In a Nutshell
The final issue of the series.
Plot/Pencils/Inks: Rob Liefeld
Script/Words/Hair Loss: Fabian Nicieza
Letters/Calligraphy/Eye Strain: Joe Rosen
Colors/Hues/Passports: Brad Vancata
Edits/Zookeeping/Freelance Whipping: Bob Harras
Edits-in-Chief/Canolies/Two Fists: Tom DeFalco
Responding to an intruder alert, the New Mutants discover a strange, sword-wielding figure in the Danger Room. Calling himself Shatterstar, he attacks them, and it falls to Cable to subdue him, all of which is observed by Feral. As the New Mutants leave the Danger Room, three strange armored figures suddenly appear, at the same time that Masque and a pair of henchmen infiltrate the mansion, searching for Feral. In the infirmary, Shatterstar regains consciousness and explains that he hails from the Mojoverse and is part of a rebellion against Mojo V. Seeking the help of the X-Men, he was sent to Earth, but arrived disorientated and overwhelmed when the New Mutants first discovered him. Going to the kitchen, Boom-Boom discovers Feral, and she begs the New Mutants for their help against Masque. Just then, the armored soldiers find Shatterstar, and he explains they're members of the Imperial Protectorate.
Shatterstar, Domino and Warpath engage the soldiers, and after the rest of the team intervenes, Masque makes his move. But as the Mojoverse soldiers are defeated, Cable shoots one of Masque's Morlocks and orders him to get out. Later, Cable announces that both Shatterstar and Feral have joined the team, trading their service to the mutants' cause in exchange for the New Mutants' help in theirs, and then Cable says the team needs to leave the mansion, as it is no longer secure and their new missions will likely not sit well with their "landlords" in the other teams. Saying they intend to take Professor Xavier's dream and fight for it, Sam rechristens the team as an "X-Force", and shortly thereafter, they leave the school behind. Elsewhere, Stryfe sends a contingent of the MLF off on a mission, then sends the rest of the team away. Alone, he removes his mask, revealing a face that looks exactly like Cable's.
Firsts and Other Notables
As the cover makes clear, this is the final issue of New Mutants, though only in a technical sense, as the book is only being cancelled so it can be re-launched as X-Force (a relatively novel notion back then (though Captain America, Hulk, and Thor's books all started the same way) that has become increasingly commonplace nowadays) and not due to low sales. Though X-Force remains a going concern, title-wise to this day, New Mutants as a series would eventually get resurrected as well, featuring the adventures of the now-adult former New Mutants.
To wit, the New Mutants official disband this issue and become X-Force (a name referenced in dialogue and not formally declared by the group at this point), making this, I guess, the first appearance of X-Force. The idea is that X-Force is going to fight for Xavier's dream, though how that's different from what the X-Men and X-Factor do is, at this point, still unclear (in execution, it ultimately comes down to X-Force being more 90s about it).
Accordingly, X-Force moves out of the X-Mansion this issue, Cable's reasoning being both that too many of their enemies (Mr. Tolliver, the Morlocks, and Shatterstar's Mojoverse foes) know here to find them and that the kinds of methods he's espousing won't sit right with the other X-teams (the location of X-Force's new headquarters will be revealed in the first issue of that series).
The big cliffhanger ending of this issue, intended to leave fans mad with speculation until the launch of X-Force, is the reveal that beneath his mask, Stryfe looks just like Cable, complete with flashing eye (and quoting Cable's line of dialogue in the previous issue about not needing a crystal ball to see the obvious). Of course, even readers at the time knew that Stryfe couldn't actually be Cable, as the two had interacted physically on panel already (notably during their fight in Madripoor in issue #94), but at this point, Liefeld intended for Stryfe to be Cable from a latter point in his personal timeline (so Stryfe was an older Cable turned villainous). As detailed here, however, independently of Liefeld & Nicieza, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio and Bob Harras had decided that Cable would be the future version of Cyclops' infant son (a revelation that Portacio and Lee began setting up in the X-Factor story they co-plotted which began this same month), leaving Liefeld & Nicieza to change tack a bit and ultimately go with the "Stryfe is a clone of Cable" idea (though initially they had it the other way - that Stryfe is Nathan Christopher and Cable the clone).
