New Mutants: Debrief (#5) – Zeb Wells

5 out of 5

Bookended by the return of techno-being Warlock, ‘Debrief’ is exactly as its title suggests: those who played a part in the previous arc download and process their experiences in one way or another. While this is a somewhat typical method for transitioning between story arcs – you take a one-shot to cover the fallout, then it’s back to business – Zeb Wells is again at the peak of his game with amazingly naturalistic dialogue, and a quite masterful sense of pacing that allows each character’s arc to unroll with an effective sequence of emotional punches, as opposed to a dialogue-filled issue that’s just waiting out the clock for some last minute reveals. Instead, each page feels important to understand everyone’s headspace, and the various methods of debrief (mandatory therapy; chatter during a doctor’s appointment) all also feel equally well considered, properly matched to whoever’s participating. Also as before, Wells doesn’t avoid the X-Men soap opera requisites, but it’s naturally seeded in; a believable extension of what was, within the book’s context, a pretty crazy few issues.

With the whole thing reading so tightly, it makes that last minute reveal especially punishing.

Zachary Baldus’ close-cropped artwork is fascinating, somewhere between Frazier Irving’s elongated forms and a more realistic, drawn-from-life image. But the artist’s layouts are perfectly suited to the story, prioritizing a focus on people and occasional background details with splash colors to make the pages very emotive, but still interesting to look at.

While the series is about to get hijacked for that most obnoxious of Marvel / DC tendencies – a crossover event – these first five issues from Zeb Wells New Mutants run show how to embrace the fan service and dramaturgy the X books demand, while also keeping things accessible for new readers like myself, and balancing the familiar with a very strong sense of identity – relative to mutants and their hijinks, these are very much “real” people, reacting to “real” dangers.