New Mutants #25

In my recent review of New Mutants #24, and nearly every time I’ve talked about this book on the MOMBcast, I mention that the ongoing writer on the book, Zeb Wells, does great work but hasn’t been left alone with it long enough to really let the book sing.

So it seems like a hilarious joke at my expense that Marvel have totally changed up the creative team with the latest issue, and with it have completely overhauled the purpose of the team.

This is… problematic for me.

It’s problematic because I liked what Wells was doing with the book. It was a book that paid homage to the early classic run, while staying contemporary, and without requiring intricate knowledge of the continuity of that run. And in a book whose only viable purpose was as a functioning revisiting of that earlier series, that was exactly what the book needed to be.

The New Mutants were formed out of the school that narratively had previously primarily existed as a cover for the X-Men’s activities. In short, these guys weren’t meant to be super-heroes, or soldiers in Xavier’s war, they were students. Normal kids but for their powers, who went to school together, and ended up in incredible situations by dint of their incredibleness. Later iterations may have done okay sales-wise, but recast the team as not much more than a junior superhero team – a do-over of the X-Men with 90s sensibilities – read: more weapons and ammo pouches – and slightly different characters – and missed a lot of the humanity. The point of the team wasn’t, as much as the characters often hoped it, that these were the next X-Men, it was that these were the kids who got to go on adventures because they weren’t on missions. The students who didn’t have to be soldiers, because the X-Men protected them from having to be.

Now, that boat has pretty much sailed on this team, continuity-wise, but Wells stayed true to the characterisation of these guys from way-back, and was navigating a path for them through the various changes in the X-world where they got to retain consistency in their relationships, and in the tone of the book, even if their situation had completely changed.

SO: New Mutants #25 begins a new story, called “Unfinished Business”, and the bulk of it brings us up to speed with where our characters have been left by the preceding months of disruption and chaos. This would have been entirely necessary, even if Wells was still writing the book – the X-Universe has been a mess of events, other-dimensional lunacy and alternate realities recently – and this narrative recap is handled ably enough by new writing team Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with Leandro Fernandez on art duties.

As Cyclops debriefs prominent members in the team, and a new leadership structure emerges, a new mission for the team, and a whole new direction for the book, is decided on. Cyclops – perhaps as a mouthpiece for the architects of the recent Marvel mutant developments – acknowledges that he and his teams have been spending so much time reacting to one huge event after another that there has been no time for the due-diligence or mop-up jobs after each one, and leftover problems, such as rogue NIMROD tech, still need sorting out. He wants the New Mutants to deal with this fallout – the unfinished business of the title.

This is where there’s a slight schism in my feelings about the book – on the one hand, the X-books and their teams are already pretty rigidly mission-oriented and damn-near militaristic in the way they’re structured, with a team for pretty much every purpose – both in-world and to satisfy most reader preferences. Up till now, what made New Mutants different in this milieu was that it was about characters, and the stories that came out of their interactions. But now it’s going to be just another book with Cyclops running the show.

But at the same time, that’s a pretty cool idea for a comic book, and it’s a great mission for a team of superheroes to have. If these characters have to be a superhero team, there are worse reasons for their existence.

And that’s where I also feel conflicted about the new creative team. Although as I said, Abnett and Lanning do a decent job of getting the scenes that need to happen in place, and getting the information across, my experience of their writing is that these are plot guys. Their speciality is getting characters from a to b through c, and making sure all of those characters arrive where they need to be at the right time.

This is fine for most team books, but as approaches go, what it gains in technique, it loses in heart. And this was the book I’ve always gone to for heart.

However, the choice of Leandro Fernandez – whose rounded and clear lines, bold blacks and quirky character work I’m more used to seeing outside of the mainstream spandex books – as artist suggests that this might not be an entirely straightforward team book – while at times in action scenes it doesn’t quite look right, his faces show emotion that’s not always there in the dialogue.

So I’m cautiously interested in what happens in the next issue, but it seems a shame that what had potential to be a truly different mutant book has been brought so sharply back in line with the rest of the mainstream.