REVIEW: New Mutants #13: Old Swords

Doug Ramsey sits in a chair, Krakoas partial face behind him, flowers around them both. Warlock is cut off but on the other side of the panel. Page 8, New Mutants #13, art by Rod Reis, writing by Ed Brisson.

The crossover event X of Swords has hit the New Mutants right where they live — their eponymous book with issue #13. And I take up the role of your regular New Mutants reviewer.

New Mutants #13

Ed Brisson (writer), Mike Del Mundo (cover), VC’s Travis Lanham (letters), Rod Reis (art)
Marvel Comics
October 14, 2020

Magik attacks Doug Ramsey, her Soul Sword leaving an image of their faces in its wake as it seemingly slices the cover. Mike del Mundo's cover to New Mutants #13 (Marvel, October 2020).

I’m bad at reading comics. Or, at least, I’m bad at keeping up on weekly or monthly series — I have a tendency to let comics pile up so I can burn through a full arc at once (yes I know about trade paperbacks, we can discuss this later). I only recently made it thru HoXPoX, about the same time I was invited into WWAC’s own Quiet Council, aka the group of folks who have doggedly reviewed X-books since the Hickman takeover.

So here I am now, with only the background of the previous twelve New Mutants issues under my belt and absolutely no other context as to what is happening with the rest of Krakoa’s inhabitants, jumping in like that ever-cited theoretical reader who wants to read comics but just can’t keep up with all these danged crossovers.

It wasn’t too overwhelming. For one, the concept of X of Swords is fairly simple to grasp, and the plot to this issue was extremely straight-forward. Doug Ramsey has been chosen as one of the champions of Krakoa for a deadly cross-dimensional sword fight, and as such needs to learn how to use a sword as quickly as possible.

His selected sword is Warlock, and his teacher is a dubious Illyana Rasputin, noted welder of her Soul Sword and another Krakoan contender. Doug is adamant he must participate in this tournament, despite the possibility of real actual death (resurrection has become unavailable, most likely in another title). In fact, the potential of death is exactly why he refuses to cede his spot — he couldn’t let another mutant die in his stead, despite being the only mutant Krakoa enjoys speaking with (sorry, Mondo).

Clearly, I’m missing the true impact of what it means to be “chosen” here — was it a blessing? A curse? A meaningful measure of a mutant’s soul? Who knows. But Doug clearly takes the responsibility very seriously for reasons that are not clearly conveyed here, at least to me, a person who has been reading only this series (don’t worry, I’m not trying to make this my “gimmick”).

His arguments for not abdicating his role as a sword-wielding champion just aren’t very compelling, as far as arguments go, especially after Krakoa themself tells Doug to say, worried about losing their voice among the mutants. He doesn’t want anyone to suffer in his place — but it’s clear that this is also driven by insecurity. Doug opens the book lamenting that he was already not “doing enough” as the other champions were out questing for their own swords.

Unfortunately, rather than exploring the deeper issues and feelings of inadequacy, Doug just repeats himself. There’s no on-going introspection. While Doug does improve his sword-fighting techniques, I don’t really learn much about Doug. Or his relationship with Ilyana, Warlock, or Mondo.

I didn’t learn much of anything in this issue except what X of Swords was about, and that took about one paragraph on an intro page.

Panels from page 25 of New Mutants #13, art by Rob Reis, writing by Ed Brisson, Marvel, Oct. 2020.

I love Rod Reis’ loose and vibrant action, and I was pleased to see him back on the book. But I didn’t feel like there was as much character development unfolding in the clashes between Doug and Magik, and I wish the action had been more visually kinetic. Reis’ stylization tips over into posing rather than motion in some panels. The colors, however, do a lot of storytelling here — the red and whites of their first sword fight show the heat of battle Magik is trying to stir in Doug. Krakoa looms large, lush vegetation in the gutters around panels show Doug being boxed in by his duties on the island.

While New Mutants #13 doesn’t feel outside of the current storyline, it does introduce a lot of plot points that a casual reader (i.e., one who isn’t reading the entire X-line) might have missed, so despite this being my jumping on point with reviewing, I wouldn’t recommend it as a jumping on point for the title. I also think skipping it would not diminish your understanding of the longer X of Swords plotline, as it neither provides much character insight nor does it do much of anything to move any plot ahead. It simply exists.

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.
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