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Thursday, March 5, 2015

X-amining New Mutants #85

"The Killing Stroke"
January 1990

In a Nutshell
The New Mutants thwart Hela's attack on Odin. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Guest Penciller: Geoff Isherwood 
Inker: Bret Blevins
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Outside the city of Asgard, Hela's forces clash with Asgard's defenders. Spotting Dani heading towards Odin's tower, the New Mutants break off, determined to stop their friend from slaying him. Meanwhile, in Hel, Eitri breaks himself and the Einherjar out of Hela's prison. They enter Hela's portal, arriving outside Asgard. As the Einherjar reinforce the fight against Hela, Eitri heads for the castle, determined to destroy the sword he forged for Hela or die trying. Inside Odin's chambers, Dani prepares to strike the killing blow, but the New Mutants intervene. Dani fights back, burning Rictor and Roberto while knocking out Sam, forcing Rahne to realize Dani is no longer the friend they knew. Just then, Eitri bursts in and manages to strike Dani's sword with his hammer.


On Earth, Rusty tries to prevent the Vulture from escaping prison, and when he fails, he releases Skids so the pair can stop Vulture from freeing Nitro together. Back in Asgard, Sam wakes up as Eitri tells him he forged a flaw into Dani's sword, which his hammer strike has now exposed. As Dani prepares to deliver a killing blow to Odin, Sam flies at her, striking the flaw in the sword before it hits Odin, shattering it in an explosion of energy. With the sword destroyed, Hela's control over the enthralled denizens of Asgard also breaks, forcing her to retreat with her loyal forces back to Hel, declaring someday, both Asgard and the New Mutants will pay. Inside Odin's tower, Dani reverts to normal, then collapses next to an unconscious Sam and Eitri, while Rahne and Rictor wonder if she, or the rest of them, will ever be the same.   

Firsts and Other Notables
In advance of his arrival as the book's new regular artist next issue, we get a Rob Liefeld cover (inked by friend and Spider-Man artist Todd McFarlane) on this issue, his first for the series (not counting New Mutants Annual #5).

And, of course, everyone on the cover is staged such that no feet are visible.

Inside, pencils are handled by fill-in artist Geoff Isherwood, though Brett Blevins is on hand to ink him, lending the final chapter of the story some visual consistency with earlier ones. I've always been curious if Blevins worked on this issue before he knew he was being replaced by Liefeld, or if he just hung around, doing the work and being happy to get paid for it even though his replacement had already been announced.

In addition to Thor, Loki's absence is noted this issue. He is, of course, on Earth orchestrating "Acts of Vengeance", though readers at the time may not have known that yet.

To wit, this issue gets another "Acts of Vengeance" label, and we get another few pages of the "Adventures of the Vulture and Rusty", as the Vulture fully escapes prison (after leaving his cell last issue) and Rusty breaks himself and Skids out to chase after him and stop him from releasing human bomb Nitro.


Skids takes a somewhat uncharacteristic "why help the humans?" attitude in response, possibly a callback to her Morlock days, possibly a reaction to how she's getting dicked over by the government (though specifically, by the mutant Freedom Force) and possibly a hint at her and Rusty's upcoming change in allegiances. Rusty argues that lots of innocent people will be hurt if they don't stop the Vulture, and also, that Nitro's trial will provide them with a stage to air their grievances and tell the world about Freedom Force's plans for the Inferno babies.


A Work in Progress
Dani returns to normal this issue, the first time she's been her regular self since issue #77 (and, arguably, since "Inferno").


Teebore's Take
Finally, mercifully, this story comes to a close (well, there's some epilogue-y stuff in the next issue and the New Mutants don't actually leave Asgard until issue #87, but this is the end of the story for all intents and purposes). To Simonson's credit, the story ends strongly. The conceit of Dani being the one tasked with slaying Odin allows the focus of the climax to remain on the New Mutants, as they quickly breakaway from the larger fight to stop their friend, as much to save Odin & Asgard as to prevent Dani from becoming a murderer. Like the best chapters of this story, it grounds the action and fantastical setting in the relationship between the New Mutants.

