New Mutants #4: Ugh, Nebraska

A woman stands in a field of draw grass, fire burning on her hands.

In New Mutants #4, the young X-Men assembled by Armor in the previous issue are in trouble in Pilger, Nebraska. In the second issue of this storyline in the Dawn of X title, the young New Mutants face down high stakes with lives on the line, in a straightforward conflict with the villains of this story arc.

New Mutants #4

Ed Brisson (Writer), Marco Failla (Artist), Travis Lanham (Letterer), Carlos Lopez (Colorist), Tom Muller (Designer).
December 18, 2019

Let’s start at the top, and talk about the cover. In previous reviews, I haven’t been shy about praising Rod Reis’s art, and one of the strengths of this series so far is the phenomenal, eye-catching covers from Reis. Easily one of my favorite, if not my single favorite, covers from Marvel Comics this week, for New Mutants #4 Rod Reis gives us Tabitha Smith in a field of dry grass. Boom Boom holds an active time bomb in each hand with her signature bombastic energy, standing over the Krakoan glyphs N-M she’s just scorched into the golden field. There’s so much implied energy in her stance and in the smoke and fire still rising from the edges of the marks she has made, that in one still piece of cover art, Rod Reis has captured the excitement that makes Boom Boom so infectious as a character, given readers a sense of setting to expect, and set the stage for Tabitha’s signature trail of destruction.

The art is one of the strengths of this issue on the interior as well. Marco Failla takes over on art from New Mutants #3’s artist, Flaviano, while colorist Carlos Lopez remains on the title. Failla and Flaviano have similar enough art styles that the shift between artists feels smooth, certainly eased by the continuity of Lopez’s colors. Failla does a strong job with character acting, and each character has their own unique presence on the page. Even scenes of stillness and captivity convey a sense of who the characters are; the way Boom Boom, Beak, Glob, and the rest take up space on panel is unique to each of them, strengthening the identities of the characters. Lopez’s bright colors in New Mutants are consistently fun and vivid, even as this issue is subject matter skews grimmer then the book has been so far. The party scene in particular is vividly colored, with bright contrast between Boom Boom’s warm tones and the blues, purples, and greens of a nighttime party on Krakoa. This high contrast is effective throughout the issue, drawing a specific contrast between the bright colors of Boom Boom in her scenes of freedom and the duller, earthier tones in scenes of the other mutants’ underground captivity. The one drawback of this vivid coloring is the leader of this issue’s villains, Tumulo, who inexplicably has bright magenta skin, that is as eye-catching as it is jarring on the page.

Strong character acting and grounded colors from Marco Failla and Carlos Lopez in New Mutants #4 (Marvel Comics, December 2019).

After a potentially strong introduction at the end of last issue, in New Mutants #4, Tumulo and his accomplices over-explain their backstory and motives, spending pages throwing information at readers and minimizing the potential complexity they could have had. The reveal that Tumulo and his gang sought out Krakoan medicine not for the good of their poisoned people, but simply to turn a profit from a humanitarian crisis, eroded most everything engaging about these villains. It is convenient plotting that Tumulo is unwilling to go through conventional channels to seek Krakoan aid, but this leads to less engaging villains, and a very clear-cut story that doesn’t ask questions of Krakoa’s pharmaceutical monopoly. What could have been a complex moral quandary of Krakoa’s role in combating human on human violence on a massive public health scale becomes simply a good guys vs. bad guys hostage situation.

Any other thoughts on the plot and writing of this issue aside, the backstory of our villains must be interrogated. Marvel classically loves to invent fictional countries to create geopolitical storytelling problems they don’t feel comfortable attributing to a real country with real people. Sometimes, this works. Over it’s publishing history, Latveria has become an entity unto itself, intrinsically tied into the legacy of Victor von Doom. Often times, the strategy fails, like Mark Waid’s invention of a war in the fictional nation of Siancong. In New Mutants #4, the use of Costa Perdita doesn’t quite work. Costa Perdita is a country invented for Greg Pak and Charlie Adlard’s Warlock (2004) to showcase what a cabal of white scientists saw as the inherent sin of humanity, in the fighting between a military government and a civilian resistance militia in the fallout of a coup. Costa Perdita was a Central American nation invented to be depicted as violent, and revisiting Costa Perdita in the form of militants hoping to capitalize financially on geopolitical unrest at home reinforces the politically loaded origins of the fictional country, without making any attempt to depict Costa Perdita, a stand-in for the rest of Central America, as anything but violent. 

New Mutants #4, art by Marco Failla and Carlos Lopez (Marvel Comics, December 2019).

The roster of this team grew on me in their second issue, particularly in the ways their tactics clashed. Armor does her best as a teenager forced to negotiate for the lives of children, bearing a burden of leadership as best she can. Maxime and Manon were the biggest surprise of the issue for me, adopting tactics very unlike the X-Men, and much more in line with those of Ahab, the mutant-hunting time traveller who had conscripted them as hounds in their introduction in Brisson and Pepe Larraz’s Extermination (2018). This ragtag team doesn’t necessarily work together well, but through a combination of tactics and talents, the captive mutants are able to shift the balance of power in their favor, just in time for their Hail Mary to arrive from Krakoa, at the most convenient of moments. In contrast to the longtime friendship of the other team of New Mutants in this title, the dynamic between characters learning to work together, and not always doing it well, is entirely different, but just as enjoyable.

The scenes with Boom Boom in particular are all fun, and her chaotic energy is a welcome addition to the title, but her inclusion on this team is a little puzzling. Between this issue and the prior, her isolation from her old teammates on the New Mutants translate clearly;  it’s easy to understand how she could feel left behind when her old friends went to space without her. Even so, lumping Boom Boom into the team of younger New Mutants is a strange choice when she has connections outside of the original New Mutants her own age. One of the strongest elements of Tabitha’s most recent appearance, X-Force (2018), which was also written by Brisson, was the friendship between Tabitha and James Proudstar that Brisson took care to develop. Considering all this, her reaction to the departure of the original New Mutants is extreme, and feels inconsistent with Brisson’s past characterization of her. 

Boom Boom and Warpath bond in X-Force #7 (2018), from writer Ed Brisson, artists Dylan Burnett and Damian Couciero, colorist Jesus Aburtov, and letterer Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics, May 2019).

New Mutants #3 and #4 have been a mixed bag, with strong elements I’ve enjoyed a great deal, but also with notable flaws. The editorial decision to move back and forth between Hickman and Reis’s story of the original New Mutants in Shi’ar space and Brisson, Flaviano, Failla, and Lopez’s story of younger New Mutants leaving Krakoa for Nebraska is confusing, as both of these stories would have stood better on their own, rather than each building momentum just to alternate. But as it is, I’m finding different reasons to enjoy each of this book’s two alternating plots, but can’t deny that I’m most eager to see what the future of this title holds in store for the original New Mutants, as they reenter the spotlight in January’s New Mutants #5.

Emma Snape

Emma Snape

Emma is an Ohio native who has worked in film production and education, and writes about comics on the side. She loves thinking about the role of visuals in narrative storytelling, both in film and comics, reading comics set in cities she's lived in, and telling people to read X-Force (1991).