Retro Reviews: The New Mutants: Truth Or Death By Raab, Chang & Pennington For Marvel Comics

New Mutants: Truth or Death #1-3 (November 1997 – January 1998)

Written by Ben Raab

Pencils by Bernard Chang

Inks by Mark Pennington

Coloured by Tom Vincent

Spoilers (from nineteen to twenty years ago)

Somewhere early into John Francis Moore’s run, a three-issue New Mutants series showed up on the stands, bringing the original team back together again.  Why?  I have no idea.  I don’t know that anyone was clamoring for this, so perhaps it was done to renew the trademark or something.  Anyway, I remember being disappointed in the whole thing, which has the original team (late Claremont era) move forward through time to interact with their present, 1997, selves.  

Typing that, it kind of sounds like the plot to Bendis’s All-New X-Men, doesn’t it?  Anyway, let’s see if this is any better than how I remember it.

Let’s see which characters he was working with on this title:

The Team (from the past):

  • Magik (Illyana Rasputin)
  • Sunspot (Roberto DaCosta)
  • Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair)
  • Cannonball (Sam Guthrie)
  • Warlock
  • Magma (Amara Aquilla)
  • Mirage (Dani Moonstar)
  • Cypher (Doug Ramsay)

The Team (in the present):

  • Cannonball (Sam Guthrie, X-Men)
  • Sunspot (Roberto DaCosta, X-Force)
  • Moonstar (Dani Moonstar, X-Force)
  • Karma (Xi’an Coy Manh, inactive)
  • Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair, Excalibur)
  • Douglok (Phalanx, Excalibur)

