In the wake of Age of X, the New Mutants have a new role in life and a new team leader. Under Moonstar’s direction, the group has been tasked with sorting out the X-Men’s unfinished business in the hope of neutralizing threats before they materialize. Item one on the agenda: Nate Grey, the X-Man, last seen when Norman Osborn’s team of Dark X-Men encountered him some time ago.
The issue doesn’t start there, though. Rather than follow the arc through in a predictable, straightforward manner, they begin the issue by introducing Donny, a former mutant with power-loss problems which have driven him to make some poor decisions about his life. Through Donny, we are introduced to the villain, The Sugar Man, who is creating technologically-derived mutates as part of his experiments. It’s an interesting approach, to put such focus on the kind of incidental characters who might otherwise be mere background material, and even though it’s clear what’s going to happen to Donny, it helps make the Sugar Man appear genuinely villainous in a way we don’t normally see. By helping us empathize with Donny, we get to see the true corruption at the heart of the Sugar Man’s goals, which, generally speaking, are quite reasonable and achievable. He just wants to get home, and doesn’t mind who he steps on to do it.
There is a more traditional component to the issue as well, which sees the New Mutants investigating the place where Nate Grey has gone missing. There are a couple of nice moments — in particular, the unexpected appearance of an Avenger — but it’s not entirely successful. Although the entire team is present, only Moonstar and Doug get to do any real work. The others throw in a few token lines of dialogue, but there’s a lot of people standing around, contributing nothing in any practical or intellectual sense. It also doesn’t help that Doug Ramsay’s dialogue is excruciating. Abnett and Lanning don’t see to have come to grips with it, and that level of stylization requires complete understanding. Rarely has someone with the gift of language been so painful to read.
Leandro Fernandez’s artwork is generally good, and well-suited to the pensive and deliberate pace of the story. Although his environments are full of detail and he can execute Abnett and Lanning’s reveals exceptionally well (if only we knew what the description for the first panel on the third-to-last page said!) there are moments where his style falters. Faces just don’t seem to look right. It is admirable, though, that he at least manages to make the cast look visually distinct, which is something a lot of artists have struggled to do under the current costume designs.
Despite the minor flaws with its execution, it seems as though the book’s new direction is going to work well. The creative team is solid, if still finding its feet, and at least they’re aiming high. If every issue ends up this ambitious with its content and approach, the decision to take New Mutants in a new direction will be fully justified.