Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Mutants Forever #4 - Ancient and Modern Awesome

When it comes to any media, there are certain traditions and patterns that are older and more cliched than jokes about Tom Cruise's chances of ever winning an Oscar. Whether it's comics, movies, or TV there are some formulas that just work. Usually the key ingredients to those formulas involve but aren't restricted to Nazis, hot blondes, and old world pagan cultures that weren't as uptight about the occasional orgy. They won't craft these elaborate literary masterpieces that would cause Shakespeare to rise from the grave and challenge the writer to a duel, but they are entertaining and they do tell a decent story. Chris Claremont is known for using certain cliches from time to time. His Forever series has been somewhat of a celebration of these cliches. New Mutants Forever is one such celebration that involves the equivalent of a solid DJ, better drinks, and more uncut cocaine.

Since this mini began is has told a rather condensed tale about the New Mutant series that picked up from the work Claremont did with this series in 1987, a time when many readers were still a glob of mindless sperm cells swimming around in their father's hairy sack. Like his other Forever series, this one continues like he never left. At his age he's getting paid to pretend his living in the past. For many people in that age bracket, it's a pretty sweet deal. And Claremont has taken full advantage of it, showing that he's kicking senility's ass and still churning out plenty of awesome. The first three issues of New Mutants Forever set up a strong plot involving the Red Skull, Amara Aquilla's homeland of Nova Roma, and Doug Ramsey being turned into one of the Red Skull's minions. He hasn't been able to involve the full range of New Mutant characters like Wolfsbane, Magneto, or the rest of the Hellfire Club. But it's still been a damn good story. It involves Nazis, Ancient Rome, mind control, and beautiful women. It's that same formula I mentioned earlier and so far Claremont has made it work.

New Mutants Forever #4 tries to milk that formula the same way video game makers incessantly suckle at the teat of World War II. In the last issue Selene was leading the New Mutants in an effort to investigate what was happening on Nova Roma. They walked straight into a mix of orgies and shit storms, basically a weekend at Rick James's house. They met the mind-controlled Dough Ramsey and Amara. Doug had gotten the Barry Bonds treatment from the Red Skull and seemingly killed Warlock, forcing Selene and the others to retreat. While Doug should have been feeling good about himself for doing his master's bidding, he felt like shit and started having regrets. Then Warlock showed up and made it clear that he didn't take kindly to being beat up. So now Doug has to fight off mind-control and a pissed off friend. It blurs the line between multi-tasking and schizophrenia.

Cypher fights Warlock with the full assumption that the Red Skull is watching his every move. And he's right. The Red Skull is watching and fantasizing about making Amara his love slave. He's essentially a Nazi version of Kanye West and creepy it may be, who can blame him for wanting a hot blonde as a queen? It doesn't help that Amara's starting to fight old Red's control as well. For any Nazi, losing control over a beautiful women like tantamount to calling Hitler a sissy.

Cypher fights the control off better and does get the upper hand on Warlock. And Warlock is smart enough to pick up that he's fighting his friend here. This puts him in a classic "does not compute" position that Windows Vista users should be very familiar with. He starts figuring out what Doug is doing and is on the verge of blurting it out like that guy at a wedding who blurts out the last four guys the bride went down on at her baccalaureate party. Then Amara shows up and torches Warlock. She takes some heat of her own in the process, but comic readers in this day and age should be desensitized to pretty blonds getting beat up. This is the post Jerry Springer era after all. Warlock ends up leaving the fight to most likely reboot so for the moment Cypher's cover isn't blown. Plus, he gets to carry an unconscious blond so that's a nice bonus.

Warlock flees and reappears with Magik and Cannonball to regroup. They're met by Selene, the usually sadistic Black Queen who so far has proven to be several levels below the Red Skull. In the last issue she was soundly humiliated by getting poisoned with the Red Skull's version of Michael Jackson's Jesus Juice. She bounced back and is out for revenge. So she leads Warlock, Magik, and Cannonball to an underground lair where the Nova Romans have formed their equivalent of the French Resistance. They also get a history lesson of how Selene used to rule Nova Roma and her influence carries as much weight as her bra (if she wore one). She helped fight off past invaders before, sending them all running back in a mix of horror and sexual arousal. There's something about having to surrender to a woman with a full boner that makes defeat all the more humiliating.

Once Selene rallies the troops, they strike back at the Red Skull. What comes next is a decent battle scene, but it's not quite as epic as it should be. It's no Saving Private Ryan, but it does leave a ton of Nazi storm troopers in a mangled mess so if you hate Nazis or just watch too much Fox News this should put a smile on your face. It also has the New Mutants showing some balls against the Red Skull, who has had the upper hand for pretty much this whole mini. Now that they have an army behind them, the New Mutants are understandably more confident.