Villain

  • Mikhail Rasputin

Guest Star

  • Sprite (Kitty Pryde in the past; #1)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • “Some years ago”, we join the original New Mutants – Mirage, Cannonball, Sunspot, Wolfsbane, Magik, Magma, and Warlock, in Limbo, where they fight some demons.  Illyana takes down S’ym, and is surprised by a cloaked figure, who tells her that he cares about her, and that she should come and find him.  She faints when she tries to find him, and we discover that all of this has happened in the Danger Room.  Kitty Pryde and Doug Ramsay, who were running the Room, rush to her side, and Illyana accuses them of programming the cloaked man into the simulation, which they deny.  She teleports away.  Later, Kitty visits her in her room, where she still feels disturbed by the visit and expresses concern about her future.  Kitty suggests that maybe she should use her time traveling power to seek the guy out.  The rest of the team is watching Magnum PI when a power outage occurs.  Illyana suggests that the team play “Truth or Dare” which they do for a couple of hours (!!).  Eventually, Bobby dares Illyana to face her future, which is a really creaky plot device, especially since she “triple-dog dares” the rest of them to come with her.  They teleport into the future, and find themselves still in the Xavier School, but are confused by the photo of Generation X they find on the wall.  At LaGuardia in the present day (i.e. 1997), Sam, Bobby, Dani, and Xi’an wait at the airport.  This is confusing, as at this point, Sam is an X-Man, and Xi’an is inactive, while the other three are members of X-Force, and there is no discussion of how they all got together.  They are waiting for Rahne to arrive from Europe, where she serves on Excalibur.  Sam is immediately attracted to her new, older look, and is a little butthurt when she rushes to hug Dani before him, despite her having always had a crush on him.  Douglok, a Phalanx who has chosen to honor the relationship between Warlock and Doug Ramsay who is also in Excalibur, has followed her, and causes a bit of a scene at the airport.  They ride a gigantic Hummer to the Xavier School, where they observe a light going out, caused by Past Warlock smashing it.  Present Rahne goes into the school to search for intruders, and is confused by the familiar scents, including her own.  At this point the New Mutants reveal themselves, causing Present Rahne to be surprised by the presence of Past Doug.  The rest of the team arrives and are equally surprised.  Douglok identifies Illyana as being deceased, which freaks her out and she teleports away (again).  She comes across the cloaked figure from before, who reveals himself as Mikhail Rasputin, her brother.
  • Everyone continues to be surprised by the appearance of each other, as each Present New Mutant chats with their Past self about things, and as Amara and Xi’an introduce each other.  Past Sam is so excited to learn he’ll be an X-Man, he flies into the ceiling.  Amara worries about Illyana while Warlock recognizes Douglok as Phalanx, but misidentifies him as part of his own people (Warlock is from the Technarchy, which is related to the Phalanx I thought).  Illyana arrives with Mikhail, which freaks out Present Dani and Sam, who know him as a villain.  Mikhail doesn’t want to tell everyone what he has planned, but Illyana wants him to meet her friends.  He explains how he used his powers to contact Illyana in the past, and he asks the gathered mutants if they will help him save his sister’s life.  The Present group argue over what to do, with various good reasons supporting why they should and shouldn’t help.  Douglok points out that Mikhail is getting antsy, so the team decides to attack him, leading to a fight with the Past New Mutants.  This goes on for a while, until Xi’an tries to possess Illyana, and she in turn somehow awakens Xi’an’s guilt over her siblings’ difficult lives.  Douglok attacks Illyana, and she bests him.  She’s about to cut him up with her soulsword (which wouldn’t be able to do him any damage, as he’s not magical) until Present Dani stops her with her psychic arrows, but then Xi’an possesses Dani, and demonstrates some new use of her powers in stopping one of Dani’s arrows.  Outside, Present Sam takes out Past Sam and Past Bobby.  Upon returning into the school, he sees that all of the Present cast members, all possessed by Karma, are on Mikhail’s side.  She puts them to sleep, and Mikhail starts using his powers to bend reality or something.  Mikhail and the Past New Mutants head out to save Illyana, but Past Rahne knows that what he is doing is wrong, and is upset to realize it falls to her to stop them all.
  • The Past New Mutants have Illyana hooked up to some machine in a lab, with Doug running it, while Mikhail wears some sort of technosuit that’s attached to it.  Rahne tries to stop them from beginning their experiment, but has no reason to.  When Doug and Mikhail begin, Illyana is hurt and the machine overloads.  Past Rahne fears that her teammate has died, but she hasn’t, and Mikhail teleports her to the medlab.  In a detention cell, Present Sam wakes up tries to escape using Douglok’s tougher skin to disrupt the force field containing them.  As it turns out, Douglok is awake.  In the ICU, Mikhail and Illyana talk and bond, although it’s clear to us that he’s hiding something from her.  The Past New Mutants talk about how bad they feel that Illyana will die ahead of them all.  Mikhail tells them that the operation was a success, and the celebrate, but Doug is suspicious.  He scans Illyana and the data about her, and discovers that he is dead in the present too.  Past Rahne has slipped away to free her friends’ present-day counterparts, but just as she is about to, Mikhail arrives and stops her, just as they bust out and begin to fight him.  The fight isn’t going great, but then Illyana and the Past New Mutants show up.  We learn that Mikhail had the Legacy Virus, and in an attempt to develop some sort of immunity to it, he passed the virus on to Illyana.  She tells him off, and he leaves.  Later, outside, the teams say goodbye to one another, and as they teleport away, Karma uses her newly developed psionic abilities to mindwipe the departing teens, which is incredibly hard to swallow.  Later, the present day characters console each other, and Bobby talks about how important friendships are.

Again, I don’t know why this miniseries was made, unless it was for contractual or legal reasons.  It doesn’t fit that well with what was happening in X-Force at the time, and I can’t imagine it drove any new readers to either that book or Excalibur.  I also don’t believe there was a huge clamoring for a return to the original teenage team.  Nor do I think anyone wanted more Mikhail Rasputin.  This thing just kind of exists.

Ben Raab is one of those writers who seemed to pop up a lot in the late nineties, but who never really got a long run anywhere.  I can kind of see why – this was a perfectly serviceable book, but it didn’t do much of anything by way of character development, the dialogue was often stilted, and characters used words like ‘bogarted’ more than once.

Bernard Chang’s art is pretty nice here.  In a few places, his work reminded me of the great Steve Leialoha, which was kind of nice.

At the end of the day, this was not a very memorable book.  I am struggling to remember how Illyana came back to life – obviously this weird infect her with the Legacy Virus at a point before her body reverts back to young childhood didn’t fix her.  Next we’re going to take a look at the next time the New Mutants title was used, although in a very different way.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

It doesn’t look like this series exists in trade paperback format, or online at the Marvel Store or Comixology, but I can’t imagine a set would run you much if you track it down at a store.

 

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