurai serve as the antagonists of the story, making them arguably the first super-villains the New Mutants have faced since Donald Pierce. Viper, one time leader of Hydra, is a long time Captain America villain, while Silver Samurai, who debuted in Daredevil and will eventually become a recurring nemesis and sometime-ally of Wolverine, has up to this point largely functioned in a partnership with Viper. Though it isn't made clear in this issue, he is a mutant with the ability to channel energy through his sword, giving it the ability to cut through most anything.


Colonel Michael Rossi shows up again, this time to brief Professor X on Viper and Silver Samurai.


A Work in Progress
The issue opens with Professor X attempting to walk, but experiencing crippling pain which severs his mindlink with Stevie and the New Mutants.


Roberto mentions that his father owns planes, including jets. He also says he's going to get Team America's autographs for his sister; I don't believe he has a sister. Whether this is something Claremont later brushes over or if the intention is that Roberto is making up a sister just to get the autographs, I do not know.


Shan worries about the New Mutants going into action out of uniform, concerned they may be recognized, despite the fact, as was discussed in the comments of last week's post, that their uniforms don't include masks anyway.


Viper and Silver Samurai use "teleportation rings" to get around.

Sam continues to be frustrated by the slow rate at which he's improving in the use of his power.


I Love the 80s
The entire concept of Team America, and the fact that they are even a thing, is very much of its time.

"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
The issue ends with the New Mutants pretty pissed off that Xavier cares more about helping Team America than rescuing Dani.


Young Love
During a flight at the carnival, a scared Dani throws her arms around Roberto, something he doesn't mind, though if this is meant to hint at a possible romance between them, nothing will come of it. 


They're Students, Not Superheroes
The New Mutants get caught up in Viper's quest to capture the Dark Rider by sheer coincidence of being at the carnival when she attacks. Later, Professor X specifically says he intends to buy enough time to summon the X-Men to rescue Dani. 


It's in the Mail
This issue features the first New Mutants letters page. Two separate letters suggest adding Banshee's daughter Siryn to the team, but this never happens. 

Teebore's Take
So Team America. ...Yeah.... Even putting aside the fact that the idea of super-powered motorcyclists does little to engage me, Team America is one of those concepts wedded so tightly to a particular fad at a particular time that it's hard to take it seriously out of context (whereas a character like Iron Fist can rise above his origins as a fad cash-in, in part because his character evolved beyond the fad, but also because kung fu > motorcycle stunts). At this point in its run, New Mutants has been running largely stand-alone stories, so it isn't like the sudden interjection of these characters significantly derails any narrative momentum, but it's easy to share the sentiment of the New Mutants at issue's end that they're being usurped by Team America.

The most puzzling thing is, "why?" Had Claremont worked on Team America, I could see him using another title he was writing to wrap up loose ends from an aborted series (this is essentially what he did with Carol Danvers in X-Men), but as far as I know, Claremont had no involvement with that book or these characters prior to this issue. It just seems odd to hand over so many pages to seemingly random guest stars at a time when the title was still finding itself, especially when said guest stars are ridiculously lame (I mean come on: I love a good pun, but one of these characters' names is "R.U. Reddy". Seriously). While it's entertaining to see the New Mutants face off against some traditional super-villains (and doing so while still maintaining the pretense that they're not supposed to be superheroes), it's tough to get too excited about any of this.

Next Issue
The X-Men welcome a new member in Uncanny X-Men #171, while in New Mutants #6, Team America continues to wear out its welcome. 

10 comments:

  1. PART ONE IN A 2-PART COMMENT

    I really have a hard time imagining that it was Chris Claremont's idea to use Team America in these issues. I feel like he must have been ordered by Jim Shooter to wrap up Team America's story. Or maybe he did it as a favor for his pal, Bill Mantlo, who I believe wrote the majority of the Team America series. But they just don't seem like Claremont's style to use unless he was coerced somehow.

    Claremont has tried many times over the years to adopt Viper as his own character, but it's never really stuck. Even when he wed her to Wolverine for some reason, I think she was still recognized as more of a Captain America foe.

    He had better luck with Silver Samurai, who was created by Steve Gerber and Bob Brown to fight Daredevil, as you note. Claremont brought the Samurai back to fight Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up at least three times -- once in a single issue team-up with Black Widow, then later in a single issue story with the original SNL cast (yes, you read that right), then still later for a four-part story that teamed Spidey with Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Shang-Chi. Five of those issues were illustrated by this issue's artist, Sal Buscema, and the SNL one was by Samurai co-creator Bob Hall.

    Furthermore, unless I'm misremembering, most of those issues dealt with the Samurai and Viper acquiring (or attempting to acquire) the cavourite crystal, which had debuted as a running plotline in Claremont's Ms. Marvel. Unless I'm mistaken, that very crystal plays a role in this story, too. I love inter-connectedness!

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  2. PART TWO IN A 2-PART COMMENT

    "Colonel Michael Rossi shows up again..."

