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Thursday, January 9, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #54

"RatRace!"
August 1987

In a Nutshell
Karma and Chris Claremont leave. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Sal Buscema & Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom OrzechowskiColorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Starring: The New Mutants
Creators: Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod

Plot
In the bowels of the Hellfire Club, Karma takes control of Tessa, and uses her to search for information on Karma's missing siblings, but she comes up empty. Upstairs, Dani and John Proudstar lay out the terms of the New Mutants and Hellions contest: both teams hunt down the person who sold the fake Selene statute, with the losing team apologizing and taking the rap for any trouble with their respective headmasters. In a nearby suite, Illyana arrives with the group's graduation uniforms, but Karma bows out of the hunt. Transforming into a wolf, Rahne tracks the scent off the statute to Central Park, where she realizes the culprits they're after is Viper and Silver Samurai. Back at the club, Karma and Magneto discuss her missing siblings. In Limbo, the New Mutants observe the Hellions via a scrying pool, learning they've tracked Viper and Silver Samurai to nearby Shooter's Island.


Thanks to Illyana, the New Mutants arrive first, and proceed to take out. However, just then the Hellions emerge, having captured Viper and Silver Samurai while the New Mutants dealt with the guards. The Hellions, assuming the New Mutants would spy on them, said what they wanted the New Mutants to hear, pointing them in the wrong direction while the Hellions went after Viper and Silver Samurai. Reluctantly, the New Mutants concede victory to the Hellions. Back at the Hellfire Club, Dani and Proudstar admit their teams work well together, despite the shared animosity. Just then, Tessa gives Dani a note from Karma, announcing that she is leaving the team to focus on the search for her siblings. Though most of the New Mutants want to follow her and help, Sam and Dani argue that they must respect her decision to do this alone, though Dani is angry that the New Mutants were so busy competing against the Hellions, they forgot to look after someone who really needed them.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Chris Claremont's final regular issue of New Mutants (two Claremont-penned inventory fill-in stories will appear later in the series, but this marks his final regularly-scheduled issue). According to an announcement in a previous letters page, he originally intended to leave the title for a brief period of time to focus on his first novel, First Flight, but he ultimately won't return, leaving the series in the hands of incoming writer Louise Simonson until shortly before the series transitions into X-Force. I'm not sure if either Excalibur or the Wolverine solo series were in the works at this point (most likely not), but Claremont's eventual involvement in the launch of both those titles likely hampered any efforts to return to this series.

On his way out, Claremont writes out Karma, who leaves the team this issue, going to work for her criminal uncle in the hopes that he can help her find her missing siblings (which is where we'll see her next, when Claremont returns to her early in Wolverine. Why she believes her uncle, a low level criminal compared to the Hellfire Club, will have any more info than the club itself, is unclear). I've never known whether Claremont wrote her out at the behest of Simonson, if her departure was planned for this time all along, or if he wrote her out so he could more easily pick up her story at some future point. Whatever the reasoning or his overall plans for the character remain unknown, as the story of her missing siblings will go unresolved by Claremont.


When Karma takes control of Tessa, Sebastian Shaw's longtime aide, we get our first possible hint at the retcon involving the character which Claremont will establish after he returns to the X-Men in the 00s, as Karma compares Tessa's mind to a computer, saying she is much more than she seems (Claremont will later reveal that Tessa's power makes her mind like a living computer, and that she's been an agent of Xavier's inside the club this entire time, after which she'll join the X-Men as Sage and become Claremont's latest Mary Sue character). Coming from any other writer, I'd chalk it up to lucky coincidence (which it still could be), but with Claremont, its entirely possible he had the idea of Sage in mind already at this time. 


Sal Buscema, the book's second regular artist, returns to fill in on pencils, which is a nice little happy coincidence for Claremont's final issue. Mike Mignola provides the cover art.

