Tuesday, April 14, 2015

1983: New Mutants Year One Part IV: He Just Called To Say "I Stalk You!"

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

In the fourth part of our lookback at the New Mutants' early days, the teen team is still trying to adjust to their new life as part of the larger Claremontverse. And Chris doesn't let up as he throws Viper, the Silver Samurai and a mysterious but not unfamiliar threat at them. All that plus Team America too!

Now, don't let the cover to July 1983's New Mutants I#5 fool you... Yes, this scene does appear in the actual comic, but Dani will survive to tell the tale. Which is more than can be said for another one of her teammates, who will be gone by the time this review wraps up. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves, first there was issue #4 which featured a the done-in-one story about Stevie Hunter's stalker. For weeks now, Ms. Hunter had been receiving unpleasant, lewd phone calls.

                                                              "Who's scaring Stevie?"

While certainly unsettling, it's not exactly the Sentinels or the Brood breathing down your neck. Still, it was a concern for the New Mutants, especially Karma noticed how Stevie was suffering from this unseen, menacing threat. Reason enough to bring it up at their next meeting with professor Xavier who they were really getting to know for the first time.

During their early weeks at the school, Charles had been influenced by a Brood Queen embryo after all. Getting (re)acquainted was hard on everyone... and having the professor's girlfriend around took some adjusting too. Not in the least because she was the deposed majestrix of an interstellar alien empire... Who's now making you sandwiches.

                           "There will be mulled cider and sandwiches for you in the living room
                                                          after Charles has finished his talk."

It's intriguing to see the New Mutants' individual responses to having an alien "waitress". It also serves to illustrate just how their personalities differed: thought they're all a tad apprehensive around her (and who wouldn't be?), they hide it differently. Roberto offers formal kindness, Sam tries to reason his willies away, Rahne feels a bit embarrassed having royalty serve her and Dani cloaks her apprehension in brashness. Once Xi'an joined them in Xavier's study, he formally apologized to them for recent events. And though the Brood embryo undoubtedly influenced him to gather a new team of mutants to train (and eventually infect), Xavier stated he still felt the decision was the right one. Besides, they still had to learn to use their mutant abilities.

Asserting herself as group leader for the first time, Dani told Charles that for better or worse, they would be staying... After all, they all deserved a decent chance. Though relieved, Xavier also sensed something was wrong with Xi'an who, at 19, had been serving as the New Mutants' defactor field leader. Turns out she wasn't worried about Dani possibly replacing her.

                                          "It is Stevie Hunter. I fear she is in danger."

Shan explained the situation and Xavier decided to indulge his students, even turning the threat to Stevie into a home work assignment of sorts. He wanted them to come up with a plan of action which he'd evaluate and approve. This didn't sit well with Dani who felt that with Stevie's life at stake, this was no time for games or classroom exercises. The professor insisted and the New Mutants complied. They put a tracing device on Stevie's home phone that was able to determine where a call was coming from. Before too long, Stevie's stalker called in. The New Mutants and Stevie raced to the stalker's location, an empty phone booth (ah, the 1980s!) on a corner of Salem Center. Overeager, they sent Wolfsbane in to pick up the caller's scent.

                                 "Och, the stench! How... How could people be so disgusting?!"

... That sort of thing never happens to Wolverine. It's a small and subtle touch, but it allowed Claremont to show the differences between these teens with powers and the X-Men, who actually knew how to handle their mutant abilities. Rahne tried again however, and tracked the scent to a dance at the local high school. The New Mutants decided that the best way to find who was stalking Stevie was by having her go in and see who would freak out when spotting her.

It turned out to be Stevie's prize pupil Peter Bristow, who upon seeing his teacher made a run for it. He dodged the New Mutants long enough to reach his Corvette parked outside. Frantic and uncaring about the world around him, Bristow planked the sportscar and was about to hit a mother and her young child. Sam was able to prevent a tragedy and grabbed them, but that only created a new problem. He was still so inexperienced that once he started blasting he had the maneuverability of, well, a cannonball. That meant he was about to ram a nearby building... Until, at the last possible moment...

                                                  "Ah finally did somethin' right!

A personal triumph for Sam Guthrie, who as one of the oldest members of the team had felt inadequate lately because he was making very little progress mastering his powers compared to some of his teammates. In the end, the New Mutants chased Peter down to a nearby construction yard where they finally were able to take him down. The mutants brought Bristow back to Stevie's place, where he refused to tell them why he had been hounding her... But, when Hunter threatened to call his parents...

                "Peter whimpers as Dani's mind touches his... then he shrieks in incoherent rage...
                                             As his heart's desire is revealed for all to see." 

What could be worse for a teenage boy than to have his deepest, darkest feelings displayed for everyone to see... including the object of his desire? So it only makes sense that he became enraged and tried to hurt Dani for humiliating them. When he broke free of Sam's hold, his sweater tore open, revealing scarring on his back. As it turned out, Peter Bristow's parents had been systematically abusing him both mentally and physically. This resulted in him developing a very warped sense of how to show and receive affection. Essentially, he felt that those who loved him also needed to punish him. 

And with the sad realization that while Peter might be getting the help he needs, chances are he'll never truly recover the New Mutants close out their first done-in-one story. In all honesty, it reads like a slightly preachy episode of After School Special. Still, even though it unsubtly hammers home that child abuse is bad in a "tonight, on a *very* special Blossom" sort of way, it's nice to see Claremont writing the New Mutants as part of the "real" world. It's not just about fighting bad guys and training in the Danger Room... though plenty of bad guys would be right around the corner in issues 5 & 6... As well as bad characters...

