REVIEW: New Mutants #19: Paper Tigers

Dani Moonstar, Warlock, Wolverine (Laura), and Rahne at the Hellfire Gala. Art by Alex Lins and Matt Milla, New Mutants #19, Marvel Comics, 2021.

The New Mutants are at the Hellfire Gala, a little different than we’ve seen them before — new artists Alex Lins and Matt Milla have some big shoes to fill, and issue #19 really underscores just how much emotional heft Rod Reis’ work has brought to the series.

New Mutants #19

Vita Ayala (writer), Alex Lins (artist), Matt Milla (colorist), VC’s Travis Lanham (Letterer), Tom Muller (design), Martin Simmonds (cover artist)
Marvel Comics
June 15, 2021

The cover of New Mutants #19, art by Martin Simmonds. The New Mutants team emerges from a Krakoan Gate, greeted by Emma Frost, who the viewer sees from the back holding a champagne flute. The team is in bright finery, Karma in an especially bright pink.

Reis’ art, especially the color work, has been New Mutants‘ greatest strength, the stylistic braid pulling together all of Vita Ayala’s themes and parallels. Lins does fine work on the fashion, and Milla makes the Hellfire Gala pop in bright purples. But despite drawing from the same neon palette as Reis, the pages here tell a less detailed story. It’s the same Barbie pink that’s bled through the previous issues, but it doesn’t help create the emotional or cathartic moments in this arc.

Or maybe that at least one cathartic moment in this issue feels contrived, dragging down the story. Compare the Hellfire conflicts in New Mutants and Planet Sized X-Men — they’re diametrically opposed, and one feels stuck in the human past while the other looks forward to the future. The Omega-level mutants are terraforming Mars, but after a spectacular outfit reveal Karma is forced to contend with… an ableist, sexist, AND appropriating human creep. “Barry thee Artist” shows up just to make an ass of himself and rile up our heroes, but it feels like a victory over a strawman, like picking a fight just to make yourself look better by comparison. She makes him pour champagne on his own head, and while that was totally valid, the scene felt unnecessary. Karma rules, and we know that! Surely the time could have been spent developing relationships I’m more invested in… instead Dani and Xi’an merely continue their chaste flirtations. (Karma’s allowed to talk about her crush in her Marvel Voices: Pride story, also confusingly set during the Hellfire Gala, but her crush is inexplicably a brand new mutant who isn’t Dani Moonstar. I think New Mutants would have been a better fit for setting up a new romance, if it is that, but instead it’s back to romantic friendship over here).

Dani, at least, gets deep with Rahne, who I guess has been stewing for ??? amount of time over Dani having to try and rescue a student she thought was stuck in Otherworld. It’s times like this that I would like to know how old Rahne is supposed to be on the sliding timeline — this behavior feels really immature for the mid-twenties-early thirties I’ve been assuming everyone is. (Except Warlock, who is a sweet baby in this issue and always, but I also want to know what plotline about him got axed and it’s going to nag me whenever he shows up, sorry readers).

Rahne herself feels really inconsistent; she’s willing to wipe the slate clean for Shadow King, who once, y’know, literally possessed Karma, but is sulky despite a perfectly reasonable explanation from Dani (she left a NOTE, she didn’t even ghost!). Dani vows to make it up to her but I’m not convinced she really needs to? I know Rahne’s going through a lot, but the level of anger toward Dani specifically feels misplaced. I don’t have enough insight as to what she’s looking for from Dani or the Shadow King at this moment.

Rahne’s refusal to wear a Jumbo Carnation design feels like another expression of anger, though I appreciate that Rahne chose to go as a wolf-girl at least, especially as she dismisses the gala by saying, “All this pomp’s a show for the humans.” She’s consciously rejecting the trappings of the human world in one way, but also rejecting something wholly mutant in Jumbo’s designs as well — though she seems to at least respect him when disrobing Warpath.

I’m glad that Ayala chose to keep pushing the Shadow King’s story forward even in a crossover. It felt both frustrating and like a relief, or at least an exhale — he’s finally done something horrible! (Probably). Up until now, the suspicions harbored by Gabby have been rooted in his past (and totally understandable). The reader, however, is put in an interesting position — while many of also have the context of his past, we also have a  broader view of the project of Krakoa, where all mutants are welcome. If he’s not in the pit, and he’s been resurrected, then am I jumping the gun by buying into Gabby’s suspicions that are being more reinforced by the art then by his actions (up until #19)?

So it has felt really, really discordant to have Farouk’s fat and thus non-normative appearance, his terrible grin, and Reis’ exaggerations thereof be the biggest signifiers of his villainousness in the text. The contrast between his horrible past and the promise of new future on Krakoa created a sort of delicious ominousness about it, and the themes surrounding his students and woven into Ayala’s issues created a way for Shadow King to be read as perhaps changing, even putting the possibility into Rahne’s mouth. It raised some questions for me, personally — was I judging him too harshly or should I trust my gut, like Gabby? Would I be proven too hasty if he never actually does anything? Was the lesson that looks don’t make the man? Sure, the body swapping, playing with dead things, and evasion has been suspicious and strange. But as was oft-repeated, no laws were officially broken and more importantly, no actual harm had been done to any participant.

Issue #19, however, does not subvert expectations, instead ending with a gruesome look at Gabby’s corpse, the suggestion that it was at Shadow King’s hands extremely heavy. She left behind a note for Laura that shows she at least had no intention of dying instead of dancing at a fancy party that night. The Quiet Council’s decision on Madelyne Pryor and the resurrection of clones is going to be put to the test immediately, and I’m fascinated by the implications here. I’m hoping Wolverine (Laura) and Daken will have manners well in claw next issue.

The end of the book also showcases some of the most clever panel work in a book full of interesting panel layouts. While Lins seemed constrained by modularity even in the lushest double page spread of the gala, the end of the book uses that to its advantage. As the implications of the two mysterious panels of Shadow King and Gabby, Laura receiving a letter, and Gabby’s absence at the ball all become clear in the last few pages, the former gridded panels began to shake apart, becoming less rectangular and uniform until the very end.

Overall, this issue felt uneven, both in art and in story — the Shadow King’s story finally coalesced, but Karma felt like she was just spinning her wheels, albeit in a beautiful gown. Lins and Milla did a respectable job picking up from Reis, but feel short at creating the emotional impact he’s managed in just a short span of issues. I hope they settle into their own spin on the book soon enough.

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.