X-Men fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to writer Chris Claremont for the countless contributions he’s made to the X-Men franchise and the comic book medium as a whole. With that being said, some of Claremont’s more recent output can feel a bit out of step with modern storytelling styles. Reading something like his 2004 run on Excalibur is like watching the inventor of the ukulele try to shred on electric guitar in a metal band. The principles are similar, but the end result isn’t exactly in vogue.
Thankfully,C laremont and the brilliant Bill Sienkiewicz shine on New Mutants: War Children #1, where the iconic New Mutants creative team explore what made their earlier output so influential in the first place.
Taking place sometime after "The Asgardian Wars," New Mutants: War Child #1 centers on Warlock and his perceived destiny to destroy his friends. Naturally, when he does begin to act on these impulses (or programming, rather), things take off, turning into an issue long-battle that pulls from several character plot threads from the early days of the team. The struggle between malicious forces and the young team of mutants is nothing more than subterfuge to the real heart of the story, which is the galvanization of certain friendships and the bonds that are strengthened in the face of adversity.
This a one-shot which acts like a greatest hits snapshot of some many New Mutants story arcs Claremont and Sienkiewicz worked on together in the '80s. The focus on teamwork and family are omnipresent, almost to a fault. This is most likely due to Claremont's constant reiteration of major plot points for new readers. Even in his legendary run on Uncanny X-Men, rarely did an issue go by where a character didn't explain their power set to the reader through dialogue or internal narration. It's a storytelling device from a bygone era, but here it feels right at home. Now, to be fair, not all the dialogue works. Some of it is painfully hokey, but then again, Claremont may not have the keen ear for modern teen speak like he once had (if he ever really had it to begin with).
Sienkiewicz artwork is, as always, fantastic. The most striking images involve Warlock, who is a character artists often love to go wild with visually, and Sienkiewicz does not disappoint in that regard. His insane Warlock panels blend ghastly body horror and abstract imagery. Each page takes a moment to process. This isn't to say it's cluttered or too busy; there's just a lot to take in, and all of it is wonderful. There aren't many artists out there doing this kind of frantic, dynamic work these days, which makes seeing Sienkiewicz's work a breath of fresh air.
It's a shame this is a standalone issue. New Mutants has always been a great team of characters that's easy to overlook in the legion of X-Men teams. Historically speaking, New Mutants was a title that never put up the same sales numbers as some other X-books. The series rarely featured household names and focused on a third-string superhero team of trainees that was ripe for teen drama, angst, and romance. While Uncanny X-Men was bursting at the seems with the adult version of that soapy goodness, New Mutants injected horror elements into its narrative, which may have narrowed the book's accessibility for broad audiences in hindsight.
However, that's what makes the New Mutants stand out, both in this issue and their classic adventures. There is a darker edge to the team, and the fact they're all a bunch of frightened kids trying to understand themselves, each other and the hateful world around them adds new wrinkles to well-worn tropes.
New Mutants: War Children #1 is a time capsule that reminds readers that this young team can truly be something special. Their greatest strength is their bond to one another, which, of course, is also their greatest weakness. Toss in a heap of horror tropes that create real life or death stake , and you have a team that's easy to root for. New Mutants: War Children #1 is a celebration designed to make fans of the team dig back into some dusty long boxes for a trip down memory lane.