In a Nutshell
Roberto quits the team and James Proudstar joins it.
Plot, Pencils, Inks: Rob LiefeldScript: Fabian Nicieza
Letters: Joe Rosen
Colors: Brad Vancata
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Beneath Manhattan, a Morlock named Feral refuses to join Masque's army, then flees through the tunnels until she finds an access hatch to the surface. Meanwhile, Cable meets James Proudstar, having left the Massachusetts Academy, for lunch and offers him a place with the New Mutants. He declines, saying he's returning home to his reservation, but Cable insists the time for not choosing sides is over, and leaves the offer standing. Unbeknownst to Cable, Gideon watches their meeting from afar, then returns to Roberto, helping him realize that he needs to leave Xavier's school to run his father's business. Back at the X-Mansion, Boom-Boom shows Cable Rictor's note, and though Sam argues they should go after him, Cable says that Rictor made his own choice. Later, James returns to his home at Camp Verde to find the place destroyed and his people massacred. Finding a Hellfire Club mask amidst the wreckage, he declares vengeance on Emma Frost.
At the X-Mansion, Roberto approaches Cable, telling him that he's leaving, and Cable's nonchalant reaction to the news prompts an angry outburst from Sam. As Domino and Boom-Boom discuss Cable, Sam argues with him. Cable insists that the New Mutants are fighting a war, while Sam tells Cable that he'd hoped they meant more to him than soldiers. Later, Roberto and Sam say goodbye, and afterwards, James arrives on the grounds, telling Cable that if he helps James fight his war, he'll help fight Cable's. Feral, having snuck into the school via the access hatch she discovered, overhears this, and decides that if that trade worked for James, there's no reason it shouldn't work for her, while at the same time, an unconscious figure suddenly materializes inside the Danger Room.
Firsts and Other Notables
Roberto leaves the team this issue, to take control of his deceased father's business interests, which we'll eventually learn is part of a scheme on Gideon's part to get Sunspot away from Xavier's school because he believes him to be an immortal External like himself. Roberto will actually make a few appearances in the early issues of X-Force despite not being on the team, and like Rictor, he'll more or less return to the book once Liefeld leaves.
James Proudstar, formerly Thunderbird of the Hellions, whose brother died during the New X-Men's very first mission back in X-Men #94, joins what's left of the New Mutants this issue after being recruited by Cable. Taking the name Warpath, he becomes a mainstay of X-Force for most of its initial run, eventually joining the X-Men and later iterations of X-Force.
He's agrees to Cable's offer after discovering everyone in his reservation massacred, presumably by agents of the Hellfire Club (he discovers one of the masks of their soldiers amidst the remains of the reservation), pledging his support to Cable's war in exchange for Cable helping him get revenge on whomever slaughtered his people. Despite being an obvious setup for a future X-Force plot, Liefeld will leave the series before ever getting around to it. Eventually, I believe Stryfe is pegged as being responsible for the massacre and framing the Hellfire Club, for reasons.
Feral, who will join the team next issue and become another mainstay of the early issues of X-Force, appears for the first time. A cat-like Morlock (she is furry and has claws & a tail, because apparently Liefeld's default look for all Morlocks that aren't Masque at this point is "vaguely animalistic"), she rejects Masque's efforts to force her to join his war on the surface world and flees the tunnels, eventually ending up at the X-Mansion and becomes inspired by Warpath to trade her services to Cable in exchange for protection. She'll fill the "unpredictable savage as dangerous to her teammates as her enemies a la early Wolverine" role on the team, and eventually, we'll learn that she's the child of a broken home and has a similarly-mutated sister named Thorrn who is also a Morlock. After her initial tenure on the team, she'll turn more villainous, contract the Legacy Virus, become one of the token "look, named characters lost their powers on M-Day too!" mutants, and get linked to Wolverine and Sabretooth in a Jeph Loeb story nobody wants to talk about. Also, she sports the weird "triangle hair" that Wolfsbane will shortly adopt as well.
Shatterstar also appears for the first time, in a silent, one-panel cameo at the end of the issue (a la Cable's cameo appearance in New Mutants #86). He'll receive a proper introduction next issue, though it's worth noting that here, he has too long blades extending out of his hand, not unlike Wolverine's claws, while next issue (and thereafter) he wields an actual sword he holds in his hand.
Cable claims there are five kinds of mutants (the Mollifiers, the Abusers, the Used, the Hunted, and the Hidden) and that he's trying to make a sixth kind (the Survivors), another thing that sounds like a mildly intriguing philosophy for X-Force that never gets mentioned again.
Also, remember Cable's line to Warpath about not needing a crystal ball to see the obvious; it becomes important next issue.
