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Thursday, January 30, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #55

"Flying Wild!"
September 1987

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants go to a party as Louise Simonson comes aboard. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Bret Blevins
Inker: Terry Austin 
Letterers: Orzechowski & Buhalis
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
As the New Mutants get ready for a party celebrating the launch of Lila Cheney's new album, Sam worries about fitting in with Lila's crowd, while Rahne is much more interested in investigating the mysterious bird boy being studied on Governors Island. When the New Mutants arrive at the party, they interrupt an exchange between Lila and an alien named Raek, with whom she had dealings in the past. As Lila and Sam reunite, Dani and Illyana rush off to dance while Rahne and Doug take in the party. Raek realizes that Sam will make it difficult for Raek to convince Lila to help him and his cohorts, so he plays off Sam's insecurities about fitting in with Lila's friends and offers him drugs, which he insists will help Sam fit in.


With Sam drugged, Raek and his allies fly off with him, but are seen doing so by Rahne and Doug. As they alert Dani and Illyana, Sam groggily tries to free himself, ultimately crashing. Illyana teleports the rest of the team to Sam's location, which turns out to be a garbage barge. They tussle with Raek and his crew, overpowering them just as Lila arrives. She explains that in her past she worked with Raek, and he wanted her help in stealing some jewels. Illyana sends Raek and his allies to Limbo as Lila heads back to the party. Sam realizes he never should have taken Raek's drugs, and hopes Lila never finds out. 

Firsts and Other Notables
With this issue, Louise Simonson comes aboard as the new writer. Though she was initially only slated to fill-in for Claremont for a few months, she ends up staying on the title almost until its cancellation and transformation into X-Force (she'll leave the book shortly before then as Rob Liefeld gains more and more control over the direction of the book). Her run on the book is generally not well regarded amongst fans, and while the criticisms often leveled at it aren't entirely unfounded, as usual I tend to enjoy her run more than the zeitgeist. Like most runs, it has its highs and its lows, and even though the series' best days are behind it, there is still some decent material ahead.

Along with Simonson, Bret Blevins, who filled in on issue #49, debuts as the new series artist (though a different artist will pencil the next issue, so arguably Blevins run doesn't start in earnest until issue #57). He will remain the book's regular artist until Rob Liefeld comes aboard, though like Silvestri on Uncanny X-Men, his run, particularly towards the end, will be peppered with fill-in artists.

Terry Austin, who has inked the previous two issues of the series, stays on to ink Blevins, and will continue to do so through issue #66. Like Simonson's, Blevins' work on this title is generally derided by fans. I enjoy his early work but grow weary of it later on; I'll have to see how it plays out as I re-read this run, but I'm thinking the point at which my appreciation for Blevins' work wanes is when Terry Austin stops inking it.

This issue also features the first mention and a brief one-panel glimpse of Bird-Brain, the Jar Jar Binks of the X-Universe and the nadir of this series, one of a handful of characters who make it more difficult to defend Simonson's run on the title. More, unfortunately, on him in future issues. 


In another bit of eerie (yet likely unintentional at this point) foreshadowing, Doug once again saves a teammate (this time, Rahne, adding to the foreshadowing) only to get shot in the back as a result.


Magma is absent from this issue; next issue will reveal that she was suffering from the flu during the events of this story, though Simonson will shortly write her out of the book. Sunspot and Warlock are both absent as well (and their absences remarked upon in the story), as they are still off in Fallen Angels. 

A Work in Progress
Magneto, addressing the New Mutants before they leave for Lila's party, gives them a curfew of 1 AM, something which they all object to, though a 1 AM curfew for a bunch of teenagers doesn't seem that unreasonable to me, and I don't think it would have when I was a teenager, either (then again, I *was* a goody-goody in high school...).

While Doug and Rahne are written more or less as themselves, Sam, Dani and Illyana exhibit some odd behavior in this issue. Sam stresses over what to wear to Lila's party (which is genuine enough but a little out-of-character for the usually-grounded and easy going Sam), Illyana is obsessed with clothes, and at one point Dani is a straight-up bitch to Rahne for interrupting her dancing at the party, a particularly sudden turn for the character given their close relationship. 


There's a neat visual depiction of Doug using his power as he eavesdrops on a group of aliens, with the words he can instantly understanding appearing in their word balloons while the alien terms he hasn't been able to figure out appearing as gibberish.


I Love the 80s
Illyana declares her look, later described as being punk, "fresh".


In one of the most blatant PSA moments yet (and most blatant bits of poor characterization), Sam is coerced into taking drugs in order to act cooler around Lila, then later regrets it, saying he doesn't need drugs to be cool. Like, those are the exact words he says, "She already thinks ah'm cool". I hope Weezie got a discount on that sledgehammer.


One of the aliens at Lila's party asks about that time on Alderaan. Presumably a different one, since the Alderaan we know blew up a long time ago.


Young Love
This issue kicks off the Rahne/Doug romance, as they spend most of the party together and flirting.