This still doesn't do Cypher much good, who is trying to break free of the Red Skull's influence. It's only now starting to dawn on him that looking as red as Ricky Martins ass after a meth bender and as deformed as Joan Rivers's pre-Botox face has it's downside. It's bound to make family pictures and prom photos very awkward. The Red Skull is watching this struggle the whole time and he delights in it the same way Freddy Kruger delights in a vulnerable teenagers with parent issues and poor grades.

Cypher's outburst doesn't go unnoticed and not just with the Red Skull either. Warlock reveals that he's been keeping an eye on Cypher like a kid with binoculars outside a college sorority house. Now given that Cypher helped beat Warlock to a digital pulp earlier you would think a rematch would be in order. But the scene that unfolds here is a little bit of a mystery.

Warlock reaches out to Cypher and offers help, but he doesn't really say it. He just approaches Cypher, he starts talking, and then they talk about fighting back. It's a confusing scene and one of the first that Claremont seems to have underdeveloped. Warlock doesn't even say anything yet Cypher just laments how he's become a freak and wants to fight back. It feels like some of the conversation got cut out. It's like a momentary blackout when you're trying to talk to a hot girl at a club and you're so buzzed you forget the conversation and keep talking like it never stopped. Usually, that sort of thing turns a girl off quicker than a discussion of the latest treatments for herpes. In this issue it's just confusing.

However they magically conjured a plan, Cypher and Warlock put it into action. Warlock mysteriously vanishes from the panels and Cypher goes into his John Rambo mode. He fights his way into the Red Skull's throne room and unloads on him like a PETA supporter at a Ted Nugent concert. The fight scene that follows is pretty awesome. Cypher shows some cajones, but as he says himself this is a guy that went toe-to-toe with Captain America. He's a teenager who endured a botched makeover and a mind raping, not a super soldier and it shows.

The Red Skull goes for the haymaker by trying to inject Cypher with the same non-FDA approved drug that turned him into little miss red sunshine to begin with. That's when Cypher channels his inner Captain America and turns the tide. While the Red Skull may be a hell of a fighter, the man is old enough to be Eleanore Roosevelt's personal gigolo. Cypher has youth on his side and that seems to give him the edge.

Then something unexpected and twisted happens. Chris Claremont may be using a lot of old cliches here, but the man is a legendary X-men writer for a reason. He knows how to blow a reader's brains away in no fewer than twenty different ways. Just as Cypher has the Red Skull down for the count, Magma steps in and takes him out with a good old fashioned Benedict Arnold.

And to add insult to injury, a shadowy hand takes the needle the Red Skull was going to use against him and injects Cypher with another dose. Even with the Red Skull in the same room, that's over the top. And the man that shadowy hand belongs to isn't Amara or the Red Skull. It's the man who was supposed to be their ally and who helped Cypher get into the Red Skull's domain in the first place, Tiberius Rex. So now he has a hulked out version of Cypher on the Red Skull's steroids and a hot mind-controlled blond by his side. He is essentially living the American and Roman dream (minus the orgy), setting the stage for a very different battle in the final issue.

Going back to those old formulas I mentioned, Chris Claremont topped this issue off with a good old fashioned twist. Put together in a story containing Nazis, hot blonds, exotic cultures with looser attitudes towards sex, and crazy genetic experiments and you've got all the necessary ingredients for pure awesome! And Claremont, like a skilled chef, put them together in all the right ways. The story is like the cake and the execution is like the frosting. If you have diabetes, reading this may send you into a coma although for awesome comics it's more than worth it.

Now I've given high marks to every issue of New Mutants Forever thus far and there's plenty here that warrants a similar high score. However, this issue did have a few major missteps. The scene with Cypher meeting up with Warlock again was jumbled and confusing. It didn't make sense especially with Warlock not even taking part in the fight against the Red Skull. It seemed too rushed. Another misstep were the inner monologues. While Chris Claremont is known for showing a lot of thought bubbles, this time he used them too much to just have the characters explain what they're doing. I don't mind thought bubbles describing the feelings and emotions of a character, but when someone starts narrating their actions that's usually a symptom of psychosis or a symptom someone is trying to act out Family Guy in real life.

These shortcomings are not easily brushed aside so I must taper the score. However, the twist at the end with Amara and Tiberius did keep it from going too low. There's still plenty of reason to pick up the final issue if for nothing else to enjoy one last dose of Al Rio's excellent artwork in this series. So for New Mutants Forever #4 I give it a 4 out of 5. There's no reason why Chris Claremont can't take all these cliched elements and bring them together in one last final show of awesome. With X-men Forever getting the axe soon and this being a mini, the old X-men legend this caliber of awesome will be fleeting. So like a good line of cocaine, enjoy it while it lasts! Nuff said.

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