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Thursday, December 5, 2013

X-amining New Mutants #51

"Teachers' Choice"
May 1987

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants return home while Professor X opts to remain in space. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Kevin Nowlan
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Creators: Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod

Plot
As the Starjammers repair their ship, Professor Xavier telepathically learns more about recent events from the New Mutants. Horrified by what he sees, he realizes he must return to Earth with his students. Back on Earth, Magneto and Storm help create a breakwater to protect a town from a hurricane, discussing the Hellfire Club's offer of an alliance, with Storm arguing the benefits of such an arrangement. Aboard the Starjammer, Illyana locks herself in her room, refusing to come out. Over Dani's objections, Xavier helps Karma possess Illyana, forcing her to explain her actions: she wishes to stay on the Starjammer, and not return to Limbo, where she'll be forced to reclaim her dark side once again. Just then, Xavier telepathically detects a cloaked fleet of Shi'ar starships, poised to attack the Starjammer.


He is able to help the damaged ship evade the Shi'ar attacks, but faces a quandary: he is unwilling to risk the New Mutants' lives by keeping them on the Starjammer during the fight, he would be unable to return with them to Earth without leaving the Starjammers to die. Ultimately deciding he can do more good with the Starjammers, even beyond their current fight, he decides he must send the New Mutants home without him. However, Illyana refuses to return to Limbo, and Karma is forced to once more use her power to make Illyana return the New Mutants to Earth. When they arrive, Illyana is furious, and disappears into Limbo, telling them she'll make them pay. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Magneto and Storm formally accept the Hellfire Club's offer, joining the Lords Cardinal as the White King, though Magneto still wonders if the alliance will ultimately save or destroy them. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Magneto and Storm, representing the X-Men, join the Hellfire Club in this issue, accepting their offer of an alliance and jointly taking the title of White King (though in the future, Magneto's involvement with the club will be far more significant than Storm's).


Storm also mentions "Plan Omega" for the first time; we'll eventually learn that this is a plan to fake the X-Men's deaths in order to allow them to operate more freely, without fear of their loved ones or associates being targeted by their enemies. The plan will ultimately be put into effect, though not quite in the manner the X-Men originally intended.


After four issues away, the New Mutants return to the school at the end of this issue.


Reunited with the New Mutants and able to return to Earth with them, Professor X nonetheless decides to remain with the Starjammers in this issue, determining they need him more than the New Mutants. He'll next appear, briefly, in X-Factor #50, which is a ways down the road. 

The current Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, sans Emmanual Da Costa, Roberto's father, appear in this issue. 

Kevin Nowlan, an acclaimed artist who has never had a lengthy or groundbreaking run on any one title, fills in on art. 

The Chronology Corner
Storm appears in this issue between Uncanny X-Men #216 and #219 (she does not appear in issues #217 & #218).

A Work in Progress
Reading the New Mutants' minds to learn more about the Morlock massacre, Professor X also learns this issue that his original students have formed X-Factor (suggesting that now the New Mutants are also aware of the connection), though of course he doesn't learn that they're only posing as mutant hunters, and believes they've betrayed his dream for some reason.


Helping repair the Starjammer, science fiction fan Sam marvels at finding himself living in a sci-fi novel (not that he doesn't already have a girlfriend who lives on a Dyson sphere).


At one point Xavier telepathically grants Karma access to Illyana's mind so that Karma can possess her, though it's not clear why Xavier doesn't just take control of Illyana's mind himself.

Artistic Achievements
Nowlan turns in a pretty nifty two page spread depicting Xavier reading the New Mutants' minds to learn about the Morlock Massacre.


"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Needless to say, Dani is (understandably) none too impressed with Xavier twice using Karma to take direct Illyana's actions against her will.


Teebore's Take
Reunited with the New Mutants, able to return to Earth thanks to Illyana's teleportation ability, this issue is as much, if not moreso, about Xavier deciding whether or not to stay with the Starjammers as it is a Classic Claremont Quiet issue following the resolution of a story arc. We get some nice character moments from the New Mutants (chiefly Illyana's fear of returning to Limbo and Sam's glee at finding himself living a sci-fi novel), but having brought him back for the book's celebration of fifty issues, Claremont is chiefly concerned with justifying Xavier's continued absence from the book, especially after he looks into the New Mutants' minds and shares their experience of the Morlock massacre and learns about the seeming betrayal of his original students forming X-Factor.