A Work in Progress
The New Mutants don their graduation uniforms once again, hoping they will help disguise their identities, in part because Magneto has only seen them once before (in X-Men Annual #10, though it could be argued he also saw them in New Mutants Annual #3, the last time they wore the costumes).


Rushing into battle, Doug admits that without Warlock around, he's scared, though he later throws himself in front of a blast meant for Dani.


Amara is a bit more bloodthirsty in this issue, arguing in favor of killing the goons the New Mutants are fighting.


Though Proudstar correctly assumed the New Mutants would use Illyana to spy on the Hellions, thus enabling him to plant false information, it's not entirely clear how he knew exactly when the New Mutants, watching from time-wonky Limbo, would stop and start listening in on the Hellions. Did they just repeat the dialogue the New Mutants overheard over and over again for a few hours, just to be safe? 

Doug gets mad at Sam for refusing to go after Karma, comparing it to what he said when Roberto and Warlock left, perhaps an effort on Claremont's part to smooth over some of the dodgier characterization in the first issue of that series by at least acknowledging it as such.


Young Love
As the issue ends, Proudstar and Dani flirt up a storm.


Teebore's Take
And with that, Chris Claremont's series-creating run on New Mutants comes to an end, with neither a bang nor a whimper. Instead, he goes out on the conclusion of a relatively low-key two-parter, one which, like the best story arcs of his run, is more concerned with characterization and character interplay than typical superheroics. Indeed, the obligatory action scenes in this one, in which the New Mutants take out some hired goons, feels more obligatory than ever, while the villains of the story (such as they are) get captured, off panel, by the main characters' chief rivals.

The focus, instead, is on smaller character moments: Karma deciding to put all her energy into locating her lost siblings, Doug dealing with his drunken shenanigans last issue and his role on the team sans Warlock, Amara's growing bloodthirstiness, etc. It may not be the flashiest or most definitive ending to a run: Claremont neither blows everything up on his way out the door nor ends things with a final declaration of the themes of the series (most likely because he intended, at the time, to return). Heck, the New Mutants don't even win the day in Claremont's final issue. Nevertheless, it is a satisfying conclusion to a run that saw the beginning and creative high points of the series. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Scott and Jean have it out in X-Factor #18 and next week, Kitty Pryde gets some medical attention in Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #1-4. 

15 comments:

  1. "Though Proudstar correctly assumed the New Mutants would use Illyana to spy on the Hellions, thus enabling him to plant false information, it's not entirely clear how he knew exactly when the New Mutants, watching from time-wonky Limbo, would stop and start listening in on the Hellions. Did they just repeat the dialogue the New Mutants overheard over and over again for a few hours, just to be safe? "
    It gets even worse- it's a plot point that Illyana can't use her scrying powers to find Karma's siblings. So what are the limits to Illyana's scrying powers and how does Proudstar know what they are?

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  2. @Anonymous: So what are the limits to Illyana's scrying powers and how does Proudstar know what they are?

    Exactly. Even if *we* knew the limits (which we don't), how could Proudstar possibly know them?

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  3. This issue: Doug takes a bullet for a team member and lives.

    6 issues later: Doug takes a bullet for a team member and dies.

    You should have kept that graduation costume, Dougie!

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  4. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain that the award for "most stories, written by Chris Claremont and featuring Silver Samurai, illustrated by a single artist" goes to Sal Buscema. He drew a few of Claremont's Marvel Team-Up issues with the guy, plus that early New Mutants arc, and now this issue. And since Claremont barely (if at all) uses the Samurai after this point, that would do it.

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  5. In terms of Shan not asking for Illyana's help to find her siblings, I suppose either the NM accidentally ignored Shan's problems, or Shan was secretly afraid of Illyana's evil (The Special Edition and NM#51 both had her having a troubling experience with it), and didn't want her to use any magicks that might make that evil stronger.

