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Thursday, August 29, 2013

X-amining New Mutants #40

"Avengers Assemble!"
June 1986

In a Nutshell
Magneto fights the Avengers. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jackson Guice
Inker: Kyle Baker 
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Michelle Wrightson
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The Snow Valley sheriff contacts the Avengers, alerting them that Magneto intends to kidnap some students from Emma Frost's Massachusetts Academy. They agree to help the sheriff and stop Magneto. Meanwhile, at the Massachusetts Academy, Cannonball, Magma and Jetstream train together, but Cannonball is distracted and performs poorly. Jetstream confesses to the White Queen that all of the New Mutants are suffering from nightmares and not sleeping well, leaving her to worry that her psychic surgery may not have been entirely successful. As dawn breaks, Magneto and Warlock are heading for the Academy when they're attacked by the Avengers, whose initial volley severely injuries and weakens Warlock. A fight between Magneto and the Avengers breaks out, with the Avengers firmly believing Magneto to still be villainous while Magneto does his best to protect Warlock and not cause serious harm to the Avengers.


At the academy, Amara senses the battle, and Illyana teleports away to investigate. She then returns to fetch the rest of the New Mutants. Back at the battle, Magneto prevents a weakened Warlock from inadvertently draining the Avengers' life energy. Realizing he just saved their lives, Captain America asks Magneto why he did so, and Magneto answers that he has learned a better way. Just then, the New Mutants appear and teleport away with Magneto, telling the Avengers he's a hero now. Over the next several days the New Mutants, gathered at an inn located between the Massachusetts Academy and Xavier's school, undergo additional psychic treatments from the White Queen, aided by the emotional support of Magneto, enabling her to finally restore them to normal once and for all. With Magneto intent on reopening the school, the New Mutants decide to return there, nonetheless grateful for everything the White Queen did to help them. She leaves, having lost control over the mutants but confidant that Magneto will heretofore have a hard time convincing them she's villain he believes her to be.   

Firsts and Other Notables
Through a combination of more psychic surgery from the White Queen and emotional support from Magneto, the New Mutants finally return in this issue to relative normalcy following their death and resurrection by the Beyonder, with Magneto subsequently reopening Xavier's school and reforming the New Mutants.


The Avengers guest star in this issue, appearing between issues #266 and #267 of their title, in the midst of Roger Stern's acclaimed run on the title and on the cusp of their seminal "Under Siege" storyline, featuring a lineup including Wasp, Captain America, Black Knight, Hercules, Captain Marvel (the female one with energy powers), and Namor the Sub-Mariner. This is also a time when the Avengers' Quinjets were being stored on Hydrobase, an artificial island offshore from New York, in order to circumvent FAA regulations that prevented the Avengers taking off directly from their mansion headquarters.  

The book's new regular art team debuts in this issue. Jackson Guice, still the regular penciller on X-Factor, is joined by inker Kyle Baker. Whether its the presence of Baker or a lack of oversight from Jim Shooter, but Guice's art is much stronger here than on X-Factor, reminiscent of the recent Wilshire/Sienkiewicz pairing, giving the book a look that, while not matching the craziness and experimentation of Sienkiewicz's solo run, still fits in with the overall look of the book he established.

Barry Windsor-Smith returns to draw the cover.

A Work in Progress
I don't think this was ever referenced in Avengers, but Claremont established that the Avengers' video screen automatically transmits images of the team in their proper attire to whomever they're speaking, regardless of their actual dress.


The Avengers have received word of Magneto's reformation, but are quick to discard it when contacted by the sheriff.


The White Queen notes that if the New Mutants are truly still damaged by their encounter with the Beyonder, they won't be such good assets for the Hellfire Club.

Wasp mentions that Magneto's power enables him to fly in "short hops", though we've seen him use it to fly over great distances at this point.

When Magneto points out that Namor was once a foe of humanity but is now a member of the Avengers, Captain America retorts that Namor fought by his side during World War II. To which Magneto counters with the fact that during World War II, he was a prisoner of the very tyranny they were fighting.


Amara notes that her power gives her a certain empathy with the Earth, enabling her to sense Magneto's nearby fight with the Avengers, the first time that aspect of her power is mentioned.


In the wake of their confrontation with Magneto and the New Mutants, most of the Avengers fear Magneto has recruited a new Brotherhood consisting of impressionable teenagers, but Captain America seems willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, noting that the Avengers have welcomed plenty of former villains into their own ranks through the years.


