In the fifth issue of Jonathan Hickman and Rod Reis’s New Mutants, the team’s space mission encounters real space danger, as the New Mutants go head-to-head with the Shi’ar Death Commandos. Dawn of X’s space saga hurtles ahead and the New Mutants entangle themselves in more interstellar political turmoil than anyone expected from a simple visit to Cannonball’s home on Chandilar.
New Mutants #5
Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Travis Lanham (Letterer), Tom Muller (Designer), Rod Reis (Artist).
January 8, 2020
The classic team is back in New Mutants #5, and the stakes are higher than ever. Precariously caught in political circumstances they ostensibly know nothing of, the New Mutants have been conscripted by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard to assist Cannonball’s Superguardian wife, Smasher, in bringing Deathbird before acting Shi’ar Majestor, Gladiator. Gladiator seeks out Deathbird so that she might mentor heir apparent, Xandra Neramani, but not all political factions want to see a return to rule of the Neramani dynasty. The New Mutants have to defend their lives while escorting Deathbird to the Shi’ar throneworld, Chandilar.
Even under high stakes, the issue keeps the mood light with vividly colored starscapes and plenty of jokes. The tone is set immediately by a recap presented by Sunspot at the beginning of this issue. This recurring element of the monologue works for me because it’s so distinctive. Limiting the exposition to Roberto’s voice, and breaking up the recaps with references to his personal life, gives the arc a very strong point of view through its narrator’s voice. From the first panel to Roberto’s closing remarks, the comic’s tone remains steady, articulated through Roberto’s commentary, the visual expressiveness of the characters, and the interactions between the cast.
Roberto spins the story so far from his own perspective, sharing his personal thoughts on the events, observations on those around him, and offhand musing on his relationship with his best friend, Sam. He breaks the fourth wall to address the reader directly, commenting that his narration is always cut too short to do his storytelling justice, and reminding readers to return to see how the story ends in another issue of New Mutants. It hasn’t been such a long two issues in Nebraska that the recap is necessary to understand this issue, but it’s worth the page time for Sunspot’s distinctive perspective. Sunspot’s recap is fun; he’s cocky, self-assured, and impulsive, and he’s absolutely aware of it, bringing flair as a storyteller as he makes the most of his spotlight.
While the book is weighted in Sunspot’s direction, Hickman and Reis make time for the rest of the cast. The issue has strong moments showcasing how the other New Mutants work together, such as scenes of Mondo and Chamber discussing their new teammates or Mirage, Karma, and Wolfsbane toying with the Death Commandos. Magik, in particular, steps into focus this issue, clarifying what her role as Sextent Captain looks like. In a four-issue arc with a cast of this size and a plot of this scope, there just isn’t enough panel space to give every character the same amount of voice Sunspot has, and an attempt to do so would most likely dilute the distinct narratorial voice that’s been a strength of this arc. If a different New Mutant was responsible for the opening monologue of each issue, certainly there would be more room to understand how Mirage, Karma, or Cypher feel about the ongoing events, but the constant change in perspective wouldn’t ground the arc as immediately as the recurring Sunspot narration does. This particular story is motivated by Roberto missing Sam and going to Shi’ar space in response, so limiting the arc to Roberto’s perspective makes sense. After this arc, when the New Mutants have a new mission, I’m hoping to see more focus spread to the rest of the team, particularly the female members.
Both on the cover and on every interior page, Rod Reis is phenomenal. Consistently, his art elevates each issue of New Mutants by virtue of his attention to character. Reis’s facial expressions bring the issue so much life and give the cast dimension. His Magik and Sunspot are incredibly emotive, displaying wide ranges of sentiment throughout the issue. Characters bring humor to lighthearted moments and elevate the stakes of dramatic beats. The characters are all distinct, and Reis and Hickman imbue each of the New Mutants with an abundance of personality. Reis’s colors are equally strong, effective in the contrasts between cool blues and dangerous reds, and in the shifting colors of the dark of space.
Next issue will be a return to Nebraska, but in the following issue, Hickman and Reis will conclude this story arc, and leave this title. In New Mutants #7, the New Mutants, Smasher, and Deathbird will approach the Shi’ar throneworld and a complicated question of succession, for the final issue with this creative team. Five issues in, I can say with confidence that this is my favorite story arc of the Dawn of X thus far, and I have high expectations for the end of this arc. New Mutants #5 was as fun as this arc has ever been, and after three strong issues I enjoyed as much as I did New Mutants #1, 2, and 5, I have little doubt that no matter how this story ends, I’ll have fun reading it all the way through.