Trapped in Hell with the New Mutants


A Hilarious Cycle of Capsule Reviews

Previously, I gushed about two fairly strong issues of a comic that overall is kinda okay. Now we hit the first genuine sign of this series’ mediocrity, but at this point I was not especially phased. Indeed, in retrospect these are probably my favorite issues of the stack. Why? Because these issues - 35 and 36 - are tie-ins with the Jim Shooter-architected quarter-consuming line-wide crossover Secret Wars II, of course they were going to be garbage! However, this garbage has a more fragrant stench than others, and a smell I love, the stink of wasted talent. The talent in question is Bill Sienkiewicz, of Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters, and not getting done drawing an Alan Moore comic fame. Sienkiewicz inks here over the pencil work of Mary Wilshire, whose work I am not familiar with but provides airy, widescreen compositions that suggest a journeywoman talent absolutely above this shit, while colorist Michael Higgens brings a really deep palette of solid blues, reds, purples and yellows that feels refined and serious to the point of seeming out-of-place. By Sienkiewicz standards, the art's a quick deadline's work, but for what it is it looks like a million bucks. This is the work of artists of immense talent bringing flair to a rote assignment but still probably phoning it in. Even Chris Claremont is above this work, and that leads to some pretty interesting content within.

Secret Wars II has a reputation for being pretty terrible and ridiculous, at this site I’m sure the work’s reputation speaks for itself. My experience to date of SWII is pretty much limited to memes of the part where The Beyonder takes a shit in Spider-Man’s apartment. And you know, I’ve read some Secret Wars, first appearance of the black costume, indirectly the beginning of sweet sweet comics daddy Venom, but really bland and terrible miniseries in retrospect if we’re gonna be real with each other! The Beyonder taking a shit in Spider-Man’s apartment is definitely more interesting than anything that happens in Secret Wars the first. Then again, if I’m not mistaken SWII is one of the first Marvel crossovers where like every single ongoing title had to have a couple issues checking in on what every superhero is doing in between issues of the crossover event series, so maybe in that case Secret Wars II is the worst comic of all time.

Mr. Shooter.......thank you........

Anyway, what are the New Mutants up to during Secret Wars II? I can only really answer partially - the New Mutants continue to do things in the second of these Secret Wars in issues preceding and following the two I’ve got.

Breathtaking BWS cover, it must be said, like damn bro

THE NEW MUTANTS Vol. 1 No. 36, February, 1986.
STAN LEE PRESENTS “Subway to Salvation!”
Chris Claremont, Writer
Mary Wilshire & Bill Sienkiewicz, Artists
Tom Orzechowski, Letterer
Michael Higgins, Colorist
Ann Nocenti, Editor
Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief
[no credit for stars in this issue]

The awesomely titled “Subway to Salvation'' opens with a guy named Bobby, alias Sunspot, moping about after doing some effed up strength training with CONFLICTED tutor Magneto. Why is Bobby so angsty? Because apparently Beyonder kicked his ass not too long ago and he’s sad about not being as strong as Beyonder. This sort of inadequacy and painful drive to perform is a compelling enough psychological motivation, and in other issues of New Mutants I’m sure it is milked for some relatively genuine profundity. Here it is hilariously warped to suit the purposes of the crossover tie-in - the story grinds to a halt for Sunspot to explain his entire backstory out loud to new readers, with the addition of the fact that he just got his ass kicked by the Beyonder for those New Mutants readers who do not know what is going on in Secret Wars II. This exposition is very clunky and the dramaturgy of Wilshire and Sienkiewicz’s Frank Milleresque rendering of Bobby’s convenient pathos just heightens the self-serious humor of the whole thing.

I just noticed that he is eating cookies on this page. I feel insane now.

Anyway, smash cut to Kitty Pride doing research at a library in a lovely baggy blue button-up dress shirt (some day, I will steal this look), and Illyana the blonde demon lady (who’s related to Colossus I think???) chilling on a New york subway, pensively. Beyonder shows up looking pretty fresh and possesses Illyana’s mind, the subway starts flying around, some demons attack Kitty Pryde and the rest of the New Mutants -- who are having a pool party??? -- are also attacked by demons and the flying subway and Illyana tries to brainwash them. Some stuff happens, stuff just kinda happens, there’s a really big demon, Illyana has a sword, everyone’s okay by the end.

This probably sounds like I didn't care for the comic, but here's the thing -- the comic looks like this:

This comic may be filler content at best but everyone involved puts in their A game artistically. Claremont’s purple prose is noticeably springier than usual, has some room to breathe and my eyes glazed over a whole lot less than in better comics he wrote. There’s a fetishistic quality to the demonic monsters and the brainwashing that feels like Claremont’s not-very-low-key kinky energy playing very well to the Kaiju-of-the-week story. We have huge panels filling pages with Sienkiewicz-inked hell monsters and close-ups of pained expressions. There’s very little going on here but what’s going on is kind of going great. It's a very satisfying comic on the whole.