The White Queen offers Magneto two explanations for why she is returning the New Mutants to him without a fight, leaving him to decide which answer he prefers.


Ultimately, she comes away feeling like a winner: even though she no longer directly controls the New Mutants, by letting them choose their own path, she knows it will be difficult for Magneto to convince them she is anything but a friend.


Claremontisms
Magneto has metallic fibers laced into his cape, enabling him to expand it with greater strength than he could muster physically.


It's also noted that Magneto can't affect Captain America's shield. 

Teebore's Take
This issue is, quite simply, a ton of fun. The centerpiece is an extended fight sequence between Magneto and the Avengers, featuring one of my favorite lineups of that team. It;s arguably the best use of Reformed Magneto yet, as he's forced to defend Warlock while also holding back against the Avengers, even while they attack him with the fury reserved for their greatest villains. His characterization of the Avengers is fairly spot-on and consistent with how they're written in their own title, with Claremont drawing on Magneto's past with Namor and fittingly depicting Captain America as the one Avenger able to recognize Magneto's tactics as being less ruthless than expected, the one Avenger willing to give Magnet the benefit of the doubt and take his reformation at face value.

It's also another great showcase for Claremont's aptitude (ably assisted her by Guice and Baker) to choreograph clever, original fight sequences, showcasing Magneto's tactical mind as he goes beyond the usual force field/energy blast routine That Claremont and his collaborators are able to do all that and still satisfactorily wrap up the post-Beyonder arc in a way that gets the New Mutants back under Magneto's tutelage without reverting the Hellions or the White Queen to outright villainy is remarkable. The end result is a strong finish to a strong story, arguably the book's strongest non-Sienkiewicz drawn story.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Frenzy makes her first appearance in X-Factor #4, while next week, we look at the Firestar miniseries followed by X-Factor Annual #1. 

12 comments:

  1. Man, the X-books around this time were really shaking up the status quo. I used to think that the books were always pure awesome, never hated by anyone, etc., and that the X-books today are garbage by comparison with the way they keep messing up the classic X-Men formula.

    But I wonder how much outrage there would be over the X-books had there been an internet in the mid-80's? I guarantee a lot of people were outraged when Professor X almost dies, leaves, and appoints his greatest foe as headmaster of the school. Then the characters keep dying/getting resurrected (New Mutants, X-Men in Australia, Angel). It's really not much different than today.

    However, I think Claremont's "deconstruction" of the teams and even the superhero genre is more fluid and natural than the way the books are handled today. Claremont had written 100+ issues of the X-Men and knew them inside and out. Fighting a villain-of-the-week gets boring, so naturally he explored other aspects of the team. I feel that this kind of progression is natural with any creator on a book long enough. It's a lot better than today's brand of "deconstruction" where a shake-up to the status quo or death of a character is meant for pure shock value to boost sales, then be undone shortly thereafter, only to be shook up again.

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  2. Also, I think the driving force in the art of this issue was all Kyle Baker. He was a great inker with some great stylistic leanings at this point. This doesn't mean Guice's art isn't good, though. In the late 80's he improved leaps and bounds, and even today he's doing amazing work which looks very illustrative and is a huge improvement over his X-Factor stuff. I absolutely think the editorial interference and tight deadlines didn't allow him to shine on X-Factor, though. There's only so much pizazz an artist can give a double-size issue in a 2 week window.

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  3. I must admit that, not being a fan of Headmaster Magneto, I was rooting for the Avengers when I read this issue a year or two back. Which is totally the reverse of the position the story encourages you to take, but what can I say?

    Also, I agree that Guice looks a lot better here than on X-Factor. The inking is clearly a big part of it (though I like Rubenstein on certain pencilers), but I really think the limited involvement by Shooter is a big help, too. It's just too bad Magneto wasn't wearing a better costume for this epic confrontation.

    "Wasp mentions that Magneto's power enables him to fly in "short hops"..."

    And if anyone would know about "short-hopping" with Magneto...! Nudge, nudge.

    (That was a Secret Wars reference and a totally made-up innuendo all in one.)

    But seriously, I was little disappointed that Wasp's brief flirtation with Magneto didn't come up at all in this story. In fact, if I recall correctly, the entire bit where Magneto fought alongside the heroes during the Secret Wars never comes up. I could be mistaken, though.

    "Captain America retorts that Namor fought by his side during World War II. To which Magneto counters with the fact that during World War II, he was a prisoner of the very tyranny they were fighting."

    Despite the gravity of Magneto's past and all, this exchange just cracks me up, because... what can Cap possibly say to counter that??

