Fall of the Mutants, Part 3

Well, we made it. Here’s the last part of Fall of the Mutants and let me just say, “Whew! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” In other words, this “crossover” was a tough one for me to get through. Enjoy.

New Mutants #59-61

Louise Simonson, writer; Bret Blevins, penciler; Terry Austin, inker; cover-dated January-March 1988

New Mutants #59: “Fang and Claw!”

The story begins with the team sneaking out of the X-Mansion.

But first, a little background: The team, at this point, is Cannonball, Wolfsbane (Rahne), Magik (Illyana Rasputin), Mirage (Dani Moonstar), Cypher (Doug Ramsey), Sunspot, Warlock, and Bird-Brain (a humanoid bird-thing that I’d never heard of or seen before). Magneto is currently the mentor of the young group. Apparently Magneto had grounded them sometime before this arc, but they felt the need to disobey that order to go to the secret island that Bird-Brain was from. Sunspot and Warlock didn’t go on this little excursion because they had recently run away from the school. (Looks like Magneto has a great hold over these kids.) I’m assuming that, in the previous issue (or, perhaps, off-panel), Bird-Brain convinced the team to travel to his former island home in order to help him free his friends. The island is home to mutated creatures and is twistedly named Paradise. But he and his friends aren’t normal mutants (an oxymoron, I know). These poor creatures are called “Ani-Mates” and are the result of the experiments conducted by a mad scientist-type named The Ani-Mator. (creative, eh?) The Ani-Mates are deformed hybrids of two or more familiar animals, and the results are usually ghastly. The Ani-Mator was hired by Cameron Hodge, through his organization known as The Right (X-Factor had just gotten done fighting The Right in arc before the Fall of the Mutants), to search for the reason why organisms mutate in hopes of stopping mutation altogether, and, ultimately, putting an end mutant-kind. It is unclear from this story as to how Bird-Brain escaped Paradise.

Now that you’ve had your crash course in old New Mutants, let’s begin. As the team arrives on the island and begins to compute their odd surroundings, The Ani-Mator notices their intrusion and, fearing the disruption of his experiments, sends some of his larger, more obedient Ani-Mates to take care of the kids. After a few pages of combat, the team is captured. Thankfully, Simonson’s “witty” banter was kept to a minimum during this fight sequence.

Cut to The Ani-Mator’s lab. The mad scientist goes on a rant, explaining how his creations are freaks of nature, accidents, things that don’t even deserve a name. (Why he feels the need to share this with the class, who knows?) Rahne takes it upon herself to argue with him about Bird-Brain. She says that he is worthy of a name, that he is more that just a thing. Well, as you’d expect, this pisses off the madman (something you should never do). He announces that the team will become his newest guinea pigs.

New Mutants #60: “Suspended Ani-Mation!”

The team is placed into containment pods and, just like Apocalypse in the X-Factor arc, the villain decides he will grandstand in front of the captured heroes, explaining to them some of his harebrained ideas. All they can do is watch him and agonize over their misfortune.

Cut back to the X-Mansion. Sunspot and Warlock have decided to return from their runaway adventure. Magneto, like a worried parent, greets them with relief and reprimands. The three realize that the rest of the team has disappeared so they begin to investigate. Magneto tells them to stay put while he goes to the Hellfire Club to use their mutant location equipment. (Sunspot and Warlock find it odd that Magneto is cozy with the Club.) Moments after Magneto flies off, the two remaining New Mutants hear a radio broadcast about Bird-Brain’s last known whereabouts (All information pertaining to that is from a previous arc.) and decide to once again disobey their mentor by going on their own search for the missing team.

Cut back to Paradise. Cameron Hodge appears on a big computer screen, checking up on his investment. He knows that The Ani-Mator has run background checks on some of the New Mutants and he’s not happy about it. The Ani-Mator cowers in front of the screen and plays dumb about the background checks. Pretending to be really busy, The Ani-Mator ends the transmission. Hodge is not convinced of the scientist’s sincerity so he decides to take a trip to the island with some troops. Anticipating this, The Ani-Mator decides that he has to destroy the evidence so he sentences the team to death at the hands of his Ani-Mates.

As the team is being transported to their execution, Dani hatches an eventually successful plan of escape. Another brawl begins and the kids have more luck than earlier. Unfortunately, just as they finish subduing the Ani-Mates, Hodge and his wacky-looking troops arrive. (You have to see their smiley-faced armor to believe it.) They take the team off guard and quickly capture them (tedious, I know).

