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Thursday, February 13, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #57

"Birds of a Feather"
November 1987

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants try to communicate with Bird Boy. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Bret Blevins
Inker: Terry Austin 
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As Magneto shepherds the protesting New Mutants into the Danger Room, he's stunned to discover Bird Boy living inside. Freaked out by the disappearing environment, the New Mutants quickly attempt to calm down the creature. Rahne asks Doug to try and talk to him, but Doug insists he's not speaking a language. Magneto runs some tests and determines Bird Boy is neither mutant nor human, then sends the New Mutants back to their midterm studies. Later, the New Mutants gather to say goodbye to Amara as she leaves for the Massachusetts Academy, assuring her they'll still remain friends. In order to cheer themselves up, they decide to skip studying and sneak out to the mall for burgers and a movie. Rahne insists they bring along Bird Boy, and after disguising him with some old clothes, Illyana teleports the group to the mall. However, Bird Boy, egged on by Illyana, goes nuts over the food at the malt shoppe, causing a scene.


Quickly rushing him out of the restaurant, the New Mutants go to a movie, but when they enter the theater, Bird Boy causes another scene when a burger ad appears on the screen. As Dani uses her power to convince the audience they're seeing a sneak preview of a new 3D movie, Sam flies into the air to corral Bird Boy before Illyana takes everyone home. They arrive back at the mansion to find Magneto waiting, having been contacted by the malt shoppe owner. Upset at their irresponsibility, he declares that Bird Boy will be turned over to the authorities. A despondent Rahne insists that Bird Boy is human, and Doug finally agrees to try and communicate with him, which he's able to do successfully. Certain Magneto will let Bird Boy stay now, Rahne joyfully thanks Doug and tells Dani and Illyana they've finally gotten what they wanted: another boy at the school.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Amara officially leaves the team this issue, transferring to the Massachusetts Academy. White Queen floats the idea that perhaps some of her students would be happier at Xavier's, but as we've discussed, unfortunately nothing ultimately comes from this interesting idea. Amara will pop up again in this series for a pair of fill-in issues, but after that she largely disappears into the limbo of unused and forgotten X-characters, making occassional but irregular appearances from time to time. As such, this effectively marks the last of her regular appearances in an X-title for many, many years.


Bird Boy is given the name "Bird-Brain" by Doug. Though he means it derisively, it sticks, and becomes something of the creature's code name (it's the name he's cataloged under in the Marvel Handbook). With Doug able to communicate with Bird Boy and thus assuring his continued presence at the school, we can also consider this the issue in which Bird Boy "joins" the New Mutants.

Though on sale at the same time as Uncanny X-Men #222 and X-Factor #21, this issue continues New Mutants' odd trend of being published with next month's cover date. As a result, it runs next month's Bullpen Bulletins page, announcing the departure of Jim Shooter from Marvel and Tom DeFalco's promotion to Editor-in-Chief (a credit he receives in this issue).

A Work in Progress
Magneto notes that Cerebro remains damaged, but is able to use its "analyzer" to determine that Bird Boy is neither human nor mutant (via a printout on 80s-riffic paper).


Later, after Doug establishes communication with him, its revealed that "people" made Bird Boy somehow.


Magneto, learning the New Mutants snuck out to the mall with Bird Boy and damaged the Malt Shoppe, orders that the creature be turned over to the authorities.


Once Doug starts talking to him however, the New Mutants are confidant Magneto won't send Bird Boy away, and the running gag about Dani and Illyana wanting more boys at the school gets its punchline.


I Love the 80s
The New Mutants take Bird Boy to see House II, a movie that was heavily advertised in Marvel Comics around this time; my only familiarity with it comes from those selfsame ads.


In the movie, they see an ad for McBurgers, Simonson's oh-so-clever McDonalds stand-in; it'll pop up again next issue.

Young Love
Doug spends most of this issue sulking because Rahne is giving Bird Boy attention, before Rahne rightly (if somewhat more nicely) points out that Doug is an idiot for being jealous of a giant squawking bird man.


Teebore's Take
And here we go with Bird-Brain...

This issue is filled with more "Squawk-AWKS!" than you could imagine (probably as many, if not more, than the number of times we're told to know mutants by their deeds in X-Factor #20, and frankly, I'd take that mantra over all the squawks in this one), and as annoying as the sight and sound is of a giant bird constantly shrieking and cramming his face with food while we're meant, like Rahne, to find it all terribly amusing and adorable, the greater sin is just how out of character the New Mutants and Magneto are in this issue. Magneto has already changed from the firm but caring mentor he was under Claremont (someone who battled the Avengers in order to save his students from the White Queen) to the stern taskmaster he'll be under Simonson - that he's upset the New Mutants stupidly took Bird-Brain into town is understandable; that he's also willing to hand over the creature to the authorities, mutant or not, seems wildly out-of-character. I'd believe that from Professor X before I'd believe it from Magneto.

