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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

X-amining New Mutants Annual #2

"Why Do We Do These Things We Do?"
1986

In a Nutshell
Cypher and Warlock help free Psylocke and the New Mutants from Mojo. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Alan Davis
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Presenter: Stan Lee
Creators: Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod

Plot
In Switzerland, retired superhero Elizabeth 'Betsy' Braddock is suddenly attacked and captured by Mojo and Spiral. Later, at Xavier's School, a despondent Doug discusses his role as a New Mutant with Dani. At the same time, children all over the world, including the New Mutants and Karma's siblings, are entranced by a new animated TV show called Wildways, featuring Mojo, Spiral and Betsy. A week later, Betsy's brother, Captain Britain, is attacked at an abandoned school in Manhattan while searching for his missing sister. At the same time, an entranced Roberto is taken by Mojo and replaced with an android duplicate. Later, Roberto is seemingly killed. Warlock, however, realizes that the dead Roberto is an android. At the abandoned school, Mojo transforms the children he's ensnared, including Roberto, Rahne, Karma's siblings and three kids who befriended Longshot, into a super-powered team of adults he dubs the Brat Pack. As the New Mutants track their missing teammates to the school, they're attacked by the Brat Pack, and all but Doug and Warlock are captured and transformed themselves.


On their own, Doug and Warlock discover a frightened and de-aged Captain Britain, who tells them that Betsy is responsible for brainwashing their teammates, and where to find her. Sneaking into the principal's office, Doug and Warlock discover Betsy, now transformed in Mojo's image. They merge together in an effort to free her psyche, but are instead drawn into her mind, where they learn that a jealous Spiral intends to destroy her. Together, Doug and Warlock are able to free Betsy's mind, who then defeats Spiral and returns everyone to normal. Back in reality, Betsy realizes that Mojo has given her bionic eyes, yet she is unwilling to remove them. She and Captain Britain return with the New Mutants to Xavier's School, where Betsy decides to stay and learn better control over her telepathic abilities. Doug, meanwhile, has found new confidence in his place on the New Mutants and their ability to help other kids.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue represents the first American appearance of future X-Man and Asian ninja sex object Elizabeth "Betsy" Braddock, aka Psylocke. A purple-haired telepath, she is the sister of Captain Britain (who also appears in this issue, but has made previous appearances in American comics) and was created by Chris Claremont during his brief tenure writing Captain Britain stories for Marvel UK, and she was later developed by other Captain Britain writers into a regular member of that book's supporting cast. At the conclusion of this issue, Betsy decides to remain at Xavier's school to learn to better control her telepathic abilities. Her story, however, will be carried on by X-Men moving forward.


Just prior to where this story picks up, Betsy had recently completed a brief stint as Captain Britain herself, which ended with her getting her eyes removed by the villain Slaymaster and retiring to Switzerland (regular commenter and friend of the blog Matt has been doing a bang-up job on an overview of Captain Britain's UK adventures over on his blog that I recommend everyone check out, but if you're just interested in the events immediately preceding this story, check out this post).

This story finds Longshot's archnemesis, Mojo, giving Betsy bionic eyes (X-Men Annual #10 will reveal this is so he can broadcast her adventures, as seen through her eyes, as TV programming in his home dimension), which she will possess until her transformation into an Asian ninja (and they will remain a plot point even after that). 


This issue also sets up what will be a brief relationship between Doug and Betsy (ultimately, with Psylocke becoming a part of X-Men, the relative directions of their respective books will prevent Claremont from fully exploring this relationship), continuing Doug's somewhat ironic lady killer ways.


After using Spiral in several stories already, Claremont casts Ann Nocenti's Mojo as the villain of this story (albeit a largely background one), appropriating that character into the larger X-universe along with his former Marvel UK characters. Claremont also uses Nocenti's Little Rascals-esque Brat Pack in this story.


In addition to Psylocke and Captain Britain, Meggan, Captain Britain's girlfriend and future member of Excalibur, makes a brief appearance.


Karma's younger twin siblings, Leong and Nga, feature heavily in this story, and it represents their largest use yet. 


One of the transformed Brat Pack kids is given the codename Jubilee, and though she shares some of the same abilities, is not in any way related to the future character of the same name who eventually joins the X-Men.


The merged form of Doug and Warlock is referred to as "Douglock"; like Jubilee, this name will be used again in the future, albeit on a character with a more direct relationship to Doug and Warlock.