Hodge is super-pissed at all of the things going on without his knowledge so he decides to rid himself of the entire island investment by commanding his troops to open fire on the Ani-Mates. As the poor creatures start to fall in large numbers, Hodge begins loading the captured New Mutants onto his airship. The Ani-Mates, realizing the larger threat, decide that the only thing to do is to free the New Mutants so they can have a chance to survive (a team-up … fresh idea). Luckily (and predictably), Sunspot and Warlock arrive to join the fight and succeed in freeing their teammates. In a cool scene, Illyana opens up some of her portals right on top of Hodge’s troops and they are, one after another, sent straight into Limbo to rot.

The tide begins to turn. As things start to sour for Hodge, he decides that it would be best to flee in his airship. Full of rage due to losing his body of work, The Ani-Mator pulls out a gun in order to shoot the kids that ruined it all for him. He takes aim at Rahne, who doesn’t even know she’s in the crosshairs because she’s busy dealing with one of Hodge’s smiley-goons. Aside from Archangel’s first appearance, this is the main surprise of the entire trade paperback; Doug sees what’s going to happen so he runs and jumps between Rahne and the gun. “BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!” Doug falls to the ground and dies. It was quite a shock because I had never known how he died. I didn’t see it coming at all so I’m sure that fans back then were flabbergasted.

As for Hodge, he doesn’t get very far. A large octopus-like Ani-Mate rises up from the water, yanks his ship out of the air and pulls it into the sea. It’s the last we see of him. On land, Bird-Brain gets a little revenge by smashing a brick against The Ani-Mator’s skull, dazing him.

When the dust settles, the team begins to rejoice at their victory, that is, until they see Doug. Let the after-school special begin. Tears, cries of rage, “Why? Why?!” Honestly, it made sense for him to die considering he has little to no use during combat. (His mutant power is to understand and translate any language, organic or technological.) He seems destined to eventually end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unable to contain herself, Illyana flips out, grabs a dazed Ani-Mator and sends him into Limbo to “feed the demons.”

The issue ends with the Cannonball giving an impromptu eulogy for Doug. He speaks about the choices people make. He mentions the choice Doug made when he decided to be a freedom fighter; Doug knew the consequences of being an X-Man but at least he had a choice. Cannonball goes on to say that the mutated victims of Paradise never had any choices and that they should be awarded some. Like the choice to give themselves names. “It’s what Doug woulda wanted,” he said.

New Mutants #61: “Our Way!”

The cover of this issue has the team in new uniforms and flying on Warlock’s back with big smiles on their faces. The wind is blowing in their hair and they look completely at peace. I’ve seen misleading covers before but this one is ridiculous. Now, I know Marvel doesn’t want to give away all of the dramatic moments but come on; this cover is displaying a completely opposite emotional tone from what the pages inside show. I digress.

Back to the action where the story picks up just seconds after last issue. Over a ridge, one of Hodge’s smiley-troops regains consciousness and opens fire on the grieving group. A bullet hits Rahne in the leg and Illyana’s anger returns. Her furor leads her to warp over to the attacker, grab him, and take him into Limbo. Her anger getting the better of her, Illyana starts turning pretty demonic herself. She begins developing horns and hooves, fantastic battle armor, fangs, etc. As she returns to Earth 616 her teammates notice her losing her grasp on reality and decide it’s time to leave.

After some grief-filled thought, Bird-Brain decides to stay with his Ani-Mate friends in Paradise. The rest of the team says their goodbyes and heads for home with Doug’s body.

Cut to the skies above New York City. Magneto is surveying the damage caused by Apocalypse’s falling ship. Disgusted, he flies over to the Hellfire Club. As he enters he identifies himself as a member (the White Bishop) and continues to watch news footage the wreckage in New York as well as Dallas. While the mention of Dallas helps the crossover gain a little more credibility, it’s still not enough to satisfy the way a crossover should. Off panel, he uses the location equipment and discovers that his students have made their way back to the X-Mansion.

As Magneto is heading back to the Mansion, the kids continue to deal with Doug’s death. They argue, cry and argue again. They blame themselves, others and then themselves again. It’s supposed to be a poignant moment about death and loss but it plays like a Nickelodeon sitcom. What’s funnier is the fact that, even though this scene is hammy, the dialogue in this arc is still better than the dialogue she wrote for the X-Factor arc. (In Simonson’s defense, the book is aimed at a younger audience.) Maybe back in the 80s X-Factor was aimed at stupid, older readers while New Mutants was aimed at slightly smarter, younger readers. Who knows?

