Are you familiar with the Ship of Theseus thought experiment? It’s also known as the grandfather’s axe problem or, to use my preferred nomenclature, the Sugababes Paradox. The question it poses is this: if you thoroughly rebuild something, whether it's a ship, axe or pop group, and in the process replace all of the original parts, is the final result still the same thing as the original?
This question applies to superhero teams too. What makes a team feel like the New Mutants, besides the fact the name is on the cover?
The starting line-up of New Mutants: Deal Souls contains just one of the original five New Mutants, Wolfsbane. She’s joined by Magik, Boom-Boom, Rictor and Strong Guy. Except for the last of those, every character in this book has been on some version of the New Mutants, but at first glance, the cast seems to have more in common with Peter David’s incarnation of X-Factor.
Maybe it’s less about membership than concept, then. The New Mutants were originally conceived as the younger X-team, training to be superheroes. But these characters are all long graduated from the Xavier School -- and in many cases, from the grown-up X-Men team.
“We’re not X-Men anymore,” Magik says in this issue. Which raises in the question: What is their deal?
This question, as it turns out, it’s part of the point of Dead Souls. They’re a corporate-sponsored team dispatched to deal with supernatural emergencies, but the book is hazy on the whys and hows. The cast seem as confused as anyone about why they’ve been brought together, and we don’t get a solid answer this issue.
It’s an interesting approach, making the book’s premise a mystery. This issue starts out as a zombie story, but before you can settle on solid ground, that plotline wraps up and it’s onto something new. It’s refreshing to see a modern superhero comic squeeze a full adventure into its first issue, but the resolution ends up slightly rushed, leaving the whole thing feeling a little inconsequential.
It seems likely that the plot will circle back round to this, and I’m interested to see what does come next, but it’s hard to recommend Dead Souls on its premise because… I’m not entirely sure what it is.
There is plenty here to enjoy, though. The team is filled with fan favorites, and Rosenberg has them constantly bantering and bickering. Again, the nearest reference point is Peter David’s X-Factor, in terms of stylized, reference-heavy dialogue. Not every line lands perfectly -- as a Brit, Rahne’s accent is as painful to read as ever -- but it helps give the book a voice.
The real star, though, is Gorham’s character designs. The cast spend most of the issue in their civilian clothes, and each outfit is packed with personality. Magick ditches the skimpy black leather for a full-blown goth look. Strong Guy is grotesquely swole, Gorham pushing his musculature to appropriately absurd proportions. And, my absolute favorite: Boom-Boom rocks a hoodie/jacket/shades combo, with her hair swept over to one side, which really helps differentiate her from the other white skinny blonde girl on the team.
When they do go into superhero mode -- in a stunning suit-up montage, brought to sparkling life by Garland's colors -- their costumes are a stylish update on the classic yellow-and-black New Mutants uniform. It's an undeniably good look, which really ties the team together.
Maybe this is the answer to the problem mentioned at the outset: all a superhero team really needs to retain their identity is a strong uniting visual. The rest, as seems to be the plan in Dead Souls, can follow later.