    I don't think Proudstar knew about Illyana's scrying pool, but Emma probably informed him about her astral projection abilities (which she used to spy on her in NM#16). With this info, he knew Illyana might spy on them again (in terms of Astral and not Scrying). Tarot's cards probably had one that meant vouyerism. Thanks to a heads up by her chief, when Illyana did her scrying, Tarot's Vouyer card came up, she gave a discreet sign to Proudstar, and the Hellions did their play.

    I notice a trend of Doug trying to take a bullet for someone (54, 55, and 60). I suppose this incident proved to Doug that he can still be of use without Warlock.

    Magneto comforting Shan. The last time we see NM Magneto being nice.

    I wonder how the Hellions were able to beat Viper and the Silver Samurai?

    The 1st time the NM fought Viper and SS, they lost Karma. The 2nd time, they lose her again.

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  6. @FuryOfFirestorm: You should have kept that graduation costume, Dougie!

    Ha! Though I think in this case, he was hit with an energy blast, as opposed to later, when he gets shot by an actual gun, firing bullets. Because in superhero comics, bullets are always way more deadly than any energy blast.

    Good point about Doug throwing himself in front of guns for his teammates too. I never really made that connection before, but it definitely seems like something of a trend around this time.

    @Matt: I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain that the award for "most stories, written by Chris Claremont and featuring Silver Samurai, illustrated by a single artist" goes to Sal Buscema

    I think you're probably right.

    @angmc43: Tarot's cards probably had one that meant vouyerism. Thanks to a heads up by her chief, when Illyana did her scrying, Tarot's Vouyer card came up, she gave a discreet sign to Proudstar, and the Hellions did their play.

    That's a nice little but of No-Prizery, there. I like it.

    Magneto comforting Shan. The last time we see NM Magneto being nice.

    I seem to recall psycho "lock 'em up in their rooms" Magneto to not show up until after Doug's death, and that he wasn't too far removed from Claremont's Magneto prior to that. But it's been awhile since I've read those issues, so I could be wrong. I was hoping we might have a few more issues of "decent Magneto" to go, but maybe not.

    The 1st time the NM fought Viper and SS, they lost Karma. The 2nd time, they lose her again.

    That's a great observation. I never made that connection before.

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  7. "Claremont will later reveal that Tessa's power makes her mind like a living computer, and that she's been an agent of Xavier's inside the club this entire time ... Coming from any other writer, I'd chalk it up to lucky coincidence (which it still could be), but with Claremont, its entirely possible he had the idea of Sage in mind already at this time."

    I don't think there's any question that at this point he had come up with the idea that Tessa's mind was like a computer's. She's characterized the same way in Classic X-Men #7, which was published about five months before this issue.

    That she's Xavier's spy inside the Hellfire Club, on the other hand ... I find it highly doubtful that Claremont had come up with that idea already. Nothing here really suggests that.

    "And since Claremont barely (if at all) uses the Samurai after this point, that would do it."

    The next time is Wolverine #'s 2-3, which are pencilled by Buscema ... but not THAT Buscema. :)

    "The 1st time the NM fought Viper and SS, they lost Karma. The 2nd time, they lose her again. ... That's a great observation. I never made that connection before."

    Also somewhat ironic that the New Mutants feel guilty for going on a hunt for Viper, instead of helping Shan find out who kidnapped the two kids ... when you consider who the kidnapper was eventually revealed to be ...

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  8. @Jason: I don't think there's any question that at this point he had come up with the idea that Tessa's mind was like a computer's. ... That she's Xavier's spy inside the Hellfire Club, on the other hand ... I find it highly doubtful that Claremont had come up with that idea already.

    Good point (I'd forgotten about the bit in the Classic X-Men backup). I was certainly thinking in terms of Tessa being a living computer, rather than her being an Xavier insider. You're right that there's nothing here to suggest the later.


    Also somewhat ironic that the New Mutants feel guilty for going on a hunt for Viper, instead of helping Shan find out who kidnapped the two kids ... when you consider who the kidnapper was eventually revealed to be ...


