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Thursday, September 20, 2012

X-amining New Mutants #6

"Road Warriors!"
August 1983

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants rescue Dani from Viper and Silver Samurai.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Sal Buscema
Finishers: A. Gil & J. Tartag
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist:George Roussos
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In San Fransisco, the New Mutants attack Karma's criminal uncle, General Coy, looking for information regarding Dani's whereabouts. Taking control of his mind and ordering him onto the ledge of his high rise, Coy calls Karma's bluff, knowing she won't kill him. Instead, she pledges to work for her uncle for one year in exchange for the information. In Mexico, Team America trains in preparation for their attempt to retrieve the crystal Viper wants, while Professor X monitors them telepathically. At Viper's base in California, Dani contemplates escape while Viper and Silver Samurai discuss going to Japan to claim Silver Samurai's inheritance. In Mexico, Team America infiltrates an A.I.M base and retrieves the crystal, though doing so unknowingly unleashes a savage psychic attack which Professor X realizes came from a mutant. In California, as the New Mutants attack Viper's base, Karma's is contacted by the same malevolent psychic presence.


As the New Mutants attack, Team America flees from A.I.M, calling on the Dark Rider to fight off A.I.M's forces. Dani manages to escape her cell and reunites with her teammates, who are fighting Viper and Silver Samurai. When Karma possesses Viper, Silver Samurai is forced to knock out Viper and teleport away. Nearby, Team America rendezvous with Professor X, who worries about the psychic new mutant that has been unleashed. At Viper's base, Karma is once more contacted by the psychic mutant, telling her he intends to claim her body and soul. As the New Mutants prepare to leave the base, Viper, from a nearby boat, orders Silver Samurai to destroy it, catching the New Mutants in a massive explosion.

Firsts and Other Notables
Though it won't be made clear until much later in the book's run, the malevolent presence which takes control of Karma is the Shadow King, making his first appearance (sort of) since his introduction in X-Men #117.


Her possession by the Shadow King and the explosion at the end of this issue marks Karma's departure from the book for an extended period of time, accounting for the first membership shakeup in the title.

Karma's villainous uncle, Nguyen Ngoc Coy, appears in New Mutants for the first time. In exchange for his help locating Dani, Karma agrees to work with him for one year. 

Though it's only ever referred to as "the crystal" in this issue, Viper and Silver Samurai have sent Team America to retrieve from A.I.M (Marvel's long standing group of evil scientists) the Cavorite (sometimes "Cavourite") Crystal, a running plot device in some of Claremont's comics, going from Ms. Marvel to Marvel Team-Up to here. The Skrulls use such crystals to power their ships, and it has the ability to open interdimensional doorways (including, presumably, to the Astral Plane, where the Shadow King was trapped by Xavier). Why Viper and Silver Samurai are after here is unclear.

A Work in Progress
The heads in the corner box on the cover are all reacting to the events of the cover.

It's established that the pink halo effect we see around someone's head when Karma possesses them is also seen by the characters in the story; I'm not certain if that still holds true. It's also noted that Karma feels whatever pain the people she's possessing feel.


Roberto mentions that if Professor X were there he could read Coy's mind to retrieve the information they need; yet Karma, who possesses her uncle in order to intimidate him into talking, could just command him to tell her everything he knows. 

Karma says the New Mutants have pledged never to kill; while certainly in keeping with the traditional ethos of both the X-Men and superheroes in general, that's the first we've heard of such a pledge.


Professor X is somehow able to telepathically hone the powers of two members of Team America while they sleep.


Wolfsbane's healing abilities have evolved past "heals quickly" to "heals before our eyes".


Viper and Silver Samurai discuss going to Japan, in reaction to the events of Wolverine's miniseries, which leads into the story in Uncanny X-Men #172-173.


I Love the 80s
Team America is still doing its thing...


It's in the Mail
Two letter writers write in sharing Blam's sentiment that "Wolfsbane" is a pretty unfortunate name for a werewolf. The response suggests the name reflects Rahne's conflicted feelings about her powers. 

