New Mutants (1983) #56
The Hellions lock horns with the New Mutants once again, this time over capturing the mysterious Bird Boy! But what sort of feelings do New Mutant Magma and Hellion Empath have for one another?
This fun, purely set-up, seemingly ‘sillier’ issue of New Mutants (especially compared to the heavier themes, like grief or trauma, Louise “Weezie” Simonson would bring later on the run) has always been one of my personal favorites. It most probably has to do with how June Brigman’s art (always highlighted by Austin’s inking and Oliver’s colors) nails a perfect middle-point between exaggeration, preciousness, action and emotion that fits the New Mutants deeply. On a more superficial level, it’s also because this is the only issue in which their (ridiculously over-the-top) “X-Men graduation” designs shine. And I must confess I’m guilty: this fashion assassination is some of my favorite New Mutants clothes’ design… Gonna blame Brigman’s art on that one!
But, to make a point of why this could be one of your favorite issues too, I’d say the issue has more than what meets the eye. There’s, obviously, the simple storyline where Amara plays Juliet to Empath’s twisted manipulative Romeo – stay calm, they don’t die at the end, but their unlikely love ends up putting them in polar opposites of where they were a few issues ago.. or are they?
This is one of the rare issues where the New Mutants are not retraumatized, ashamed, put under a terribly stressful situation or not used to each other, and one in which the art tells a kind of teenagers slice-of-life story in various points more in line with Archie comics’ style. It’s especially not about high stakes, especially down to earth, and it shows some of these characters in social positions they’re not usually into (this is the issue where Illyana shows – unattainable unrealistic – interest in boys!), showcasing their flaws as much as their virtues. The main conflict: used to all this trauma and social inadequacy, Dani unintentionally hurts Amara, and Amara feels shame, an emotion her teammates are more equipped to deal with in vulnerable ways than her (as it’s shown by Rahne embracing Dani in a warm vulnerable way at the end of the issue, just after losing their connection for some minutes). The main mission: putting all their efforts to rescue some possibly-mutant possibly-just-a-bird creature, out of simple compassion.
And enter the Hellions. Their motives for bird-chasing are way more selfish and evilish, but they represent other things than evil: they’re successful, they’re higher class, they mask their feelings with being the “cool guys”, their social dynamics are way less about vulnerability and bonds and more about socially stand out, and one of them is the source of Amara’s complex feeling. They provide Amara with somewhere to belong. Social belonging and teenage groups, hurt feelings, shame, romance. Possibly the best superhero storylines if you ask me, especially as accompanied by a creative team (Weezie, Brigman, Austin, Oliver, Orzechowski and Nocenti on the editorial side) that puts all their efforts in making this issue filled with lighten colors, exaggeration, over-the-topness, fun all around (weird fun fact that Kevin Nowlan’s cover is as epic and fantasy-filled for a very down to earth issue!). Every little detail of this issue is a great way to meet more of these characters. Even the fish…
An issue that deals with teenager crushes, social belonging, hurt feelings, compassion, and some fashion defiance! What I would call a memorable superhero comic... Well, see ya around! It’s been real!
SUNDAY CLASSICS: NEW MUTANTS #56: ‘You Think I’d Let A Few Illegal Fish Stop Me?’
Writing - 10/10
Storyline - 10/10
Art - 10/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 9/10
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