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Thursday, February 20, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #58

"A Bird in the Hand"
December 1987

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants take Bird-Brain home to help his friends.

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Bret Blevins & Off the Wall Studios
Inker: Terry Austin 
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As the rest of the New Mutants study for midterms, Doug and Rahne work with Bird-Brain to increase his vocabulary. As the moon comes out, Bird-Brain starts to freak out, talking, near as Doug can tell, about some kind of tests and "the end of it all" occurring with the full moon. Later, as Bird-Brain watches Sesame Street, he shows familiarity towards a tiger, intriguing the New Mutants as Bird-Brain was found on an ice flow in the North Atlantic. The next morning, they show him pictures from old National Geographics, and determine he likes pictures of Greenland but hates zoos. Later, despite being grounded, the New Mutants decide to sneak out for burgers, taking Bird-Brain with them once more. That night, as they watch a movie, Bird-Brain is upset when a lion tamer whips a lion.


Doug lets an agitated Bird-Brain sleep in his room for the night, and gives him one of Sam's old uniforms to wear. But as Doug sleeps, Bird-Brain, worried for his friends, flies out the window, waking the New Mutants. They track him to a McBurgers, where he demands many burgers, fries and shakes before flying off with the food. When the New Mutants catch up to him, Dani pulls an image out of Bird-Brain's mind and they realize he was trying to fly back to his home with the food to save his friends, who will be tested that night. The New Mutants agree to help him, and Illyana teleports them to the North Atlantic, after which Bird-Brain leads them to his island home. But after landing, they're surrounded by a pack of fearsome creatures. 
 
The Chronology Corner
Illyana's upcoming appearance in Uncanny X-Men #225 occurs during this issue, as the New Mutants prepare to help Bird-Brain return home and help his friends.

A Work in Progress
Bird-Brain's vocabulary increases in this issue, and if you're curious, his first word is "MAWK-BERK-AWK" or "McBurger".


We also learn a little more about his background: he comes from an island in the North Atlantic, where other creatures similar to him which he considers friends live, whom will soon be forced to partake in a deadly test, prompting him to return to the island in order to save them, all of which is setup for the events of this series' contributions to "Fall of the Mutants".


Bird-Brain also dons a New Mutants uniform (one of Sam's old ones) in this issue.


As the New Mutants teleport to Bird-Brain's home, the idea of going back to tell Magneto where they've gone is floated and shot done on the grounds that they don't have time...despite the fact that one of them is a teleporter who can travel through time and space. Seems like Illyana'd at least be able to pop back to the school and leave a note, especially since she finds time to show up in Uncanny X-Men #225.


I Love the 80s
At one point we see the kids in their sleep wear of choice, and of course Illyana's is the skimpiest of all, made all the more disturbing now that she's being drawn like a twelve-year-old pixie.


They're Students, Not Superheroes
In the wake of last issue's malt shoppe fiasco, the New Mutants have been grounded by Magneto, and will remain so unless they do well on their midterms. Of course, the New Mutants flagrantly disregard this punishment when they sneak out to help Bird-Brain, because they're real teenagers now. 

Teebore's Take
More of the same, unfortunately: more Bird-Brain, more uncharacteristic sneaking out despite being grounded, more terribly annoying "Squ-AWKs", plus plenty of MAWK-BURK-AWKs and FREN-KSCH-FREES (and no attractive Orzechowski lettering in this issue to help take the edge off Bird-Brain's speech). And look, I'm not made of stone: the plight of Bird-Brain's fellow creatures, hungry and facing death, is sad, compounded by the fact that at this point, their champion is Bird-Brain himself.

As annoying as Bird-Brain is (and he's only more annoying in this issue), there's something admirable in his desire to save his friends, and something both touching and intrinsically sad about him thinking he can do so with a few sacks of purloined burgers while flying across the Atlantic under his own power. But that pathos aside (and let's be clear: making one feel sad about the plight of helpless animals is not difficult), this is largely just another headache-inducing issue with the characters doing stupid and uncharacteristic things because the plot demands it. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Boom-Boom returns in X-Factor #22. Next week, more "Fall of the Mutants" setup in Uncanny X-Men #224, while the New Mutants meet the Ani-Mator in New Mutants #59.

8 comments:

  1. I think Bird-Brain is more annoy-SQUACK!!!-ing than anything else.

    It's kind of funny that Simonson is investing so much time and story to a one-story character who will never be seen again, nor will any of the characters ever think of or give a shit about again. Though, I guess we should be glad of that, no?

