Review: New Mutants Vol. 3: Fall of the New Mutants hardcover/paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

Previously, on Uncanny X-Month…

Jean Grey died!

An ugly dying supervillain pretended to be Jean to freak out the X-Men while Scott hooked up with a girl who looked just like Jean! Plus Storm grew a Mohawk!

Jean really came back because she wasn’t really dead, and Cyclops abandoned his wife and kid to hang out with his high school buddies!

Scott’s wife turned out to be Jean’s clone, who summoned demons to New York all under the watchful eye of Mister Sinister!

Then they replaced Robert Kelly’s brain . . . with a computer!

Oof. Sorry about that, I’ve been watching way too much of the old X-Men animated series. Anyway . . .

At the center of New Mutants Vol. 3: Fall of the New Mutants is a potential plotline overlooked by writers for twenty years. Madelyne Pryor’s sacrifice to open Limbo required twelve mutant infants. One of them, Maddy and Scott’s son Christopher, would grow up to be Cable. The New Mutants turned the others over to the military, presumably so that they could be reunited with their parents. Unfortunately for the babies, this was right around the time when the US government was increasing its fear of mutants; the Mutant Registration Act would become a major concern in the X-books soon after X-Men: Inferno. With the X-Infernus storyline bringing Magik to the forefront around the time Zeb Wells launched New Mutants in 2009, the twentieth anniversary of the crossover was a great time to bring this plotline to fruition.

What made the New Mutants revival succeed compared to other team revivals is that the team had a clear purpose. It’s not just a reunion of old friends; it’s actually an official team of X-Men who all just happen to be New Mutants alumni. Cannonball, Sunspot, Mirage, and Karma were all teachers at the Charles Xavier Academy, so treating them as junior members again would devalue their contributions. This trade picks up after the events of Necrosha, which saw the return to life of Cypher and overtly violent actions by Warlock; both events are on the minds of the team as they are ordered by Cyclops to go on vacation. (I wish I had more to say about the criminally-underused Magma, but she doesn’t have much to do in this volume.)

Countering the New Mutants are the children of Project Purgatory, the results of raising those mutant infants in the time-displaced Limbo. They’re now young adults despite four years passing in the “real” Marvel universe; there’s a bit of a meta-textual edge to how Limbo’s “days inside, years outside” time frame plays out. Many of the Purgatory kids feature creepy mutations, such as arms that turn into organic flamethrowers or skin that hardens into rock whenever it’s cut, likely due to a mix of genetic tampering and Limbo’s own darkness. It’s clear that the kids and their military handlers have had a rough time living in one of Marvel’s Hell-equivalents, with quite a few soldiers sporting replacement arms taken from demons.

The project’s leader, General Ulysses, has a plan to control Limbo using a talisman powered by Magik’s Soul-Sword. This unfortunately drags the innocent Pixie, one of Magik’s friends and the user of a similar Soul-Dagger, into the mix, as she’s the first to be kidnapped and literally robbed of her soul for the process. Once Project Purgatory finds their actual target, they capture her along with the rest of the New Mutants, leading to some gruesome torture scenes. I’ll give Zeb Wells a lot of credit for keeping the plot moving and not dwelling too much on “torture porn." He also uses this as an opportunity to demonstrate just how strong the New Mutants are, with Cannonball and Mirage fending off horrifying physical and emotional pain. Karma, often a game-breaker as a telepath, is knocked out for much of the book, but she’s able to fight through her coma and really prove her worth.

The first two-thirds of the book work as a stand-alone as long as you’ve read Inferno, but the ending is going to feel weird if you haven’t followed the X-books for a while. Charles Xavier’s son, Legion, came back to life in the first trade of this series, and Karma was key to locking him within his own mind. He’s brought back as a weapon in Magik’s gambit to reclaim Limbo from its ancient gods. This resolves one part of Magik’s plotline and extends it in new ways to document the rise of the X-Men’s newest sociopath. When you’ve been abducted to serve as queen of a Hell-equivalent, de-aged, killed by a virus and brought back to life, that’ll happen. While I wish the arc was a bit more self-contained, I can appreciate where it fits into the bigger X-picture, and it does tie up some loose ends.

Another factor which drew me to read Fall of the New Mutants was Leonard Kirk’s artwork. Many readers will remember Kirk as a long-time penciller on JSA and he brings his considerable strengths to New Mutants. He really sells the creepy designs of Limbo and the Project Purgatory kids with Lovecraftian influences along with traditional Hellish features. I should also mention that the demons of Limbo speak a language which can be translated easily, as demonstrated by Cracked, and what they’re actually saying isn’t exactly what’s being implied. Considering the big part Cypher plays in the storyline, this is very fitting.

The Fall of the New Mutants trade works as both a key part of the New Mutants’ evolution and as a sequel to Inferno. While the book ended after the Schism event, many of its characters were able to stay visible, especially with Cannonball and Sunspot becoming members of the Avengers and Mirage starring as a co-lead in Fearless Defenders.

Next week on Uncanny X-Month, we found just how much a jerk Professor Xavier really was with a look at the opening arcs of X-Men: Legacy.
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