The end result probably reads better in hindsight, when we know that Xavier isn't going to return to Earth for quite some time, so the why of it is something of a formality, but Claremont does make an effort to sell it nonetheless by putting the Starjammers, in the short term, in life-threatening danger without Xavier's help and, in the long term, establishing the importance of the success of their mission to overthrow Deathbird and how much Xavier can personally help that cause. It's not a perfect justification for Xavier's continued absence (while Xavier is necessary to help the Starjammers evade their immediate attackers, no one ever bothers to suggest that Illyana could teleport everyone, including the Starjammers, off the ship to safety), but that Claremont even bothered to justify it at all is a welcome effort. This is the kind of issue, one that gives the characters a chance to rest up and reflect on recent events and the narrative a moment to catch its breath, that comics don't seem to have the time for often enough anymore.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Angel deals with the loss of his wings in X-Factor #15. Next week, Dazzler takes the spotlight in Uncanny X-Men #217 and the New Mutants reunite with Magneto in New Mutants #52.

10 comments:

  1. It just occurred to me that with about fifty issues of New Mutants left, at a rate of approximately an issue a week (though I know there will be some off weeks for annuals, etc.), we must be just about one year away from... X-FORCE.

    Food for thought.

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  2. So in about 10 months or so, Liefeld and...Commander X! Uh, I mean, Cable.

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  3. @Matt: It just occurred to me that with about fifty issues of New Mutants left, at a rate of approximately an issue a week (though I know there will be some off weeks for annuals, etc.), we must be just about one year away from... X-FORCE.

    Yikes. Even if I know that to be true intellectually, I don't need to be reminded of it. :)

    Though it'll probably end up being more than a year out - Uncanny has a few bi-weekly runs between now and then that will screw up our "1 issue per series per week = 1 monthly issue" ratio, plus the arrival of Excalibur and Wolverine will probably draw things out for a bit, since I now know for sure I can't do five of these posts a week. And there's a LOT of ancillary material between now and then, since Tom DeFalco will be taking over as EiC soon, at which the X-Men's popularity gets them exploded into all kinds of extra stuff.

    I've got things mapped out to at least "Fall of Mutants" at this point, but I'm hoping to fill out the schedule further (to "Inferno" and maybe even the '91 "relaunch") after Christmas. If I do, I may put the whole thing into a post just so everyone can see what's coming even ahead of the monthly look ahead posts (plus, that'll give everyone a chance to remind me of stuff I'm missing).

    @wwk5dSo in about 10 months or so, Liefeld and...Commander X! Uh, I mean, Cable.

    Now the only question is if I re-title "Artistic Achievements" as "Artistic NOT Achievements" (or whatever) in his honor, or do I just give him his own category?

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  4. I've seen people use this in their comments section regarding Liefeld, so why not use it here" "Because, Liefeld!"

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  5. Hi, I very much enjoy your site and reading the weekly X-Men comics reviews but I have a question for you. Back in the comments section for your review of New Mutants #45-November 1986 cover date you mentioned that the New Mutants comic was on sale a month ahead of the other X-Men books with the same cover date. Why were you making that statement? Because that statement is only partially true, New Mutants was the first of the, at the time three, X-books with the newest cover date to go on sale each month. It would come out 2 weeks before the new X-Men book and 3 weeks before the new X-Factor book. So in order of publication as they were released each month it was New Mutants, X-Men and X-Factor.
    Back in the Eighties up until the end of 1988 comics released on the newsstands were cover dated three months ahead of the month they were published. So let us take books with say April 1987 cover dates they would have came out in January 1987. Now here's the slightly confusing part, Daredevil and New Mutants May 1987 cover dates books both came out a week early at the end of the month with the last of the April 1987 books. It was that way every month so I'm wondering if that's why you were thinking the New Mutants book came out a month ahead of the same cover date X-Books? Also to make things even more confusing comic shops received the comics three weeks before they were finally released on the newsstands.
    I hope that my question and post are not too confusing, I was a bit confused after writing. It's just always confused me a bit when you would do reviews of say the April '87 X-Men book, the May '87 New Mutants book and then go back to the April '87 X-Factor book when the May New Mutants book would have come out a week after the April '87 X-Factor book. Thanks for taking the time to read my rather long-winded and a bit confusing post here.