Fan favorite artist Alan Davis provides the art for this issue, having previously worked, amongst other things, on Captain Britain stories in the UK. This marks the beginning of a long collaboration between Davis and Claremont and Davis' involvement with the X-Men overall, one that will see him handling a few annuals and fill-in issues of Uncanny X-Men before helping launch Excalibur, a title he will eventually both write and draw.

The Chronology Corner
This story takes place between issues #44 and #45 of New Mutants, as Doug references the team's encounter with Legion in issue #44 in the course of the issue. 

A Work in Progress
Magneto is noted as being absent during this story, though it's not clear where he is (he's more or less hanging around the mansion during contemporaneous issues of X-Men, so it's not like he's away on a mission with them). 

During a training session, Sam is frustrated with his rudimentary skills, a reminder of the New Mutants' encounter with the Beyonder. It's also correctly noted that Roberto is not suffering from the same "reset skill level" as the rest of the team, since he was away from the team when they were killed and resurrected.


It's once again noted that mutants generally develop their powers during puberty.

Doug and Warlock merge again, though this time, the connection is longer and reaches a point where Doug starts talking like Warlock and vice versa. Ultimately, it's said that Doug suffered no after effects from the process.


Though she doesn't take the name as a formal codename in this issue, Mojo refers to Betsy as "Psylocke" (which is most likely a play on the pronunciation of the word "psyche" - if you have a psy-key, then you need a psy-lock). 

Claremontisms
Warlock, Doug and Sunspot attempt to clear some dead trees off the mansion's grounds, that most Claremontian of down time activities. It also gives him an opportunity to reminds us that Sunspot is super-strong but not invulnerable.


My Hero, Thomas Magnum
 Roberto is so entranced with the Wildways TV show it overrides his love of Magnum, P.I.


Teebore's Take
 This issue, along with X-Men Annual #10, represents Claremont's efforts to absorb the settings and characters of his editor's Longshot miniseries into the large X-Men narrative, along with, to a lesser extent, some of his own creations from his days writing Captain Britain for Marvel UK (and those of other Captain Britain creators such as David Thorpe and Alans Moore and Davis). This effort will, in part, ultimately result in two new members for the X-Men, another spinoff title, and a setting/group of characters the author will return to on a regular basis for the remainder of his involvement in the X-Men universe.

For now, though, he's focused on integrating some of these rather disparate elements into his ongoing narrative while laying the groundwork for future Mojoverse and Captain Britain-centric stories. Ultimately, both types of stories will take on a more whimsical tone than the usual X-Men stories, while Claremont will hew closely to Nocenti's original take on Longshot by using the Mojoverse stories for social and cultural satire, and these elements are on display here (Mojo's Wildways TV show, for example, literally possesses children).

The key element to this story, however, both here and in the subsequent X-Men annual, involves age-changing, as the New Mutants get aged up and Doug and Warlock are forced to fight adult versions of their friends. Fortunately, this fits in well with the overall theme of New Mutants, dealing as it does with the coming-of-age of teenagers. This kind of age transition (first literally increasing their age, then (in the X-Men annual) giving them the responsibilities of adults even while they remain teenagers) is a standard genre trick for this kind of story, but Claremont uses it well to ground to all the other Mojoverse/Captain Britain zaniness.

It also helps that Doug, a character who often blends into the background and whose non-physical power makes it all the more exciting when he does save the day - gets the spotlight. And, of course, the whole thing is elevated by the presence of Alan Davis, who keeps everything looking great even while the story goes through more and more outlandish turns. There's a lot going on here, and a lot that sets up some fairly significant future developments in the narrative, but the level of craft involved on the part of the creators helps keep things from spinning out of control, and helps make the issue highly enjoyable. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the Mojo-fication of the X-Men continues in X-Men Annual #10, followed by a pair of Spider-Man issues, Web of Spider-Man Annual #2 and Amazing Spider-Man #282.

10 comments:

  1. Having read this issue twice fairly recently (once as I read the New Mutants Classic trades and then again a year or so later in the Captain Britain Omnibus, I have to say that I think I like it. At least, I didn't just skim through it the second time even though it was still pretty fresh in my mind. The Alan Davis artwork is certainly beautiful.

    That said, I think "Wildways" looks like a pretty sucky kids' show. But then I guess the content doesn't matter as long as the hypnosis part works.

    Thanks for the shout-out and links, by the way. I enjoyed writing all those Captain Britain posts.

