Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #72

"Demon Reign"
February 1989

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants battle the demon rain as Illyana struggles with her dark side. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Bret Blevins
Inker: Al Williamson 
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In Times Square, S'ym appears before N'astirh and the New Mutants, and the two demons begin to fight one another, with N'astirh teleporting Illyana away. Otherwise forgotten, the New Mutants attempt to disrupt the pentagram, reasoning that closing the portal between Earth and Limbo may very well help Illyana as well. Meanwhile, Illyana appears in a demonically-possessed diner, where inanimate objects urge her to use her sword to attack the possessed people inside before she is teleported away again. In the skies over Times Square, the New Mutants meet the X-Terminators, and the two groups team up to try and close the portal. Illyana next arrives in a demonic pet shop and is once again urged to use her sword, and she realizes the demons want her to use it to spill innocent blood in order to seal her dark transformation. In Times Square, the New Mutants succeed in rescuing the mutant infants and disrupting the pentagram.


Feeling his power lessen, N'astirh allows himself to be infected with the Transmode virus by S'ym, triggering a massive explosion. But with the portal closed, the rain of demons has ended, and the New Mutants regroup with the X-Terminators at a nearby church. Leaving an injured Dani with Rusty and Skids to guard the rescued babies, the rest of the New Mutants, joined by Boom-Boom and Rictor, set off to find Illyana. Just then, Illyana, now in a transformed beauty parlor, attacks a demonic chair with her Soul Sword, drawing blood. N'astirh appears, pleased that she's decided to join him, but she rejects him once more, realizing he's been pushing her down this dark path. Manifesting a new set of armor, she attacks the demon with her sword, but he teleports away, saying she has at last accepted her power. Alone, overwhelmed by her dark side, Illyana collapses. She calls out for somebody to help her, just as a smiling S'ym silently appears before her.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue begins the integration of the X-Terminators into the series, as, in the wake of their separate efforts to disrupt the pentagram, the two groups come together, with the weaker/wounded members of each team staying behind at a church to recoup and protect the rescued infants while the rest go off to find and help Illyana. Notably, Rictor and Boom-Boom leave with the New Mutants' contingent, as the two of them, moreso than Rusty and Skids, will become mainstays of the New Mutants and, later, X-Force.


The future Cannonball/Boom-Boom romance gets its start in this issue, as Boom-Boom calls Sam "Tall, Blonde and Handsome" (and also uses the somewhat-troubling nickname of "Muties" for the New Mutants).


The opening pages of this issue feature some really odd narration about Illyana, and I have no idea what to make of it: "She had always been beautiful, like a perfect, pastel present, just begging to be opened. But she liked it, anyway, when her looks took people's breath away." Like, I get that Weezie is trying to underscore the idea that her physical appearance now mirrors her darkened soul, but that just seems unintentionally skeevy.

The Chronology Corner
Much of this issue runs in parallel to X-Terminators #4, showing the events of that issue from the perspective of the New Mutants. The New Mutants' appearance in Avengers #299 also appears between pages of this issue.

A Work in Progress
The demons delight in Illyana's demonic form, entreating her to rule them.


The your fault/our fault exchange between the New Mutants and X-Terminators from X-Terminators #4 is repeated, though curiously (given that Weezie wrote both issues), in this issue, it's Boom-Boom who says the line, whereas previously it was Rictor.


Dani is injured by a demon in this issue, a wound that takes her out of the climax of "Inferno". She is also said to be distracted by all the visions of death triggered by the Inferno.


Rusty continues to wear the head condom bandage created for him by Dani in X-Terminators #4, despite the fact that she manifests other objects in the course of the story.

In the wake of his techno-organic transformation, N'astirh says each of his cells are programmed for magic. 


At the end of the issue, Illyana manifests new armor that covers her entire form (it is not quite the same thing as the Colossus-like armor that would previously manifest whenever she was injured).


ClaremontismsWe are, of course, reminded that Sam is invulnerable while blasting. 

Young Love
N'astirh is still pushing the whole "dark bride" thing to Illyana.


Teebore's Take
Much as with Uncanny X-Men #241, this issue splits its time between an introspective journey starring the character most affected by the events of "Inferno" (there, Madelyne Pryor; here, Illyana) and a melee featuring the rest of the team. Much of that portion of this issue is dedicated to showing the New Mutants' efforts to close the Earth/Limbo portal, the flip side of X-Terminators #4, with their story picking up where that one left off as an integrated New Mutants/X-Terminators flies off to find Illyana.

