In August of 1984, Bill Sienkiewicz starts a thirteen-issue run as the artist of The New Mutants. Equal parts Molotov cocktail and thousand-year flood, Sienkiewicz's style represents the art of the possible, remakes the superhero comic and blazes a trail for others to (try to) follow.
This column attempts to find out if there is still some "Magik" in that pulpy paper with its ads for The Young Astronaut Program, Huffy, and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars II #1. Pop in a cassingle, pour some Jolt and let's get abstract.
The New Mutants #29 makes for a cock-up of Godard-ian proportions and would be surreal if it were not so gross. In the mid-1980s, Marvel's majordomo, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, sure as shit wouldn't allow logic, decency and creativity to stand in the way of crassness and the immediate fact Mattel had to move a lot of Baron Zemo action figures and lenticular cardboard. Flame on!
At the time, Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars paterfamilias Shooter prides himself as "the company’s designated Keeper of the Franchises, and the ordained Absolute Authority." Shooter pulls it all together and at the same time makes Baxter Building sized stacks for shareholders of Marvel and Mattel.
When it comes to Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars II, however; the editorial head becomes demure. Shooter's legacy is the event and the cross-over. Perhaps the kids who loved the words "war" and "secret" in those Mattel focus groups were visionaries, future captains of industry and bloggers. Like many sequels, MSHSW II is a financial decision and a smart one to make hay while the sun shines. The New Mutants #29 plays the role of fluffer, we ain't even to the good stuff yet.
Given the events of The New Mutants #26, #27 and #28, the title of #29, "Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion," assumes narratological sense i.e. what sort of gambols have those crazy kids — Sam, Illyana, Roberto and Amara — been up to while Professor X has been trapped inside the head of his only begotten son. In short, the four stay-at-home mutants fall victims to the ol' fake pool party invitation which causes Roberto and Amara to get abducted (how is never explained) by the Gladiators who serve the Shadow King, of course. Sam and Illyana give chase, but sadly fall short. This explains (in a way) why Sam is (again!) shirtless and Illyana wears a black two-piece bikini.
As there is no black dog in "Black Dog," the neoclassical mansion located to the west of Breakstone Lake one would expect to find in a story about the New Mutants is absent as well; and perhaps for the best as such a stately manor should remain unsullied from the editorial skullduggery and ham-fisted illogical story-telling that is this sad chapter in mutantdom.
Sam and Illyana interrogate one of the kidnappers in Limbo where it's always good to see S'ym wearing his vest and diaper combo. Turns out the Gladiators are in L.A. Illyana and Sam 'port their way to la-la land and arrive safe and sound and still in their bathing suits. For some reason, Claremont also moves the two through time as well as space and it's a week after the abduction when they arrive. Why? Is it to better fit the MSHSW II timeline or because why not? ANWAY Sam and Illyana end up at Sam's girlfriend's Malibu beach-house before going on another interstellar (over)drive.
Mansion fan boys/girls and adherents of Freeman Dyson (there's a cross-over) need not fret because Chris Claremont shows off the absolute in unique properties, the domicile of that cosmic child and solar rockarolla, (and Sam Guthrie squeeze) Lila Chaney who lives inside "a single habitable construct, some 200 million miles in diameter, enclosing a star located on the far side of the Milky Way."
A funny thing happens on the way to Lila's star chamber, seems one her session singers, Alison Blaire, was walking up the stairs when Lila teleports off earth along with Sam and Illyana and wouldn't you know it, poor Ms. Blaire, like some Dorothy Gale, gets herself teleported too. What are the odds?
Lila's home stands (orbits?) as a metaphor to the mélange of absurdity and meaninglessness that passes for story in The New Mutants #29; the sphere is circumstantial and silly in its own right. What's even more ridiculous is either the fact Alison Blaire (née Dazzler) gets kertwanged into all of this business or that Lila doesn't bother to let Illyana borrow a shirt, a coat or even a pair of pants until much much later (I got your back, demon girl!). Sam however looks like he raided the Hellfire Club's closet. Blaire plays a pivotal role in MSHSW II. So why not let her stowaway in this storyline, I guess?
Claremont must have been apoplectic Shooter was strong-arming him to shoehorn this (even for Claremont) ridiculous plot point that has Sam, Illyana, Lila and Dazzler on a mission to free the captive Roberto and Amara. Meanwhile, back at the drawing board, Bill Siekiewicz's art looks and feels as if he knows he's ridden this horse as far as it will go. Although, the eye-stalk looking flowers are a nice touch.
The fanciful four returns to Earth dressed in the height of fashion except for Alison who is disguised as a sheikh because she used to be a banger with the gladiators before she was rescued by "the beast — and my friends at the Heartbreak Hotel." Still, once you've tasted "the crowds, the cheers, standing center stage … being the best," it's hard when you rotate back to the world. Gladiator life, amiright?
Sienkiewicz draws some dramatic combat scenes involving a giant green snake, a skinny Frankenstein's monster and a Minotaur with a fuchsia mohawk. The interior art is good and it retains some of the energy and elegance of the cover illustration, but it doesn't have the same dash as when the New Mutants were hip deep in demon bear flesh. At the very end, Magneto shows up, tears the roof off the place and tells all involved who he is and why he's here.
The "patient zero" of Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars II is (arguably) its prior incarnation. Still, The New Mutants #29 makes a decent case. It's like some "Island of Lost Souls," bits of bits stitched together neither man nor beast nor The New Mutants.
Although tall for his age, eleven-year-old Keith Silva did not possesses the prescience to imagine that one day he would have a Twitter (@keithpmsilva) or a blog (Interested in Sophisticated Fun?) or write for Comics Bulletin — halcyon days indeed.