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New Mutants #54 (1987, August)

February 9, 2016

Follow me on Twitter (@XMenXPert). Well, now that I’ve backtracked to catch up with a comic I missed, I can get back to where I was. With the very last issue of Claremont’s New Mutants! Gasp shock horror! So, by Claremont, Buscema, Austin, Oliver and Orzechowski, “Rat Race.”

Rat Race

The graduation costumes. Why.

We start in the secret catacombs beneath the Hellfire Club, where Shan possesses Tessa. Tessa actually fights back hard, shocking Shan with her willpower, but Shan still wins. She does note that Tessa’s mind is as ordered as a computer; we’ll hear a lot more about this in the 2000s, with Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men, where he’ll reference Tessa’s computer-like mind every goddamn issue. Anyway, she uses Tessa to access the Hellfire Club’s computers, to try to find some sign of her siblings. But, nothing. Shaw finds her and grabs her, and Tessa tells him not to hurt her. Tessa apologizes to Shan for their lack of success. We also get a quick narrative reference of Emma taking pleasure in Shan’s anguish and thinking of how to take advantage of it. Emma was still an evil person at this point.

Upstairs, Dani and Thunderbird are arguing. It makes me sad. They could’ve been great friends, but they let team rivalry get in the way. Well, Dani did. Illyana brings a change of clothes to the rest of the team. Doug is feeling awful, and Sam has no sympathy. Illyana offers to bring him to Limbo and cure him with magic, but Doug runs off to puke, and Sam says it’s better that Doug learn his lesson the hard way. He also tells Dani it’s not too late to back down from the challenge, but Amara’s the one who says they have to defend their armour. Which is great. And honestly, her little speech is so awesome here.

New Mutants #54

Regal Amara is the best.

I love that little bit. It’s great when we see her pride, even arrogance. She is a goddamn princess. So it’s great when that shines through, like it does here. Anyway, they all change into their ugly graduation costumes.

New Mutants #54

They’re so awful!

Illyana’s actually isn’t bad. It’s got a nice fantasy design. And Rahne’s is OK in its simplicity – not a great design, but not an eyesore. The others? Ew. Anyway, Shan meets with them, and says she won’t be joining them. Her heart isn’t in the team. Dani understands, and gives her a hug.

The team teleports outside, to the same clearing where they first arrived, and where Dani decides her costume needs pants to warm her up. I guess tights aren’t enough. Though I do think it’s worth noting that, in 1987, we had a female character actually bringing up practical concerns about a costume. That didn’t happen often. Sadly, we’re just a couple years away from the age of female costumes that didn’t even make a pretense of being functional. Dani, herself, would go pantless for a time, while she was a villain. I guess it’ll take her a while to remember how to put on pants, once she returns from an extended stay in Asgard. Anyway! Rahne sniffs around, and then freaks out because she caught the scent of Silver Samurai and Viper. Hey! From all the way back in New Mutants #5 (and the rest of that arc)!

Then, back to the Club, where Shan is out on a balcony, cold and sad. She doesn’t want to abandon her friends, but her family takes precedence. Magneto comes out and talks to her. You know, it occurs to me that these two have a lot in common. Both of them have backgrounds that place them in terrible wars, and both of them lost family as a result of the war. Magneto promises to find her siblings, and says he wants to keep her safe while he does. I do want to state again that Shan, for as quiet and unassuming as she is, is also incredibly resilient, as this panel reminds us:

New Mutants #54

She’s been through a lot.

Shan’s a survivor. I think that gets forgotten about her. She’s led a terrible life, filled with trauma. But she gets through it all. She’s a remarkably well-adjusted woman, compassionate, confident, unafraid and positive. She gets overlooked because she doesn’t have a flashy power or a bold personality. But she really is a great character who deserves a lot more attention than she gets, because in the end, she’s probably one of the strongest-willed superheroes out there. She’s survived shit that most superheroes never dreamed of, and it has never broken her. It all made her stronger. I really, really love Karma. Sadly, this is the last time she appears in this series.

The Hellions are on the Staten Island Ferry. Tarot says the cards favour them. The Mutants are spying on them, with Illyana commenting on how hot Thunderbird is. Nice try, Illyana, but we’re not fooled. We know you only have eyes for Kitty. The Hellions are on their way to the island where Samurai and Viper are holed up. The Mutants want to get there first to scout around, so the Hellions don’t get hurt. Doug thinks they should let the Hellions fight their own battles, and when Rahne says he doesn’t sound like himself, he snaps that he’s scared.

On the island, a female guard is bored and wishes something would happen. So the Easter Bunny starts hopping past. It is beautiful.

New Mutants #54

Yep, that’ll do it.

