Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Marvel Graphic Novel #4: New Mutants, New Danger

Meanwhile, on Earth, we come to the original New Mutants graphic novel, and the odd pages in the Brood run of Uncanny that lead up to it.

Xavier had come out of his coma in #161 (despite the alien consciousness, which we can assume from Uncanny is the Brood egg), but wasn't up for the trip to space, so was left on Earth, along with Moira, Alex, Lorna, Corsair and Illyana. He finds time to rebuild the mansion with the help of robots courtesy of Lilandra (we see its frame being put up in #163), and by #164 it's finished. He's given up on his dream, which although implicit all along now becomes a Big Deal, a thing you can talk about as "Xavier's dream". They only ever seem to talk about it when they give up in on it. Moira trolls him into accepting a new student, one Xi'an Coy Manh, who we have met before.

And so we come to the original New Mutants graphic novel, the 4th in the series. Xavier has lost a team of X-Men again, and he's rattling around the school, so he decides to assemble a new team. But only for training this time. Certainly not for missions.

Moira brings him Rahne Sinclair, a 14-year-old religious Scottish shapeshifter. In her introduction the link between powers and puberty now being made explicit for the first time. She's from the Highlands, too, and was not just delivered by Moira to Xavier, but was actually delivered by her. Again we have Claremont's romanticised view of these Isles - if you're from them then you probably own an entire island or at least a castle, and if not, then you are at least from a super-rural area. Nobody with powers comes from somewhere like London or Glasgow, at least until we get the Ellises and Cornells and Gillens writing. She's yet another orphan and is a "ward of the church", with a Reverend Craig bringing her up. Unfortunately, he's the chap who was leading the mob chasing her at the start. Happily, Moira is there at exactly the right time and place to rescue her from that. What she can't - or won't - rescue her from is her internalised hatred, instilled by Craig.

Xi'an (who gets called Shan) is one of the "Vietnamese boat people", who with her family fled from Vietnam after the communist takeover. Her backstory is written as if it were soon after the fall of Saigon, rather then several years later - although refugees continued for a while, she's directly tied in to the South Vietnamese military establishment which makes a sudden fleeing several years later seem a bit awkward. The floating timeline causes further problems - Xi'an simply can't have this background any more, unless you suppose that Marvel geopolitics aren't the same as our ones (which actually solves a lot of other problems!) She's intelligent, polite, well-spoken. I'd call her a stereotype but she's a bit more than that already. She has clearly given the ethics of her powers thought - more than Xavier. What happened with Tran troubles her, but even before then, she was using Spider-Man because she'd thought she'd not be doing damage to a good reputation.

While Rahne and Xi'an are training, Xavier gets a message from an old friend of his - Black Eagle - regarding his granddaughter, Danielle Moonstar (again, a 14-year-old orphan!), who has begun to manifest powers - mainly a general showing-people-their-fears power, but also an unrelated secondary mutation of being really close to nature and shit, possibly on account of her being a Cheyenne. He, along with Moira and the students, visits her, only to find assassins sent by Donald Pierce have killed her grandfather already, and trying to take out her. She agrees to join up to get revenge against Pierce. Xavier is able to extract information from Pierce's agents - in a shocking display of lack of compartmentalisation they've been briefed with the next two targets. These are Robert da Costa, from Brazil (a hot-headed Latino!), who is decidedly not an orphan, but has a girlfriend in the fridge; and Sam Guthrie, from a Kentucky mining family, who works for a Pierce-owned company, whose father has just died, and signs up on the wrong side, but comes around soon enough.

Oddly, Moira's team are able to get to Brazil, extract Bobby, and get back to Kentucky quickly enough to help Rahne rescue Xavier (who had been captured) and defeat Pierce. I suppose they must have overclocked the Blackbird? There's some woman called Tessa who works for Shaw also being held captive by Pierce, who has broken with the rest of the Hellfire Club, and who I think we might have seen before in the Dark Phoenix saga. Xavier eventually agrees to hand Pierce over to - mutual enemies and all - Xavier's narration makes it clear he isn't sure about he can trust her, but he sees no other way.

And so, we get another batch of X-Men (well, more or less), a cohort of teenagers, the first since 1963. Perhaps they should have done this right away and skipped the stage with Kitty alone. This time majority female, and majority non-white, which may be the first time either of these things have happened in a mainstream superhero title (or at least one that doesn't have it as its gimmick). And the characterisation and powers are a mite less informed by stereotypes than in Giant-Size #1.

This is a bit less substantive than I had imagined for something billed as a "graphic novel". It doesn't really stand alone, and instead acts more like a double-size #1 for the New Mutants ongoing which is about to launch. No surprise, since this is precisely what was intended originally - Claremont says that it was repurposed to be a graphic novel after it started production. The only standout difference is the colouring, which is using a different, more sophisticated but more expensive at this point, process, and therefore has shading.

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