Illyana, meanwhile, spends most of the issue being tempted by various demonically possessed people and objects to give in to her dark side (represented in this case by attacking them with her Soul Sword), all part of N'astirh's plan to turn her fully to his side. The struggle itself is fairly routine material for Illyana at this point, though it does give Blevins an opportunity to draw some truly macabre material, and his more cartoony style gives the issue the same kind of effective juxtaposition between the creepy and the goofy that characterized Bogdanove's X-Terminators work (further tying the two series together). And there's no denying the sight of Illyana, overwhelmed by the struggle for her soul and utterly alone save for the looming presence of her original tormentor, is a heartbreaking one, and an ominous note on which to take us into the final chapter of her story.  

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cyclops comes face-to-face with his estranged wife in X-Factor #37. Next week, the second batch of "Inferno" tie-ins followed by Excalibur #5.

11 comments:

  1. Pedantic note to Weezie '89: Sam is blond, not blonde!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This kind of thing almost never bothers me, but Illyana is outrageously naked on this cover, not to mention throughout the book and it really bugs me. Illyana's origin is pretty clearly a narrative of (metaphorical, probably literal) sexual abuse, and I think they need to be really thoughtful about the way they present her when it comes to sex. In this case, the art really crosses the line for me.

    One thing that doesn't bother me is Boom Boom's use of "mutie." Members of minority groups often use slurs ironically as terms of affection. (This is certainly true of me and my friends.) While there's always some mild disagreement surrounding this habit, I think Boom Boom-- of all the New Mutants other than maybe Magik-- has a wryness and sense of irony to suggest she'd use this word with her friends.

    Finally, since we're about to see Illyana's story come to a conclusion, I have to say that I believe she, more than Storm or Wolverine or perhaps even Magneto, is Claremont's most well-wrought, complex and sympathetic character. There is an innate irony in her portrayal that I think is really moving: she truly believes she's intrinsically evil, but it's precisely her struggle with her own dark side that makes her heroic. She would be less heroic if she wasn't evil.

    I do think she's a bit unwieldy as a character, because she's so powerful, but I also think her power works really well in the parallels it suggests. It allows her to retreat from the world whenever she wants, but only at further and ultimately tragic cost to herself-- a surprisingly nuanced take on the experience of depression and addiction, particularly after a deep trauma.

    Though I'm not generally a fan of Louise Simonson's work as a writer, I think she understands Illyana and gives her a fitting and sensitive sendoff. She really makes her anguish and courage palpable in these issues.

    ReplyDelete
  3. (Furthermore-- because why not?-- I think Boom Boom is somewhat underrated as a character. I wish she and Kitty had had a chance to share the page at some point, since Boom Boom is such a neat anodyne to the Kitty model of what a teen hero should be.)

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is probably my favorite chapter in Inferno. Blevins does a great job with the possessed city, making it look at turns absurd & terrifying; in fact, this run is probably the one I find showcases his art the best. Like Ben said, this chapter also does a great job of showing what a harrowing emotional (and physical) journey Illyana has had & how it's taken a steep toll on her. It makes the reset button just around the corner even more irritating, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

    And I'll second Ben on liking Boom Boom from Simonson's run. I recently re-read some of it (had to bribe myself to finish the Asgard arc), and she's probably the best written character in it. She's basically what they were shooting for with Jubilee but never quite hit - a cocky, sassy teenager who was still sensitive & sincere. Same fashion sense, though.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @A Painter: Pedantic note to Weezie '89: Sam is blond, not blonde!

    Is that the case? I'm asking honestly, because all my years of studying German have made me incapable of identifying which is the English spelling and which is the German, and whether both are or are not interchangeable in English (which I thought they were, but again, maybe it's just the German)?

    @Ben: This kind of thing almost never bothers me, but Illyana is outrageously naked on this cover, not to mention throughout the book and it really bugs me.

    Yeah, it's one of those things where if this was just regular, non-demonic Illyana, there's no way she could appear on the cover like that. But cover her in red scales and suddenly she's not naked.

    One thing that doesn't bother me is Boom Boom's use of "mutie." Members of minority groups often use slurs ironically as terms of affection.

    If anything, it bugs me more for just being a bad nickname for the New Mutants than anything else, and while you're right about minority groups reappropriating slurs, it doesn't seem like it's a good enough term for a writer to even go down that road.

    I have to say that I believe she, more than Storm or Wolverine or perhaps even Magneto, is Claremont's most well-wrought, complex and sympathetic character.

    I'd still give the nod to Claremont's Magneto, simply because he got to have the final say on him (at least, on his iteration of the character), but Illyana is certainly up there. She's easily the best character to come out of this initial run of New Mutants, just beating out pre-overpowered Dani.

    Furthermore-- because why not?-- I think Boom Boom is somewhat underrated as a character.

