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July 21, 2018

The New Mutants: Dead Souls #1 (Review)


The New Mutants: Dead Souls #1
Marvel Comics, March 2018
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg

The New Mutants: Dead Souls is a new comic book series from American publisher Marvel Comics, focusing on a team of teenaged mutant superheroes. The New Mutants as a title and concept were first introduced in 1982 as a spin-off from the very popular X-Men mutant superhero franchise. The team consisted of students from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, which is a fictional school for mutants founded by the X-Men’s leader, Professor X. The New Mutants served as younger counterparts to the X-Men. The characters’ age and relative inexperience results in their stories focusing more on interpersonal conflicts and teenage angst.

The New Mutants: Dead Souls features a team of characters that were at one point members of the original New Mutants (or one of its later iterations.) The difference is that the story is set in the present, with the characters having grown older and more experienced. This gives the comic a more cynical tone, which is certainly the intention. 20th Century Fox has an upcoming horror movie that leverages the New Mutants brand, and this comic might be an attempt to follow the upcoming film’s blending of the horror and superhero genres.

The New Mutants: Dead Souls #1 is still connected to Marvel Comics’ publisher-wide shared continuity. The team is facing a supernatural threat by way of a large-scale zombie infestation in Alabama. There is novelty in pitting spandex-clad superheroes against paranormal threats, and we suspect that the proliferation of the undead over the past twenty years (triggered by the success of Image Comics’ The Walking Dead) means that many readers are now tired of zombies in comic books.

And since the zombies faced by The New Mutants are your run-of-the-mill walking undead that can die through decapitation, as adversaries they fail to provide any real element of danger to the plot. At least not when the New Mutants include among their ranks an invulnerable, super strong mutant, and a sword-wielding sorceress who has the powers of a demigod.

Further, the resolution of the plot involves a small detail that a reader might not expect because it was pulled out of nowhere (figuratively and literally.) It makes for a disappointing conclusion.

The more cynical tone of the comic and the characters also make it hard for the reader to care about the story. There is a misguided attempt to paint once well-loved characters as older and more mature, which unfortunately only succeeds in making them unlikable and unrelatable. There is the feeling that the characters do not care about their mission and dislike each other, as they constantly trade passive-aggressive quips and generally act dismissive of everything. Internal and artificial tensions in a team can only carry characterisation so far.

It is not all negative, though, from a stratospherically high perspective. The pivot towards the horror genre could be a breath of fresh air in Marvel Comics’ superhero catalogue. And it would be interesting to see how the writer, Matthew Rosenberg, can make this genre adoption fit within Marvel Comics’ shared continuity. Unfortunately, the first issue leaves a lot to be desired. The horror elements of the story are plainly half-baked, and the story still struggles to make the New Mutants and their story interesting to readers who are not fans of the characters already. We hope the execution of these elements in subsequent issues is more successful.

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