    Okay, this is gonna sound weird, but it bugs me that this guy was brought back to life. Not because I think his death was somehow sacred and should have remained untouched -- but for practically the opposite reason: he isn't important enough to come back! He was a one-off character killed in one of Claremont's earliest issues of X-Men. What purpose was served by resurrecting this obscure, barely-remembered character instead of just creating a new character to serve this role? Especially since I believe Claremont drops Rossi again pretty soon, and barely ever picks him up again.

    "Whether this is something Claremont later brushes over or if the intention is that Roberto is making up a sister just to get the autographs, I do not know."

    Something about which words are bolded in those balloons -- plus the separation of the balloons themselves -- makes me think Claremont wants us to read it as Roberto covering for himself by inventing a sister on the spot.

    "Viper and Silver Samurai use "teleportation rings" to get around"

    Fun trivia: Silver Samurai's ring was accidentally mailed to John Belushi, which is how he came into conflict with Spider-Man and the SNL cast. He eventually recovered it.

    "...a scared Dani throws her arms around Roberto..."

    Does she? Does she really? Or does Claremont just tell us she does when the artwork makes it clear that she doesn't?

    That's one of the things that bugs me about him, and it only gets worse as time goes on. He throws these things in to the narration which are clearly afterthoughts not depicted in the art (and therefore probably not present in the original plot). As Byrne says, Claremont usually writes whatever he's feeling at the time of the scripting phase, whether it was intended from the start or not.

    "Two separate letters suggest adding Banshee's daughter Siryn to the team, but this never happens."

    That's a darn good idea, and something I never thought about. Why not include her? It really seems to make perfect sense! Of course we know she eventually joins the team, so to speak, after Claremont's time as a member of X-Force, but -- wow -- this just seems so obvious in retrospect!

    "I love a good pun, but one of these characters' names is "R.U. Reddy"."

    I remember in my RPG days, the Thunderiders were in the Gamer's Handbook of the Marvel Universe. In addition to R.U., there was also Wolf and Cowboy... which led to my friends and me frequently exclaiming to one another, "Wolf! Are you ready, cowboy??" No idea what it was supposed to mean, but it was funny at the time...

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  3. @Matt: Or maybe he did it as a favor for his pal, Bill Mantlo, who I believe wrote the majority of the Team America series.

    He did, and that's probably the best possible explanation (I know Claremont ties in the Dire Wraiths/Rom stuff in Uncanny soon, largely as a favor to Mantlo), but even then, I feel like he probably could have downplayed their involvement, and not built the story around them.

    Claremont has tried many times over the years to adopt Viper as his own character, but it's never really stuck.

    Good observation.

    Unless I'm mistaken, that very crystal plays a role in this story, too.

    Yeah, I think that's what they're after here, which is indeed pretty cool.

    Especially since I believe Claremont drops Rossi again pretty soon, and barely ever picks him up again.

    Pretty much, yeah, once he has him interact with Rogue for an issue. He's an old Ms. Marvel supporting character, so I'm sure that's why Claremont brought him back, but he definitely seems to lose track of him again pretty quickly.

    Something about which words are bolded in those balloons ... makes me think Claremont wants us to read it as Roberto covering for himself by inventing a sister on the spot.

    FWIW, that's how I read it as well, but I figured it was worth mentioning.

    Silver Samurai's ring was accidentally mailed to John Belushi, which is how he came into conflict with Spider-Man and the SNL cast.

    Ha! I've only ever read about that story, not the story itself (since it never gets reprinted for rights reasons), so I wasn't aware of that particular detail.

    Does she? Does she really? Or does Claremont just tell us she does when the artwork makes it clear that she doesn't?

    The latter. :)

    Why not include her? It really seems to make perfect sense!

    It really does, and I'm ashamed to admit I never really thought about it either until now. You could argue that Claremont may have just forgot about her, but you'd think these letters would have reminded him (assuming he read them or was told about them by Simonson).



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  4. In Claremont's previous Ms. Marvel issues from the 70s, the Cavourite Crystal, which MODOK had broken into NASA’s Skylab to capture and learn the secret of interstellar flight from, was shown to have a "warp matrix", able to tear holes in reality and hurl things into warp space when you poured energy into it.

    Then here Viper employs the Silver Samurai, in New Mutants #5, to coerce Team America into stealing the crystal from A.I.M. who must have managed to get hold of it from Skylab after MODOKs failed attempt – and began studying it as part of "Project Matrix" at their Black Mesa facility.

    Next issue Team America successfully retrieves the crystal from A.I.M.'s facility, which appears to inadvertently free the Shadow King; yet when they hand it directly to Charles Xavier it likewise re-established his psionic link with the New Mutants.

    With the Shadow King connection, it is interesting that upon retrieving the Cavourite Crystal from the Super-Skrull in Marvel Team-Up #62, Ms. Marvel begins to feel "hungry" as a result of holding it in her hand.

    Given it later frees the Shadow King's essence in New Mutants #6, was it this earlier causing Carol's described "hunger"?

    The facets of the crystal further reveal to Carol a different aspect of her personality, kind of like what the Siege Perilous did for Dazzler in Uncanny X-Men #246.