Louise Simonson on being assigned New Mutants
"Ann Nocenti was the editor and she asked me to do a fill-in to help Chris [Claremont] catch up on his deadlines. I think Chris was also writing Excalibur at the time and I figured that once he caught up, that would be the end of it. Several issues later, Ann asked me to come on and do six months on New Mutants because Chris was completely buried. Ann wanted me to 'young' the characters up. She had been getting a lot of letters that said the characters were acting too old and too mature and she wanted them to be younger. I probably got put on the book because I did Power Pack, which featured younger kids. I thought I was just going to do six months' worth, but ended up doing some forty odd issues. I got on and never got off."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p148

Teebore's Take
And thus begins the Louise Simonson era of New Mutants. It is not an auspicious start. Tasked by editorial with depicting the cast as younger, Simonson almost immediately corrects too far in the wrong direction (something she has often owned up to), not only making the characters act younger but snottier and whinier, and thus wildly out-of-character. Dani and Illyana are obsessed with clothes and boys (fine, they are teenage girls, but it does seem an odd beat for both of them), with Dani snapping at Rahne on several occasions (the one character with whom Dani is always the most sympathetic). Meanwhile, Sam throws a fit while picking out clothes then takes drugs to impress Lila in one the more hamfisted PSAs to appear in a comic that wasn't specifically created just to be a PSA. And, of course, we get our first mention of Bird-Brain.

It's not all bad though, as there are some genuinely effective character moments. Romantically pairing Doug and Rahne isn't a terrible idea, Sam worrying about fitting in with Lila's crowd is, sans the drug bit, a okay character beat, and a standalone story in which the New Mutants more or less stumble into an alien jewel heist while attending a party certainly fits the books "students first" aesthetic. The art, from new series penciller Bret Blevins, is a far cry from the more grounded art that has defined the series since Sienkiewicz's departure, but for better or worse, it fits the tone Simonson is going for here (and is aided, no doubt, by Terry Austin on inks). Simonson's first issue, then, isn't a complete wash, but there's no denying it's an immediate and stark change from the more measured approach of Claremont.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Beast gets sick when Apocalypse unleashes his Horsemen in X-Factor #19. Next week, Mr. Sinister makes his debut in Uncanny X-Men #221, followed by the first full appearance of >shudder< Bird-Brain in New Mutants #56. 

11 comments:

  1. I have to admit I'm not a fan of Blevins. My main issue is that his characters look more like something out of Elfquest than actual humans. Their giant eyes and pointy chins almost all look the same from character to character, in my opinion. Actually, as a St. Louis native, they mainly remind of the mascot of Saint Louis University, the Billiken:

    http://www.slu.edu/marcom/slu-brand-identity/university-logos/university-logo-downloads/billiken-logo-downloads

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  2. And so, the Louise Simonson era begins. As you said, there are pluses, but I always found the minuses outweighed them. Bird Boy, Gossamer and Spyder, the never-ending Asgard arc...but I will admit, the Inferno issues are really good, and relationship between Rahne and Doug, however brief, was sweet while it lasted.

    Simonson also doesn't seem to care much about Magma, since she's gone here, is written out soon, and is pretty much forgotten about...granted, not as much as Karma is lol

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  3. "Like Simonson's, Blevins' work on this title is generally derided by fans."

    This surprises me. I read issues 55 - 61 for the first time a few years ago in Marvel's Fall of the Mutants hardcover volume, and I've read the "Inferno" issues before as well, and Blevin's artwork is the best part of all those stories for me. I really enjoy it, and might go so far as to say that, of the regular artists we've seen on the series so far, he's my favorite.

    (Though now I'm curious to see what his New Mutants would look like inked by their creator, Bob McLeod. Might help to keep them on model while retaining the cartooniness I like from Blevins.)

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  4. I'm confused about Illyana's teleportation. The stepping disks most often seem to go point-to-point instantaneously — as seen on Pg. 19 here, with her dialogue even bridging the move. Yet we've been shown that she and whoever is with her actually travel through Limbo before appearing to come out the other side in an eyeblink.

    // Sam realizes he never should have taken Raek's drugs, and hopes Lila never finds out. //

    Which is odd 'cause Raek mentions it right in front of Lila, and she responds, with Sam right next to her.

    // This issue also features the first mention and a brief one-panel glimpse of Bird-Brain //

    I have zero idea what his story is, but the New Mutants' dismissal of his situation in those panels you posted is not their finest hour. They (and Magneto himself) should be wondering if he's a mutant the moment they hear about him on the radio and worried that he'll be imprisoned at best if not dissected.

    // I hope Weezie got a discount on that sledgehammer. //

    Ha!

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  5. Hey Teeb-Man,

    This comment is naught to do with New Mutants 55 ... I just have a favor to ask of you (or anyone else reading this comment).

    There is a quote -- I know it used to be online because that's where I found it, but I can't find it now.

    Claremont is talking about his writing "strong female characters." He talks about how all the women in his real life are "strong female characters." He talks about his mom served in World War II and how his best friend was a female war correspondent. And then he talks about how it was also a commercial consideration. He says something like, "Statistically speaking, a lot more women buy books than men do."

    Anyway, as you can see I remember the entire thing in paraphrase form, but I can't find the quote or the source now. I feel like I actually even used the quote in one of my Claremont blogs, but I can't find it there either. You seem to have collated a lot of quotes in your files, so I thought maybe you have this one. Or maybe just have a better mechanism than I do for seeking out such quotes.

