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Thursday, December 26, 2013

X-amining New Mutants Annual #3

"Anything YOU Can Do..!"
1987

In a Nutshell
Warlock duels the Impossible Man in a shape changing contest. 

Presentor: Stan Lee
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Creators: Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod

Plot
Following a Danger Room session in which the New Mutants take on simulacrums of the Avengers rendered as teenagers, they receive an unexpected and unwanted visit from the Impossible Man. Hoping to find the X-Men, he instead challenges the New Mutants to a contest. While most of the New Mutants turn him down, Warlock agrees to the challenge. The two aliens begin a duel to determine who is the better shapeshifter, taking a variety of forms before disappearing. Hoping to keep them out of trouble, the New Mutants teleport to Limbo, where they use Illyana's magic to locate Warlock and the Impossible Man.


The New Mutants proceed to follow the shapeshifting, fighting pair from Rio de Janeiro to London to Moscow to Tokyo, doing their best to limit the damage and put a stop to the duel. Finally, Doug realizes how Warlock can win the challenge, and whispers it to Warlock. He changes once more, only this time, he changes his color, something the Impossible Man can't do, making Warlock the winner. After the pair puts everything they disrupted back where they found it, they return to the mansion. When Magneto returns to the school, the New Mutants do their best to act like nothing extraordinary happened, and are slinking out of the room just as Magneto catches a glimpse of news report featuring the New Mutants.  
 
Firsts and Other Notables
Alan Davis returns to pencil his second consecutive New Mutants annual. This issue is a quasi-sequel to X-Men Annual #7, featuring the Impossible Man once more harassing Xavier's students (the New Mutants, sans Illyana, were in Nova Roma at the time, which is why Illyana is the only one who recognizes the Impossible Man).


Magma and Karma are absent from this issue, said to be waylaid by the flu. It's another one of those cases where it feels like the sort of thing a TV show would do to cover for an actor who was unavailable to shoot an episode, except of course that isn't necessary in comic books. Given when this issue went on sale, it's possible that Davis simply assumed (or was told) the characters were no longer on the team, and Claremont added the bit of dialogue about the flu to account for their absences, as the story is clearly set before their eventual departures. 

The Chronology Corner 
This issue takes place between New Mutants #51 and #52 and before the first issue of Fallen Angels, though it was on sale at the time of New Mutants #57. 

The New Mutants reference the events of the X-Men vs. the Avengers limited series, though Magneto's appearance in this issue is considered to occur before his appearances in that series.

A Work in Progress
With Warlock preoccupied by his duel with the Impossible Man, Doug worries that he's no good without him, echoing his similar feelings in contemporaneous issues of the series.


The New Mutants once more don their graduation uniforms from X-Men Annual #10, ostensibly to not be recognized, though I wonder how widely known the Xavier School uniform is in the outside world.


I Love the 80s
The issue opens with Doug selecting an 80s-riffic medley of songs for the New Mutants' workout, including "Walk Like an Egyptian". 


It's mentioned that since the events of X-Men Annual #7, Stan Lee has left the Marvel offices for Hollywood, which was indeed true at the time (Stan was continuing the struggle to develop Marvel properties into TV shows and movies). 

Marvel editors Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio, as well as archivist Peter Sanderson (who, along with Gruenwald, spearheaded the Marvel Handbooks), lend their names to bystander caught in the crossfire of Warlock and Impossible Man's duel.


Ending up in Rio, the New Mutants don swimsuits and, of course, Illyana's is the skimpiest of all (though a couple of the boys end up in speedos).


At one point, Warlock and the Impossible Man transform into Rocky and Rambo, and then Clubber Lang.


Claremontisms
Dani once again calls herself the New Mutants "war-chief". 

They're Students, Not Superheroes
When the Impossible Man first appears in the story, a point is made that the New Mutants tried to contact Magneto and the X-Men but were unable to do so.


Teebore's Take
Thank goodness for Alan Davis. As with Art Adams and Web of Spider-Man #2, another Warlock-centric annual saved by the art, his presence as the artist (inked by Paul Neary) is the best thing about this issue. The story certainly isn't any great shakes: Warlock and the Impossible Man trapse around the globe, changing into various Marvel and pop culture characters as hijinks ensure. It's all supposed to be fun and goofy and whimsical, and your appreciation of the story probably depends on how much of a mood you're in or how much patience you have for that kind of story. As has been said before, as much as I praise Claremont's writing, whimsy isn't his strongest suit.

But regardless of that, the presence of Davis at least keeps everything looking great. It's a treat to see him depict the New Mutants in their Adams-designed graduation uniforms, and the nature of the Warlock/Impossible Man conflict gives him a chance to draw a wide variety of characters you probably wouldn't see Davis draw otherwise (even if those characters are usually colored yellow and green/purple). This issue is by no means essential, and I wouldn't begrudge anyone washing their hands of it entirely, but at least the Davis art gives it something to recommend.

