By its very nature, the New Mutants title has always been about finding one’s self in a larger, ever evolving world. Since its earliest days, the focus has always been on young adults and teenagers thrust into a world that doesn’t care if they are ready for its challenges — just set against a backdrop of sci-fi craziness, a brewing race war and the occasional Nordic deity granting them the powers of a demigod. It is that focus that has led characters like Dani Moonstar or Wolfsbane to resonate so much with people who feel a bit lost in modern society. As such, it’s super refreshing to see that trend continued in Vita Ayala’s spin on the book.
Taking a slight detour from the space opera of Hickman’s run, Ayala draws the story back to its roots by having Moonstar and a team of OG New Mutants (and Warpath, who only really joined toward the end of the original run, but is a welcome addition all the same) take on a mentorship role with some of Krakoa’s youngest X-people. That’s not to say the old team is stuck playing school marm, as we get a lot of great character beats from Xian and Rahne as well — but I think Hickman fans will find themselves more drawn to the stories of the younger students, as it is more closely tied to the central Krakoan narrative.
Most of the interesting plot developments surround Amahl Fahrouk, the erstwhile Shadow King, who has taken a shine to several young mutants – and more specifically, their attempts to transfer their own consciousness into different vessels. Though the other shoe never drops in this book, there’s definitely some ground laid for some body-swapping shenanigans down the line. The tension surrounding his interactions with the children — and even with Rahne — are well-laid footing for what would likely be the next arc, and I’m here for it, but there are plenty of other things to enjoy about this series.
Critically, however, there’s a lot more to love in the story of the students seeking out this pseudo transubstantiation. Each has a power that has left them physically distorted from the typical human aesthetic, and each is struggling with what they were raised to view as a curse suddenly being relabeled a gift by the authority figures in their lives. It’s a concept probably not too far off from the experiences of many youth labeled as “other,” as well-meaning people attempting to present themselves as allies often end up alienating them even further. As an allegory, it really works because the individuals committing said social faux pas are characters that we have known for decades and presented in a realistic if relatively oblivious manner. Rather than being demonized, or presenting themselves as the sole meaningful opinion, we see both sides of the coin and I appreciate the effort.
Another thing that rings true for longtime New Mutants readers is the stylized art from Rod Reis. Of course, the series’ best known artist is the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz, whose distorted painterly figures and abstract representations of the supernatural were just as iconic as the words of Chris Claremont. You can certainly see a bit of Sienkiewicz’s influence in Reis’ artwork, as he eschews many of the conventions of popular artistry such as bold black outlines, or firmly defined figures, and embraces watercolor inks and abstract imagery. It’s certainly more palatable for a mass audience than Sienkiewicz’s work tended to be, but that history makes this series’ aesthetic all the more apropos.
Nowhere is this more true than in the depiction of Cosmar, a reality-warping mutant whose first dalliance with her abilities left her disfigured in an entirely unique, almost cartoon-like visage. She’s a character who both stands out in the crowd, but also never feels out of place on the island of Krakoa. This bizarre exterior could make it hard to depict the emotional journey of the character, but Reis does exceptional work with his cast’s arcs, and Cosmar’s anxiety is the best example of it. I would also be remiss not to mention the beautiful splash page spread late in issue #16 featuring Dani and Xian riding a horse through a black and white countryside. It’s a masterclass of minimalist art, and a clear visual highlight in what is already an attractive book.
If there are complaints to be had here, they are largely personal. As a longtime fan of the Young X-Men, I’m a little tired of seeing Anole seemingly being the go-to character for impressionable youth led astray. Victor has been through so much over the years that it feels like, as a character, he should be a bit wiser than portrayed here. Similarly, I feel like Warpath is largely wasted in the book. He does get a few good moments with Scout, and there are a few letters from Jimmy that allow some of his characterization to come through, but on the whole his presence in the book is quite tertiary. My affections for the characters aside, these are nitpicks and certainly don’t detract from one’s ability to enjoy the book.
Overall, Ayala and Reis’ New Mutants is a welcome and worthy addition to the House of X lexicon (X-icon?). It’s a story about growth and identity with a great cast and stunning artwork. It may seem a bit shallow at points, but I attribute that more to the series being ongoing rather than a lack of direction. This is definitely a book I will continue to follow.
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