More egregious are the New Mutants themselves. The goal here is whacky antics (whether said antics succeed in amusing is debatable), as the New Mutants "hilariously" take Bird-Brain to the malt shoppe and a movie, but in order to get there, nearly all semblance of character is thrown out the window. I can buy that Illyana would go along with the idea, just for the sake of being mischievous (as when she taunts Bird-Brain into having a fit at the malt shoppe), or that Rahne would be so certain of Bird-Brain's innate goodness that she sees no problem with taking him out into public, but Dani and Sam, who have always been portrayed as relatively level-headed leaders, have no objections whatsoever to throwing a trenchcoat and sunglasses on a giant bird wanting by the authorities and taking him to the mall? Really? These are the kids who fought a mystical demon bear, defeated the star destroyingly-powerful Magus, and helped save Asgard from the machinations of Loki? Reduced to squabbling over milkshakes?

There is defensible, even laudable material in Simonson's New Mutants run, but it's tough to defend this particular storyline. Yes, the kids are arguably acting more like typical teenagers, sneaking out to the mall rather than studying, than the level-headed young adults of Claremont's run, but as Simonson has admitted she did, this is an example of her taking that mandate too far, sacrificing character for the sake of gags that aren't that funny and action that isn't exciting. The punchline at the end is genuinely amusing, though. Unfortunately, that the joke works means Bird-Brain is sticking around for awhile...  

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor deals with Hodge in X-Factor #21. Next week, Freedom Force gets some new members in Uncanny X-Men #223 an Bird Boy eats some more burgers in New Mutants #58.

14 comments:

  1. And so it begins. The sheer, unmitigated horror that is Simonson's New Mutants. Bird Boy! Grumpy Magneto! Amara leaving for no reason! The characters acting so immature we may as well rename this title The Brat Pack!

    Ok, I may be a bit harsh. It's not *all* bad. It's just...not as good as it was under CC. What Simonson (and whoever ordered her to make the characters less mature) seemed to not get was that under CC, the cast was nicely balanced out. Some characters, like Same and Dani, were mature, yes. But others, like Roberto and Rahne, weren't, and others, like Doug, Amara, and Illyana were somewhere in-between. Of course, you could argue Rahne and Warlock were more naive and innocent than immature, but still. You had a good balance of personalities and maturity level. And without that balance...the title really begins to suffer.

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  3. I see the New Mutants live in the same world as the Ninja Turtles, where a giant anthropomorphic animal can be disguised as a human just by wearing a trench coat and hat.

    Man, New Mutants and X-Factor really don't compare favorably against Uncanny right now, do they?

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  4. I'm not a fan of Bird Boy, but doggone it, Bret Blevins really sells his physical comedy bits! In general, most of your scans here show what I love about his art. The characters' faces are all wonderfully expressive, and they mostly look like different people. His figures are very scrawny and awkward, but I believe that improves as his run goes on, from the small bits of I've seen. But mainly, for me, it's the cartoony faces I love most about his work.

    Also, I think Austin's then-current style, which by this point has become a borderline terrible match for the likes of John Byrne and Marshall Rogers, looks great on Blevins.

    Interesting that the first issue in Simonson's new direction, regressing the New Mutants to more juvenile attitudes than ever before, happens to coincide with Tom DeFalco's first credited issue as editor-in-chief. One the one hand, I wonder if he might have been the one who instructed her to regress them, but on the other hand the lead time required to produce the issue would most certainly mean it was begun, and probably even completed, before Shooter left Marvel.

    "In the movie, they see an ad for McBurgers, Simonson's oh-so-clever McDonalds stand-in; it'll pop up again next issue."

    I'm not positive who came up with McBurgers originally, but I know it's popped up before this issue. In particular, there's a scene in Secret Wars II where some schlub empowered by the Beyonder tries to destroy the local McBurgers.

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  5. Sam looks like a denizen of Whoville. Blevins so destroyed the New Mitants with his insipid cartooning that I wa actually glad -- GLAD -- to see something new and different. Blevins begat Leifeld. And thus the comic universe trembled.
    - mortsleam

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  6. "I'm not a fan of Bird Boy, but doggone it, Bret Blevins really sells his physical comedy bits! In general, most of your scans here show what I love about his art. The characters' faces are all wonderfully expressive, and they mostly look like different people."

    Agreed on all counts.

    I'd also go so far as to say that thanks to Tom Orzechowski, even the "Squawk-AWKS!" look great.

    This era of NM really looks immaculate to me with Blevins' great use of expression and body language, Austin's clean inks, and Orz's crisp lettering.

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  7. That said, WTF is with Magneto's eyebrows?

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  8. Yep, it begins... Nothing much to add, since everyone has covered the forced wackiness & bad characterization in their comments. I would like to point out that Simonson is not responsible for "McBurgers" - that's a Shooter invention (in a scene during Secret Wars that was a blatant "f*** you" to Steve Gerber, which as a Gerber fan I just loved & which gave me so much respect for Shooter as a professional, she said with tongue firmly in cheek).