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  4. @Ian: But I wonder how much outrage there would be over the X-books had there been an internet in the mid-80's?

    Oh, I guarantee there would have been internet outrage in the 80s if there had been a widely-used internet. Heck, in any era.

    Seen on message boards in the 60s: can you believe they got rid of all the Avengers? And made Quicksilver an Avenger? And HAWKEYE?!? Those are villains, not Avengers. They don't belong on this team. Where's Iron Man? Where's Thor? I tell ya, Stan's lost it, not that I think he ever had it. Mark my words, this book won't last another six issues with this lineup.

    And even now, for every person who says that the Romita Jr./Outback/Jim Lee/whatever era is their favorite, their X-Men, there's another who says that's the era that made them drop the book once and for all, because those weren't their X-Men any more.

    However, I think Claremont's "deconstruction" of the teams and even the superhero genre is more fluid and natural than the way the books are handled today.

    I agree. A lot comes, as you say, from Claremont's longevity on the book. Even if you hate a lot of the permutations he puts the team through in his later years on the title (and plenty of people do), it's hard to argue that he didn't earn the right to try some different things just by sticking around as long and covering as much ground as he did.

    Like you said, that's the issue with a lot of the big changes to characters that happen in modern comics: very few creators stick around to handle the ramifications of their big changes, instead showing up, breaking things down, and leaving it to someone else to pick up the pieces (or, more often, break them further).

    I actually give Bendis a lot of credit, actually, for avoiding a lot of that: for all the changes he wrought on the Avengers through his time shepherding their titles, by the time he left, he did his best to put everything back in the place he found it.

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  5. @Matt: t's just too bad Magneto wasn't wearing a better costume for this epic confrontation.

    At least it's not the "Big M" costume.

    And if anyone would know about "short-hopping" with Magneto...! Nudge, nudge.

    Ha! I approve.

    In fact, if I recall correctly, the entire bit where Magneto fought alongside the heroes during the Secret Wars never comes up.

    The Wasp flirtation did not (which I agree was unfortunate), but his fighting alongside the heroes against the Beyonder did (they do the usual "Well, he fought alongside us against the Beyonder. I guess leopards can't change their spots" schtick at the beginning).

    this exchange just cracks me up, because... what can Cap possibly say to counter that??

    Right? That's why I love it.

    "Err...well...right. Carry on then, Magneto".

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  6. @Teebore: Yeah, it's difficult to know the climate without every fan having the ability to let their voice be heard. Letter columns showed some hate mail, but what's 4 or 5 letters per column when there are hundreds of thousands of comic readers out there?

    I think the internet actually ruined comics for me. When I was a kid I felt comics were magic. I'd go to the store once a month and pick up an issue. I had no idea when they were released, they were just always on the shelf. They were also created by these faceless people I never would've known about had their names not been in the credit boxes. And I took every story I read seriously - If a character died I really had no idea if they'd ever come back. If a character lost their powers I'd assumed it would be forever. I also felt like I was in a vacuum since I didn't know any other comic fans - I felt like I was reading the real adventures of people that actually existed.

    It wasn't until I started going on comics forums around 2003 and reading comics history on fan sites that I realized that there are lots of cynical bastards out there. And then I learned about the retcon.....And I realized how many of my favorite comics were the results of retcons, editorial interference, fan outrage, etc. It absolutely makes sense to me now that the age of "shock value" in comics came about the same exact time as comics fandom really told hold on the internet - Announce a controversial storyline and immediately you have thousands of people talking about it.

    This all-access look at comics ruined a lot of the magic to me. When I was a kid Rob Leifeld was a faceless God who drew comics, and that was it. Now thanks to Twitter I see he's just a guy who likes inking while driving and starting internet drama. His comics lost a lot of that magic (Not to mention the countless hateful things I've seen said about him). And now the comic companies are so open about their business that when I read a comic I don't feel like it's about "real" people on "real" adventures, I feel that it's just an editorially-mandated story to boost sales or capitalize on whatever superhero movie is out now.

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  7. Ian: "It's a lot better than today's brand of "deconstruction" where a shake-up to the status quo or death of a character is meant for pure shock value to boost sales, then be undone shortly thereafter, only to be shook up again."

    I don't understand your use of "deconstruction" in this sentence, to be honest. It's a specific literary/philosophical approch, not a byword for "things I don't like".

