New Mutants #1
Jonathan Hickman & Ed Brisson (Writers), Travis Lanham (Letterer), Tom Muller, (Designer), Rod Reis (Artist)
November 6, 2019
Even in the Dawn of X, New Mutants is special. Among all these new titles, game-changing missions, and unconventional team rosters, we have a reunion. This first issue brings old friends back together, redesigns classic costumes, and rejuvenates a thirty-year-old title so that it feels fresh and essential in this new era of X-Men comics. The New Mutants were back together recently for a single issue special, yet this first issue is immediately different than what’s come before. This issue feels like a celebration, as the group heads to space to bring their missing piece home, and among all the excitement, it gives readers plenty to celebrate as well.
Rod Reis is maybe the perfect artist to bring this team back. He does an astounding job singlehandedly illustrating this issue, and visually this is my favorite Dawn of X title yet. The stylized, painted quality of the art invokes Bill Sienkiewicz’s famous run on The New Mutants, but without feeling indebted to another artist’s style: every page is uniquely Reis’s. Page layouts are inventive and never feel repetitive, and Reis’s phenomenal colors bring every panel to life. Reis does an especially striking job in his renderings of the book’s various characters. While white-washing, or lightening the skin tones of characters of color has classically been an issue in comics, including the X-Men franchise very recently, Reis doesn’t lighten the skin tones of Sunspot, Mirage, Mondo, or Storm, and completed each page with an eye to how varying skin tones appear in different lighting. Reis also does a great job at giving characters individual faces and body shapes- the women he draws don’t each have the same face, they have different sized noses and unique eyebrows- and even in their redesigned matching costumes, every character is immediately recognizable.
The team dynamics are a delight to read. In a crowded cast of eight, no character is forgotten. Sunspot and Mirage are highlights as they reflect on the past and look to the future. Their dialogue doesn’t read as generic, each character in this issue’s voice is distinct and clearly articulated. Sunspot is a cocky leader and Mirage a principled strategist; in scenes between Karma and Wolfsbane, Cypher and Mondo, and with Chamber and Magik in the larger ensemble, each of the New Mutants’ voices and personalities shine through.
There is no question while reading this issue that this is a team of heroes who care for each other deeply. This book works because it’s grounded in the friendship the New Mutants share. There is no mission statement or purpose to this story without their friendship: everything the New Mutants do in this issue, they do to bring their friend back home to them. The issue’s buoyant and lighthearted elements are so effective because the warmth they are saturated with feels genuine, and it was those little moments that sold me on this issue. The familiarity with which Magik’s teammates meet her coffee hoarding, the care and concern Karma shows a recently resurrected Wolfsbane, Mirage and Sunspot recognizing Cannonball’s absence together; moments like these made the characters feel familiar to me, but more importantly, they felt familiar to each other.
Like any good time with friends, this issue is full of reasons to laugh. Much of the humor comes from the characters, with the longstanding friendship among the cast allowing for banter and jokes to feel organic. Tom Muller’s data pages are unexpectedly funny, citing one of the Starjammers’ many criminal charges as “spitting,” and his fantastic final page stinger made me laugh out loud. So far, text and design elements have dominated data pages, but with this issue, Muller introduces images to great effect. The data pages give context and move the plot forward, so even as they made me laugh, each of this issue’s data pages felt essential to the story.
Amid the humor, there is room for some true sentiment. The issue opens with a resurrection and a conversation, as Storm welcomes Wolfsbane back to life on Krakoa, and as Karma talks to her recently resurrected friend. Of the original team, there is no New Mutant who hasn’t yet died. In The New Mutants (1983) #37, the Beyonder kills the entire team, save an absent Sunspot, before bringing them back to life, changed by the experience. Famously, Cypher dies in The New Mutants #60 to save Wolfsbane’s life and in Uncanny X-Men #303 a de-aged Magik dies of the Legacy Virus. Cannonball, who may or may not be an External, has come back to life following multiple deaths, and Warlock has died twice. And as recently as Uncanny X-Men (2018), Chamber, Sunspot, Warlock, Wolfsbane, and potentially Magik all died, along with a host of other characters. While no X-Man is a stranger to death, the New Mutants, more than most superhero teams, became uniquely familiar with death and resurrection while still in high school.
And so, taking a moment to reflect on resurrection and the experience of returning to life in a brand new world feels particularly poignant in this book, with this cast of characters. Opening the book with this reflection sets the stage: this is the new world the New Mutants have been reborn into, and it’s a world where they will no longer have to mourn friends. No one is further away than a Krakoan gateway now. So, now that everyone else has come back to life and come home already, there’s an immediacy to bringing Cannonball home, too. This early seriousness makes way soon for levity though, and as a whole, the issue has a fun, warm tone. But beneath all the celebration, there is a real emotional core to this book, as the New Mutants reunite in the face of death after death after death.
For someone, like myself, whose favorite X-Men of all time are on the classic New Mutants roster, it’s near impossible for this issue’s energy to not be infectious. But even for X-Men fans who are getting their first introduction to the New Mutants now, this is a fun, energetic, and gorgeous first issue. The book won’t continue in this direction forever, there is an entire other story to be told on Krakoa about Armor and her even newer mutants, starting with New Mutants #3. But for as long as the New Mutants’ continue their interstellar hitchhike to Chandilar, I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.