Review by: Samuel Blair
Hello and welcome to this episode of Church of the Geek: Off the Shelf, our periodic review of new comics. Today I’m reviewing New Mutants #25, “Best Laid Plans…”, written by Vita Ayala, art by Rod Reis and Jan Duursema, color by Ruth Redmond and lettering by Travis Lanham.
Illyana Rasputin has been through some things, but then again so has Madelyne Prior. Madelyne, if you remember, is the clone of Jean Grey created by Mr Sinister who just happened to come life as the real Jean died on the moon and tried to take over the world as the demonic Goblin Queen of Limbo. Illyana, also known by the name Magik, later was tied to the realm of Limbo as its reluctant ruler after the defeat of Madelyne. There is a whole lot more to the history of these two, but as hard as I tried to distill their complicated timelines into a few sentences I found I just couldn’t do it. Suffice it to say that both have seen some tremendous trauma in their lives, including kidnapping, abandonment, betrayal and death, never mind the whole “regent of hell” part.
Issue 25 begins a new arc where Magik seeks to hand over control of Limbo back to the Goblin Queen. Her teammates Dani and Rahne are none too pleased with this idea and struggle to understand why Illyana would want to hand over the forces of hell to someone who had caused so much havoc and death in the past, including among the X-Men. She makes it clear to them that this is what she wants. It’s her own way of trying to process her trauma and put a bookend on a horrible part of her life, albeit one which undoubtedly made her an extremely powerful mutant in her own right. Rather than leave limbo in the decidedly more evil hands of the demon Belasco, she decides to hand over rule to Madelyne.
Anyone familiar with Maddie’s history will join with Dani and Rahne in their skepticism of Magik’s wisdom here. However if we’ve learned anything about this new Krakoan era, it’s that it’s an era of redemption and uneasy alliances. Former enemies of the X-Men sit on the quiet council, and it’s clear from its founding that Krakoa is a place for all mutants regardless of their past. With very few exceptions, enemies have been welcomed and given a chance to begin again. Most recently, the New Mutants were able to reclaim the mutant psychic Amahl Farouk from the evil Shadow King, canonically the oldest of the X-Men’s enemies. This was accomplished by the younger mutants of Krakoa going under the radar of their mentors though. The original team had forbidden contact between the group and Farouq because he was deemed too untrustworthy to be with the New-er Mutants, and rightfully so as the story played out. After the Shadow King trapped them all in the psychic realm, the mind of Farouq eventually won control and, with the help of Magik’s Soulsword, banished the Shadow King from Farouq’s mind.
A main theme of New Mutants as a title overall has been trauma: the writ large traumas, such as Rahne’s hateful religious upbringing and Magik’s lost childhood, as well as the everyday traumas of the awkward teenage years. Even Dani Moonstar’s power is literally to bring someone else’s trauma to life. The move now to have Magik release some of that trauma by letting go of one of the most traumatic parts of her life is a bold one for the title as well as the character. These events have formed her though into the strong and confident war chief that she is now. Unfortunately, as painful as our trauma can be, letting go of it often carries a mix of emotions. Holding on to trauma can maintain that energy that pushed us to grow in the first place, and there can be a fear of the unknown that comes from any kind of change. Trauma therapist Veronica McGee (Why We Sometimes Hold On To Trauma. by Victoria McGee) wrote that people hold on to trauma for three main reasons:
Moving past trauma lets the person who caused it off the hook.
Moving past trauma means I can no longer be let off the hook.
Moving past trauma means I will have figure out who I am if I’m not suffering.
It’s this last challenge that perhaps is the most significant for Illyana. The mystical arts she learned while captive in limbo have become part of her power set. When let loose, her sorcerous powers transform her physically into that of a demon of immense power. The pain of her past has woven into every aspect of her self, both empowering her and entrapping her. Will she be able to lay that title down and see who she is if she isn’t still the demon queen of limbo? What will the impact be on her powers, especially the soulsword?
Madelyne Prior remains the biggest variable in this transaction. Her return to limbo may allow her to have a “do-over” as a hero rather than a villain. Yet by the end of the issue her motives and demands are unclear. Returning to the source of one’s trauma unprepared is never a good idea, especially if one hasn’t worked through it enough to rest in a place of wholeness outside of it. Illyana reminds her friends that everyone is worthy of a new beginning and a clean slate. Madelyne as well lays claim to the notion that “Krakoa is for all mutants”, even her. It’s here we see the bigger picture that writer Vita Ayala had, as the previous Amahl Farouq arc leads directly into this new arc with Madelyne Prior. The New Mutants saw that Amahl Farouq was not synonymous with the Shadow King, and that once the corrupting entity had been removed Amahl was able to begin his own healing process. Now, Magik claims that Madelyne Prior is more than the Goblin Queen. We’ll see if her optimism is rewareded.
There’s a sense of foreboding that runs through the issue, and the title for this arc, “The Labors of Magik”, plays on the double reference to the labors of Hercules and the labor of working magic itself. Working magic, at least as I’m told, is a costly endeavor. If something is given, something is taken away. Nothing is free, and the devil is in the details as they say. This promises to have a significant impact on Illyana, Madelyne and probably all of Krakoa as well. The current creative team for New Mutants has been spectacular throughout and has remained one of my favorite X-titles for it’s trippy art, horror leanings and sharp writing. Given the story to be told, I expect lots more of all that.
Thanks for listening. We’d appreciate it if you left us a review on your podcast app of choice, and feel free to follow us on Twitter @geekchurch and online at geek.church. Subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, be careful out there, and Geek be with you.