New Mutants #39

New Mutants #39 cover

Cover by Kris Anka

I’m not nostalgic for the original team that bore the New Mutants name, and I’ve been turned off in the past by stories that seemed to require you already know those characters. That’s why I want to praise a story that works regardless of whether you are familiar with the cast and their history. (In fact, I find the name pretty silly. These days, the true New mutants would be Hope and her friends, so the title’s sticking around solely out of nostalgia and brand maintenance. That’s pointed out early on in the comic, which gave me another reason to like it.)

It helps that I’m a sucker for cute robot stories in which artificial beings learn what it means to be human. This issue is part two of a story in which the team has traveled to a mostly deserted jungle island, where they discover that they’ve all (except for Warlock, the robot (who’s apparently also an alien, but that doesn’t seem to matter)) been infected with a fast-moving deadly virus. It’s narrated by Warlock, who’s trying his best to act as a leader, all while demonstrating in blackly funny captions that he’s not really sure what that means. My favorite part was when he starts wandering off in his interior monologue, then tells himself “Self is straying from point. Clarity = hard.” I feel that way myself sometimes.

The narration also allows the writers to remind the readers, whether new or simply forgetful, what’s going on and what the stakes are. Everyone’s worried they’re going to die, except for Warlock, who’s worried that his only friends are going to die and whether he’s adequately reassuring them. He keeps referring to his confident, encouraging smile, which is garishly exaggerated on his robot features, but that’s what he knows about what a leader is meant to do.

Meanwhile, X-Man (stupid name) is losing his internal censor, saying whatever he thinks, which is mostly about how attractive Dani Moonstar is, for that added touch of weird comedy. It takes a disturbing turn later in the issue, when the story begins resembling a horror film, with the kids all trapped in an abandoned lab/basement. The art is nicely dark and murky, well-suited for the swamp (both physical and metaphysical) the cast is wandering through.

There’s a bunch of monster fighting, in part to make sure story does not end in this issue but can continue onward next month, but the bits I like are those that show me more about these different young heroes. Putting them on an island with a killer medical threat is a great way to ramp up drama without the usual superhero angst. It’s like a blend of Aliens and Contagion, an example of body horror that’s a great choice for adolescent characters (and potentially, readers). You can read the first few pages in this online preview.

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