Gideon helps maneuver Roberto away from the New Mutants this issue, under the guise of helping him deal with the death of his father, and the character is already acting inconsistent with his previous appearance. Here, Liefeld & Nicieza seem to be suggesting that the bald guy with a pony tail is roughly the same age as Roberto, saying things like "okey-dokey" and "after mom died", referencing being there at the beginning of Roberto's issues with his father and implying they attended school together. Even without the retcon that Gideon is actually a centuries-old External, that doesn't feel right, and it also casts Roberto as older than he should be (which would be, at the oldest, probably eighteen at this point) - Gideon acts like they went to high school together then drifted apart after his mom died, which is an understandable progression for an older teen but probably not a bald immortal mutant.
Also, Roberto is not at all put off by the fact that this old friend of the family (whatever his age is) has metal arms and a butler who wears a skintight white leotard at all times.
The cover to this issue is an homage to X-Men #138 (in which Cyclops left the team following Phoenix's death), something which Liefeld actually acknowledges by putting "after Byrne" on the cover.
The Statement of Ownership in this issue lists the average number of copies of each issue sold during the preceding twelve months as 289,387, with the single issue nearest to filing date selling 318,102 copies; while not bad, presumably these numbers include at least a few pre-Liefeld issues, bringing the average down a bit.
A Work in Progress
Masque pops up again, continuing his role as a minor recurring adversary for the latter day New Mutants/early X-Force.
James notes that he's severed ties with the Massachusetts Academy (and presumably the Hellions) since last we saw him in issue #62. He later attributes that severing of ties as the motivation for the apparent Hellfire Club massacre of his people.
Domino is depicted a few times this issue without the black spot over her eye, suggesting it's part of her costume/makeup, though whether the spot is always there or removable remains wildly inconsistent throughout the early issues of X-Force.
The Cable Guy
Cable tells Roberto he also lost his father at a young age, which actually does more or less fit with what we later learn about the character's parentage (so long as we take "loss" by its actual meaning, and not as a euphemism for death).
He also notes that he's seen hundreds, thousands die.
As with Gideon last issue, Warpath is also attacked by a pair of floating hands in this issue.
One of Liefeld's favorite tics pops up this issue, as Cable's face is somehow cast in shadow while standing in a room (and on the same level/position) as other people who's faces aren't shadowed.
Apparently this issue also features the return of Bird-Boy, who argues with Cable over his treatment of the New Mutants.
It's in the Mail
This issue's letter column formally announces the cancellation of the series and the launch of X-Force, and also acknowledges the departure of Louise Simonson after issue #97. It also runs a trio of letters raving about the new characters introduced last issue and the art (with one writer saying he usually avoids the X-books because of how unrealistic they are, yet was drawn to New Mutants by their gorgeous covers...).
And then there was one...
X-Force #-2 is chiefly concerned with writing out Sunspot, thus bringing the total number of characters left over from the series' first issue at one (and the total number of team members that have been around for more than twelve issues to two, and the total number that have been around for more than one issue to three). All things considered, Sunspot's departure could have been handled worse; it's definitely rushed (a better version of this with the same result would have Sunspot just taking a temporary absence that turned permanent as he got more involved with his father's holdings, but I suppose we need scheming Gideon), but someone (presumably Nicieza) has at least enough of a passing knowledge of the book's history to work in one final Magnum PI reference and at least give Sam and Roberto a proper sendoff, helping the whole thing read less like the "maneuvering everyone into position for X-Force" that it obviously is.
Meanwhile, Nicieza & Liefeld do lay more groundwork for X-Force, both in terms of Cable going on about how there's a war on and mutants need to be survivors, and thus coming off like much more of a dick than ever before (Sam arguing with Cable over his reaction to Roberto's departure almost reads like Nicieza arguing the difference between Cable under Liefeld, and Cable under Simonson, who at least seemed to have some genuine affection for the kids underneath all his tough guy bluster), and in terms of beefing up the cast. Both Feral and Shatterstar (who will be properly introduced next issue) are pure Liefeld characters, and while later creators will do their best to milk what stories they can out of them (particularly Shatterstar), neither ever really manages to transcend their creator.
The inclusion of James Proudstar, however, is actually a rather shrewd move (I have no idea who came up with the idea, but given the general disdain for everything that came before him that Liefeld seems to show, I'm tempted to think it was Nicieza), another surprising use of the book's past. He's not a former member of the team, but he does have a history with the series, one that could be mined for stories in future issues. Relative to the other Hellions, he always seemed like the one who would fit most easily with the New Mutants, and while he moved past his initial anger-induced drive for vengeance, his early appearances also suggest a fit with the burgeoning X-Force mentality. Again, it's all a bit rushed (the complete and utter massacre of all the people at his reservation probably deserves more attention than it gets here), but it does help make the series' transition feel more like a logical outgrowth of the characters' changing circumstances, and not just the result of a creator with too much power manhandling the book into the kind of series he'd rather be drawing.
Tomorrow, Iceman battles Hiro in X-Factor #64. Next week, the X-Men Animation Special: Pryde of the X-Men.