Next Issue
Next week, there's New Mutants, old mutants, multiple men and lobsters galore in the Fallen Angels limited series. 

7 comments:

  1. I'm going to go to back for this issue because I LOVE it. I know people bag on Claremont for his comedy, but this one is really great. It's not a guffaw-related comedy but it's still super funny & good-hearted. The Davis art carries a lot of the humor in body language & facial expressions, but one of my favorite moments comes from the childlike attitudes of Impy & Warlock (the Viper/Spider-Woman fight and how it ends). It's one of those comics that people who complain about comics being "too serious & dark" hate on for being "too silly", making me wonder what exactly they want.

    I think it's the kind of comic that people who like Silver Age weirdness enjoy more than most, since that's basically what this is - the Marvel equivalent of Superboy versus Mr. Mxylsptlk.

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  2. I like Alan Davis but that picture of Doug choosing the songs is terrifying. He looks like an evil elf or something.

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  3. @Mela: but one of my favorite moments comes from the childlike attitudes of Impy & Warlock (the Viper/Spider-Woman fight and how it ends).

    I like that bit as well.

    This is definitely a strange one for me. I'm definitely one of those people who try to walk the fine line between "too dark and gritty" and "too silly". I find many modern comics take themselves far too seriously, yet at the same time, don't really enjoy silliness and whimsy in my comic book stories (I love old Silver Age DC stuff, but mostly ironically - my genuine enjoyment of them comes mostly from the sheer energy and "the hell with it"-ness of them).

    I know that sounds like a contradiction, but I swear it's not.

    I certainly don't hate this issue. It's definitely an improvement over X-Men Annual #7, there's no denying the strength of the Davis art, and there's definitely some charm to the Impy/Warlock fight. I like it, but I just can't get all that excited about it either. I'm weird, I know. :)

    @Dan: He looks like an evil elf or something.

    Indeed. If one didn't know better, one would think he was casting some kind of spell on his teammates.

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  4. "This issue takes place between New Mutants #51 and #52 and before the first issue of Fallen Angels, though it was on sale at the time of New Mutants #57."

    Another one where I take issues with the accepted chronology. Issue 51 ends with Illyana still in a depressed state, which she doesn't snap out of until the end of 52. It seems this annual should go after 52, since Illyana seems in perfectly good spirits here.

    "Given when this issue went on sale, it's possible that Davis simply assumed (or was told) the characters were no longer on the team, and Claremont added the bit of dialogue about the flu to account for their absences, as the story is clearly set before their eventual departures."

    I doubt Davis left those characters out if Claremont hadn't asked him to in the plot. It seems more likely to me that Claremont wrote the story to take place after Amara's departure (which would also place it after the Avengers vs. X-Men series, hence the brief reference to that series). But then editorial must have decided it would work better if placed amongst Claremont's final issues. Note that all the stuff about Karma and Amara having the flu is in re-lettered word-balloons.

    "The New Mutants once more don their graduation uniforms from X-Men Annual #10, ostensibly to not be recognized, though I wonder how widely known the Xavier School uniform is in the outside world."

    Another clue that Claremont intended this to take place after New Mutants 53-54, a story in which they explicitly say when they put on the graduation uniforms that they've only warn them *once* before. (I think they also say in NM 53-54 that they haven't left the mansion since their grounding in NM 51, so this annual's placement puts the lie to that statement as well.) Oh, continuity.

    All continuity and chronologizing aside, you don't mention the thing that I found most weird about this issue: How is Dani able to use her power, which involves telepathically reading people's worst fears or greatest desires, on the Danger Room simulacrums of the Avengers? I hate that bit.

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  5. This issue actually tickles me no end, but I think this is mostly due to the very superficial factors of my A) being a big Doug fan (so despite looking like an evil elf, his one-and-only big splash page still thrills me) and B) I'm a born-and-bred Londoner, so seeing Forbidden Planet - my first comic shop - so prominently featured (and soundly trashed by my favourite characters) was enough to send the issue rocketing up my favourites list! That, and the panel with Charles and Di... oh, there is just too much '80s goodness in this book :)

    In my mind, the Warlock/Impy battle was a precursor to Zoolander, too. Yep, definitely one of my very favourite comic romps!

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  6. This is a good, fun issue. I can see why some people may not like it, but I definitely enjoyed it. And of course, having Davis on the pencils probably does help it out a lot (even if you don't care for the story, it's still a good issue to look at). And seeing the Art Adams costume is always good, even with the subtle changes Davis makes.

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  7. @Jason: // How is Dani able to use her power, which involves telepathically reading people's worst fears or greatest desires, on the Danger Room simulacrums of the Avengers? //

    Made. No. Sense. Just like the simulacrum of the teenage Black Knight having thought balloons.

    The New Mutants' training uniforms are basically the X-Men's original outfits minus masks, which is a double-answer to the question of why the kids would don the "graduation" costumes again. Maybe they don't want to be associated with Xavier's school; they definitely don't want their faces exposed, a lapse that bugged me regularly in the early issues of the series.

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