REVIEW: New Mutants #14 – What Up, Warlock?

Rod Reis' cover to New Mutants #14 (Marvel, December 2020).

New Mutants as a title and a team managed to leave X of Swords unscathed — while Cypher is now married to Bei the Blood Moon, he’s taken his bride back to Krakoa with him and appears none the worse for wear. In New Mutants #14, we find that the team members who weren’t off in an interdimensional contest of swords have gotten themselves voluntold to take on teaching duties for the younger mutants on Krakoa, to keep them from running amok.

New Mutants #14

Vita Ayala (writer), Rod Reis (art), VC’s Travis Lanham (letterer)
Marvel Comics
December 16, 2020

A passle of New Mutants (Rahne, Gabby, Karma, Dani Moonstar, Warpath, Magik, and Warlock) stand in front of/on top of a tree. Warlock is holding a sign saying "Welcome to the Wild Hunt."

The issue opens with the childhood of Amahl Farouk, a powerful mutant better known as a host of the Shadow King. Longtime X-Men readers probably recognize him from dueling with Xavier in the Claremont days (and again, and again), and he last appeared pre-Dawn of X in Charles Soule’s Astonishing X-Men, where Xavier seemingly killed him. So it was a bit of a surprise to see him in Empyre: X-Men #2, as part of the telepath mega-team that arrived to help save Genosha from the plant alien invasion; I honestly thought he was Mojo in a fez (can you believe that was August 2020?).

Anyway, if none of that made sense to you, it’s fine, because this issue is a perfect jumping on point for new readers — while the whole title is fairly self-contained, #14 is Vita Ayala’s first on this title and is definitely the start of a new arc, hinted at in the Rod Reis cover art — “Welcome to the Wild Hunt.”

Though Moonstar, Wolfsbane, Warpath, Karma, and Magik probably weren’t expecting their letter to the Quiet Council to turn into Xavier happily accepting their offer to teach the wild kids of Krakoa, they’re now in charge of at least one gaggle of mutants, several of whom have appeared as New Mutant squad members before: Fauna (House of X, 2019), Anole (New Mutants, 2003), Nature Girl (Wolverine & the X-Men, 2014), Scout (All-New Wolverine, 2015), Rain Boy (X-Men, 2005), Petra (X-Men: Deadly Genesis, 2005, resurrected), Sprite (Avengers vs. X-Men, 2012), Dust (New X-Men, 2002), Cosmar (New Mutants, 2020), No-Girl (New X-Men, 2001).

I popped all their origin dates there so it’s easier to see exactly what a motley crew of kids have been assembled. It’s a little jarring to see an underused, long-time mutant like Dust on a team with literal kids, for example, even though Anole has been a teen for just as long. But I’m interested to see how this mash up of teens and kids work, and how they’ll handle their new young adult professors. The school aspect has been the heart of so many X-Men stories, and it’s absence in Krakoa has definitely felt odd.

In a surprisingly structured lesson, the New Mutants (old) teach the newish mutants (young) about synergy — how to combine their power sets for creative and more powerful attacks. It’s a brilliant illustration of the history of this group of mutants and how fluidly they’ve learned to work together and trust one another, and a great contrast to the chaos of the previous fight between the younger teams.

Warlock seems happily integrated with his fellow old friends and New Mutants, which is a little puzzling — we learned he was hiding as Cypher’s cybernetic arm for a while, though Warlock was glimpsed for a hot second in X-Men #7. He popped up again in Giant-Size X-Men: Nightcrawler, where Doug asks Magik to keep their secret, and Warlock was even more visible in Giant-Size X-Men: Storm…not to mention the whole plot hinged on a technovirus.

But now that Cypher’s got his own thing going on, it appears Warlock is living openly on Krakoa, annoying Magik in the morning and helping teach the kiddos in the afternoon, so I guess it wasn’t that big of a secret after all? I’m not sure if Warlock is just a dangling story thread that had to be abandoned or if his technarch nature is just a plot point waiting to be woven in.

New Mutants keeps its visual style by keeping Reis on board — he is truly the perfect successor to Bill Sienkiewicz (who is still out there doing his thing so I don’t mean any disrespect) in a way that feels additive rather than like a rip-off, and I delight in every issue Reis is allowed to draw some terrifying creature or big claws or a nightmare, and this issue provides. His colors smear across the page, which is perfect for Dani sifting through Karma’s nightmares, transformations, and the chaos of a mutant melee. The Ben-Day dots texture that pops up in his colors gives the issue a nice retro flavor (along with Warpath’s sexy camp counselor uniform). But every so often I feel like the characters are floating in space — the backgrounds give me a lot of emotion but not so much a sense of place.

The illustrations of Amahl Farouk as a child and his father at the beginning have a nice realistic quality to them that makes the contrast to Farouk as the Shadow King quite shocking. Farouk’s design has him generally look like an Arab Kingpin in a fez, but his visage at the end both succeeded in being sinister and gave me pause. Is there a way to utilize this character design without it feeling a little like a racist caricature? We shall see.

Of course, the mere existence of Amahl Farouk on Krakoa raises some questions about the resurrection queue — questions Gabby (now Scout? I guess?) is already asking her new teachers. Her fear is more existential; as a clone, she’s noticed that neither Madeline Pryor nor Evan (Sabahnur, aka an Apocalypse clone) have been resurrected. While Magik almost managed to explain it away as Pryor having broken too many of their laws, surely the Shadow King must be equally as criminal (and evil), right?

Well, not to a few of the students — Rain Boy, Chandra, Anole, and No-Girl traipse up a mountain to regale a seriously sinister looking Farouk/Shadow King. I buy the naiveté of Rain Boy and brand new baby Chandra, but Anole and No-Girl have been around the block a few times and while they had some hesitation, they seem ultimately happy to have arrived at Farouk’s hidden cave.

Ayala uses the metatextual pages of this issue to great aplomb, giving us insight into Dani Moonstar, a character whose feelings are kept close to the chest (when they’re not a psychic terror). It was lovely to see her gift Warpath (and the rest of her teaching team?) a journal with some soft prompts to fill out. Her desire to protect her students’ emotional and mental well-being, in ways that were never afforded to the New Mutants, feels a little bittersweet, because you know future trauma lurks just on the horizon for these kids.

Despite the promotional copy promising shenanigans involving the titular Wild Hunt, there’s not much hunting happening here yet, but I’m fascinated to see where all these threads will take me.

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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