New Mutants #1 Review: An Interstellar Road Trip Off to a Bumpy Start

New Mutnats
(Photo: Marvel Comics)

Marvel’s "Dawn of X" relaunch of the X-Men line continues this week in two titles, New Mutants and X-Force. There’s some poetry there as Marvel canceled New Mutants, the first X-Men spinoff, and replaced it with X-Force in the 1990s. The original X-Force featured most of the New Mutants cast, but "Dawn of X" exposes how different the concepts have become over time, emphasizing that X-Force is a concept whereas the New Mutants are a group of characters. The new X-Force introduces the latest in a line of complete roster reboots and focuses on the dirty work of running the nation of Krakoa. New Mutants brings back the original team who met as classmates at Xavier’s school, with a couple of new additions along for the ride. New Mutants’ focus on character is easy to appreciate. It's a contrast to the high concept nature of "Dawn of X," but the characterizations in the first issue grate and the plot lacks urgency.

New Mutants #1 begins with the resurrection of Wolfsbane, who was the victim of a hate crime in a controversial issue of Uncanny X-Men. As she remarks to Karma, she died and woke up in heaven, referring to the mutant paradise of Krakoa. It’s the fully realized world these characters have been imagining and fighting for since they were children.

From there, readers receive a glimpse at a new social structure, the sextant, that the New Mutants are establishing. It avoids borrowing from human civilization as much as possible, another step into a bright mutant future. This must be set up for future issues as New Mutants #1 drops the thread almost as soon as it's introduced. Instead of exploring this concept, the team hitches a ride with the Starjammers and they're off to reunite with Cannonball in space, an errant member who lives in Shi’ar territory with his wife and child.

This is the point where the issue starts to grind. Jonathan Hickman and Ed Brisson co-write the issue and dedicate many pages to showing the New Mutants and Starjammers getting on one another’s nerves. It’s all in service of justifying the Starjammers leaving the New Mutants to fend for themselves in outer space surrounded by Shi’ar guards. It makes both groups of characters look unnecessarily bad. The New Mutants are immature; the Starjammers seem petty, petulant, untrustworthy and mean. This would be fine if it revealed something interesting and new about the characters. Instead, it hammers broad, surface-level traits. Magik is angry, Sunspot is arrogant, the Starjammers are pirates. Yes... and?

New Mutnats
(Photo: Marvel Comics)

Readers may be able to glean something from the nature of the New Mutants' quest. They leave paradise to bother Cannonball who has settled down with his own family—moving past being a mutant superhero. The immaturity of his former teammates could be the point. It should be interesting to see how that reunion plays out, assuming it comes in future issues.

What saves the issue from being a complete wash is artist Rod Reis. Reis uses realistic faces enhance these characters' expressiveness, but also employs a loose, jumping line at times. Reis colors the issue and comes the closest of any "Dawn of X" colorist to matching the palette Marte Gracia established for Krakoa. That palette adds an otherworldly effect to the island. By comparison, spending time on a sterile spaceship feels pedestrian. Reis’ heavy linework casts the colors in recess, adding to the ethereal feeling of it all. He has managed to build a bridge between the styles of Phil Noto and seminal New Mutants artist Bill Sienkiewicz. It’s a remarkable feat and it makes each page a joy to take in, even when the story falters.

Being charitable, we can attribute this rough start to New Mutants as Hickman and Brisson setting the stage. They want to get the kids into space where the real fun will take place. It doesn’t make the overlong road trip any more fun to read, but the view, at least, is astounding thanks to Reis’ luscious artwork. It’s exciting to think that Hickman and Brisson want to dig into these characters. Moving them away from the rest of the X-Men forces the focus onto their unique roles and personalities. Let’s just hope they have something more interesting to say about these characters going forward.

Published by Marvel Comics

On November 6, 2019

Written by Jonathan Hickman and Ed Brisson

Art by Rod Reis

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Letters by VC's Travis Lanham

Cover by Rod Reis