One of the most surprising things about going back and reading classic X-Men stories is the discovery that these huge, epic and totemic stories happen so quickly, and with little to no fanfare. Moments that might have taken on massive significance on the culture, had lasting ramifications in the story, and are talked about with incredible awe, often occur over just a handful of issues. The Proteus Saga – three issues. Lifedeath and Lifedeath II were an issue each. Days of Future Past, one of the most noted X-Men stories of all time, ran from issue #141 to issue #142.
SPOILERS AHEAD for New Mutants #26!
The transformation of Illyana Rasputin from a small child into the teenaged powerhouse of the original New Mutants occurred over the course of Uncanny X-Men #160, and though the four-issue miniseries Magik: Storm & Illyana came along a year later to explore some of the seven or so years Illyana spent in Limbo, Claremont and Company essentially left that as it was.
Which is one of the multitudes of reasons that Vita Ayala and Rod Reis’s current New Mutants story is so instantly compelling and rich. They tap rather seamlessly into the classic oddities of Limbo as it was seen in those five issues from forty years ago and play with elements of Illyana’s character arc in the original New Mutants. And they do all of this without handling that revered legacy with kid gloves.
In Illyana’s original trip to Limbo, the X-Men who followed her became unbound from the tethers of logical time; they might be dead after eons of being trapped, or they might be corrupted. The place is a feedback loop, distorting and echoing, so many possibilities might be experienced back-to-back. People are likely to meet themselves.
In New Mutants #26, Illyana does just that; she and her friends encounter a version of Illyana whose journey was nearly identical to our Illyana, though she’s been stranded for some unknowable time. In her version of time, Warlock has come to her aid and been stranded with her.
This sort of adventure — hopping through one warped experience after another, like a Hellish Bill and Ted — touches on a type of X-Men story long abandoned. After decades of rather self-serious stories concerning viruses, Decimations, and “they may take my life, but they’ll never take my mutantdom”-style theatrics, Ayala and Reis’s New Mutants harkens back to the days of strange fantasy X-Men stories that might not have been treated as classics but perhaps should have been.
Even against the high fantasy going on over in Knights of X, or the high-tech sci-fi in X-Men, New Mutants feels unique, fully embracing its own joyous aesthetic and furthering a delightful sub-genre of X-Stories. It’s a monthly highlight.
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