With New Mutants #6, the Dawn of X returns to Nebraska, where the young X-Men are in dire straits. The arrival of Boom Boom provides necessary relief, but even that isn’t enough to get Armor’s team home free. New Mutants comes back to Earth with this new issue from Brisson, Flaviano, Lopez, Lanham, and Muller, before returning to Shi’ar space for one final issue in February, bringing Armor, Boom Boom, Glob, Maxime, Manon, Beak, and Angel Salvadore’s story close to the end.
New Mutants #6
Ed Brisson (Writer), Flaviano (Artist), Travis Lanham (Letterer), Carlos Lopez (Colorist), Tom Muller (Designer).
January 29, 2020
On the whole, this is the issue of the earthbound New Mutants arc I have enjoyed the most, but it’s ultimately an unsatisfying distraction from the space faring story simultaneous ongoing in this book. This is an editorial quibble: I personally don’t get any additional value out of the two stories taking turns, rather than being two arcs that follow one after the next. This is a gambit that could have paid off if these stories felt connected in any way but the tangential, but as it reads, it’s jarring. There is no through-line from #5 to #6, simply a shared title, and the continuity of letterer Travis Lanham. If these two stories had fed off of each other, or if the earthbound arc had spent more time on how the departure of most of the original New Mutants to space impacted the, ah, newer New Mutants left behind, the back and forth would have felt earned. Perhaps the end of New Mutants #7 will have such widespread ramifications that this story will tie in to the other, or that it will become clear that this arc helped space out this book so that New Mutants #7 is timed appropriately to impact the Dawn of X line in a way that will be felt throughout the line. But as it is, every new issue still feels like an abrupt heel turn, and the two stories are distinct and largely unrelated.
There are satisfying individual character moments this issue. Tabitha is one of the issue’s highlights, showing off a sometimes overlooked competency and combat history while still cracking jokes. Tabitha comes into her own in a way I’ve felt she hasn’t fully so far in this book, and her dynamic with Armor is a lot of fun. The way the two characters interact says a lot about them, highlighting Armor’s leadership despite her youth and Boom Boom’s attitude. Brisson’s characterization is a strength of this book, and the conversations between Armor and Boom Boom bring a great deal of fun to this arc.
Unfortunately, the central stand-off this issue between Angel Salvadore and Tumulo is confusing. Angel makes a lot of assertions she has no way of backing up, and she is summarily ignored by Tumulo. The scene is difficult to follow from a narrative perspective: a character with no advantage approaches a man holding a gun to her father-in-law’s head, and tells him that he will let her husband and his parents go unharmed, with no way of enforcing this. Angel could make as many threats as she liked in that scene, but Tumulo was always the one holding the gun, and her strategy doesn’t feel consistent with the situation she navigates. On the page, it feels a lot like Brisson wanted to articulate Angel’s viewpoint regarding Krakoa, which does effectively set up the end of the issue, but the confrontation is confusing to read because while Angel’s viewpoint makes sense, her actions don’t.
And, as in the past issue, Tumulo and the Bohem Cartel fall flat as villains. Especially in contrast with some of the more creative adversaries rearing their heads in other Dawn of X books, the Bohem Cartel isn’t very original. Excalibur introduced a human coven trying to reclaim the name of Akkaba from -A- and X-Men brought the Hordeculture, elderly women intent on reclaiming the earth for nature, both of which draw on cliches but recreate them to be fresh within the context of an X-Men story. Conversely, they’re just replicating the stereotype of a Central American drug cartel posing a threat to innocent Americans. Aside from their interest in Krakoan pharmaceuticals and mutation-neutralizing weaponry, there is little that ties the cartel to X-Men lore, and nothing is done to disrupt the violent stereotype. It just repackages a racist cliche in a new setting, with new names and guns.
The lettering is eye catching and exciting. Lanham does a great job with dialogue, and the articulation of sound effects is one of my favorite elements of this issue. There is a series of gunshots, each lettered differently: with each new panel, Lanham changes his style, giving each individual bang a distinct feel. Big, bubbly letters spill across panels when Armor and Boom Boom land hits on the cartel, giving their fights a triumphant buoyancy. When Tumulo fires a series of killing shots, each blast disrupts the panel further as Tumulo’s actions escalate.
New Mutants #6 finds its strength in interactions between its characters, yet its greatest weaknesses are a cast that doesn’t feel unified and a lackluster villain. I found this to be the strongest issue of this arc so far, yet it’s still troubled by the flaws which have persisted since the first comic. It’s hard to evaluate this arc out of the shadow of Hickman and Reis’s concurrent story in New Mutants, which feels essential and new in a way that this story doesn’t match, but as the two arcs are part of the same title, they necessitate comparison. The tonal shifts between stories are jarring but survivable, as is the artistic shift from Reis to Flaviano and Lopez, but this could all be forgivable if only the two stories felt that they built each other up in some way. Reading New Mutants feels like one story is back up for the other, rather than one cohesive whole.