Friday, October 5, 2012

NEW MUTANTS #87 - March 1990

A Show of Power!
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Mike Rockwitz (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary: The Mutant Liberation Front attacks another research facility, and Cable arrives just as their bomb detonates. Fifteen people die. Later, Cable tracks the MLF to another attack, only to have his metallic hand burned off by Strobe. When the government refuses to meet the MLF's demands, Stryfe orders them to kidnap Rusty and Skids directly. When overzealous guards shoot Rusty, Skids has no choice but to leave with the MLF. Meanwhile, the New Mutants return to Earth, as Cable is kept in federal custody.

Continuity Notes:
· As you might've guessed, this issue marks the first full appearances of Cable and Stryfe. More members of the Mutant Liberation Front also debut, including Strobe and Thumbelina.
· Some specific MLF continuity is introduced that's later ignored: Tempo has a Southern accent, and her time warping powers have a side effect on her teammates that lasts for days. It's established that Zero can only teleport to places he's already been. And Wildside has "reality warping" powers I don't recall him using in his later appearances.
· Stryfe and Wildside have a conversation revealing that their demand of Rusty and Skids' release is a "smokescreen" for their real objective. This works with Stryfe's later claim that he never cared for the MLF's cause, yet he also tells Wildside that the mission must be pursued in order to make a statement about mutant rights, so he's still portrayed with some level of sincerity at this point.
· Allowing Strobe to melt off Cable's metal hand isn't easily reconcilable with the later revelation that his metal components are actually the techno-organic virus.

"Huh?" Moments: Stryfe punishes Wildside for being injured during the story's opening fight scene. However, he's never shown getting hurt; Forearm is the one that's injured. As for Cable, he's somehow able to survive a giant explosion that kills fifteen other people (I'm sure the retcon explanation is that he used a telekinetic field to protect himself). Later, he's being kept in federal custody, under doctor's supervision, after the MLF's second attack. When was he captured? How is losing his hand more traumatic than being blown up?

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: The blood covering the walls and floors of the facility the MLF has invaded is colored white.

Review: This is, arguably, the comic that launched the '90s. Some might claim it's the first Jim Lee Uncanny X-Men issue, or McFarlane's first Amazing Spider-Man, but I don't think there's any comic that came absolutely out of nowhere to launch a new character and a new creator on this level. Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man didn't necessarily need a Jim Lee or a Todd McFarlane, but New Mutants desperately needed someone to attract eyes to the book. And while Jim Lee, and of course Chris Claremont, deserve credit for Gambit's early '90s popularity, no other new character captured young readers' imaginations like Cable. I won't say he surpassed Wolverine in popularity, but he was darned close for a while there. New Mutants #87 was impossible to find for years because, honestly, who was saving New Mutants comics in 1990? The glory days of the title were considered over, and even the book's most devoted readers seemed to be burned out on the material. The book needed something new, and the "new" Rob Liefeld provided practically made New Mutants an entirely different series. I'm sure many of the existing readers bailed, but more than enough new readers were brought in to commercially justify Liefeld's work.

I'm not saying any of this to dismiss Louise Simonson's contributions; she helped to bridge the gap between the old and new directions, and put real effort into making Cable a sympathetic (or, at least, "remotely human") figure in his early appearances. However, her exact role in creating the character remains unclear (some give her almost all of the credit, some say it was all Liefeld, some say Bob Harras deserves much of the credit), and it's obvious that the new elements fans were responding to had "Liefeld " written all over them. What Simonson brought to the title is a fundamental understanding of how a story is constructed; an ability Liefeld couldn't exhibit in X-Force or Youngblood. If there are elements in this issue that don't make sense, my initial bias is to believe that Liefeld either changed the plot or wasn't able to accurately convey what Simonson asked of him.

As an introduction to Cable, the issue works quite well. We meet Cable as he continues his crusade against the MLF, one that's apparently brought him into conflict with the law before. As he sits in custody, recuperating from his wounds, he reflects on his age and his need to recruit new soldiers to fight this battle. Most of the elements are already there: He's a gruff, older man, he carries giant guns, he has an unrevealed grudge against Stryfe, and some shady past with law enforcement. Plus, he's a cyborg. Cable isn't talking like Dirty Harry yet, but he's almost there. This basic template of the alpha-male mystery character hadn't been done to death yet, so it's easy to see why kids responded to Cable so enthusiastically. And it's worth noting that Liefeld is far from self-parody at this point. I'm sure having an inker helps, but it looks as if Liefeld’s focusing more on getting the basics right than on excessive detail lines. He's really no worse here than McFarlane was when he started on Amazing Spider-Man. Are there missing backgrounds, odd poses, uneven eyes, etc.? Yes, but the weaknesses aren't screaming out at you on every page. For the most part, this is typical of the post-Art Adams artists of the era. Even if this comic is a relic from another time, that doesn’t automatically make it a joke. Maybe none of these tricks would work today, but viewed in context, it’s easy to see why the audience had a new favorite hero.


wwk5d said...

I think Simonson wanted Cable to be called Commander X.

You have to love how that cover is shouting out "Watch out muties!" and Cannonball, Boom Boom, and Wolfsbane are freaking out...meanwhile, Rictor looks stoned.

But you are right, it can be said that the 90's style of comics begins with this issue.

Anonymous said...

There's actually a pretty large installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed that covers who deserves what credit for Cable (I tend to lean towards Liefeld since really non of Simonson's ideas were used and what Marvel ended up doing with him was closer to what Liefeld said he wanted to do with him)

Edward said...

Nice review. :)
However, I guess I'm a loner when I say I wasn't impressed at all by Cable when he first showed up. And I HATED Rob Liefeld from page 1.
Cable only started to get interesting when his actions started clashing with the X-Men.

Teebore said...

This is, arguably, the comic that launched the '90s.

I'd buy that argument.

When was he captured?

That's the kind of stuff that bugs me about Liefeld's work, far more than his dicey anatomy or personal tastes. Like you say, Weezie manages to help reign some of that in before he goes off on his own, which helps these New Mutants issues hold up a bit better than early X-Force

Also, as a kid who was obsessed with finding characters' first appearances, I was always amused by how Cable's first appearance features him so prominently on the cover. It always seemed like a great throwback to the 60s when seemingly every issue heralded the arrival of a new character.

Matt said...

One of the things I enjoy about this site is how even-handed you are. You point out the awful stuff, sure; and I think we all enjoy that. But you also point out what worked and what appealed to kids of the chromium age, regardless of whether it was good or bad.

Having never read these New Mutants issues, I look forward to your reviews!

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