After his one panel introduction in the previous issue, Shatterstar makes his proper debut in this issue, and we learn that he is a rebel fighting in the future Mojoverse (relative to Longshot), who has journeyed to Earth to seek the help of the X-Men in his fight against Mojo V, just as they once helped Longshot (something we've technically never seen).
In many ways, Shatterstar is one of the most Liefeldian of characters, and serves as a pretty effective visual representation of Liefeld's creative tendencies, though he manages to outlast his creator's tenure on the X-books by a fairly wide margin, and despite some pretty dodgy and over-complicated attempts at deepening/changing the character's back story later in the 90s, Shatterstar has hung around the X-Universe to a much greater degree of significance than many other characters of his vintage, including his teammate and fellow Liefeldian creation Feral.
Technically, Feral and Shatterstar join the New Mutants this issue, though as Cable disbands the team about a page later, they are considered New Mutants in truly the most technical sense only.
It is worth noting, however, that for as Liefeldian as the four most recent additions to the team are (Domino, Warpath, Feral and Shatterstar), three of them have connections to existing elements of the X-mythos: Warpath has a history with the New Mutants and is a former Hellion (giving him a connection to the Hellfire Club), Feral is a former Morlock, and Shatterstar, like Longshot, hails from the Mojoverse. Given Liefeld's seeming disdain for the history of the series, I tend to credit Nicieza with working these bits into the book, making sure these kewl new characters have a place in the narrative beyond just being the kewl new characters, thus keeping X-Force from just being Youngblood (which is basically populated by versions of these characters, but without any connections to a pre-established, decades-long narrative history).
Remember Rusty and Skids? We see them, for the first time since issue #87, amongst various other members of the MLF (with Skids being sent out on a mission). Rusty's dialogue suggests he's still not entirely on board with the MFL's methods, though later stories will establish that the pair has been brainwashed by the MLF (so maybe Rusty's brainwashing just hasn't fully taken hold yet).
Not surprisingly, the cover features the newest characters (Warpath, Domino, Shatterstar and Feral) front and center. This issue also received a second printing (with the background of the cover done in white and the "final issue" blurbs written in gold, and a third printing with the blurbs written in silver.
The first copy of this issue I ever owned was the second printing, the gold one, because the first printing was always way more expensive than I was willing to pay back in the day. Eventually, I picked up a copy of the first printing (probably out of a quarter bin at a convention; I certainly paid nowhere near the old 90s prices for it and wouldn't have bothered even replacing my second printing if the original wasn't so cheap).
A Work in Progress
Cannonball has gotten good enough at dulling the roar of his blast that he can sneak up on Cable & Domino while flying down a hall.
Though it's never explicitly stated, this issue visually hints at Shatterstar's mutant power, as he seems able to convert sound into some kind of offensive energy (like Dazzler), expressed through his swords.
It's revealed that Masque intends to attack the surface world and bolster his army by kidnapping people and using his power to ugly them up, which (most likely out of sheer coincidence) actually tracks rather well with what the Morlocks in Ghost Rider #9 said he was planning to do.
Sam and Boom-Boom get a brief moment to reflect on the fact that they're the only remaining New Mutants at this point, though Illyana, Rusty and Skids are left of Sam's memorial roll call.
Stryfe's pass phrase/response ("which type are you?/survivor") is a callback to Cable's speech to Warpath in the previous issue about the different types of mutants, which also ties into the "Stryfe looks like Cable" tease.
Stryfe sends the MLF on a mission to Genosha as payback for their actions in "X-Tinction Agenda", a nice little nod to recent events.