    So was Claremont intending to alternatively suggest that after the death of his host body, Amahl Farouk, in Uncanny X-Men #117, the Shadow King's essence was projected into a host in an alternate dimension (ala the Crusader X tale in Excalibur)?

    With the reveals in the Marvel Team-Up and Ms. Marvel issues describing the crystal's ability to be able to open up warp-space doorways, where did Claremont intend it to have transported Grotesk and the Super Skrull to?

    With it seemingly freeing the Shadow King, did it open a doorway from the Astral Plane where he was last seen?

    Also worth noting is the Super Skrull claiming with it he could rule the stars. How and to what ends?

    Given its ability to open interdimensional gateways, it makes me further wonder if it was perhaps part of the Madripoor Set!

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  5. @Nathan Adler:Given it later frees the Shadow King's essence in New Mutants #6, was it this earlier causing Carol's described "hunger"?

    Certainly seems likely, especially given what will eventually happen to Karma when the Shadow King possesses her.

    Thanks for the rundown on the Cavourite Crystal - I had no idea it went back to Claremont's Ms. Marvel and Team-Up days, connecting the later Shadow King story in New Mutants to those titles.

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  6. Ah, Spider-Man and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players! I collected MTU so I picked up that issue and in fact just ran across it in my collection the other day. Of course I had no idea what "Saturday Night Live" was at the time (I was ten) and had never heard of any of the people except maybe Belushi so I didn't really get the jokes upon first reading. It's actually not a bad little story for a promotional gimmick, certainly a lot better than that terrible "The Avengers go on Letterman" story that went out several years later.

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  7. @Anonymous: ...certainly a lot better than that terrible "The Avengers go on Letterman" story that went out several years later.

    Ah yeah. I read that one long before I was aware of the SNL issue and it is indeed...rough. And because it's the first appearance of a minor Avengers supporting character (Fabian Stankowicz), it can never be entirely forgotten...

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  8. Another question seemingly connected to Viper and SS's actions in this issue come in New Mutants #54, where they are both found dealing in fake statues of Selene. Just what was going on?

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  9. I'm never sure if the coincidence of the New Mutants being at a Team America reunion event when supervillains attack is totally inexcusable or if it's actually quite excusable since those things happen in the Marvel Universe all the frickin' time.

    Professor X uses Cerebro to determine how Dani was able to exhibit the motorcycle skills she displayed as the Dark Rider.

    Yeah... Huh?

    which came up with the idea of Team America in order to re-brand their line of Evel Knievel toys

    I did not know that.

    Spinoffs of toy lines (and fad-in-general stuff) are largely if not totally about the age you are, because I thought Evel Kneivel was awesome as a kid, and I loved the Human Fly comic book based on a mysterious stuntman when I was 7-8 years old, but at 12 years old I never gave Team America a second look.

    The issue opens with Professor X attempting to walk, but experiencing crippling pain which severs his mindlink with Stevie and the New Mutants.

    If you hold those pages up to the light, you can see faint lettering superimposed over the artwork reading "Isn't that convenient?".

    I don't believe he has a sister. Whether this is something Claremont later brushes over or if the intention is that Roberto is making up a sister just to get the autographs, I do not know.

    I think it's the latter, because Cowboy (whose name I had to look up despite having read the issue right before reading your post) sounds skeptical too. Or more precisely, I suspect that whether or not Roberto is supposed to have a sister we're supposed to get that he's covering up for wanting the autographs himself.

    Rahne points out that she and El Lobo / Wolf "share the same namesake" — which only reminds us (or me, anyway) that Wolfsbane is a catchy name in general, and would be great for, say, a werewolf hunter, but is a really stupid name for someone who turns into a wolf.

    I know that Silver Samurai has some kind of line about having their reasons when Cowboy asks why he and Viper want/need Team America to do their burglary for them, but it really bears asking. A team of highly skilled motorcycle stuntmen who, unbeknownst to them, manifest a mysterious biker with all their skills combined is impressive. You know what's even more impressive, though? A former leader of HYDRA and a mutant energy-wielding samurai with teleportation rings! If this Cavourite Crystal is as impressive as Nathan says — I didn't recall its backstory and haven't reread New Mutants #5 for this week yet — then: Team America? Really?

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  10. @Nathan: Just what was going on?

    Yeah, those fake Selene statutes were weird. Claremont definitely seemed to have some ideas for her (and Magma) that never went anywhere.

    @Blam: Yeah... Huh?

    I think the idea we're supposed to get is that he figures out they're mutants. So a more generic "figuring out how".

    Spinoffs of toy lines (and fad-in-general stuff) are largely if not totally about the age you are

    Absolutely.

    If you hold those pages up to the light, you can see faint lettering superimposed over the artwork reading "Isn't that convenient?".

    Ha!

    Wolfsbane is a catchy name in general, and would be great for, say, a werewolf hunter, but is a really stupid name for someone who turns into a wolf.

    This is actually gets brought up in the letter column of next issue, so I'll just say you're absolutely right.

    You know what's even more impressive, though? A former leader of HYDRA and a mutant energy-wielding samurai with teleportation rings!

    Well said.

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