New Mutants I#5 featured the book's first ever guest stars. You'd expect the X-Men to show up in these pages, after all they lived with them. But no, of all people to help boost sales, Claremont brought in Team America. No, not the live action puppets movie, that would have meant it was at least funny.

No, Team America was one of Marvel's most poorly thought out ways of capitalizing on trends in society. Riding on the fumes of Evel Knievel and other popular stunt motor drivers, back in 1982 J.M. DeMatteis created a team of... well, stunt motor riders who shared a telepathic bond that allowed them to, in times of trouble, focus their skills and create the Black Rider, a supremely talented, seemingly unstoppable motor cyclist.

To make an incredibly long and somewhat boring story short: Team America happened to be performing at a local fair the New Mutants were visiting with Stevie Hunter. 

                                                            "... I want our targets alive."

The lady with the huge binoculars is Viper, another one of Chris Claremont's favorite villains he smoothly managed to incorporate into this new title. Claremont wrote Viper during a brief, but memorable stint in Marvel Team Up I#82-85 where she teamed up with the Silver Samurai of all people. She later returned during Claremont's tenure on Spider-Woman where he revealed her as the heroine's mother Meriem, corrupted decades ago by the demon Ch'ton. But now she was back with the Samurai and after the mysterious Black Rider.

Viper ordered her men and the Samurai to attack the fair, hoping that would draw her target out in the open. She was right: the non corporeal Black Rider persona manifested itself inside Dani Moonstar who turned into the Rider, jumped on a bike and fought on. She was no match for the Samurai who after defeating and capturing her quickly teleported away. 

The Viper quickly realized that Dani, though dressed like the Black Rider, had none of his skills. When the young girl then unleashed her powers and showed the villain all the horrors of her life she'd fought to forget, Viper was ready to shoot her. The Samurai managed to convince her to use Dani as a hostage to force the real Team America to obey her orders. Viper contacted the team and gave them a day to mull things over. But, wouldn't you know it, a few hours later there was a knock at the door...

                                                 "Team America is a projecting gestalt"

Ah, good ol' Cerebro still works better than Google Maps to pinpoint any latent mutants, like Team America. Xavier explained to the stunned motor cyclists what they'd been doing all this time and forced them into helping him and the New Mutants rescue Dani. However, Xavier first wanted to spend time with Team America to train them in the use of their power. This sorely ticked off the New Mutants who felt the professor was needlessly risking Dani's life. That's why they struck out on their own...

                       "If we wait for Team America or the X-Men, we will be too late"

New Mutants I#6 opened with the teenage team in San Francisco. In yet another example of Claremont's dedication to world building and continuity he had them visit Carillon Towers a luxury skyscraper last seen during his Spider-Woman run. The building belonged to general Nguyen Ngoc Coy, local crimeboss and... Karma's uncle. They had come to shake him down for some information about Viper, though the sly Coy wasn't exactly ready to play ball...

                                                                    "Talk, uncle...  Or die!"

Coy correctly guessed that Karma didn't have the stomach to kill anyone, even one so loathsome as her uncle (after all, he'd indirectly killed her twin brother and abducted her younger siblings, to mention a few of his more personal affronts). Realizing he was in an ideal bargaining position, Nguyen proposed a deal to the New Mutants. He would provide them with the information on Viper, if Xi'an agreed to one simple little proposal...

                                                            "Your services, Shan, for a year"

Though loathe to agree, Shan accepted and after Uncle Coy made a few calls they were on their way to Viper's estate in Big Sur where Dani was still imprisoned. But as soon as they arrived and used their powers to get rid of the perimeter guards, Shan felt a psychic presence who at first she thought was professor Xavier trying to contact her telepathically.

She was wrong.

          "I am that which will bring about his destruction... and you shall be my instrument"

Shan managed to overcome her fears and focussed on the mission. They invaded the Viper's mansion, held their own against its mistress and the Silver Samurai while Wolfsbane tracked down Dani in the dungeon. In the end, the Silver Samurai realized they were fighting a pointless battle... They didn't have the Black Rider and continuing the conflict would only result in more damage. He used his teleportation ring to transport himself and Viper to a small boat docked close to the house.

The New Mutants enjoyed a brief reunion and all seemed right with the world. Even professor Xavier contacted them and didn't scream their heads off for disobeying orders. All in all not a bad way to end the day, but then on the final page of issue #6...

                                     "I have come to claim you... body and soul... forever!"

And with that, the New Mutants ended its first six months in publication with a bang and a whimpering Shan. As we'll see next time, to no one's surprise, the New Mutants survive the explosion. Well, most of them anyway...  

1 comment:

  1. I only had time to skim this entry, will read it in more detail later, but just want to say that panel of Cannonball doing the 90-degree turn for the first time brings back memories. Awkward, insecure Cannonball was always my favourite, and I felt like cheering too when he achieved this small triumph. I was about 10 when this issue came out and despite the lack of villains, I really liked it (I was probably very forgiving for a while after being so blown away by the really great Sentinels fight in issue 2).

    Karma's telepathic visitor was yet another example of the slow-burning subplots that made me enjoy Claremont so much. The fact that this wouldn't pay off until two years later just makes the big surprise that much more unexpected and exciting.
    Thanks for this great New Mutants retrospective.
    david p.



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