Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jason Powell on New Mutants Special #1

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

“Home Is Where the Heart Is”

This 64-page comic – together with its companion story, “There’s No Place Like Home,” published in X-Men Annual #9 – demonstrates Claremont at the peak of his powers. A cold, bold plunge into the fantasy genre taken for the sheer fun of it, the “Home” cycle, particularly this first half, is a triumph of sequential storytelling. Ann Nocenti once again earns her chops as an editor; she’s got every member of the creative cast working not only at peak efficiency, but seemingly in telepathic unison. The various design elements – layout, line, color, letters – complement each other so well, it’s almost hard to believe that so many different people were involved. The clarity of expression and continuity of design are breathtaking.

Claremont’s writing, as he tracks the nine members of the New Mutants through separate adventures in Asgard that gradually merge, is epic in tone and scope but still tightly plotted. The story’s overriding gimmick is clever and fun, depicting each member of the cast as he or she struggles through a different fantasy milieu: Danielle among the Valkyries, Amara among the Faeries, Sam among the Dwarfs, Bobby among warriors, Illyana in the clutches of the Enchantress, etc.

Penciller Arthur Adams is able to change moods on a dime, and the story bounces from melodramatic to comic to creepy with effortless ease – there’s a new twist with each turn of a new page. Working with classic X-inker Terry Austin, Adams has a style that must have seemed shockingly new to superhero readers in 1985. The artist’s work here, along with his equally striking work on the contemporaneous Longshot miniseries, is pretty much the origin of the style that will eventually be associated with Image artists such as Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Whilce Poracio (Portacio inked the Longshot miniseries). Adams is, much like George Perez, incredibly detail-oriented, but his work is also far more kinetic than Perez’s, and Adams’ details always contribute to the storytelling (as opposed to Perez, whose tendency to cram is often distracting). Example: the cheeky detail on Page 42 (only obliquely commented on in Claremont’s text), wherein a beautiful female Dwarf seems to goose Sam, much to his embarrassment, or Adams’ amusing choice to cast one of the giants in the Rahne sequence as Martin Short’s Ed Grimley. (Claremont throws an “I must say” into the dialogue to complete the effect, and the resulting effect is rather Dave Sim-esque.)

Regular X-Men colorist Glynis Oliver isn’t present for this issue, and instead the colors are handled by Christie Scheele, who turns in phenomenally vibrant work – particularly nice is the striking reddish-brown coat on Wolfsbane, complemented by the bright green used for her eyes. Tom Orzechowski teams with his apparent second-in-command Lois Buhalis on letters, and their work is as slick and as bold as everyone else’s – I love Buhalis’ increasingly large “Uhnff!”’s for Sunspot on page 40.

All these elements combine for a boisterously exciting yet well-controlled story whose inevitable climax – all nine characters unite to take down the villain – comes together expertly, in a rush of pure narrative adrenaline. This is superhero comics as they ought to be – sheer, effervescent fun.


ba said...

hey, this is one of my favorite issues in the x-men oeuvre. the art is fantastic, the story detailed...also, i like that, for the most part, the dani valkyrie subplot was referenced pretty consistently for years afterward, even in x-force, though her reappearance in the MLF wasn't quite explained. the current run of x-force seems to be reintroducing the wolf prince from this story as well.

also, this issue had what i consider the best depiction (character-wise and art-wise) of illyana to this day.

Jason said...

I agree about Illyana, ba.

Claremont actually made Dani's connection to the Valkyries a plot thread in his "X-Men:The End." It was the only aspect of that series that I liked.

scott91777 said...

I really enjoyed reading this issue, ah, how I long for the day that we could get 64 pages and all this story for a dollar *sigh* Adams art is brilliant and you're spot on about his being a precursor to Lee, McFarlane and (sic) Liefeld (who, if you look at his earliest work did seem to kind of rip off, very poorly I might add, Art Adams).

Claremont does an amazing job of immersing himself in a straight up fantasy story which is a rather welcome respite from the grittiness that we had been seein in Uncanny at this point.

Stephen said...

Before you get to it, let me try and beat you to the punch by quoting (from memory) one of my favorite lines of dialogue from the X-Annual that follows this:

"Just a caper, 'cat. Same risks, same stakes as always".

Incidentally, the idea that Karma *had* to loose the weight (put on in NM, taken off in this issue) -- that a sympathetic character *could not* be fat -- is quite problematic, I think, although it never occured to me at the time.


Jason said...

Scott, yeah, and to be honest I don't even *like* fantasy that much. Yet I LOVE Claremont's take on it.

Stephen, that's an interesting point about Karma. I suppose you could argue that on pragmatic plot terms, a grossly overweight person would make for an ineffective superhero.

But yeah, there is maybe something a little off there.

Anonymous said...

It's not so much the weight as Karma's reaction to it that's problematic. She calls herself a monster. She wants to commit suicide at one point. And keep in mind that Shan never wanted to commit suicide after her dad was killed and her mom was raped. Instead of Karma wanting to lose the weight so that she wouldn't be a liability to the team, we get the feeling that for a woman being fat is one of the worst things in the world.

Jason said...

Good point, Michael.

I don't know, I think the idea was that she was not just overweight; she was hobbled to the point where she could barely function.

ba said...

Anonymous, if you ask many people who are grossly obese, I am sure that a large majority of them have both thought that they looked like monsters and have contemplated suicide because of their weight. Especially women. Especially if they were teenage girls who were previously in fantastic shape.

So to that extent, I believe Xian's reaction was spot on.

j.liang said...

I don't think Karma's reaction is about negative body image per se. She's still recovering from having been a victim of Farouk, fully possessed for what is supposed to have been months. Not only does her morbid obesity serve as reminder of the experience, she now physically resembles the man himself. Karma's time in the desert is Claremont's way of getting rid of the weight and transforming her character from helpless and depressed (which, unfortunately, remains Cypher's role) to sword-wielding bad-ass in four pages.

Stephen: Does Volstagg the Voluminous count as sympathetic, or is he just comic relief? Unfortunately, I can't think of any legit counter-examples.

Jason: Another instance of Adams' visual playfulness - casting Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl as Cypher's tormentors, Lord Harald, Thigvald and Thigvald's wife.

Jason said...

Good point on Karma and Farouk, J.L.

I'm not sure I noticed the Popeye thing! That is great. I'll go back and look for it.

j.liang said...

Also, did anyone else find it odd that an Asgardian dwarf just happens to have a fire extinguisher handy to take down fairy-Magma? Obviously, suspension of disbelief is very much in play here, but that always struck me as jarringly out of place.

Anonymous said...

Volstagg's sometimes written as comic relief and sometimes written as a sympathetic father (and sometimes both in the same issue). It's worth noting,though, that fat men in Claremont stories are almost always villains(Mojo,Farouk,etc).

wwk5d said...

I loved both Perez and Adams, but Perez's level of detail never distracted me. If anything, it enriched his artwork. For me, the main difference is that Adams work can *sometimes* have a pin-up quality, instead of a more natural looking moment. Note I said sometimes, as some of his followers, like Liefeld and Portacio, make everything look like a pin-up. And unlike his followers, Adams can choreograph some great looking fight scenes.

I'd like to add to what j.liang said with regards to Karma, maybe some residual self-loathing leftover from Farouk's possession? Never mind, that's a bit too fan-wanky...