    Could I ask as a favor -- one X-blogger to another -- if you could take a few minutes to search for this bloody blurb?

    Thanks!
    Jason P

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  6. My thoughts on Louise Simonson's run are well documented, but they generally line up with yours - there's a good deal of good stuff that's outweighed by the bad stuff. I never read her first issue, but the fact that it's a rather graceless "Just Say No" PSA isn't a surprise.

    For the longest time, I hated Bret Blevins' artwork. I thought it was too cartoony for the stories being told. But somewhere along the line, my attitude shifted; when he does stuff like the demonic stores in NY during "Inferno" or any scene with Warlock, his stuff just pops. If it's a scene with any sort of exaggeration, it really works with his style. But his attempts to add dramatic angles to talky scenes tend to backfire, at least for me, because of the bizarre body language.

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  7. Jason -- I feel like I've read that quote too, but for some reason I thought it was in print -- maybe in an issue of Wizard or the introduction to a trade paperback or something? I could be mixing it up with another occasion of Claremont talking about his female characters, though.

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  8. @Jeff: Actually, as a St. Louis native, they mainly remind of the mascot of Saint Louis University, the Billiken

    Ha! I can see that.

    @wwk5d: Simonson also doesn't seem to care much about Magma, since she's gone here, is written out soon, and is pretty much forgotten about...granted, not as much as Karma is lol

    Yeah, at least Magma gets a couple "check-in" issues before she's completely forgotten about in the transition to X-Force.

    @Matt: Though now I'm curious to see what his New Mutants would look like inked by their creator, Bob McLeod.

    Me too. Like I said, I think my taste in Blevins depends on who inks him - I like his cartoon-y style, but I prefer it when a strong inker is on hand to rein it in a bit. I seem to recall it gets too loose and cartoon-y for my tastes later in run, and I'm assuming that's after Terry Austin stops inking him, but we'll have to see.

    @Blam: The stepping disks most often seem to go point-to-point instantaneously — as seen on Pg. 19 here, with her dialogue even bridging the move. Yet we've been shown that she and whoever is with her actually travel through Limbo before appearing to come out the other side in an eyeblink.

    Time moves differently in Limbo?

    They (and Magneto himself) should be wondering if he's a mutant the moment they hear about him on the radio and worried that he'll be imprisoned at best if not dissected.

    Good point. Logically, they should be more concerned with Bird-Brain. Knowing what's to come, though, I wish they'd showed even *less* concern...

    @Jason: Could I ask as a favor -- one X-blogger to another -- if you could take a few minutes to search for this bloody blurb?

    I'm familiar with it - it rings a bell - and I thought it was something in his section of DeFalco's Comic Creators book, but I looked there and didn't find it.

    I'll see if I can find it elsewhere.

    @Mela: I thought it was too cartoony for the stories being told. But somewhere along the line, my attitude shifted

    I went through the same transition. As a super-serious teenager, I turned up my nose at anything that seemed to suggest that comics weren't Serious Capital A Art, which included artwork that favored the exaggerated/cartoony over the realistic.

    As I grew older and less concerned with "proving" comics to people, I became a fan of more stylized art, and came to appreciate Blevins' work more as a result (my general disdain for whimsy in comic books/sci-fi remains, however, a lingering holdover from those teenage years of self-importance).

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  9. Something tells me these NM reviews are going to get harder and harder to read as time goes on. Not because of your writing, Teebore, but because I read a ton of these issues years ago and I know how the series is going to evolve (And knowing that it eventually turns into X-Force can either be the best or worst thing for this series).

    What's sad is I used to love the NM as a teenager when I bought a bunch of back issues off EBay. But going through your reviews now I realize that even the early stuff isn't as great as I remember it.

    Brett Blevins' art is also a huge turn-off for me. In this issue, particularly, it looks like he's trying to ape popular animation styles of the time. I wonder if there was any thought of making this series a Saturday morning cartoon. With Blevins' cartoony art, more childish storylines, and a weird "mascot" character like Bird-Brain it'd seem perfect for something kids could watch.

    On the subject of Blevins' art, though, his recent stuff is really great. I've seen some life-drawing pieces he's posted online that show he can also draw in a realistic fashion if he desires.

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  10. @Ian: I wonder if there was any thought of making this series a Saturday morning cartoon. With Blevins' cartoony art, more childish storylines, and a weird "mascot" character like Bird-Brain it'd seem perfect for something kids could watch.

    That's a really great observation. Now that you mention it, at this point the book does read a lot like the kind of Saturday morning cartoons we got in the 80s.

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  11. I hate hate HATE Bret Blevins' art. The man can draw two facial expressions: drooling mental retardation, and demonic evil. I never forgave the Marvel Universe for keeping him on New Mutants for so long; I doggedly kept buying, and buying, and buying, thinking he MUST eventually leave, but he never did. About a year before Liefeld came along I gave up on the X-titles completely and didn't come back for 25 years.

    btw, I wouldn't have liked Liefeld much either, so I have no regrets.

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