    "This issue also sets up what will be a brief relationship between Doug and Betsy..."

    So, according to Alan Davis in one of the later Captain Britain issues, Cap is 29 years old at this time. Which I think would make his twin sister roughly the same age. Which makes any feelings she has for teenage Doug, other than "motherly" or "big sisterly", really creepy.

    "This story takes place between issues #44 and #45 of New Mutants..."

    Nice that we know when the story occurred. Would've been nice if Claremont could've put the same thought into the Uncanny X-Men annual you're reviewing tomorrow!!

    "...Mojo refers to Betsy as "Psylocke" (which is most likely a play on the pronunciation of the word "psyche" - if you have a psy-key, then you need a psy-lock)."

    Is that what that means?!? I have puzzled over Psylocke's nonsensical codename for decades. I really don't understand why Claremont didn't explain it in the comics. It's certainly not obviously apparent. On a side note, while I think the word "Psylocke" sounds/looks cool, I'm not a fan of characters having codenames which are not real words (unless it's like their name in some alien language or something).

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  2. Anyone think "Wildways" looks like an anime?

    This Annual pretty much states that Rahne is still at Muir Isle.
    It's suggested by:
    A) The scene of Carrottop watching television in front of a couch (she's isolated from her fellow teammates, and I doubt her room is big enough to have a sofa or a TV) with the caption "Across the World..."
    B) When the team mourns "Roberto's" death and searches for the real one, ol' furrytop is nowhere to be seen (with nothing said about her absence, unless they knew she was supposed to be absent).

    Illyana cleans the table. Memorable.

    I would figure that Magneto's absence is due to his presence in VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH II LS#12, when he assisted Wonder Man fighting the Grim Reaper while his daughter gives birth to his grandchildren.

    Doug mourning Roberto at the morgue. Ironic (especially since, when the shoe turns to the other foot, Bobby turns the tragedy into 'poor me.')

    In my 2003 discuss-a-thon, I questioned why Amara was able to rebel against the brainwashing (when nothing happened with Farouk in NM#32-34). The answer I got was that since the NM were conditioned to believe the brainwashers were their parents (which is why Warlock freaked out), Amara broke free because she knew deep down they weren't her father or mother.

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  3. @Matt: But then I guess the content doesn't matter as long as the hypnosis part works.

    Exactly. Just act CBS! *rimshot*

    Which makes any feelings she has for teenage Doug, other than "motherly" or "big sisterly", really creepy.

    Creepy. Or awesome, if you're Doug. ;)

    You'd know better than I: when Claremont introduced Betsy, did he establish her as Brian's twin, or just sister? I'm thinking maybe he forgot/didn't realize she was a twin, which would allow for her to be younger than Brian (though there'd still be some creepiness to their relationship, since Claremont almost immediately casts Betsy in amongst the X-Men, and writes her like she's at least in the mid-20s range).

    Would've been nice if Claremont could've put the same thought into the Uncanny X-Men annual you're reviewing tomorrow!!

    Tell me about it...

    I really don't understand why Claremont didn't explain it in the comics. It's certainly not obviously apparent.

    It took me awhile to figure it out, in part because I (knowingly) incorrectly pronounce "psyche" in my head whenever I read it as "cyke" instead of "sigh-key".

    Claremont does hint at the meaning in this issue (Psylocke is responsible for brainwashing/controlling the kids, so she's "locking" their "psyches") but he never spells it out. And it's odd that she more or less just adopts that as her codename moving forward, even though it came from a villain who kidnapped, enslaved, and transformed her.

    @angmc43:Anyone think "Wildways" looks like an anime?

    A little bit, yeah.

    This Annual pretty much states that Rahne is still at Muir Isle.

    I didn't put all that together, but I think you're right. If not for the fact that issue #44 is specifically referenced and footnotes, I'd guess this took place even sooner, while Rahne was away from the team. Presumably, she must have hung around on Muir Isle for a bit still even after her teammates returned home.

    I would figure that Magneto's absence is due to his presence in VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH II LS#12

    Ah, good thinking. I wasn't familiar with the timing of that series.

    he answer I got was that since the NM were conditioned to believe the brainwashers were their parents (which is why Warlock freaked out), Amara broke free because she knew deep down they weren't her father or mother.

    Makes sense.

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  4. This is probably my first New Mutants issue, and it's basically imprinted on my DNA. All of the characters & concepts featured here are favorites as a result (well, except for Sunspot), and I still enjoy it. It's a reminder that you could do a story that had just enough darkness and a triumphant ending. I miss that.

