Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NEW MUTANTS #99 - March 1991

The Beginning of the End - Part Two
Credits:  Rob Liefeld (plot, pencils, inks), Fabian Nicieza (script), Brad Vancata (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  Inside the Morlock Tunnels, Masque targets Feral, who refuses to join his anti-human crusade.  Feral discovers a hatch connected to the Xavier’s school’s underground complex and escapes.  Meanwhile, Cable tries to recruit James Proudstar to the team, but he refuses.  When he returns home to Camp Verde, Proudstar discovers the entire reservation has been massacred.  Elsewhere, Boom-Boom finds the note Rictor’s left behind, explaining that he’s left to rescue Wolfsbane in Genosha.  After meeting with Gideon, Sunspot informs Cable that he’s leaving the team in order to oversee his late father’s business.  Shortly after Sunspot says goodbye, Proudstar arrives and agrees to join.  Simultaneously, Shatterstar materializes in the Danger Room.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This issue marks Feral’s first appearance, along with Shatterstar’s first cameo appearance.  (One panel appearances used to only count as “cameos.”)
  • Proudstar finds the remnants of a Hellfire Club soldier’s mask at Camp Verde, leading him to assume the White Queen ordered the attack as retaliation after he left the Hellions.  Years later, after Marvel decides to reform the White Queen, she’s acquitted of the crime.  Eventually, Stryfe is revealed as the murderer.
  • After Cable makes a reference to the bleak future of mutants, Proudstar jokes that he must have a crystal ball. This is another early clue that Cable might be a time traveler, although the hint is so vague it’s easy to dismiss as this point.  The "crystal ball" reference shows up again next issue as a red herring, hinting Cable and Stryfe are the same person.
  • More vague talk from Cable:  He remarks that he lost his father at an early age, and boasts to Cannonball that he’s seen thousands of people die on the battlefield.
  • Gideon is spying on Cable as he has dinner with Proudstar.  His dialogue implies that he’s in a race with Cable to recruit young mutants, which broadly fits with later revelations that Gideon singled out Sunspot because he assumed Sunspot was the “High Lord.”
  • Gideon’s dialogue with Sunspot implies they grew up together.  I’m assuming Gideon’s status as an immortal hadn’t been decided yet, because it’s hard to imagine Sunspot having an adult friend as a child, one who never seemed to get older.  Gideon also mentions that he was thrown out of Harvard, in case anyone’s curious.  
  • The dates marking time throughout the issue don’t add up.  I’m assuming there’s a lettering mistake that has the story go from December 14th to December 7th in the final scene.

Miscellaneous Notes:   
  • The Statement of Ownership lists the average sales for the year at 182,499 copies with the most recent issue selling 194,300. 
  • The cover to this issue is an homage to Uncanny X-Men #138.   There have been numerous take-offs on this cover over the years, but this is possibly the very first one.

Review:  I rarely, and I mean rarely, purchased New Mutants as a kid, but I did pick up the final two issues of the series.  I don’t think I knew specifically about X-Force, but I did somehow know that the book was coming to an end at issue #100 and that seeds were being planted for an entirely new direction.  Even this tidbit of information seemed strange to me; books at that time just ended, as far as I knew.  I had never heard of a book that was purposefully winding down in order to make way for an entirely new series.  Intrigued by what was coming next, I picked up the final issues of New Mutants just to see how the book, which was almost my age, would be drawing to a close.  

And, honestly, I thought it was a very engaging finale.  People are leaving left and right, obscure mutants are getting recruited into the team, strange villains are watching from the shadows, plus new characters are getting introduced and I actually get to read their first appearances for a change.  Remember the days when having a first appearance was like owning a precious artifact? 

Does the issue hold up today?  As an early plotting assignment for Rob Liefeld, it is remarkably coherent.  He doesn’t waste a page of the story, plowing through the events that need to happen in order to get where he wants to go, but never really crossing the line and making the plot machinations obvious.  It’s entirely conceivable that Sunspot would leave the team after his father’s death (and using this event as way to introduce Gideon also makes sense), and numbskull Rictor would likely leave the team in the middle of the night to rescue Wolfsbane.  After losing two other members in the “X-Tinction Agenda” crossover, that leaves the team with four fewer mutants.  As a kid, I thought it was fun to see how Cable would go about reforming the team, and that element of this issue holds up.  Cable can just as easily charm Proudstar, in his own way, as he can casually dismiss Sunspot when he learns he wants to go.  This portrayal of Cable isn’t easy to reconcile with the Louise Simonson issues, but it’s entertaining to watch him turn into a military general, sizing up who wants to be there and who doesn’t as he arrogantly forges ahead into this vague “war” that’s coming.

