4 out of 5
I’ve had some stray issues of various things written by Zeb Wells before that I enjoyed, and curious how that carried over to an ongoing title, I took the chance on the stickiest wicket of mainstream titles: an X-adjacent book. Continuity clutter and crossovers have generally pushed me away from Marvel and DC – generally, that even a really quality run will get hijacked by some need to stuff in editorial mandated directions or the event-of-the-week – and X-Men stuff has always struck me as the most burdened by that affect; the most difficult to settle in to without context on… all of it. And that gets exponentially worse when you go to the side X-Men titles; the X-Men are one of the most soap opera-y groups, and their world carries that “legacy” of intrarelationship muck supporting a lot of the narrative.
I’ve also recently quipped, though, that even with these complications, I’d say most books are still followable even without that context, and the best of those make you feel like the missing context is exciting, and not daunting. Zeb Wells supports my confidence in his work and that hope / belief with his first arc on New Mutants: tossed into the deep end of legacy characters and time- / alternate-dimension travel, not to mention using cliffhangers based on an understanding of how some of those legacies function, and fully giving us the X-Men soapy bizness, ‘Return of the Legion’ manages to be a ton of fun, as Cannonball takes over leadership of his small band of mutant misfits to explore the cause of some missing mates in a small town.
The “easy” path to such a setup is to wallow in the outsiders-versus-the-ignorant-townies stereotypes, and use that to generate distracting “tension,” but Wells takes a much more modern and interesting approach, which doesn’t sidestep this concept, but combines it what the mystery of Whatever’s Going On in the town. That makes for great tension, and keeps that running conceit of the X-titles alive – that they’re never accepted by the populace – while still keeping the plot moving forward. And yeah, the arc title is pretty much a giveaway to what’s what, but, quite aware of that, he gives up that plot point after the first issue so we can get into more complex territory: fighting emanations of the badguy on one plane of reality, mirroring / syncing with a similar battle happening on a mental plane.
Great pacing and organic dialogue – Wells is funny, but has a natural flow to both his “quips” and the teenage-esque he-said / she-said grousing such that the characters actually seem like relatable humans, and not just one-liner drama machines – keep things moving along, with Dio Neves really well choreographed action, excellent “acting,” and clean page layout the perfect artistic match for the juggled tones of horror / surreality / action / etc.
That said, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and though I do think they’re pretty distinct, the large cast mixed with a pretty complex concept made some of the later scenes feel bloated to sustain their panel space. That is: in order to circle around and cover everything that’s going on, the pacing ebbs and flows a bit oddly, such that the threat dims a little bit. But I don’t know how to solve for this, since tightening up the pacing may’ve just compressed the issue.
Either way, while I still can’t say I care one bit about the X-Men overall, it’s great being able to jump in to a title like this and enjoy it immensely, feeling “included” in the ongoings dramas without the need to go wiki the past ten years of events and characters.