It’s been a long time since Zeb Wells took on Marvel’s mutants. Despite a fantastic run on New Mutants during the Utopia era, Wells vanished from the mutant side of the Marvel Universe not long after. Which was a shame: his New Mutants run was a fantastic one, drawing from abandoned parts of X-Men continuity to tell a story that both had meaningful story stakes and solid character work, in a worthy successor to the New Mutants of old. But that run ended too soon, and Wells didn’t return to the characters, or the X-Men in general.
His Hellions shares many traits with that New Mutants run. It’s a comic with a deep love of continuity, but still rooted in character and interpersonal conflict. The first issue was among the best of the whole Dawn of X line. It established what the team was, who the characters were, why they were there, what they were supposed to do, and then teased a genuinely intriguing character return, all in the standard twenty-odd pages. If anything, it was reminiscent of the John Ostrander Suicide Squad from the 1980s. With the odd exception, a team of Z-listers and losers sent on missions where they’re likely to blow things up.
Now, to be fair, in a world of Google and Wikis, there are very few real unknown characters. But even so, Wells spent much of the first issue establishing the characters, and the unique traits and habits of their powers that made Greycrow, Empath, Nanny, Orphan-Maker, and Wild Child so broken.
Unfortunately, the second issue doesn’t live up to those expectations. Maybe it’s a product of the delays due to the Coronavirus, and had the comic come out several months ago, I’d be singing its praises. As it stands, however, the book immediately wastes all the momentum built up by the last issue. It’s a long-extended fight scene, where the Hellions meet, and fight, Madelyne Pryor and the Marauders. (The original Marauders, the ones who killed the Morlocks; not the fun pirates.) But the issue is that we were all expecting just that. It’s a paint-by-numbers fight scene, without any of the fascinating character work that made the first issue so good.
It’s not all bad. There’s some really good humor with Nanny, and Greycrow is rapidly becoming the breakout star of the book. But Wells can do better.
And the greater shame is that I want to like this book. It’s a great premise, a great line-up, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t love seeing Madelyne Pryor come back. And I genuinely think that the comic will get better, too. We are, after all, only on the second issue. Wells’ work has historically been good, and I’m sure that he will return to that standard in the future. This just isn’t it.
I’m afraid that I don’t have any high praise for the art, either. It’s not bad, by any means. It’s workmanlike, and in an era where Pepe Larazz, Russel Dauterman, Marcus To, and R. B. Silva have been drawing the mutants, workmanlike doesn’t really cut it anymore.
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