The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Shatterstar immediately begins to display his annoying tendency to use mostly nonsensical fictional slang (a cheap way to make the character seem otherworldly), chiefly the exclamation "Za's Vid!".
It's worth pointing out that Cable just straight up shoots a Morlock in the head this issue, killing him, without any remorse or even comment from his teammates, one of the more overtly violent and non-super-hero-y thing he's done yet. Like most series that attempt to show characters being proactive and "taking the fight to their enemies", X-Force will mostly fail in that regard (because, ultimately, no creators wants even the most "real" or "extreme" heroes to kill off villains who could potentially return in later stories), but Cable has definitely been positioned as a more violent anti-hero type at this point (that said, he does tell Masque to leave rather than, you know, shooting him too, because, again, nobody wants to kill off a recurring villain for good).
The Best There Is At What
Sam compares Feral's ferocity to that of Wolverine and Sabretooth.
Sam and Boom-Boom effectively become a couple at this point, each more or less acknowledging they're sticking with Cable and X-Force in part because of the other.
One of the more infamous bits of bad Liefeld art occurs in this issue, as one of the Mojoverse soldiers suddenly grows large enough between panels to dwarf Shatterstar while grabbing him from behind, and Shatterstar's sword suddenly becomes long enough to go through both figures with plenty of blade to spare, all rendered in a big double page splash.
Later, when Cable pulls a "Indy vs. the Cairo Swordsman" and shoots Masque's goon in the head, the composition of figures in relation to each other changes between panels: the Morlock charges Cable, and is positioned between Masque and Cable. Yet after Cable shoots him (in the face) and he drops dead, Cable is suddenly on the other side of the body, between it and Masque.
MLF member Forearm is seen wearing a mask reminiscent of fellow member Kamikaze's, though Liefled still draws him with four arms so he apparently just forgot or decided to add a mask to the character for no reason.
It's in the Mail
The final letters page of the series is touted as such, and mostly runs letters praising the new characters and Liefeld's art.
Bob Harras on turning New Mutants into X-Force
"I remember coming to you [Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco] and saying 'You know, to me New Mutants #101 just doesn't make sense, because when you're at #101, you should be the 'Old Mutants' already.' And we came up with the idea of ending New Mutants and starting X-Force. Suddenly, I became Mr. Commercial."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p177
The final issue of New Mutants, the first X-Men spinoff, works perfectly fine in doing what the title has been doing since the end of "X-Tinction Agenda": setting up X-Force. Here, the final team is assembled, prompting Cable to pull the trigger on moving out of the X-Mansion's basement and officially re-branding and re-purposing the team as a tough, no-nonsense strike force. It's not the most compelling of material (and much of this issue's extra pages are handed over to a gratuitous introductory fight with Shatterstar), but it's of a piece of what the series has been doing lately, and reads very much like the "zero issue" it's intended to be.
As an actual finale to New Mutants, a series with one hundred issues under its belt, which began the franchising of the X-Men and carries with it a history and cast all its own, well, it's significantly less successful in that regard. Only Boom-Boom and Cannonball remain as characters that predate Rob Liefeld, and though Nicieza and Liefeld give the pair a brief scene in which to establish why they're sticking with Cable and acknowledge the passing of the New Mutants concept, there's very little else in terms of "bringing things to a close". Cable's reasoning for abandoning the X-Mansion certainly makes sense, and, again, that this is all about seguing into X-Force is in no way a surprise at this juncture. Nevertheless, it's a shame that the final issue of a series this significant to the X-Men mythos ends without engaging its history in any significant way, barely featuring any characters who contributed to that history. Rob Liefeld is by now entirely looking forward, and can't be bothered to spend more than a few panels looking back.
Tomorrow, Apocalypse returns along with some new flunkies in X-Factor #65. Next week, Excalibur: Weird War III and Excalibur #36.