Editor's Note: New Exiles #5 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 23.
Here we have issue number five of Chris Claremont's New Exiles, where plates are spinning with speed and abundance. If you were wondering what became of Sabretooth and his pals, having returned to the Crystal Palace on the eve of war, you're in for a bit of a wait. Those plates are pre-soaking en route to the dishwasher. Instead, this is the story of Sage, Cat, and Morph and their trip down the rabbit hole.
At some point before, during, or after the return of their teammates from Earth-6705, Morph spotted an anomaly in a hitherto undiscovered Omniversal Monitoring Chamber (Patent Pending - a big, black space with a comfy chair and a bunch of litle Earths floating about) that Cat had found, sussed out, then, evidently, pushed the wrong button, as is wont to happen to those who plumb the mysteries of the Panoptichron. From down the hall, around the corner, third door to the left (no, your other "left"), Sage psychically "hears" their cries of distress and leaps from the tub to lend a towel. Despite observing that they're awfully far apart, she reaches the "Observation Suite" in due time, following her comrades through the vortex-thingy. During the initial, er, sucking, Cat found herself simultaneously transforming into every conceivable version of herself across reality, including a mess of alien forms. All female, though, from the look of it, so Go Cat-power! Neither Morph nor Sage experienced this peculiar self-randomization but then, they hadn't been pushing buttons.
None of this might seem terribly confusing, but it happens after Sage has a full-tilt battle with figments of her imagination, which doesn't seem to have bothered her; the sudden, random re-emergence of her telepathic abilities, on the other hand, bothers her a lot. This seems like the right moment to mention that Tom Grummett's usual place in the masthead has been replaced for a couple of issues with that of Roberto Castro. Combined with Scott Hanna's inks, there's some similarity between the two pencillers which lends a degree of visual continuity. I did wonder if some of the pages turned in weren't quite what Claremont had in mind, the result being, throughout the book, a kind of over the shoulder scrabbling to maintain the story as intended. This interferes with the "sequential" aspect of the art, a problem that might have been overcome had Claremont been a little bit quicker on his feet and tailored the dialogue to fit (rather than, at times, getting sarcastic about it). More than once I had to re-read pages to determine who was speaking to whom. A problem by any measure. Whether deadline, miscommunication, or plain obstinance is the culprit, the result is the same: confusion.
It's not much of a spoiler to tell you that the big, green, winged critter on the cover (the art for which is brought to you by Alan Davis as Michael Golden has, along with Tom Grummett, taken a couple of issues off) isn't Sauron, Fin Fang Foom, nor an alternate version of Lockheed. Rather "she" is the crux upon which the balance of the story hangs.
Our three heroes have landed in a strange, post-industrial Neverland, where medieval society exists alongside magic, modern weapons, lighting, and HVAC, if I'm any judge of castle ductwork. Acting upon instinct, they choose sides in the first skirmish they encounter, casting the die for the next issue. Sage seems determined that there's a reason for where they've landed and why, while Morph laments their continued manipulation (completely reversing his position by the last page). They eventually agree that helping the dragon and her Princely slayer-turned-beau is a worthy mission and set to aid them in the name of True Love.
Speaking of The Princess Bride... Cat's found herself in an odd situation. Though still in possesion of her own mind and phasing ability, she undergoes a pair of physical alterations representing other "versions" of herself. The first one, off the bat, rings of a Courtesan from Renaissance France. Unable to phase out of the flouncy dress, high heels (always good for a swift kick to the nethers), and pink tights, she's forced to use her power to walk on air to keep up with her teammates; no Queen of the Ballroom is our Cat. The costume is roughly appropriate to the setting, however, until she's again put through the Omniversal ringer and outwardly transformed into a Central American Native Indian. Visions of Tiger Lily danced in my head, but that's a bit on the nose. Since I've just turned Fashion Critic, Sage plundered the dragon's plunder, turning in her towel (and one strategically placed, passing bird) for a provocative buccaneer outfit. Despite the always infinite possibilities, Morph sticks with his X-costume, apparently never having learned Steve Rogers' embarrassing lesson concerning capes, from the time when Captain America had hung up his mighty shield to don the guise of Nomad.
It's been many years since Claremont's well known (some might say "infamous") "Kitty's Fairytale". This story arc revisits it in an oblique way. While the reason behind Cat's ongoing transformations is the real story, we're left to wade through silliness up to our piratey thighboots to get there. Though vaguely charming (or "Prince... Charming"... nuh!), it would work better as a children's story, and this definitely ain't no children's story, notwithstanding the oft vicious allegory of the Brothers Grimm, what with the ultraviolence and implied naughty bits. Reading it won't damage you in a noticeable way, but the exercise is beside the point other than to finally reveal the whereabouts of the three missing New Exiles, who, without a Tallus to guide them back to the Panoptichron, remain missing. The good news is that if you're right keen on swashbuckling sci-fi, these times belong to you. The bad news? Everybody's a Skrull, or so I hear...
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