This is also the first issue I read where Claremont’s knack for injecting lesbian subtexts into interpersonal relationships without it actually coming off all that creepy really stood out to me. Illyana and Kitty seem to really love and care about each other, in a kind of casual way of thinking of someone while totally focused on getting something else done, it’s very real and the urgency of that connection’s meaning hits with a real melodramatic punch by the close of the issue because we can see in little thoughts and gestures that the affection is real. Claremont is so good at little touches like this that I sometimes forget that his writing is still sorta cringe.

I also had to become evil when I realized I was a lesbian, I feel very represented by this Marvel comic book. Thanks, Chris.

But all that said, this comic is a Saturday morning cartoon, albeit a very sexy and idiosyncratic one. It’s a dopey interjection into a long running series that I’m sure every SWII tie-in reads like, but at the same time it’s weirdly compelling and incredibly fun to look at. It’s not work that succeeds in spite of itself and it most likely is not a secret classic (unless...?!!!), but the strengths of the series and all the talent involved are immediately apparent strung to a work with so little there. One really wishes that every tie-in event comic were a violent and wild fetishistic action comic with crazy expressive inking after reading one like this. More please!

Watch the Throne. (Cover by Rick Leonardi and Bill Sienkiewicz, colors uncredited but presumably Glynis Oliver)

THE NEW MUTANTS Vol. 1 No. 37, March, 1986.
Starring the New Mutants
Chris Claremont, Writer
Mary Wilshire & Bill Sienkiewicz, Artists
Orzechowski and Buhalis, Letterer
Glynis Oliver, Colorist
Ann Nocenti, Editor
Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief

This issue is even more gorgeous than the last one, it’s bold, it’s brash, doesn’t belong in the trash, slaps, fucks, you name it. Sienkiewicz’ gets crazy loose and dense with his line, and the comic is about as violent as you can get in a comic like this. That’s not to say there isn’t a bunch of dumb and turgid crap stuffing these pages. It opens with a slightly janky scene where the New Mutants have a movie night and Mirage gets uncomf about Sam and Illyana making jokes about the movie Indians. Claremont’s identity politics here are pretty admirable honestly -- not even preachy, I've definitely had conversations like this -- but it’s so didactic while at the same time trying to introduce the cast being quirky hanging out that it comes off a bit flat and awkward. Magma uses her mutant fire powers to pop popcorn (half of these New .Mutants seem to have a power that is “change color, be on fire, fly around and zap/punch”).  The X-guys seriously need to check their X-privileges.

This is exactly what it's like to go onto a discord server run by gay film twitter mutuals fwiw

I’ve forgotten about a third of what happened in this comic and looking at it again isn’t helping much. Sunspot is still walking around and moping while running into some other superpeople doing things, probably in their own crossover title. A Good Cop tells him he did good, this is probably going to have some kind of payoff next issue, I don’t have that issue. Mirage does something, I don’t remember, tl;dr. Sienkiewicz inks the robot friend good.

And then we get the nightmare fuel:

Beyonder arrives abruptly, and for the remainder of the comic he systematically murders everyone one at a time.  Rendered by Sienkeiwicz as a wrathful, inky shade, Beyonder is a cosmic force turned slasher killer, brutally toying with each character's physical and mental weaknesses before crushing them and annihilating them from existence. He's like Galactus if Galactus was just a normal-looking but very scary dude -- he can do anything, he’ll break your neck, he'll grind you into dust, but he’s also just someone standing around -- right over there, see him? -- a little above you, unassuming. So hardcore. He’s mostly presented in silhouette throughout the battle (awesome) but you really get the idea from the cover, a man in a crumpled suit utterly pulverizing everyone while sorta glaring and thinking to himself “wow this is pretty boring, I’m pissed.” The issue ends with the entire cast vaporized from existence, which is one hell of a cliffhanger from psychopath Jim Shooter and the troll Chris Claremont. This might be the most Keith Giffen Bloodstrike energy I’ve ever seen exhibited in a comic lacking any gore or Extreme Studios-ness. Not really a work of genius but a lot of fun.

interfice me pater


I didn’t get to find out what happened to the New Mutants during the remainder of the Secret Wars II because I didn’t have the issues directly following. I assume they made it out OK? From here I turned back to issue 44. More gaps in my run will emerge, but from now on I’m reading in sequential order. I figured I was done with crossover tie-ins muddling stuff. Buddy, let me tell you, I was very wrong.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming, never looking back, not ever. Kill the past!!!!

Next: Mediocrity!