    "she's being drawn like a twelve-year-old pixie."

    As much as I like Blevins as an artist, that is one thing I've noticed about this run that I don't like; the characters heads are too big for their bodies, it does not look proportional at all.

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  2. The more I think about it, the more I think that Brett Blevins's art would have been perfect for the New Mutants, if only he had been paired with Claremont-- or at least with a writer with an edgier and more sophisticated sensibility than Simonson's.

    Blevins gave the book the younger, poppier look that it really needed at this point. The series has really failed to establish a distinctive look since Sienkiewicz's departure, and though the art has never been bad since then, it's also never really clicked. (Jackson Guice's work looks great, but to me always felt too stiff and pretty for a teen book.)

    Blevins certainly gives the New Mutants some life and youth. And it might have worked really well, if it hadn't written it like an Archie story where Jughead dies at the end.

    Instead, the cartoonish writing winds up in a feedback loop with the cartoonish art-- Blevins and Simonson probably thought they were playing to each other's strengths here-- and we get Gossamyr and Birdbrain.

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  3. (Oops... meant to say "if SIMONSON" hadn't written it... not to call Simonson "it.")

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  4. I don't care for the heads being so disproportionately big, and the faces are often awkward, but the body language is really nice.

    Maybe I could give Illyana's see-through negligee minidress a pass on the grounds of her being part-demon, but in terms of both personality and practicality there's no way Dani (or anyone) would sleep in fishnet stockings.

    I continue to agree that the New Mutants are written out of established character and too broadly in general.

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  5. @wwk5d: Though, I guess we should be glad of that, no?

    Indeed, though it does genuinely seem like Simonson had not intention to use Bird-Brain beyond this story, so I doubt she held off due to fan reaction or anything. So it is somewhat odd that, as you say, she invests so much time in this character, even building the series' "Fall of the Mutants" contribution around him.

    @Ben: Instead, the cartoonish writing winds up in a feedback loop with the cartoonish art-- Blevins and Simonson probably thought they were playing to each other's strengths here-- and we get Gossamyr and Birdbrain.

    Well said. I definitely think that's part of the whole "took it too far" idea - there's nothing inherently wrong with depicting the characters as younger, but when both the writing and the art does it, it's too much, too fast.

    @Blam: I don't care for the heads being so disproportionately big, and the faces are often awkward, but the body language is really nice.

    The heads bug me too, but you're right that the body language is nicely done.

    but in terms of both personality and practicality there's no way Dani (or anyone) would sleep in fishnet stockings.

    Right? How uncomfortable must that be?

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  6. Y'know, although I know the tragedy that is to come, I never really figured how much at fault the New Mutants are for going to the island. Their strength has been diluted, with Magma, Warlock, and Sunspot absent. Their only offense is a werewolf and a rocket.
    Not informing Magneto was idiotic. So they didn't have time? If time had been wasted getting Bird-Brain settled, there was enough time to wait and get Magneto's opinion.
    And forget any 'Magneto was a villain' wariness. Roberto is not present, and the members present have respect and trust for the headmaster. And even if Magneto refused their trip, I doubt he would be 'forget about it.' If Magneto was told about Bird-Brain and 'the tests', the reminder of Auschwitz and Dr. Mengele would have sent him to the island and stopped everything.
    It makes the group look 'never-my-fault' hypocritical when they later blame Magneto for neglecting them.

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  7. @angmc43: It makes the group look 'never-my-fault' hypocritical when they later blame Magneto for neglecting them.

    Indeed. And look, I'm okay with the idea of the New Mutants not taking the time to wake up Magneto, explain to him what's going on, risk that he won't help them, etc. But don't tell me they don't have time to leave him a note so that, when they inevitably get captured and don't return home, he knows where they are.

    I know they (stupidly) expected to be back before morning, but leaving a note seems like the kind of thing Claremont's Dani or Sam would have insisted on even while agreeing to sneak out to help Bird-Brain. Once again, it's the difference between writing the characters as "younger" and "out of character".

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  8. "I think that Brett Blevins's art would have been perfect for the New Mutants, if only he had been paired with Claremont-"

    I agree with that. I think New Mutants 49 by Claremont/Blevins is a really strong issue ... particularly the pages of Magneto flashback.

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