    Ha! Good point. For whatever reason, I also seem to remember Spiral's involvement in that story and completely forget Viper's (and Shinobi Shaw's).

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  9. "Also somewhat ironic that the New Mutants feel guilty for going on a hunt for Viper, instead of helping Shan find out who kidnapped the two kids ... when you consider who the kidnapper was eventually revealed to be ..."
    Viper claimed that she DIDN'T kidnap the kids and only acquired them recently from the Hellfire Club. They never did clearly explain who grabbed the kids initially and why.

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  10. @anonymous: They never did clearly explain who grabbed the kids initially and why.

    Lord knows it's been ages since I read that Beast miniseries, but I'm pretty sure Shinobi Shaw was credited with their initial abduction, then passing them off to Spiral and Viper (though maybe that was established later, somewhere else?). Though I'm also pretty sure that Shinobi was never given much of a reason for kidnapping them in the first place.

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  11. @angmc43: I'm guessing that the main reason that Shan didn't go to Illyana for help was because Karma is a devout Catholic, and was afraid to resort to Magik and her demonic powers for help.

    A lot of people tend to forget that lot of the NM members had very different, but very strong religious beliefs. Amara worshipped the Greek Pantheon, Dani believed in Native American spirits (and later, the Norse gods), Raine was also a devout Catholic, and Sam was raised as a Southern Baptist.

    It's ironic that even though i'm an atheist, some of my favorite comic characters are very religious, like Firebird from the Avengers and Nightcrawler (both Catholic), as well as Thing and Shadowcat (both Jewish).

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  12. @Fury of Firestorm- good point. The problem is that Jean's sister, niece and nephew are also missing. Did nobody ask Illyana if she could use her scrying powers to find them? And later on, Scott's son and Lorna go missing. Illyana's scrying powers have to have some limits or else the Muties are idiots everytime they can't find someone or something.

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  13. "Lord knows it's been ages since I read that Beast miniseries, but I'm pretty sure Shinobi Shaw was credited with their initial abduction, then passing them off to Spiral and Viper (though maybe that was established later, somewhere else?). Though I'm also pretty sure that Shinobi was never given much of a reason for kidnapping them in the first place."

    I had totally forgotten about Shinobi, actually. :) I"m fuzzy about non-Claremont X-continuity. I just looked online and they say Coy kidnapped the kids, then they somehow got passed to Shinobi, then to Viper/Spiral. I totally forgot about all that, I thought it was all just Viper and Spiral.

    My comment upon the irony of it all is now somewhat muted, I guess ...

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  14. @anonymous: And later on, Scott's son and Lorna go missing. Illyana's scrying powers have to have some limits or else the Muties are idiots everytime they can't find someone or something.

    Well, in defense of those particular missing persons, neither Scott nor any of the other X-Men at the time of their disappearances is in a position to call on Illyana for help. X-Factor is sequestered in its own little corner by the time Scott realizes his son is alive and missing (as opposed to dead), and Lorna goes missing after "Inferno", when Illyana has lost her powers.

    All that said, yeah, there must be some limitation to it, or else the X-Men, in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, could have just had her scry up the location of the Marauders and taken the fight to them.

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  15. Oblivious what the writers' actual plans for Tessa was at that point, to me Tessa was always just too damn cool character to avoid ending up as the hero of the story at some point. Not unlike Fonzie.

    I mean, in all those minor cameos she popped up alongside Sebastian Shaw, like when Emma Frost fell in Mastermind-induced coma, she was the one having all the level-headed answers whereas Shaw with all his powers and wealth was completely clueless. Never the one to commit any atrocities by her hands. When Tessa went on to agree on the truce with Storm in the Central park when fighting Nimrod, that was a point of no return for her.

    I was going to mention that she's was always my fave alongside the Kingpin henchman the Answer, but I just realized they are essentially the same character and now I'm in shock.

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