Teebore's Take
Claremont wraps up New Mutants' first two-parter competently, if somewhat routinely, enough. Team America is still inexplicably sharing the focus with the New Mutants, but Claremont wisely lets the New Mutants handle the important stuff (facing the super-villains and rescuing Dani), keeping them from feeling too overshadowed in their own book. As we'll see next issue, the cliffhanger explosion that ends this issue sets up a new status quo for the book, as Karma disappears for an extended period. That's always felt like an odd choice, considering how underdeveloped Karma is as a character and how new the team dynamic still is (for example, the idea that Claremont introduced in the graphic novel, of Karma working as Xavier's secretary, goes nowhere; we've yet to see her in that capacity, and Xavier will be gone when she returns to the book). Claremont will continue to use Karma off and on here and in other projects in the future, so he clearly has some level of affection for the character, making his writing her out now all the more puzzling. On the one hand, it's good to see that he's not afraid to shake things up, even this early in the book's run. On the other hand, it seems to suggest he's still finding his legs with the spinoff, still working to find the right combination of characters that really inspires him.

Next Issue
We spend next week touring Japan with Wolverine in his first miniseries. 

15 comments:

  1. PART ONE IN A 2-PART COMMENT

    I may be stepping on Blam's toes with this observation, but -- that doesn't look like "typical" Janice Chiang lettering to me. It looks like Janice Chiang doing an impression of Tom Orzechowski. And I like this better than her normal style!

    "Why Viper and Silver Samurai are after here is unclear."

    Why Viper and Silver Samurai do a lot of stuff is unclear in Chris Claremont's stories. As noted last week, their dabbling in black market statuettes of Selene was also kind of weird and went unexplained.

    But Viper is a nihilist, so maybe she just wanted the crystal to blow up the world or something. Though I have to say that Claremont's version of Viper in the X-books does not really match her depiction in most other titles -- including even in Claremont's own Marvel Team-Up!

    "...yet Karma, who possesses her uncle in order to intimidate him into talking, could just command him to tell her everything he knows."

    No-Prize attempt: Maybe her power isn't as effective on her own relatives, a la Cyclops/Havok and Banshee/Black Tom.

    "Professor X is somehow able to telepathically hone the powers of two members of Team America while they sleep."

    Xavier in these early issues of New Mutants seems much closer to his Silver Age self than ever before under Claremont. To borrow a phrase, he's quite versatile "because telepathy, that's why."

    "Viper and Silver Samurai discuss going to Japan, in reaction to the events of Wolverine's miniseries..."

    So across two titles and two very different storylines, Claremont used these villains four issues in a row. This seems to closely compressed to me. It's like he had planned for them to be in Uncanny and then suddenly realized he was also using them in New Mutants, so he had to write them quickly out of the one to include them in the other. It's the kind of semi-coordination I would expect from two different writers or editorial offices, but certainly not from the same writer with the same editor!

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  2. PART TWO IN A 2-PART COMMENT

    "...Karma working as Xavier's secretary, goes nowhere; we've yet to see her in that capacity, and Xavier will be gone when she returns to the book)."

    But she does work as Magneto's secretary, right up to the point where she's randomly written out a second time. So that status isn't forgotten, it's just sidelined for a very long time.

    "...he clearly has some level of affection for the character, making his writing her out now all the more puzzling."

    My purely speculative guess is that this is just another case of what we see often with Claremont -- he sets something up, but then comes up with other ideas that sideline that plot for far longer than he originally intended.

    Looking over what separates this issue from Karma's return, we see that the New Mutants take what turns out to be a six-issue long jaunt to Nova Roma, followed by some development of Magik and then the introduction of the Hellions -- then Bill Sienkiewicz comes on board, and we know how Claremont's collaborators can influence where he takes his stories. Sienkiewicz leads us into the "Demon Bear Saga" and the introduction of Legion (both themselves long-dropped subplots from the series' very first couple of issues), which were probably brought about partly because of Sienkiewicz's unique artistic style.

