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Thursday, May 30, 2013

X-amining New Mutants #31

"Saturday Night Fight"
September 1985

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants shut down the Gladiators and reunite with an old friend. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In the arena, Roberto and Amara face off against a gigantic robot containing Kitty Pryde, much to the delight of the Gladiator's mysterious telepathic leader. As a possessed Dazzler uses her power to amp up the crowd, Kitty manages to free herself of her possession, and phases out of the robot. Dazzler is then forced to fight Roberto, Amara and Kitty. Just then, Sam, Illyana and Rachel arrive and join the fight. Illyana teleports Dazzler into Limbo, which frees her of her possession, but leaves the rest of the Gladiators believing Illyana killed their friend. They rush into the arena and attack the New Mutants. Illyana recalls Dazzler from Limbo and when the police arrive, Dazzler urges her friends to break up the Gladiators once and for all.


Examining the box seats of the Gladiators' leader, the New Mutants discover an escape tunnel. Following it, they're suddenly telepathically attacked once more and turned against one another. Kitty has Dazzler fill the tunnel with light, illuminating their foe for Sam. He blasts into their opponent, but is shocked to learn she is their former teammate Karma, horribly changed, who they had believed was dead. Using her slaves as hostages, Karma escapes. Just then, Rachel is able to telepathically reach the X-Men, who are on their way to pick everyone up. However, the New Mutants, confused and angry about Karma's survival and transformation, declare that it's up to them to either help their friend or bring her to justice. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Bill Sienkiewicz's final issue as regular series penciler. After a fill-in turn by Steve Leialoha for the next three isssue, he will return to ink over Mary Wilshire's pencils for a few issues, but his run is considered to end as of this issue. 

The true master behind this latest incarnation of the Gladiators is revealed to be Karma, who has been missing and presumed dead since issue #7, following an encounter with a mysterious and powerful evil presence and an explosion in issue #6, though Xavier suspected at the time that she had survived. She is now morbidly-obese and clearly evil; the cause of those changes will be explored in the next story.


The previous appearances of the Gladiators' former leader, Alexander Flynn, are revealed to be a projection created by Karma. The Gladiators themselves effectively disband after this issue, with the local authorities made aware of the operation. Thankfully, we won't see them again for quite some time, until Claremont's return to the X-Men universe in the 00s.

The issue ends with a one-page "Xavier Files" pin-up on Empath and a "Headmistress' Evaluation" on Empath's fellow Hellion Catseye, from the White Queen, both drawn by Sienkiewicz. Xavier notes that Empath may be the best representation he's ever known of pure evil, while it's established that Catseye lived most of her as a cat before learning she could transform into a human, and that she may be smarter than Kitty.  


The Chronology Corner
This issue takes place prior to Uncanny X-Men #196, with Kitty and Rachel next appearing in that issue following this one.

A Work in Progress
At one point, there's a closeup of Illyana during the fight in the arena, and she's oddly back in her disguise from issue #29, even though she's clearly not wearing it in the wider shots.


Kitty offers the help of the X-Men to track down Karma and learn what's happened to her, but Sam declines, saying the New Mutants, like the X-Men look after their own, and that Professor X isn't well and Sam doesn't quite trust Magneto yet.


Claremontisms
Sunspot: strong, but not invulnerable. Got it. 

Artistic Achievements
Sienkiewicz ends his run on a strong note, cover-wise. The final page of the issue also features a group shot of the team, with the characters missing from this story appearing behind the others, and was clearly meant as a farewell image for a team Sienkiewicz never really had the opportunity to draw in its entirety too often. 


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Upon learning that Karma is alive, Roberto is outraged, believing Xavier lied to them about her death, refusing to believe he could have been wrong.


Teebore's Take
And with that, Bill Sienkiewicz's seminal and groundbreaking run comes to a close, neither with a bang nor a whimper. As I've said before, this story neither reaches the highs of his run ("The Demon Bear Saga", "Legion") nor the lows (the dull and drawn out Cloak and Dagger story). It is mostly notable for reintroducing Karma, one of the original members of the cast, to the series, and even that isn't revealed until nearly the very end. Nothing else if not consistent, this issue ends the story as it began: genre-standard material with some editorially mandated crossover material thrown in. And though there are plenty of good issues and stories yet to come for New Mutants, there's no denying that with Bill Sienkiewicz's departure the book's artistic peak has ended. Other pencilers will come and go, some with as unique a style and strong a vision, for good and bad, as Sienkiewicz, but never again will the series feature artwork as energetic and innovative as was in the previous fourteen issues.