As Magneto arrives, the situation gets worse. He is boiling over with dismay, which turns to outrage and despair, when he discovers Doug’s body. As expected, there’s more yelling and crying. In a well-written moment, the students try to gang up and blame Magneto for everything (The kids complain about ridiculous things like Magneto not being there to fix the problem.) even though everyone in the room knew that they failed Doug. It was a moment that actually felt real; the futility of not being able to change what happened and trying to point blame in order to not feel responsible.

If spirits weren’t low enough, the grieving team decides to turn on the news. They tune in just in time to witness the X-Men run into a Dallas building which promptly explodes. Illyana begins to lose it again. She tries to teleport to Dallas but is denied due to some sort of magical shield over the city. As she returns to the mansion she is livid; out come the demonic horns and whatnot. She attacks Magneto, needing someone to take her anger out on. After a few lunges and parries, her teammates convince her to stop and she runs off to the attic in a sobbing huff.

Her team comes up to comfort her for the loss of her brother. Another round of crying. After a while the kids notice a bunch of packed-away clothes. They decide to create some new uniforms to take their mind off of their sorrows. (Nothing takes your mind off of murder like some new clothes.) The end. That’s right, the end. That’s how this angst-filled arc finishes: The team decides that they need to cut ties from Magneto and chase Xavier’s dream on their own. The new uniforms signify their rebellion. They signify that the team is in charge of its own destiny from now on. Good luck kids.

Oddly enough, I liked this arc the best of the three. Claremont was over the top with concept, Simonson was over the top in X-Factor with cheesy dialogue and destruction but on New Mutants she was quite well-behaved.

The art in this arc was nice, too. Bret Blevins, a guy I don’t know much about, is quite good with a pencil. His style is a little distorted in a way that reminds me of Todd McFarlane. It was a bit cartoony and I expected that from a comic aimed at a slightly younger audience so it wasn’t a problem at all. Also, it was inked well.

* * * * *

So there you have it. After all is considered, the first Anatomy arc covered a storyline that was scarcely a crossover but, like I said, we’re going to cover any storyline where major characters from different books interact, no matter how scant, as long as it has an affect on the storyline. In this case, the major interactions and affects involving the three books were very basic and boring. There was that section in X-Factor­ that involved Captain America, Power Pack, and the Horsemen … it seemed like it could be interesting, but, in the end, I really didn’t spend much time writing about it simply because Marvel didn’t deem those issues worthy of inclusion in the trade paperback. Still, in some sick little place in my head, even though I didn’t like this trade paperback, I’d like to at least see what happened in those missing issues.

And what about the title of the storyline? The funny thing is, we’ve read comics about mutants for years and we continually tune in to see them get the shit beat out of them. They’re always “falling” so what made this story the ultimate Fall of the Mutants, considering that everyone always gets beaten up? Nothing. It had the same old “bad shit happening to mutants” that it always does, except this time it was packaged with a nifty crossover logo shown above the indicia. I’m sold!

What were the big changes? The X-Men died (not really), Doug died (not for long), and a bunch of people got new uniforms. Whoopee! The more I think about this trade paperback, the more I realize how similar Fall is to 2004′s Reload event. In Fall, as well as in Reload, there was some crossing over, there were costume changes, there was “falling” (wink) but, in the end, not much really happened.

As far as crossovers go, Fall gets THREE STARS out of ten. Why so low? Well, there was barely any crossing over, plus, I didn’t find the stories that engaging. Even though I thought the art was solid (for the most part) in X-Factor and New Mutants, it wasn’t enough to bring the semi-boring stories up to a four. If I rated the three books as separate storylines (which they should be considering their almost complete lack of crossing over) they would get varying grades, but that would defeat the purpose of this column.

If you think my grade is a little harsh, by all means, go and read Fall of the Mutants. Hell, when I initially read some bad reviews of this story, I didn’t think it would be this weak either.

* * * * *

Join me in a week or two for the next installment of Anatomy as I cover a much more proper crossover: The Mutant Massacre.

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Mike produces books and documentaries about comics. He's now trying to write his own comics. He tells everyone else at Sequart what to do. Do they listen? Eh.

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