Thursday, February 14, 2013
X-amining New Mutants #21
In a Nutshell
Warlock and Doug Ramsey join the team.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Bill Seinkiewicz
Letterers: Tom Orzechowski & L. Lois Buhalis
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
At Xavier's mansion, a group of local girls arrive to have a slumber party in celebration of Dani's release from the hospital. Meanwhile, in outer space, Magneto detects the approach of Warlock, who smashes into Asteroid M, destroying it, en route to Earth. Back at the party, the girls rush Rahne and give her a makeover, while Sam and Bobby return from a baseball game. They're shooed out of the house by the girls, and are swimming when Warlock crashes into the lake. Believing his inert form to be a meteorite, Sam fishes him out and takes him back to the school for Professor X to study. Inside, Warlock awakens, and seeks out power to rejuvenate himself. Plugging into an outlet, he shuts down the power to he school. Moving through the house seeking further sustenance, Warlock is attacked by Lockheed and Illyana before the rest of the team intervenes.
Sam blasts Warlock through the wall and onto the grounds, where Roberto manages to injure him. Warlock flees back into the mansion, where Dani chases him off with an image of his greatest fear, his father. Realizing that Warlock is both intelligent and hungry, and possibly misunderstood, Sam blasts off to fetch Doug Ramsey in the hope that he can communicate with the alien. Warlock finds himself in the Danger Room, where he tries to initiate conversation as well. Sam returns with Doug, and Doug is able to establish a dialogue with Warlock, learning that he is on the run from his evil father and near death due to a lack of energy. Though Roberto is still suspicious, Rahne reaches out a hand in friendship, risking being transformed into a techno-organic being by Warlock. However, he spares her, and Rahne guides him to another electric outlet, where he's able to absorb enough energy to revive himself and thank his new found friend. Later that evening, Professor X returns home and is introduced to Warlock and, trusting in the New Mutants judgement, welcomes him to the school.
Firsts and Other Notables
After making cameo appearances in previous issues, Warlock makes his first full appearance, and joins the New Mutants by the end of the issue.
We also essentially learn his origin: on Warlock's planet, children are incubated in creches, and when they're born, they are expected to battle their father for the right to live. Warlock, refusing to do so, fled from his father and planet, seeking refuge and/or allies.
Also, Doug Ramsey learns, off panel, that he is a mutant, as are all the students at Xavier's School. He is considered to join the team with this issue as well. Thanks to his mutant power to understand languages, he is able to initiate contact with Warlock, marking the beginning of a prolonged friendship/partnership between the two.
Via an image conjured by Dani of his greatest fear, Warlock's villainous father Magus is seen for the first time.
Magneto makes his first chronological appearance following Secret Wars (though technically he's still appearing in that series alongside this issue). His fate following his encounter with Warlock in this issue will be revealed in a future issue of X-Men. Asteroid M is also destroyed as a result of its contact with Warlock.
Warlock is said to be a techno-organic being, and the process in which such beings absorb energy, transforming organic matter into techno-organic matter like themselves in the process, is described for the first time. This concept, and techno-organic beings in general, will have a significant impact first on New Mutants, and then on the X-books in general even to this day, arguably peaking when it leads to a group of villains who form the basis for one of the yearly line-wide crossovers in the 90s.
At one point in the story, Illyana and Lockheed teleport into Limbo to escape Warlock. She is next seen teleporting back to the mansion when Professor X returns home, wearing a space suit and carrying a gun. The story of what happened to Illyana in this issue, and why she's dressed that way, will eventually be told, in a manner, in issue #63.
Claremont selected this issue for inclusion in his Marvel Visionaries volume.
Like Uncanny X-Men #186, this is a double-sized issue that originally cost $1.00.
A Work in Progress
Dani is said to have been released from the hospital as of this issue, though last issue suggested she was healed by the Morlock Healer at the mansion.
It's established that this is the first time any kids from Salem Center have been allowed into Xavier's school, with at least one of those girl's unnerved by that fact.
The local girls continue to think "Amy" is from Rome, New York, marveling at how backwater upstate New York must be if Amara doesn't know about Michael Jackson.
Throughout the general merriment, gossip and lusting after boys that comprises the slumber party, Rahne worries that such thoughts and activities are wrong, even though she knows in her heart they're not.
This culminates in the girls forcing a makeover on Rahne.
Sam uses his power underwater for the first time. I'm also pretty sure he's doing that naked after having gone skinny dipping.
It's also revealed that he's a science fiction fan.
When attacked by Warlock, Illyana's entire nightgown transforms into armor.
Later, when thinking about Kitty, Illyana refers to her as her best friend, and wonders if she is Kitty's, which is an odd moment of doubt in a friendship that has always been depicted as being two-way.
Upon learning that Warlock is loose in the mansion, Sam beats himself up for bringing the inert alien inside, railing again about being a failure.
It's established that upon his arrival on Earth, because he comes from a planet dominated by techno-organic machines, Warlock views the machines he finds to be the dominant species, and consider the New Mutants to be something akin to the machines' guard dogs.