    Then finally, Claremont returns to the Karma story after Sienkiewicz departs. I could see him originally planning to return to Karma around issue #18, right after the Limbo and Hellions stuff, but the arrival of Sienkiewicz probably changed his creative direction delaying that plot for another 13 issues.

    Anyway, as I said, that's all just guesswork on my part. But knowing how malleable Claremont's whims were, I think it's a pretty reasonable idea. As you noted, I think in last week's comments, it's kind of a minor mircale at this point that he was able to keep the Madelyne storyline as focused and concise as he did!

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  3. @Matt: Why Viper and Silver Samurai do a lot of stuff is unclear in Chris Claremont's stories.

    Heh. Good point.

    Xavier in these early issues of New Mutants seems much closer to his Silver Age self than ever before under Claremont.

    You're right: a little hard edged, kind of a jerk, much more stern, using his powers willy nilly. I wonder if its because Claremont associates Silver Age Xavier with being a teacher first and foremost (which he is of course again in New Mutants). Because Xavier in contemporaneous issues of Uncanny is totally different, but he's not acting as a teacher there.

    It's the kind of semi-coordination I would expect from two different writers or editorial offices

    It definitely feels that way, but I have a hard time believing even Claremont could lose track of the fact that was using two villains in back to back stories in his titles.

    I could definitely see him losing track of the fact that, say, he had only two New Mutants issues to tell his Viper/Silver Samurai story there (as opposed to, say, three) before they were going to X-Men.

    But she does work as Magneto's secretary, right up to the point where she's randomly written out a second time.

    Ah yeah, I'd forgotten about that.

    Then finally, Claremont returns to the Karma story after Sienkiewicz departs.

    Actually, he goes right into the story that reveals what happened to Karma after "Legion", when Sienkiewicz is still on board, but I think that only strengthens your argument that he simply got "distracted" by Sienkiewicz right about when he might have been planning to come back to Karma.

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  4. Since in her initial appearance we see Karma not only possess but apparently physically and psychically absorb her brother I'd have to disagree that her power was ineffective on relatives. More likely is she simply didn't think about it, being young and inexperienced.

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  5. I always assumed that Claremont got rid of Karma, because he found that the original make-up of the team didn't work. Professor X, Dani and Karma, all have mental powers. You can't really have half the team, with powers that overlap.

    Moreover, he knew that Illyana and Magma would soon be joining the team, so he had to make space. Professor X is integral to the whole concept, Dani was clearly his favourite, so it had to be Karma, who got the chop.

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  6. @Anonymous: Professor X is integral to the whole concept, Dani was clearly his favourite, so it had to be Karma, who got the chop.

    That's a pretty good line of reasoning. Heck, even when Claremont does bring Karma back, she tends to get lost in the shuffle.

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  7. Finishers "A. Gil" and "J. Tartag" are Armando Gil and John Tartaglione, respectively, and their work does not compare favorably to Bob McLeod's.

    The heads in the corner box on the cover are all reacting to the events of the cover.

    I love that.

    Sam: "What the —? How can ah be crashin' through thuh wall when ah'm up here? An' what're those letters doin' there?"
    Rahne: "Och! 'Tis a devil's vision! Er... No offense, Dani."
    Danielle: "S'okay, Rahne. Hey! Get your hand off my ass, 'Berto!"
    Xian: "Zut alors! This is 1983, Danielle. We do not use such language."
    Roberto: "Uh... That's not my hand, Dani."
    Rahne: "... *giggle*..."

    It's established that the pink halo effect we see around someone's head when Karma possesses them is also seen by the characters in the story

    Huh. I didn't catch that and I never realized that this was so (if, as you suggest, it wasn't glossed over later).

    Karma, who possesses her uncle in order to intimidate him into talking, could just command him to tell her everything he knows.

    Yeah, I wondered why she didn't go that route instead of walking him onto the ledge.

