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 Nutty Payday Instant Winner Game, Noxzema Clear-Ups and Quik … Pop in a cassingle, pour some Jolt and let's get abstract.
If you had the announcement of Bill Sienkiewicz's departure from The New Mutants in a nonchalant reply in the letter column to a member of the Malaysian Merry Marvel Marching society, you win!
Thank you Cloh Wei Leong, your praise of Sienkiewicz, letterer Tom Orzechowski elicits this response: "… New Mutants #31 … will be Bill's last, for the time being. He's planning a hopefully brief leave of absence to do some other projects … and just take life easy and goof off a little, the lucky devil!" I'll talk more about what sort of "devilish" and "daring" ends find Sienkiewicz post-New-Mutants when "OM, NM" wraps next week. For now, consider the devil we do know in The New Mutants #30, Darkchilde.
Sienkiewicz always seems at his best on the darker side of the street and these three ruby red pages, courtesy of Glynis Oliver, remind readers there is no place like Limbo. Too bad the cape Sienkiewicz drapes around Darkchilde disappears in the following pages — it really pulls the whole cloven hooves, spikes and high collar ensemble together. After filling in the details of what brought Illyana/Darkchilde, Kitty Pryde, Sam Guthrie, Rachel Summers and Alison "The Dazzler" Blaire to this bloodshot abyss, Chris Claremont writes: "The realm is but echo of its mistress — if she is mad — then so is it!"
As he does throughout his tenure on The New Mutants, Sienkiewicz works madness and desperation like a Renaissance master. Here he goes for red hot rage as Illyana gives in to her more demonic and darker tendencies. The formality of panel borders vanishes into a montage of blasting' big rocks into little rocks, screams and confusion. Sienkiewicz begins with a medium shot (almost a close-up) of Darkchilde's head in the clouds. Her horns, fangs and a pinprick of a heart-shaped tongue point the way down the page where she battles her fellow (?) children of the atom. The composition then shifts and pulls back to a series of long shots that provide perspective and scale for both the boulders and the brawlers. Darkchilde stands in the middle of the maelstrom (or symphony of destruction); her hand is raised in defiance, her anger at a pitch. Sienkiewicz racks the focus in closer to head and shoulder length shots of Sam and Alison as they attempt to make sense of their situation. The black mark above and below Darkchilde acts like an arrow, it calls back to the image at the top of the page and draws the eye to a close up of anguish and fury — Sienkiewicz as artiste.
If Claremont did not have to dazzle his editor-in-chief with this Gladiator storyline, a Darkchilde arc in The New Mutants might have run three issues, maybe even, like the return of Cloak and Dagger, four. Instead, a primed and permed Kitty Pryde yoinks the soul sword from Illyana/Darkchilde's hand as easy as Sunday morning and uses its eldritch fire to cleave Limbo's mistress in half. Done and done. After "a change of clothes" Illyana teleports everyone back to Los Angeles and they resume their efforts to try to free Roberto and Amara from the Gladiators.
As plot points go this one is crackerjack: Blaire rejoins The Gladiators to prove to herself that she doesn't need them or the "thrill of the spotlight" anymore, Kitty goes undercover and tries to get hired by the Gladiators as a tech — turns out when the guy with the horsehead and fuchsia mohawk and the skinny Frankenstein aren't in the arena, they double as human resources, because, why not. The rest of the team waits and watches from a wooded locale, night turns to day, the Beyonder shows up, Summers mind-links with the "being from beyond the stars" and learns of its "aching, driving, growing insatiable need that has only lately found a name. Curiosity."
Again, Secret Wars offers superheroes versus supervillains. That's good. Secret Wars II deals with potty-training and the panoply of human emotions. That's tedious and somewhat daft. Let's leave Secret Wars II in the Marvel universe dustbin (where it belongs) and unpack a motif with more teeth, mouths.
The New Mutants #30 is titled "The Singer & Her Song." Sienkiewicz picks up on the title and incorporates it into his art, the "Sienkiewicz face" becomes the "Sienkiewicz mouth." Be it in agony or ecstasy, lips, teeth and tongue play prominent roles in this issue. As he does at the beginning with Darkchilde, Sienkiewicz composes many of his panels with open-mouthed looks on character's faces; however, no one mouths off more than Dazzler.
As his signature circles orbit around the singer, Sienkiewicz draws attention to Dazzler's mouth as she belts out her song over "a hard, driving, heavy metal beat" at the top left-hand side of the page — a signature Sienkiewicz sketch of hard straight-lines and ecstatic emotion. Her outstretched arm reaches into the next panel and leads the eye down the right side of the pag
e to the many-eyed creature with his mouth agape. Then reader's attention gets directed to the panel below, a close-up of Dazzler's mouth at the precise moment when, "she's never felt so wild, so free … so alive!" In this literal character beat, Sienkiewicz captures the release of emotion and reminds readers that even amidst a cross-over, art triumphs over commerce.
Before I can bring this discussion about mouths to a close (ahem) there is one more panel that deserves attention and in addition opens up the final act of this procrustean story arc.
Sometimes synchronicity comes along as a song and at other times it's in a letter from Malaysia. In addition to his applause for Sienkiewicz and Orzechowski, Mr. Leong asks: "What happened to Karma?" The editor's response comes in typical "stay-tuned-true-believer" fashion with the answer to be revealed soon, only not yet. Karma, founding member of the New Mutants, has been absent from these Sienkiewicz-centric adventures and here she returns for a cameo as a shadowy bulk in need of a good orthodontist — she's like the Demon Bear sans claws and fur. It's probably nothing, but Karma's tongue like Darkchilde's is heart-shaped, perhaps there should be some discussion about the Sienkiewicz tongue, then again, probably not.
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.