When some of the local girls see Dani interacting with Rahne while Rahne is in her wolf form, they assume she's Dani's dog, but Dani tells them she is her highly trained wolf.
The issue ends with three excerpts from Professor Xavier's files on the New Mutants (essentially pin-ups drawn by Sienkiewicz with text meant to represent Xavier's notes impressions/impressions). Sam, Illyana and Roberto are featured, with Xavier musing that perhaps Sam isn't getting any better with his because he's developed his power as far as it will go, expressing his concern over how to train Illyana in the use of her teleportation power when it's unpredictable, and worrying that Roberto's arrogance may lead him down a path similar to his father.
I Love the 80s
One of the girls at the slumber party, Weezie, is assumedly modeled after former editor Louise Simonson.
The hunky guys the slumber party girls moon over are Tom Selleck (of course), John Travolta, Sting, and Michael Jackson.
Local girl Manoli shows off her Michael Jackson dance moves (and surprisingly immodest pajamas).
Sam is revealed to be a New York Yankees fan, like his father and his father before him, though he bemoans that tradition as this issue was published during one of the rare decades when the Yankees weren't perennial contenders and the rival New York Mets were instead ascendant.
Claremont tries out a new oath for Illyana: by the abyss. And, of course, she uses her Soulsword, so we're reminded that it's the "ultimate expression" of her magical powers.
Several times Warlock refers to "the Maker" the same way humans might say "thank God", and while that is a pretty standard term in fiction involving robots (C-3PO makes similar exclamations throughout the various Star Wars films), it's unclear if at this time Claremont meant to imply a connection between Warlock and Forge, a character Claremont referred to as "the Maker" in the issue of Uncanny X-Men published this same month. Most likely, it is simply a coincidence.
Sienkiewicz draws one of the girls holding a stuffed Felix the Cat; I know that Todd McFarlane would later work Felix into a lot of his Spider-Man issues, but I'm not sure what Sienkiewicz's motivation here is.
Rahne angrily gut punches Sam when he fails to recognize her following her makeover.
Oddly enough, there's an add for a Super Mario Atari game in this issue.
It's in the Mail
The letter column officially changes its name to "Report Card" in this issue, and celebrates with two pages of letters, covering events up through issue #12, including clarification that "Rahne" is pronounced like "rain" and that Roberto's power protects his hands and feet when punching/kicking things with his super strength, even though the rest of him is still vulnerable. Which feels like something of a copout, albeit likely a necessary one.
There's also a letter from T.M. Maple, a well known letter hack from this time who wrote over 3,000 letters to various comic books from the late 70s into the early 90s. A pseudonym of Canadian Jim Burke, "T.M. Maple" was originally "The Mad Maple", but was abbreviated by editor Tom DeFalco to circumvent an edict by Jim Shooter that Marvel wouldn't publish letters signed with pseudonyms (DeFalco believed "T.M. Maple" looked more like a real name). Burke liked the abbreviation and continued to use it himself.
For a time, the room in which panels were held at Fallcon, my local two day comic convention, was referred to as the "T.M. Maple Edutorium".
Though hinted at during the "Demon Bear" saga, this is issue serves as the formal introduction to the series of Warlock. Warlock is...not a terribly well regarded addition to the X-Men mythos. Reportedly conceived of by some combination of Claremont and Sienkiewicz to take advantage of Sienkiewicz's ability to draw crazy ass stuff (that's a technical term), Warlock loses a lot of his visual appeal whenever he's not drawn by Sienkiewicz. Furthermore, Claremont will shortly develop (hinted at here) a dialogue style for Warlock that will lead to an annoying-for-many tendency to stick "self" in front of his words. Personally, I'm fairly neutral on Warlock; I agree that the character can be an annoyance, especially when handled by creators other than Claremont and Sienkiewicz, but as with many of Claremont's narrative tics which send so many on the internet into a frothing rage, I tend to just subconsciously skip over the repeated "selfs" when reading his dialogue. And while I'd never put Warlock on a list of favorite characters (or even favorite New Mutants), to me the New Mutants don't quite feel like the New Mutants without Warlock hanging around.
Which is one of the things I love about this issue. It's a patented Claremont "quiet" issue, a done-in-one that uses as a backdrop for Warlock's arrival a slumber party, and while the pop culture references are unavoidably dated, it's a great example of Claremont's ability to write the characters behaving like teenagers. It's also an opportunity to show that Sienkiewicz can be just as dazzling and inventive in more character-driven scenes. But most importantly, it's the issue that assembles the classic New Mutants cast. After writing out Karma, introducing Magma and integrating Illyana, Claremont now brings Warlock and Doug Ramsey onto the team, and in doing so, completes the lineup that I think of when I think "New Mutants". Claremont and Sienkiewicz still have some great work ahead of them on this title, but this issue, featuring for the first time the classic line-up, a focus on the kids being kids, some fantastic character moments and dazzling Sienkiewicz artwork, is the quintessential New Mutants issue.
Next week we catch up with Wolverine and Kitty in Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1-6, followed by the first New Mutants annual and the debut of Lila Cheney.