By Don Alsafi. As titles go, The New Mutants is something of a misnomer, as the first team to bear that name was the very first X-Men spinoff back in 1982. Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men had struck a chord with readers, so that by the end of that year Uncanny was the top-selling superhero comic, bar none – a placing it would hold for most of the next decade. Faced with such a runaway success, Marvel understandably looked to replicate their good fortune with another X-title for the very first time.
But Claremont was protective of the book he’d been writing since 1975, and was wary of random spinoffs diluting what made the X-Men special. (A lesson, by the way, that the modern publishers could stand to learn.) So, when push came to shove – Marvel either could have him write the new book, or somebody else – he wisely chose to give the ancillary title its own identity. The X-Men were now adult superheroes with adult problems… so Claremont instead gave Marvel The New Mutants, a comic about teenagers who went to school and dated and grappled with relatable teenage drama, all while saving the world.
Of course, that was three decades ago. Today, we’ve got a New Mutants film on the horizon for 2019 – and one that’s decidedly horror-tinged, to boot – so Marvel’s publishing line, as you’d expect, is dusting off the concept and seeing if there’s any life left in it.
And so that’s the question on our minds today, too…
Written by Matthew Rosenberg.
Art by Adam Gorham.
Colors by Michael Garland.
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles.
Fresh voices, massive talent. The characters in New Mutants: Dead Souls might not be new, but the creative team have only been working in comics for the past five years. Writer Matthew Rosenberg came to prominence writing critically acclaimed titles for Black Mask Studios such as We Can Never Go Home and 4 Kids Walk into a Bank, and most recently penned last month’s high-profile Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Artist Adam Gorham, meanwhile, made a lasting impression with readers due to his work on the unflinching Image miniseries The Violent, before being snapped up by Marvel last year.
And as you might expect from such new talents who quickly rose up through the indies, their resulting collaboration is far more off the beaten path than you’d expect from the average X-spinoff. Last May, Marvel relaunched their teen mutant book Generation X… but the debut issue failed to let readers know just what made it different from any other X-book on the stands. And guess what? Less than a year later, Gen X has been cancelled. By contrast, with this comic Rosenberg and Gorham have hit the ground running – and in so doing, have given us a mutant title we’ve not quite seen before.
Not like they used to be – and that’s good. This is actually the fourth time that a New Mutants title has been launched over the past 30-odd years. But while the characters on this team all have some connection to the original title, the particular heroes chosen here also make for a very, very odd mixture of personalities. Team leader Magik is no-nonsense and decisive, but also perpetually gloomy. Boom-Boom seems mostly bored and snarky, while Rictor believes in what they’re doing but has a chip on his shoulder. Wolfsbane is the team’s moral compass (when she’s not overcome by her feral nature), and Strong Guy’s relaxed and easygoing manner feels somewhat out of place, and somewhat a relief. This newest team doesn’t feel like a well-oiled machine so much as a bunch of random misfits haphazardly thrown together.
The original New Mutants was very much a family of close-knit friends and classmates who deeply cared about each other every step of the way. By contrast, you get the feeling that most of these teammates don’t even want to be there! In fact, when they get chewed out by their employer (Karma, another original New Mutant) after their first mission, Boom-Boom testily asks why they were brought together in the first place. To our surprise, we’re told that these five weren’t Karma’s original choice for a team … but that they were simply the only ones who weren’t doing anything else with their lives. Yow!
Outcasts and the undead. So we’ve got a bunch of clashing personalities which can (and does) lead to richly satisfying interpersonal conflict. But if all you’ve got is yet another team of superheroes reactively fighting random supervillains, that’s just the same old news that readers have been getting bored with for a while now.
But that’s not why Karma has assembled this particular team. Their intended purpose? Investigating the paranormal. Their first mission? Travelling to an Alabama town recently ravaged by a hurricane and, it turns out, now in the throes of a zombie outbreak.
Let’s be clear here: We’re not talking brightly-colored superheroes fighting the undead (like that weird X-Men vs. the vampires title from 2010). The scenes of the recently-destroyed town at night are suitably eerie, thanks in part to colorist Michael Garland’s somber hues, while the zombies are definitely more Night of the Living Dead than 28 Days Later. And yet, just as with The Walking Dead – which actually gets name-checked – the humans prove just as dangerous, if not more so.
Compact, offbeat, and a rousing success. New Mutants: Dead Souls is a six-issue miniseries – and in the hands of another creative team, it would have only told a very slow first chapter of a single story. Fortunately, Rosenberg & Gorham weren’t content with “good enough”. Instead, they give us a comic that opens with this brand-new team already assembled, and a concise and satisfying done-in-one tale that nevertheless leaves the reader with lingering questions, and wanting to know more.
When Marvel created The New Mutants back in 1982, Chris Claremont knew that the only way to get readers interested in a spinoff was to make it somewhat related – but with its own distinct identity, and giving readers something they hadn’t seen.
With New Mutants: Dead Souls, Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Gorham are taking these characters into a realm just as creepy and dark as next year’s film looks to be. And if we’re very, very lucky, this first miniseries might be just the start of something lasting and new.
9 out of 10