    "I see the New Mutants live in the same world as the Ninja Turtles, where a giant anthropomorphic animal can be disguised as a human just by wearing a trench coat and hat."

    Hey, I see that all the time on the subway. Don't you?

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  9. During Secrets Wars II, he said with his Bronzen heart trembling, because there is a difference.

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  10. So that was a thing that happened.

    // the greater sin is just how out of character the New Mutants and Magneto are in this issue //

    Yeah.

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  11. "Interesting that the first issue in Simonson's new direction, regressing the New Mutants to more juvenile attitudes than ever before, happens to coincide with Tom DeFalco's first credited issue as editor-in-chief. One the one hand, I wonder if he might have been the one who instructed her to regress them, but on the other hand the lead time required to produce the issue would most certainly mean it was begun, and probably even completed, before Shooter left Marvel."

    I have no idea how things actually went down behind the scenes but if Marvel is like most companies I wouldn't doubt that, while this is when DeFalco officially took the title, that the transition has been happening for a while. So DeFalco could be acting as Editor-In-Chief before he was officially credited with the title.

    It's just a theory but all I'm saying is I wouldn't be surprised if this regressing the New Mutants did come from him.

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  12. Jason -- "That said, WTF is with Magneto's eyebrows?"

    Perhaps, in order to really sell his ruse as Charles "The Bushy Eyebrow King" Xavier's cousin, he got eyebrow implants between issues?

    Dr. Bitz -- "So DeFalco could be acting as Editor-In-Chief before he was officially credited with the title."

    That's a good point. I believe Shooter was at war with Marvel's executives for some time before he was fired, and so the day-to-day operations may well have rested with DeFalco for longer than I thought.

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  13. @wwkd: What Simonson (and whoever ordered her to make the characters less mature) seemed to not get was that under CC, the cast was nicely balanced out.

    Exactly. That's what seemed to get overlooked, and what's missing from Simonson's run: balance amongst the characters.

    @Jeff: I see the New Mutants live in the same world as the Ninja Turtles, where a giant anthropomorphic animal can be disguised as a human just by wearing a trench coat and hat.

    To be fair, that's a pretty common trope in superhero comics (Beast and Nightcrawler pretty much have done the same thing in the past), though it certainly somehow seems more egregious with the taller, more animalistic Bird Boy.

    @Matt: I'm not a fan of Bird Boy, but doggone it, Bret Blevins really sells his physical comedy bits!

    Yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of the material he's being asked to draw, but a few quibbles aside, I can't deny that his style is suited to the material, and he sells the heck out of it.

    @mortsleam: Sam looks like a denizen of Whoville.

    Ha! Indeed. Another particular thing that bugs me in this issue is that someone (and, to be fair, it could be either Blevins or Austin) puts a lot of lines on the characters' faces at times, such that they look really old even while they also look really young (look at that panel when Amara leaves, for example, when everyone except Rahne looks like a malformed senior citizen). To be clear, it doesn't happen all the time, just every once in awhile.

    It reminds me of that old Simpsonsgag: "Who's that leather Muppet?/That's not a Muppet, that's Troy McClure".

    @Jason: I'd also go so far as to say that thanks to Tom Orzechowski, even the "Squawk-AWKS!" look great.

    I can't deny that they look great, and yet, the very sight of them makes my head ache, so well rendered are they that I can't not hear that annoying squawking sound throughout the issue. It's a testament to Orzechowski's skill that his sound effect lettering is so evocative that you can hear what you're seeing; I just wish he was making me hear something less annoying.

    That said, WTF is with Magneto's eyebrows?

    I think he's harboring some mutant caterpillars. :)

    @Mela: I would like to point out that Simonson is not responsible for "McBurgers" - that's a Shooter invention

    Ah, yeah, I remember that now. Heck, I'm pretty sure we even talked about back when we were covering Secret Wars II. I think I just associate it with Simonson because it gets referenced so much in this issue and the next.

    @Teemu: During Secrets Wars II, he said with his Bronzen heart trembling, because there is a difference.

    Ha! Yes, yes indeed.

    @Blam: So that was a thing that happened.

    Well said. :)

    @Dr. Bitz: I wouldn't doubt that, while this is when DeFalco officially took the title, that the transition has been happening for a while. So DeFalco could be acting as Editor-In-Chief before he was officially credited with the title.

    From what I vaguely recall from Sean's Howe's Marvel Comics: the Untold Story, you could very well be right. As Matt said, Shooter was on the outs towards the end, and DeFalco was his second-in-command at the time. As much as DeFalco didn't really want the job (he was trying to get a job on the West Coast at the time, IIRC), it's reasonable to assume there was a transition period between when Shooter left and when it was announced in the books/reflected in their credits.

    At the very least, I highly doubt around this time Shooter cared enough about a relatively low level detail like the general characterization of the New Mutants to be issuing edicts about it.

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  14. "I think he's harboring some mutant caterpillars."

    So that's where Maggot came from...

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