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  6. @Russell: It's just always confused me a bit when you would do reviews of say the April '87 X-Men book, the May '87 New Mutants book and then go back to the April '87 X-Factor book when the May New Mutants book would have come out a week after the April '87 X-Factor book

    It is confusing. But the fault lies partially with Marvel, partially with my approach to the three series.

    My goal (once X-Men became a franchise) was to post in a given week all the X-books which were on sale in the given month, the idea being I'm replicating what it would be like to wander into a comic shop (or newsstand, drug store, etc.) and pick up all two or three X-books on sale that month.

    To that end, my point of reference for which issues were on sale in a given month is (not cover dated) is Mike's Amazing World of Comics. If you look at his page for which Marvel Comics were on sale in January 1987, for example, you'll see New Mutants #51, Uncanny X-Men #216 and X-Factor #15, even though those three issues are cover dated, per their indicias, as May, April and April, respectively. So I covered them all in the same week as the issues on sale in January of '87.

    Does that make sense?

    I assume at some point in the future, the on sale/cover dates will all synch up (and then get thrown out of whack when Uncanny goes bi-monthly), but we'll see.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my rather long-winded and a bit confusing post here.

    No problem! Thank you for reading!

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  7. Comment from Blam: // Kevin Nowlan, an acclaimed artist who has never had a lengthy or groundbreaking run on any one title, fills in on art. //

    And it's such gorgeous art. I picked this up just based on that cover. Maybe off the racks, maybe from a quarter bin at some point, I dunno — but it's the next and I think last New Mutants issue in my collection after #40, which was the first I bought since #30 or so and whose BWS cover likewise got me to grab it on a lark.

    // Professor X also learns this issue that his original students have formed X-Factor (suggesting that now the New Mutants are also aware of the connection) //

    Hmm... I guess it depends on how our brains work and how his power works. My sense is that the kids shouldn't know X-Factor is Scott, Jean, et al. yet (although this may well get ignored or glossed over as the series play out like so many plotlines do). It's possible, however, that their minds could retain an exact replica of what they've seen for Professor X to read even if they don't consciously possess total recall and so he could make the extrapolation himself. Unless you mean that they'd know what he knows because he then tells Lilandra, but they appear to still be sleeping.

    // Nowlan turns in a pretty nifty two page spread depicting Xavier reading the New Mutants' minds to learn about the Morlock Massacre. //

    The spread is quite impressive. And Glynis Oliver does a very nice job on the colors — my only real quibble being the students' uniforms here; I much prefer grey in relief instead of blue, when necessary, although solid black looks the coolest — but the printing really fails the coloring process big-time. When you see that dull black, or different shades of black side-by-side with tints to them, it's the result of the separators/engravers just being sloppy by applying color both over the white area of the art where the color actually belongs and over the blacks filled in by the inker — as evidenced for instance in the yellow-black halo surrounding Warlock. It doesn't help that nobody was used to the newer printing methods (like Flexographic) and the whiter paper (like Mando) introduced during this era, so that the actual colorists had to adjust the percentages in their guides over time after seeing the results. Oliver's certainly one of the best colorists that mainstream, assembly-line comics have had, particularly in that era, regardless, and her fine job is here is all the more welcome because Nowlan's a superb colorist in his own right.

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  8. Wow, somebody hit Dani with the ugly stick in that panel you posted.

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  9. Looking at it, I HATE the artwork in this book. I'll gladly take Liefeld over this manure.

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  10. After reading the first 51 issues, Kevin Nowlan's art might be the best so far. Not just an incredible draftsman, but his storytelling stands out in contrast to Jackson Guice the the recent fill-in artists.
    Nowlan makes the story read better than it actually is.

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