REVIEW: A Question of Identity in New Mutants #12

new mutants #12

I really, really want New Mutants to be great. It’s been…solid, for the first year, but against the rest of the current X-Men line, is solid really enough?

New Mutants #12

Ed Brisson (Writer), Mike Del Mundo (Cover Artist), Marco Failla (Artist), Travis Lanham (Letterer), Carlos Lopez (Colorist), Tom Muller (Designer)
Marvel Comics
September 2, 2020

It’s a question of identity, I think. The thing about the “new” mutants is that they’re not; they have existed as a property for longer at this point than the original X-Men had when Marvel Graphic Novel #4 first hit shelves, in September 1982. That makes them six months older than me, and I cannot pretend that I am “new” in any sense of the word—if I do, my knees will be happy to remind me otherwise.

Time, of course, passes differently in the world of comics, but even so, the New Mutants grew out of their own name in the early ’90s, becoming the initial adopters of the moniker ‘X-Force,’ then being succeeded in their roles as mutant youths by Generation X in 1994, the students from New X-Men in 2001, New X-Men: Academy X in 2004, Generation Hope in 2011, and whatever they decided to officially call those kids that Cyclops’ team was recruiting during the post-AvX era. In that time, this same original team of New Mutants has gone back to that team name twice before this one, which makes this particular volume number four.

We’ve seen some cameos from latter-era youthful mutants, but by and large the focus has been specifically on these original 1982 characters. It’s not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just that…surely we can put some work into a new identity for them? They are no longer students, no longer ‘new’; as Kate Pryde, who is of an age with the team, has grown into an adult, a full-fledged X-Man, a teacher, a headmaster, and finally the lead of her own team, so too have these characters grown. Sam Guthrie is married with a kid and lives in the Shi’ar Empire! Roberto da Costa has been a business tycoon in his own right! Illyana Rasputin has literally grown from child to adulthood twice, and is a ruling monarch of an entire alternate dimension.

It’s not that the story doesn’t support these new roles for the team. It’s just that…well, when you call a book New Mutants and you don’t deliver on what that title promises, there’s a confusion of expectations that occurs. Yes, we’re getting the New Mutants—that is, the characters known by that name—but are we getting new mutants? Do we even need new mutants, given how bloated with characters the franchise has become?

Yes. Of course we do. Viewpoint characters are and have always been the bread and butter of the X-Men, a device by which they have always come to incorporate new culture and new outlooks on societal change and inequities. The New Mutants, as a team, provide a similar function; when they work (and I will freely admit that they do not always do so) they are a polemic to the staidness of their parent property, an insistent reminder that mutants, like any culture, are not a monolith.

So where does that bring us in regards to this run, this issue? Well. Fittingly, the team has just come off of rescuing a new mutant youth, and a very powerful one at that. They’ve done this in the face of an organization called DOX (lol), which has been publicly uploading the names and addresses of mutants to the internet, thus opening those mutants up to attack. Magik, having grown tired of dealing with the recurring threat of this organization, decides in this issue to do something about it. To that end, she has one of the mutant community’s technopaths, Trinary, do a little digging of her own. When Trinary brings Magik information about DOX, Magik then recruits Glob Herman and her longtime teammate Dani Moonstar to pay DOX a visit.

It is, as you might imagine, a sublimely satisfying thing to read. Part of WWAC’s mandate is that we specifically platform voices that are marginalized, to give those voices a reach that they would not otherwise have had. We’re loud about that, and we’re passionate about it, and as such, we’ve had our fair share of run-ins with harassment. To see a narrative in which would-be harassers get their due is…well, it’s nothing short of delightful. The encounter later leads to an emotional heart-to-heart in which Glob reveals a bit of his backstory, and the way that this type of thing influenced his youth, both before and after his mutant powers activated. It’s touching, thoughtful work, and as hit-or-miss as Ed Brisson can be, this is definitely one where he hits. It’s why I mentioned the question of identity inherent behind the book’s title; it’s what the issue is about. Who are we? Do we define ourselves, or are we defined by the world’s response to us? There’s not really a clear answer, and I’m glad to see that’s true here too.

Art duties are handled by Marco Failla this issue; he seems to prove a reliable back-up for the book, popping up every four issues like clockwork. While I miss the lush art of Rod Reis from the first arc, I have to say that I like Failla’s style; he’s cartoony and expressive in a way that’s enjoyable, without undercutting some of the genuinely touching emotional moments of the issue. I particularly enjoyed the way he rendered Magik kicking open a door in one panel; the energy of it feels properly kinetic. Some of that’s on the color work too; Carlos Lopez does creative, fun things in this issue, such as rendering speed lines in that same panel with brighter hues of the same tones they’re overlapping, rather than the standard white or black. It provides a heft to scenes like those, but still blends beautifully with the line work and the other colors he’s laid down; it’s great work.

It’s not all shine and polish; there are some missable scenes involving Nova Roma, home of Magma prior to her joining the team. It seems like they’re part of setting up a larger plot, perhaps to do with the upcoming X Of Swords event? It’s hard to say, but the gist seems to be requiescat in pace, Nova Roma. We knew ye little and cared less.

Nola Pfau

Nola Pfau

Nola is a bad influence. She can be found on twitter at @nolapfau, where she's usually making bad (really, absolutely terrible) jokes and occasionally sharing adorable pictures of her dog.