    Karma says the New Mutants have pledged never to kill

    Xavier: "Now, students, if you'll please repeat after me: 'I pledge to do my own work, conform to the highest ethical standards, and never kill another sentient being."
    Rahne: "Just what kind of school is this?!?"

    Two letter writers write in sharing Blam's sentiment that "Wolfsbane" is a pretty unfortunate name for a werewolf. The response suggests the name reflects Rahne's conflicted feelings about her powers.

    I don't buy that for a minute.

    The letters page also confirms that Shan's little brother and sister "live with her in Salem Center." When she's out with the New Mutants, either on a mission (despite them supposedly being just students) or merely for social time, the kids are back at the mansion being looked after by... Whom? The frosty bald wheelchair man and his ladyfriend with the weird feather-hair? And when they're gone it's Cerebro's hitherto unknown babysitting function maybe?

    I hope that we get some indication of what happens to them while Shan's out of the picture, which I agree is an awfully strange choice to make this early in the game. Let's hear it for forgetting all sorts of plot details of stories you haven't read in decades!

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  8. @Matt: I may be stepping on Blam's toes with this observation, but -- that doesn't look like "typical" Janice Chiang lettering to me. It looks like Janice Chiang doing an impression of Tom Orzechowski.

    Good call. You're right that it doesn't look anything like the older style of hers that we saw on some X-Men issues, which I didn't care for either, nor like her later calligraphic style in the Bob Lappan mold that I think is tricky but can work very well on the right material.

    @Matt: and we know how Claremont's collaborators can influence where he takes his stories

    Everything that you say here sounds reasonable to me, and honestly despite my affection for Claremont & Friends' X-Men 1975-1985 you (the collective you, now, Matt and Teebore and some other commenters) know a lot more about how this stuff plays out longer-term or what went on behind the scenes than I do. Warlock for one has to have been influenced by Sienkiewicz at least as much as Lockheed and Storm's punk look were by Smith. Frankly, too, even from a non-fiction perspective — having done a lot more of that kind of writing than I've done of fiction even in purely fan-reverie mode back in the day — I can sympathize with making long-term plans and getting impatient as it all takes so much time to play out, noodling with other things that pop up by serendipity or necessity on the way. Claremont had the added problem of working in a dynamic, shared fictional universe to boot.

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  9. @Anonymous: I always assumed that Claremont got rid of Karma, because he found that the original make-up of the team didn't work. Professor X, Dani and Karma, all have mental powers. You can't really have half the team, with powers that overlap.

    @Teebore: That's a pretty good line of reasoning. Heck, even when Claremont does bring Karma back, she tends to get lost in the shuffle.

    It's not just her powers that overlap with Dani as a not-quite-telepath -- but her personality also overlaps with Cannonball as the reluctant leader type. It's all very reminiscent of Thunderbird, whose powers were too similar to Colossus's (super strength) and personality was too similar to Wolverine's (hothead).

    Frankly, I can't help but notice a good number of similarities to Claremont's early X-Men stories here in the early NM issues:

    1) Teebore - You mentioned that Marvel Graphic Novel #5 was structurally similar to Giant Size X-Men #1 a few weeks back.

    2) Both titles follow their introductory tales with a number of stories featuring not-quite-supervillain antagonists (Count Nafaria, the Ani-Men, and a demon in Uncanny; the Danger Room, Sentinels, and a Brood Queen in New Mutants), eschewing more traditional arch-nemeses.

    3) Both titles write out characters very quickly to add drama and suspense to the new series (Thunderbird in Uncanny, Karma in New Mutants) and bring in new / returning members to fill out the roster (Phoenix in Uncanny; Magma and Magik in New Mutants).

    4) And both titles quickly introduce behind-the-scenes antagonists whose identities and motives will simmer in the background for an extended period of time (Erik the Red in Uncanny; Shadow King in New Mutants).

    Heck, up until the Nova Roma story, it's almost as if Claremont is writing New Mutants as a tribute to himself. It all makes me wonder whether Karma's role of the book was intended to be that of a "new Thunderbird."