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  8. I love the hell out of this issue. It's the conclusion to (as Teebore said) the best non-Sienkiewicz New Mutants story, a fun slugfest, and the first indication that Emma Frost wasn't all bad. Her last scene indicated that she may have helped the New Mutants in order to manipulate them, but Claremont, Guice, & Baker make it clear that helping the team put all participants through hell. I left the story with the impression that Emma really did care about the welfare of her students. I read this story years before Generation X came out, and I remember thinking Emma's reform made sense based on the end of this story.

    I also read this story before encountering any of Kyle Baker's solo work. Looking at it now, I can see his style practically swallowed Guice's. I like Guice's art (Resurrection Man was a favorite), but I think Baker's inks improved the art a great deal. I'm a huge fan of his solo comics, from Cowboy Wally and Why I Hate Saturn to his recent Bakers series. He has one of the best senses of humor in the business.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  9. I picked this up just for the cover — my first issue of the series since about #30.

    // Guice's art is much stronger here than on X-Factor //

    Baker's overpowering inks significantly improve Guice's pencils, although it's true that the layouts here are much more varied and interesting than we've seen over there.

    // most of the Avengers fear Magneto has recruited a new Brotherhood consisting of impressionable teachers //

    I assume you mean "impressionable students". I just flashed on an old Archie miniseries in which the Riverdale High staff are secretly superheroes.

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  10. @Ian: It wasn't until I started going on comics forums around 2003 and reading comics history on fan sites that I realized that there are lots of cynical bastards out there.

    For me, it was a combination of Wizard and the internet. For a long time after I first started reading comics, I operated under the assumption that everything that happened in the stories was part of someone's grand plan, that even if a writer left a book, what a future writer did was still part of whatever the overall plan was (which the departing writer of course shared with his replacement, or was handed over by the editor).

    Interviews in Wizard eventually dissuaded me of this (in hindsight ridiculous) notion, making it clear not only that "overall plans" were started and restarted as creators came and went (and sometimes midstream) but that some writers (ie Scott Lobdell) barely had a plan even while they writing the book (I still remember the shock and sorrow I felt when I learned that "Onslaught" was just a name he threw into an issue without any idea of who the character was or what his story would be).

    Then I started reading stuff regularly on the internet and learned how I was wrong to like all the stuff that I liked, because everyone on the internet hates everything.

    In all seriousness though, there is something to be said for the level at which learning how the sausage gets made, so to speak, can affect your enjoyment of the sausage. I'm someone who tends to enjoy that kind of stuff, learning the process behind how a story gets crafted, what the original intention vs. the published one was, etc, and I like to think I appreciate the story that is even after I learn how it was crafted or about the story that might have been (or, in other words, even though I know now that, says, a big storyline is just another editorially mandated event, I try my best to separate that knowledge from my appraisal of its merits as a story/another chapter in an ongoing saga), but at the same time, learning how the sausage gets made does take away a lot of the magic and wonder.

    And once those veils are lifted, it's nearly impossible to bring them back.

    @Mike: I read this story years before Generation X came out, and I remember thinking Emma's reform made sense based on the end of this story.

    Yeah, this is the story I always recalled when Emma's reformation began in earnest. She's not quite the Emma who would pair off with Cyclops and more or less become the co-leader of the X-Men, but she's also a step removed from the outright villain of her earliest appearances. It lays the groundwork for her eventual full-on reformation, especially in terms of established that she does genuinely care for her students, but isn't a total repudiation of her status as a villain.

    I'm a huge fan of his solo comics, from Cowboy Wally and Why I Hate Saturn to his recent Bakers series. He has one of the best senses of humor in the business.

    I've read woefully little of Baker's solo work, beyond Truth and his Plastic Man series for DC (the latter of which I greatly enjoyed). I really should check out some of his other stuff sometime.

    @Blam: I assume you mean "impressionable students". I just flashed on an old Archie miniseries in which the Riverdale High staff are secretly superheroes.

    "Impressionable teenagers", actually, though I like your idea of a Justice League of Riverdale. :)

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  11. @Teebore: // I've read woefully little of Baker's solo work //

    Oh, man. Get Cowboy Wally ASAP. I think you'll love it given your sense of humor and interest / knowledge of television history.

    @Teebore: // though I like your idea of a Justice League of Riverdale //

    Not my idea. It's a 1989 miniseries called Faculty Funnies and I'm pretty sure it was unconnected to the earlier (mostly, but also later) stories in which Archie was Pureheart the Powerful, Jughead was Captain Hero, Betty was SuperTeen, etc.

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  12. @Blam: Oh, man. Get Cowboy Wally ASAP

    I will have to check that out, thanks!

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