Next Issue
Next week, Kitty and Colossus take center stage in Uncanny X-Men #197, while the hunt for Karma begins in New Mutants #32. 

7 comments:

  1. Who were some of the other noteworthy people who came on later?

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    Replies
    1. Mary Wilshire, Brett Blevins and um...Rob Liefeld :(

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  2. I guess where Sienkiewicz is concerned it's over when the fat lady pulls strings.

    Another Claremontism, re his tendency to make things not just special but ultimate and, when applicable, touching the depths of one's very soul:
    Dazzler's light-show is "such raw beauty as none in the audience have ever seen and which few can endure. It overwhelms their senses far far more than any drug. It reaches from the core of Ali's being to theirs and leaves them truly dazzled.
    "For these people, nothing will ever be the same. After tonight, no light will ever be as radiant, and the most glorious hues will look faded and dull by comparison. It's a moment of glory that will shadow the rest of their lives, a memory that will forever haunt them.
    "A punishment far more severe -- and fitting -- than any prison."
    Wow. He's overselling Dazzler's light-show just a tad, methinks. If all that were true, she'd be an extremely effective superhero; not only would her power utterly transfix almost any foe in the moment but criminals would likely promise to stop their activities and reform in exchange for periodic hits of Dazzler's spectacle, like junkies, otherwise lost in a mundane life.

    Roberto makes quite a leap in sussing out that Kitty's connected to the giant robot, especially given that he's under the influence himself.

    I call bandersnatch on Kitty heaving that spike so hard and/or fast that it would go straight through that sturdy-looking support beam.

    Kitty refers to having read Alison's diary. What's that about?!?

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  3. @Spithead: Who were some of the other noteworthy people who came on later?

    In terms of the book's artists? The work of artists like Mary Wilshire and Jackson Guice falls into the "serviceable but unexciting" category for me, but Bret Blevins, whose work is certainly polarizing, brought a unique style to the book (even if it isn't loved by everyone) and then, of course, there's ol' Rob Liefeld, who has nowhere near the level of talent or skill as Sienkiewicz but certainly had a distinctive style and specific vision for the book.

    @Blam: Wow. He's overselling Dazzler's light-show just a tad, methinks.

    Definitely. In fact, I read over that passage a couple times, looking for a specific line or two, then moved on. When clearly, the whole freaking thing is one big Claremontism. :)

    I call bandersnatch on Kitty heaving that spike so hard and/or fast that it would go straight through that sturdy-looking support beam.

    Yeah, I want to say maybe there's some way to rationalize it in terms of her power, but I really can't come up with anything, so matter how much I contort things.

    Kitty refers to having read Alison's diary. What's that about?!?

    That's a reference to last issue. When Kitty was still undercover with the Gladiators, she snuck into Alison's room to alert her of the escape plan, and found her diary lying open, at which point she read about Dazzler wants to give up the fame provided by the Gladiators.

    So then the question is what's weirder: that Kitty stopped to read her diary, or that Dazzler brought along her diary while living with a group of mutants whose involves trying to kill each other for sport.

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  4. @Teebore: I read over that passage a couple times

    You're excused. Of course, I tried to excerpt something too, but when I couldn't I also couldn't resist entering the entire thing into the record. God bless 8th-grade typing class, as long as my hands and head are cooperating...

    @Teebore: When Kitty was still undercover with the Gladiators, she snuck into Alison's room

    At least in another week I won't have to worry about having missed or forgotten stuff because I won't be reading along anymore, save the extremely occasional issues (Special Edition included).

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  5. @Blam: At least in another week I won't have to worry about having missed or forgotten stuff because I won't be reading along anymore, save the extremely occasional issues

    Aw, that's too bad. I'll do my best not to miss anything for you. ;)

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  6. This issue should remind others of my previous theory about the crystal Team America stole which coincided with the Shadow King's return. In the Fat Karma story here, Xi'an wears a very large crystal ring, very prominently displayed on the cover. Was Claremont hinting to us that ring was the crystal, and it was very important to Farouk. However, the outcome of the ring is never shown by the story's conclusion.

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