    Also worth noting in this Karma / Thunderbird line of thought -- this is the second "international" team that has seen one the book's members of color written out almost immediately in favor of a white character. Obviously, Thunderbird (a Native American) was written out quickly and replaced with Phoenix (Caucasian) in Uncanny. And here, Karma (Vietnamese) is written out in favor of Magma and Magik (both Caucasian).

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  10. @Blam: Finishers "A. Gil" and "J. Tartag" are Armando Gil and John Tartaglione, respectively, and their work does not compare favorably to Bob McLeod's.

    I'm always torn between presenting the credits as they appear in the issue (as I've tried to do thus far) and presenting them as they actually are (ie J. Tartag vs. John Tartaglione), so I appreciate you clarifying the occasional pseudonym or nom du guerre.

    Also, I agree that their work does compare favorably to McLeod's.

    Xian: "Zut alors! This is 1983, Danielle. We do not use such language."

    Nicely done. Any time the phrase "zut alors" gets used, I'm happy. :)

    Rahne: "Just what kind of school is this?!?"

    Haha!

    I hope that we get some indication of what happens to them while Shan's out of the picture

    I believe we do, though I have no recollection of exactly how quickly after her disappearance we learn it (I have a feeling it'll be a while).



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  11. @Michael: Frankly, I can't help but notice a good number of similarities to Claremont's early X-Men stories here in the early NM issues

    That's a fascinating line of reasoning, all throughout. I'm definitely going to have to give that more thought.

    It's also somewhat telling in that those early Claremont issues a little rough, relative to what came later. Which, of course, can be explained by the fact that it was his first regular assignment and, at least at the very beginning, he was working off Wein's plots.

    So then you wonder what accounts for some of the similar rough edges in these early New Mutants issues...

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  12. @Teebore: I'm always torn between presenting the credits as they appear in the issue (as I've tried to do thus far) and presenting them as they actually are ... so I appreciate you clarifying the occasional pseudonym

    And I'm always happy to do so. I totally get why you like to present the credits as is, but if there's ever something in the credits that you feel deserves explication you could resort to parentheses or brackets. Pseudonyms and clever job descriptions ("cinematographer") can be fun, adding to the sense of time and place these stories were crafted; on the other hand, there's the issue of Ambush Bug where the name of every member of the creative team was replaced with "Wonder Chick".

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  13. @Blam: on the other hand, there's the issue of Ambush Bug where the name of every member of the creative team was replaced with "Wonder Chick".

    Haha, oh yeah. Hopefully it won't ever come to that in X-Men, but that's definitely over the line to where I'll have to give some real credits. :)

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  14. This will probably burst our bubbles, but according to Claremont in the Amazing Heroes 1984 Preview issue, the Shadow King's only action in #6 was to possess Karma.

    The exploding crystal was intended to have given birth to an entirely new mutant(detected by Xavier) made up only of energy.

    Claremont announced a 2nd New Mutants graphic novel drawn by Bob McLeod which would show the energy mutant hiding in phone lines and other power sources, and then attacking the X-Mansion, populated by only the New Mutants, Xavier, and Kitty Pryde.

    Obviously, the GN never got published(no idea why; New Mutants immediately became one of Marvel's top 10 best-selling titles) and I have no idea if this story got pursued elsewhere.

    Who do we think this new mutant might have become?

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  15. @Nathan: The exploding crystal was intended to have given birth to an entirely new mutant(detected by Xavier) made up only of energy.

    Claremont announced a 2nd New Mutants graphic novel drawn by Bob McLeod which would show the energy mutant hiding in phone lines and other power sources, and then attacking the X-Mansion, populated by only the New Mutants, Xavier, and Kitty Pryde.


    Good to know. I haven't come across that interview, so I had no idea.

    In addition to who that new mutant might have become, I also wonder what led Shadow King to choose that moment to possess Karma, if he wasn't otherwise connected to the crystal in anyway?

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