It’s one of Dani’s illusions. Apparently, this woman’s fondest wish was for the Easter Bunny to show up. I love it. Dani knocks her out with a nerve pinch, while Illyana takes out another – male – guard with a left cross. Amara says she could have dealt with the guards by just burying the whole island in lava. Amara is nasty. Sam says good guys don’t kill, and Amara says that makes no sense and sometimes it’s necessary. Again, it’s great seeing Amara explored like this. She comes from a very different culture. It makes no sense that she would adopt the “thou shalt not kill” idealism. She follows it because her friends want her to, but it’s totally reasonable for her to find it naive and silly.

Then the attack begins in earnest. Sam thinks about how weird his power feels, and his worries about whether his blast field might let him down. Rahne gets annoyed when someone calls her a dog. And honestly, her indignant correction makes me happy. She has a point. It’s important to be accurate. But it’s still weirdly hilarious. Dani almost gets shot, but Doug tackles her and takes the shot instead. Amara gets furious and tries to kill the guy who shot him. She wants blood. Rahne is particularly worried about him. Luckily, Doug’s alive. And oh man. Oh man. I have no idea if this was intentional foreshadowing. But oh man. Knowing what’s coming up, in Fall of the Mutants, makes this whole scene so much worse. Because the next time this happens, Doug doesn’t get off so lucky. I want to believe this is foreshadowing. That Claremont and Simonson had decided that Doug would die, in Fall of the Mutants, taking a bullet for someone else. If it’s foreshadowing, then Claremont is frigging evil. In a good way.

Of course, the happy moment is spoiled by the Hellions, who show up with Viper and the Samurai defeated and tied up. The Hellions beat up two professional supervillains off-panel. On the one hand, I would love to see that fight. On the other hand, it’s perfect that we don’t. Thunderbird does explain that he knew the Mutants, having fought Viper and Samurai before, would worry about someone else fighting them, and that he used them to distract the guards while his team tackled the villains.

Back at the Club, Thunderbird tells Dani their teams work well together, and also makes a move on her. But he gets cock-blocked by Tessa. Not cool, Tessa. She gives Dani a note from Shan. She’s gone to work for her uncle so he can look for her siblings. Dani feels guilty about not being there for Shan.

This is such a great issue. It’s Claremont’s final issue, and he goes out with a bang. He gives a final bit of exploration to each of the characters. Amara gets more personality than she normally does, and is so awesome that it makes me wish we did see more of her. She’s haughty and regal here, and it works so well. Shan, as well, gets more focus than usual, which is appropriate, since she also leaves. She’ll be a supporting character in Wolverine’s solo for a little while, and then shows up once in a while in other books. But it’ll be the 2002-3 Mekanix mini before she really gets a prominent role in a book, and 2003’s New Mutants Vol. 2 before she’s in an ongoing again. It’s such a shame, because she’s so great.

Anyway, the rest of the characters get great moments, too. There’s some great drama throughout the issue. There’s also some great comedy moments. The rivalry with the Hellions is always fun, and I love seeing them here as rivals rather than enemies. Sadly, once again, this is something that won’t last much longer. The Birdboy arc will have them as rivals again, but after that, the Hellions largely drop out of the book. The Hellions don’t actually get much to do in this issue, but it is made clear that they’re very good at what they do.

The art is fine. It’s a bit unattractive in the first couple pages, with Shan and Tessa having weird faces, but the rest of the issue is better. Still a couple weird faces here and there, but mostly, everyone looks fine, hideous costumes aside. Sal Buscema was never a favourite artist of mine. He’s a legend in the industry, I’m just not a fan. He’s OK. But he’s not Bill Sienkewicz. He’s not as appealing as Jackson Guice, either. And while Bret Blevins was a very divisive artist, certainly brought a lot of energy to his art. Buscema was just kinda bland compared to some of the other artists this series had. However, his art does work just fine here. It’s solid superhero artwork, for an issue that has some good superhero stuff going on. And, of course, Austin and Oliver (and Orzechowski) were among the best in the industry in their fields.

I’ll probably do a retrospective on Claremont’s New Mutants, sometime within the next couple weeks. I’ll try, at least. But the short version is that Claremont’s New Mutants was fantastic stuff. It’s a must-read series, especially once Sienkewicz came on with the Demon Bear Saga, which was the absolute peak of the entire run of New Mutants, and one of the all-time great X-Men stories. Not all of New Mutants’ stories were great – why the hell did Claremont spend time on Team America? – but once the series found its footing with the Nova Roma arc, most of what followed was top-notch work. The Claremont New Mutants is absolutely worth reading. It’s on Marvel Unlimited, so for $10, you can binge the whole thing. Go ahead, you know you want to.

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