As to the story as a whole, well, as had been said plenty of times already, it could stand to be shorter. Even after tossing out the completely unrelated fill-in that derailed narrative momentum early on, it could easily lose at least another chapter or two (especially when you consider this whole thing really started all the way back in issue #77). Clearly intended to recapture the magic of the New Mutants first Asgardian adventure (and, again to its credit, there is some enjoyment to be had in seeing characters like Eitri and Hrimhari building on their previous relationships with the New Mutants), it comes up short, in part due to the length but also due to the art. Love his work or hate it, Blevins is no Art Adams, and much of the enjoyment of the previous story came from his artwork.

It also doesn't help that the final two chapters are handled by fill-in artists, which, combined with the looming presence of Liefeld (announced already as the book's new artist, so even readers at the time without the benefit of hindsight knew he was coming), creates a sensation that even the creative team had grown tired of the story. Bottom line, there's a reason this story represents the only stretch of New Mutants issues which have never been collected in another format. It's probably not the worst New Mutants story ever, but in terms of how many issues it burns through relative to its merit and overall impact on the narrative, it's arguably the most detrimental to the series.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the finale of "Judgment War" in X-Factor #50. Next week, "Acts of Vengeance" Part 3 and Excalibur #18. 

5 comments:

  1. "And, of course, everyone on the cover is staged such that no feet are visible."

    My favorite part of the cover is the dainty Liefeld-finger Cannonball has, like he's lecturing a child about doing something wrong ("Uh uh uh, no Dani, we do NOT kill High Fathers in their sleep!").

    And Hallelujah, it's over. The thing is, there is deliciously bad (what we'll get with Liefeld) and boring bad (what we just got). And at least deliciously bad is fun to laugh at. So at least the reviews of this title should be a bit more fun.

    But again, thank God this storyline is over. Even with Blevins, it would have been OK as a 5 issue arc. But running as long as it did, with the fill-in issues and the pacing problems...it just didn't work.

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  2. Doesn't Dani look suspiciously like Inferno-era Magik?

    As to how I feel about the story, well....

    Lisa Simpson: I'm confused. Is this a good ending or a bad ending?

    Marge Simpson: It's an ending! That's enough!

    Oddly enough, I find the shoehorned Acts of Vengeance tie-in to be more interesting. Given what you said about Skids, Teebire, I wonder if their defection was supposed to be genuine, with the "brainwash" stuff an impromptu retcon when they decided to make Stryfe another gnarled, tangled branch of the Summers family tree.

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  3. Jonathan Washington: Doesn't Dani look suspiciously like Inferno-era Magik?

    Disturbingly so. I'm also wondering if anyone ever did a case of the hints of... anatomic correctness they've seen fit to draw on her on the panel where she fights Eitri. I mean, in a world where people insist Byrne drew a penis on Hauptmann in his death scene in FF #258...

    Funny that they got the New Warriors on the other title, and now here they give Nitro an airing, the other side of the happenstance that launched CIVIL WAR.

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  4. I was surprised by how that next-issue box announced the coming of Rob Liefeld in big, colorful letters. He'd done very little beyond five issues of Hawk and Dove at DC. Maybe there was some great fan reaction to his pin-up pages in the New Mutants annual, or maybe Editorial was just desperate to show that changes to the series were in the works.

    // With the sword destroyed, Hela's control over the enthralled denizens of Asgard also breaks //

    That confused me, because the valkyrie were enthralled prior to the sword being forged — but, hey, story's over, not looking a winged gift horse in the mouth.

    // Dani reverts to normal //

    And naturally she's stark nekkid. You could seriously have a recurring category for inappropriate teenage nudity in these posts if it didn't seem so, well, inappropriate.

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  5. Although this issue isn't his best work, Geof Isherwood did a great job drawing Suicide Squad around this time. His work had a solidity that worked really well with the more down-to-earth Squad. Anyone who hasn't read the '80s-early '90s Suicide Squad should do so, it's one of the all-time best super-hero universe comics.

    - Mike Loughlin

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