REVIEW: New Mutants #20 is Lost in Shadow

Large hands grasp towards a young person trapped between them

This New Mutants arc has been a bit of a slow-burn for me, and Vita Ayala and Rod Reis, and now (to a less-menacing extent) Alex Lins and Matt Milla have been able to sustain a fair amount of looming tension. But, we’re seven issues into this Shadow King storyline and I am still grasping at clues for what the Shadow King might be plotting.

New Mutants #20

Vita Ayala (writer), Alex Lins (artist), Matt Milla (color artist), VC’s Travis Lanham (letterer), Tom Muller (design), Martin Simmonds (cover)
July 21, 2021

The cover of New Mutants #20, art by Martin Simmonds. The Shadow King looms over Gabby/Scout, who has her claws popped out. The background is white, making the reds in the Shadow King pop. His giant hands hover over her as she stands in a battle stance.

The serialized nature of monthly books can be a boon or a challenge to overcome, and New Mutants is suffering from dragging out some mysteries while not giving a satisfying conclusion to others. This is somewhat out of the creative teams’ hands — the interconnected X-books require interruptions and events. But I’m never sure how much I’m meant to extrapolate about the worldbuilding here and how much is simply not being filled in (not a unique problem among the line).

Anyway, issue #19 ended on a gruesome cliffhanger — the discovery of Gabby/Scout’s lifeless body. Obviously, the intrepid foursome of Anole, No-Girl, Cosmar, and Rain Boy proceed to panic and argue about what to do. Anole, inexplicably, posits that perhaps she hasn’t been murdered, though I’m not sure what about the past few months (?) would suggest otherwise — it’s not like Xavier was assassinated immediately or anything.  Rain Boy interestingly suggests telling the X-Men rather than the Quiet Council.

No-Girl makes a jump into Gabby’s corpse and I gotta say, the panel where she reanimates was viscerally horrible! Impressively effective work from Lins and Milla and Ayala — their plan is much more upsetting in practice than in concept.

But when No-Girl says, “How many times have our questions and fears been brushed aside with barely any consideration?” The answer is given on the same page: Gabby’s concern about the resurrection of clones was brushed off, and Dani Moonstar turned down Cosmar’s request to join her in the Crucible.

Obviously, the nature of serialization often means filling in events that happen off-panel. And obviously, the Shadow King is influencing them, preying on their insecurities — Karma helpfully says this explicitly to Rahne. But I’m not sure how much injustice to these teens I’m supposed to infer from these monologues. For example, has Cosmar just not tried to ask someone else to join her in the Crucible? Or has the Shadow King simply made it so she, and the other teens, are fixated on this one long term plan as the only solution for their problems? It feels less “intentionally ambiguous mystery” and more like “unclear internal logic.” Surely Quentin Quire, No-Girl’s old archnemesis and contemporary, would be willing to take her down in the ring.

Relatedly, though Anole showed some bravado in #18, he worries, “If we get caught we could really get in trouble.” Again, do I assume there’s a fully functioning hierarchy of adults who are viewed as authority figures by the youth, or is his fear of discovery brought on by the Shadow King manipulating it? Both? I could be expecting too much, and I do appreciate seeing some of the other kids helping with a rescue mission, but I just don’t know how much to extrapolate and whether that’s meant to be a feature. (AM I BEING AN UNGENEROUS READER??) [Ed. Note: No.]

On to Martha Johansson, a character I’ve had a soft spot for since she was in Xorn’s class during Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run. She says, “they even gave me a name that pokes fun at what I went through.” But no “adult” or X-Men named her — it was an in-joke with her classmates on Xorn, one she was presumably in on. She officially adopted the nickname in an issue set in the apocalyptic future, so it’s clearly one that at least one timeline’s Martha Johansson adopted it on her own.

Is this a nitpick? Probably, but I think I personally have been struggling with this book because I want Anole and No-Girl to be on to their next stage of character development, considering their experience — there are plenty of background teens like Rain Boy that wouldn’t have their baggage. But it also creates even more confusion as to what is truly Martha versus resentment stoked and elevated by Farouk. But the self-righteousness of these students has never been portrayed as unwarranted (and I agree that the kids, specifically these four and more broadly are not being well handled). They have legit bones to pick!

However, it was really nice, however, to get a page of flashbacks of Gabby’s friendship with each member of the Shadow King quartet — so far it’s been very her vs. them, making her seem more like an outsider than a core member of their group. It, in fact, shifts a lot of the dynamics of earlier books, but not in a bad way.

It’s also fucking relief to finally see someone who is an adult question Rahne’s relationship with the Shadow King so directly, with the weight of history. I’m surprised Karma is so delicate with how she describes his violation of her, though Rahne reacts uncharitably. She, at least, is very clearly implied to be suffering from Farouk’s influence, but that is pretty clear even without Karma spelling it out.

Lins and Milla use gradients and colors in lieu of backgrounds to really make the speaker pop — but I don’t think it’s as effective or as visually interesting as the painted textures Reis brought to every page. The bright colors add a disorienting psychedelic tinge to everything, underlying the way emotions run high but everything is slightly off-kilter, especially when combined with the alien backgrounds Lins creates for the Krakoa, lush with foliage and mystery. The use of color to emphasize specific emotions, however, is less consistent, orange bathing a happy memory and also highlighting surprised anger.

New Mutants #20 ends with the kids being discovered in the corpse garden, Rahne going wolf in anger. I guess Rahne is going to drag them by their ears to Magik or Thunderbird for a stern lecture, and hopefully reconsiders her whole friendship with Shadow King, but mostly I hope they finally trade some information on what the long game is!

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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