New Mutants #61 (1988, March)
We start with a reminder that Doug is dead and joy is a lie. Rahne is absolutely hysterical, saying she should be dead. She is not taking this well. Illyana is enraged and declaring she should have killed the Ani-Mator. One of the Smileys is still around, and tries to shoot the Mutants, and Illyana drags him to Limbo. And shit gets dark. S’ym’s been taking over Limbo, spreading the Techno-organic Virus, and declaring himself ruler of Limbo. Illyana throws the Smiley to the demons.
This is Illyana embracing her Darkchild form in a way she never has before, and it is terrifying. Dani chastises her for it, and Illyana asks what the problem is. Dani was fine with her sending Smileys to Limbo during the battle, after all. She thinks Dani’s just scared to see who Illyana really is. And at this point, all her anger just seems to drain out of her, in a really effective moment. Blevins absolutely nails it, as she goes from being an angry demon-queen to an exhausted and sad teenage girl. Also, Rahne says she’s glad Illyana sent the Smileys to Limbo.
Later, the Mutants teleport back to the school. Magneto’s in Manhattan, surprised at all the devastation that was caused in the X-Factor portion of the event. He’s getting fed up with his inability to protect the Mutants, and declares it’s going to change. In the Hellfire Club, he learns the details of the attack. Then he learns something is going on in Dallas.
Back at the school, the Mutants reflect that Doug’s not the first student to die, and that danger is a part of being heroes. Illyana says she wishes Magneto were there. Warlock asks how she can trust Magneto and also disobey him, and she talks about how she was raised in Limbo, and part of her wants to stay there. And once again, Blevins kills it with body language.
Sam tries taking Rahne to bed, but she’s still an emotional, guilt-ridden wreck. She runs up to the roof to be alone, and ends up falling off. Sam saves her, and talks about his own guilt over Doug’s death. Sam thinks, as the oldest, he should’ve been watching over Doug, and Rahne feels bad about focusing on her own feelings. She suggests that she and Sam adopt each other as siblings. It’s a really, really sweet moment. They’re both such good kids, and seeing them bond like this is really touching.
Dani tells Bobby about what he missed, telling the story about the burger place and Bird-Brain spilling a shake over Doug’s head. And again, such a good moment! Bobby then gets angry that he wasn’t there, that he left and took Warlock with him, so that Doug ended up in danger in the first place. Dani says that she’s the co-leader and could’ve stopped everyone from going, but didn’t, because she didn’t want the others thinking she was a wimp, and wanted to stay as the leader.
Everyone soon gathers at the TV, to watch the news reports from Dallas. Because this issue hates you and wants you to never feel joy again. They see Eagle Plaza explode with the X-Men inside. Magneto comes in and yells at them, and finds out Doug is dead. He flips out and wraps the Mutants in metal, asking if it’s the only way he can keep them safe. And honestly, it’s kinda tough to fault him here. He’s been trying. He really had. But the Mutants just won’t stop getting into incredibly dangerous situations. They argue back, saying they need to use their powers for good.
Illyana begs everyone to stop fighting, so they can go to Dallas to try to help the X-Men. magneto refuses. Illyana gets pissed and teleports away. The rest of the Mutants continue the argument with Magneto, and he says they’re no longer allowed to use their powers or leave the school without his permission. Illyana pops back up, asking if he’ll put them in shackles. Something is keeping her from teleporting into Limbo, and she thinks Colossus and the X-Men are dead. And she thinks Magneto doesn’t care. So she attacks him with her Soulsword. The other Mutants try to calm her down, with Sam saying it’s not what Doug or Peter would have wanted.
I do really enjoy the growing Rahne/Illyana friendship, I have to say. It’s a really great contrast. Anyway, soon after, still in the attic, the Mutants decide to create their own costumes, and to be their own heroes.
Their costumes aren’t great, but they’re still better than their graduation costumes. Illyana’s isn’t bad, and Dani’s is OK. The other three are a bit blah.
So, this issue. Man. This issue, guys. This is the first truly great issue of Simonson’s run. The last issue was really good, but this one? This one is great. It is so emotional, full of so many great, powerful moments. We see some really good character interactions, with some interesting pairings that work. Warlock’s innocence and naivety are a nice contrast to Illyana’s darkness and cynicism. Sam and Rahne are both great kids, so full of goodness and love. Dani and Bobby are both headstrong and angry. So all three of those scenes work.
This issue also does a great job capturing different ways of dealing with grief. Illyana is angry to the point of violence, first about Doug, and then later about her brother. Rahne is in hysterics, and suffering a major case of survivor’s guilt, repeatedly saying she should’ve been the one who died. Sam is quiet in his grief. Bobby, like Illyana, gets angry, though not to anywhere close to the same extent. And then Dani tries focusing on some of the good times. All totally natural reactions to a situation like this. I have to say, I did especially love Dani laughing at the memory of Doug being covered in a shake.
And man, poor Illyana here. First Doug, then her brother. She gets hit by so much here. So much pain. And this on top of still dealing with the problems in Limbo, and her own fears about being the Darkchild. Illyana has become arguably the main character of the series by this point, with her ongoing story being the biggest subplot, as it grows to an inevitable tragic climax.
I know Blevins is a controversial artist, but he does amazing work here. His expressiveness adds so much. He’s got a great knack for body language, conveying a lot of emotion just through a character’s stance, or the amount of tension in their shoulders. There aren’t a lot of artists who match him at that. You might think that sch a cartoonish style would offset the sadness of the story, but nope! It actually ends up enhancing the sadness, making it even more tearjerking.
But do you want to know the worst thing about this issue? The knowledge that, as heartbreaking as it is, there’s one coming up that’s even worse. This issue will make you cry, but there’s one coming up that will absolutely wreck you.
So, yeah, fantastic issue.
And the New Mutants also appeared, that month, in Spellbound #4, by Louise Simonson, Terry Shoemaker, Carl Potts, Christie Scheele and Joe Rosen. Quick explanation of that series: This evil and powerful sorcerer (or Spellbinder) named Zxaxz comes to Earth to find and kill a girl named Erica, who’s also a Spellbinder. Two of Zxaxz’s minions come to Earth to help her. Erica’s brother is in a band, Cataclysm, and one of the minions, Snaarl, who looks like a little furry monster, plays the drums. And Lila Cheney’s agent wants them to open for her on tour. The Mutants visit Lila while she’s on the phone with her agent, and something mystical flies past, but is gone before they can catch it. Later, Sam, Warlock and Illyana go to Lila’s show. Zxaxz attacks the show, obviously, and the three Mutants try to fight him, but he can shapeshift, so that makes it tough. Lila teleports the whole concert, minus Zxaxz, to her Dyson sphere, to keep them safe.
It’s not a great issue. It’s not a great series, really. Just the same, I would like to see Erica return. She ends up trapped in a crystal, while her brother gets her power. The series is about a woman going mad with power, a la Dark Phoenix. And that could’ve been great, but Simonson doesn’t really do anything unique with it. It could’ve been an analysis of how society treats women or something like that, but nope, it’s just an ordinary woman getting vast power and going mad as a result. But like I said, I think it’d be interesting to bring the character back. But only if she’s in her costume from this mini!