    Me too. A lot of that affection comes from her longstanding run with the post-Liefeld X-Force, but even now, once she's gotten past her initial mallrat/valley girl/shackled to the 80s schtick, she does a nice job in the Cordelia/Anya "telling it like it is but is still sympathetic" role.

    @Mela: Blevins does a great job with the possessed city, making it look at turns absurd & terrifying

    Plus, he can skip backgrounds and just color everything red and it fits the mood instead of just seeming like he couldn't be bothered to draw backgrounds, like in the Spyder/Gosamyr story.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Austin: There actually is (supposed to be) a difference between blond and blonde in English. I never realized it until a friend had pointed it out a few years ago.

    "Blond" as an adjective is always e-less.

    "Blond" as a noun is gender specific: blond for male, blonde for female.

    Why the English language adopted the European style (in this case, French) of assigning gender to nouns is unknown. This rule is supposed to apply to brunet and brunette as well.

    Regarding Illyana, I had the biggest crush on her back in the day, but it quickly ended when Simonson and Blevins got their hands on her. I never found that cover sexy in the least.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "At the end of the issue, Illyana manifests new armor that covers her entire form (it is not quite the same thing as the Colossus-like armor that would previously manifest whenever she was injured)."

    How so? I always assumed it was the same thing. She would always wonder (in the Claremont issues), "What happens when this armor covers all of me?" and I always thought that was what we were seeing here.

    ReplyDelete

  8. @Ben — I don't really register Illyana's form as naked there, but I take your point and I like your observations.

    @Teebore — A Painter beat me to it. The usage of "blonde" as feminine is unusual in English, but not entirely unique as far as loanwords go; I do think it's mostly confined to those with accents preserved, however, like fiancé and fiancée, if only because (for people with the basic knowledge, anyway) that serves as a reminder of their Romance origins. We also still have female-specific terms like "waitress" that are increasingly seen as dated, but that's a slightly different animal — plus they appear to be getting phased out in favor of the male-specific and group-inclusive forms (which is a whole other chauvinistic convention) or different neutral terms entirely.

    @Jason — I don't know if we're supposed to think of it as Illyana's previously piecemeal armor in it's final form, but I didn't see it that way because I don't think it resembles that armor in the least.

    ReplyDelete

  9. // The opening pages of this issue feature some really odd narration about Illyana //

    Yeah, I was thrown by that. Could it be Weezie gearing up to write some prose fantasy?

    // Much of this issue runs in parallel to X-Terminators #4 //

    Way too much happened over there and off-panel here. I'm even more glad that I did read that now, but that doesn't keep what's in this issue of a friggin' monthly series rather than a spinoff four-issue mini featuring characters nobody cares about (regardless of its actual quality) from coming off as woefully incomplete. The whole deal with N'astirh being rendered techno-organic and Wiz Kid's computer making him one with magic is actually more of a head-snap than, as the angels of irony have just made apparent to me, Illyana's sudden emergence from Limbo as a teenager back in X-Men #160.

    // At the end of the issue, Illyana manifests new armor that covers her entire form //

    That was really, really poorly done. Illyana's demon form and N'astirh's techno-organic incarnation are both big red things on the page, which is bad enough, but crucially there's no visual presentation of her transformation from full-on scaly crimson Darkchylde to the Rom Spaceknight armor we've never seen before. Sure, I got what was happening, but despite the art rather than thanks to it.

    ReplyDelete

  10. // in it's final form //

    Sigh. Proof that none of us is immune from potentially swapping the contraction for the possessive when typing quickly.

    ReplyDelete
  11. @A Painter: "Blond" as an adjective is always e-less.

    "Blond" as a noun is gender specific: blond for male, blonde for female.


    That explains my confusion. Next time, English language, don't half ass import a practice from another language if you're not going to follow through on it.

    @Jason: I always assumed it was the same thing. She would always wonder (in the Claremont issues), "What happens when this armor covers all of me?" and I always thought that was what we were seeing here.

    I meant more that it was visually different than the previous Colossus-like armor she would manifest: it's lacking the black rings/lines, for lack of a better term, that I always associate with Colossus' metal form, and is instead all smooth and almost liquidy.

    Whether, narratively, it's meant to be the same armor or not, is never made clear (and it wouldn't hurt to have been made more clear). I can see it being interpreted either way.

    @Blam: Could it be Weezie gearing up to write some prose fantasy?

    Maybe. Awkwardly erotic prose fantasy, at that.

    Sure, I got what was happening, but despite the art rather than thanks to it.

    Indeed. I actually had to go over those pages several times when writing the plot summary, just to avoid saying "they fight, and then Illyana has armor now, and S'ym shows up". The red-on-red in particular helps nothing.

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!