    I also miss people realizing that characters are defined more by their behavior than just their "kewl" powers. That sort of died out when Louise Simonson took over the book & never fully came back, to NM or to comics in general.

    That said, I think "Wildways" looks like a pretty sucky kids' show. But then I guess the content doesn't matter as long as the hypnosis part works.

    Have you seen some of the stuff on now? I still haven't cleansed Uncle Grandpa from my eyes. Hypnosis is the only explanation for that existing.

    Doug mourning Roberto at the morgue. Ironic (especially since, when the shoe turns to the other foot, Bobby turns the tragedy into 'poor me.')

    Such a great scene. And like you said, Bobby's response in the opposite is to be a narcissistic jerk. Again. Stuff like that is why he was my least-favorite X-character until Surge came along.

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  5. Teebore -- "...when Claremont introduced Betsy, did he establish her as Brian's twin, or just sister?"

    I'm pretty certain she was his twin sister right up front. But it had been over ten years by this point since Claremont had last written her, so maybe he just forgot. He does eventually remember, though.

    "...And it's odd that she more or less just adopts that as her codename moving forward, even though it came from a villain who kidnapped, enslaved, and transformed her."

    Yeah, that doesn't make a lot of sense. She also keeps the ninja outfit that the Hand and the Mandarin give her as her regular costume, years later.

    Reminds me of Angel keeping the black/blue & white costume Magneto gave him during the Thomas/Adams run -- even though that costume's original purpose was to syphon his "mutant energy" into Magneto! Of course, now that I think about it, Angel also kept the "Angel of Death" costume Apocalypse gave him, too.

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  6. @Mela: Stuff like that is why he was my least-favorite X-character until Surge came along.

    Yeah, Roberto's kind of a whiny ass through most of New Mutants, but I've always gotten the impression that was intentional. Not that it makes him any more likeable, but I do kinda like the idea of writing a character who is something of an abrasive jerk who still has some redeeming qualities.

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  7. @Matt: Of course, now that I think about it, Angel also kept the "Angel of Death" costume Apocalypse gave him, too.

    And Havok's costume came from Stephen Lang. Clearly, taking names/costumes from villains is something of an X-Men tradition.

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  8. Psylocke keeping her codename and costume isn't that far-fetched. Remember that one of Psylocke's big character arcs around this time is that she REALLY wants to be an adventurer. During the crossover this site is currently looking at, Elizabeth desperately wants to prove to the other X-Men that she's a "real hero" despite her "genteel Proper Brit" apperance. So choosing the first codename offered to her would be a step in that direction.

    Also I really like this annual. This story is an excellent spotlight for Doug, a character often derided for being "useless." Proving that a courageuos spirit and a dallop of common sense can sometimes be all that's required for heroism.

    Speaking of which, I've come to gain a greater admiration for this version of Psylocke rather than the "Thong-fu" ninja we'd get later. A shame she traded all of her guts and quick-thinking for a Jim Lee-designed swimsuit and a focused totality of her psychic powers.

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  9. I never made the psy-key : psy-lock :: psyche : Psylocke connection. The codename feels a little less like a forerunner of the coming '90s nonsense if you look at it that way. So thanks.

    @Matt: // The Alan Davis artwork is certainly beautiful. //

    Agreed.

    The Doug-and-Betsy thing is not only creepy but really just flat-out inappropriate on Claremont's part, although you can probably give it something of a pass given that at the time there was no way it would progress past tentative attraction/flirtation. Or did it? Mainstream superhero comics weren't even quite at the level of, say, Piers Anthony's Xanth novels on the sex-meter, with the line pretty much held at self-consciously naughty thoughts (and even then in the context of love more than lust). We did get a bit of a brouhaha over Nightwing and Starfire appearing in bed together in the first issue of the Deluxe-format New Teen Titans in 1984, but it was non-Code, direct-market-only and they were both 19-20 years old in a monogamous, consensual relationship.

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  10. "And Havok's costume came from Stephen Lang. Clearly, taking names/costumes from villains is something of an X-Men tradition."

    And wasn't Poalris' Silver Age costume given to her by Mesmero? And she did keep the costume given to her by Eric the Red as well.

    "Angel also kept the "Angel of Death" costume Apocalypse gave him, too."

    Initially, wasn't that supposed to be his skin or something?

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