Not surprisingly, if anything holds the issue down, it’s the art.  Rob Liefeld should not have been inking his own pencils at this stage.  There actually is a unique texture to his inks that I kind of enjoyed as a kid and can still see the appeal of, but overall, Rob Liefeld inking Rob Liefeld means even shakier anatomy, disappearing pupils, floating noses, uneven eyes, and more inconsistent backgrounds than ever before.  You might be willing to forgive things like characters hovering on their tippy toes, but the unpredictable facial expressions hinder almost every conversation scene in the book (and this is an issue that’s about 90% conversation).  When the cast doesn’t have a stoned, distant expression on their faces, they’re squinting for no reason, or spontaneously breaking out into evil smiles.  Cable grinning like a madman as he details the horrors of war is just egregiously out of place.  Who on earth would follow a lunatic who’s smiling like that while discussing the thousands of bodies he’s seen on the ground?  That defeats the entire point of the story. 


wwk5d said...

One of the better covers from this era, even if Cannonball should be a bit taller and Domino a bit shorter, no?

"leading him to assume the White Queen ordered the attack as retaliation after he left the Hellions."

Of course, the fact that the White Queen gets "killed off" a few months later makes his reason for joining X-force kind of pointless.

"More vague talk from Cable: He remarks that he lost his father at an early age"

Funny enough, that *almost* squares up with what eventually was revealed in The Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix". Granted, more due to luck than to actual long term planning.

"Gideon’s dialogue with Sunspot implies they grew up together. I’m assuming Gideon’s status as an immortal hadn’t been decided yet, because it’s hard to imagine Sunspot having an adult friend as a child, one who never seemed to get older."

I dunno, that could work, given how at the time, Sunspot probably aged maybe 3 or 4 few years max (in Marvel time), so Gideon not getting older could always be chalked up clean and healthy living.

The weirder part for me was that he was just another never-before-mentioned-important-person from someone's past that seemed to keep popping up from this era...

cyke68 said...

Compared to Lee and Portacio's bloodbath in UNX #281 just a couple months ahead, the rapid exits and introductions of various characters across New Mutants #98-100 positively feels like a slow burn. It's a deck-clearing exercise to be sure, but Liefeld does convey that he seems to care about the characters on their way out (or at least acknowledge that their fans care). They have logical grievances consistent with their established personas and a door is left open for their possible returns. All fair enough.

Meanwhile, there's no way Shatterstar's introduction doesn't come off as rushed, so it deliberately IS rushed. He just pops in on a whim, as much a surprise to the cast as it was to the readers. As for Feral, two issues is about all we needed to get acquainted with her story. Finally, James Proudstar was easy enough to slot in, having floated around the fringes forever. Cable has a team to build, so he can sort out the details behind these newcomers as he goes. Given the handling of other transitions, this one could have been a lot shakier.

I completely overlooked that detail implicating the Hellfire Club in the camp's massacre. I'll give Liefeld the benefit of the doubt that he intended to follow up on it, but didn't know about the Hellfire Club's own impending dismantling. Sure, Warpath could have investigated, but with Emma dead or in a coma (whenever they settled on what her status was), it just wouldn't make for very compelling reading. We care about the ramifications for his relationship with Emma, not what actually happened to the tribe itself. This, coupled with the early X-Force issues being *extremely* Cable-centric, offers some suggestion as to why Warpath's mission fell through the cracks.

Rictor came back (post-Liefeld)under the assumption that Cable murdered his father. It was actually Stryfe. I wonder if this was a subplot swiped from Warpath? Stryfe was later revealed as the Camp Verde killer. Whether or not this was the plan at the time (to the extent that anything was planned out much in advance), it's certainly plausible. Warpath learning this--and seeing Stryfe's face--could certainly serve as a big source of tension, advance the Cable/Stryfe intrigue, and cast doubt on Cable's intentions. After all, Jimmy only took up Cable's offer as a means to avenge the tribe. That gives Cable sufficient motive. They could've gotten some decent mileage out of such a development.

Rictor's return was almost certainly owed to a changing of the guard. Liefeld wrote him out, and Nicieza wrote him back in at almost the first opportunity. He needed some sort of reason, and a vendetta against Cable was as good as anything. The Camp Verde massacre had fallen by the wayside, so I can see how dusting that basic idea off for another character would have been palatable. Stryfe killing Rictor's dad seems so incredibly random in isolation.

Dobson said...

Even though the pay-offs to a lot of this ends up being super-nonsensical, this is a young, energetic person bringing a lot of energy to the book. There's plenty of cool stuff going on, with the vague promise of more cool stuff to come!

Teebore said...

One panel appearances used to only count as “cameos.”

Because that way Wizard can jack up the prices on two first appearance issues! ;)

Remember the days when having a first appearance was like owning a precious artifact?

Oh yeah. I was OBSESSED with getting first appearances back in the early days of my comics hobby. I blame the trading cards (which were my gateway to the books) for always listing each character's first appearance on the back.

@cyke68They have logical grievances consistent with their established personas and a door is left open for their possible returns. All fair enough.

Well said. All things considered, this could have gone worse. As much as Liefeld had just been handed the keys and told to go nuts, he still reigned himself in, taking the time to write out and setup his new characters instead of just blowing everything up.

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