Over the past couple of months I have been working my way back through the first run of The New Mutants from Marvel Comics. I am referring here specifically to the version of the series that started in 1983, and ran 100 issues (not including annuals and other special issues, of course). This series is, perhaps, a little less well known than some of the others which have generated the big screen movies. Still, it has been the source for at least one one TV series - Legion on FX (which I discussed here) - and has a movie lined up which was supposed to be coming out in April, but which has been delayed now until next year.
I read the series the first time when it was new, collecting each issue as it showed up on the racks at Fact and Fancy, the hobby shop in our little town. It was something very different for 12-year old me - a series featuring characters that were around my age, dealing with actual teenage problems. It was about adolescents, but it wasn’t adolescent in its presentation - it was written at the same level as the other comics of the era (or arguably better, given the creative teams involved with it). And yes, with super powers, but these figured central to the theme of the series - for mutants, powers emerge in adolescence and, like so many of the other things that emerge during that turbulent time of life, they are often uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing, intrusive...
This is a theme that does emerge in other stories since, of course - it’s a central component of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it’s used to good effect in the first two of the three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. I wouldn't argue that it’s unique to The New Mutants or originated there, but it’s particularly well done in the series, and I would be unsurprised to find that the series influenced those later story tellers.
Excepting some of the story telling tropes of 1980’s comic books - for example, the need to give As You Know, Bob’s about various components of the characters powers and the ongoing storyline in virtually every issue - the series stands up well. I’m slightly older than 12 years old now, and I’m still really enjoying it.
As will surprise no one who reads this space, I have been doing my re-reading digitally - specifically using the Marvel Unlimited app. This is my preferred approach for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a 12.9" iPad screen is bigger, crisper, and cleaner than the original books.
But I ran into a snag.
Marvel Unlimited, for the uninitiated, is a lot like Netflix for Marvel Comics - for an annual fee you have access to everything uploaded to Marvel’s servers. Also, like Netflix, the app knows which issue is next, making it easy to roll through multiple issues in the continuing storyline across the course of a weekend afternoon or evening.
Still, as I was reading and enjoying the series I had a moment where there seemed to be a jump in the timeline. I flipped back to the prior issue, looked at where it ended, and then moved forward again. It was a jump, but not so large that I couldn't follow what was going on. I chalked it up to storytelling decisions (Sometimes, for example, things are handled in an annual issue that doesn’t appear in the series itself on the app), shrugged, and continued to read. Then it happened again, and it was clear that I was missing material.
I pulled back out of the series reading mode and looked at the lineup on the app. This is what I saw:
It’s a lot of visual material to process at first, and it took me a moment to catch it myself. But it’s there:
There is a 9-issue gap - the app just jumps from issue 61 to issue 71 (I clearly wasn’t paying attention to issue numbers as I was going from one book to the next). So this got me thinking about that prior story jump and, sure enough, it also jumps from issue 50 to 55. This was a small enough gap that I was able to rationalize it away, but it was a real thing.
This sent me on a search - perhaps I could download the issues from Comixology? But no, the same gap appears on their store as well. They didn’t seem to be available online elsewhere either, at least not with a casual search. This was vexing because - and I’m sure this will be surprising - I’m a bit of a completist. When I go back to read a series, I want to read the entire series.
And then it occurred to me: I still own the paper versions of these.
Many of the comics I’d collected over my childhood have since been sold, but there are a few key series that I held on to, and The New Mutants was among them.
Accessing them was no small feat - they were buried in a closet, in a wooden box built by my grandfather, under multiple other boxes. I can’t honestly say for sure why I’ve held on to the comics that I have - predominantly sentiment, I suspect, if I’m going to be honest. But if one needed a rationale for one’s seemingly irrational retention of material, here it is.
Of course, I brought out not only issues 62 through 70, but also 51-54. It meant having to drop back in the storyline a bit, but dammit, now it’s complete.
I’m sure there are those out there who will start to think about the joy of holding a paper book in hand versus the cold, impersonal experience of reading them on an iPad, and look to this entry to be an endorsement of that. Those folks should prepare for disappointment. It’s not like I only just remembered that I had these up in a closet - I could have simply chosen to re-read the series in paper from the get-go. Honestly, though, paper comics are a disappointing experience relative to digital. Among the things one realizes when going back through these:
- The colors are muddy and faded. The color scheme in older comics was one of filling in through pixelation, and the quality of this varies from one issue to the next. This might be partially due to age, but it’s also a reality of the medium from the era.
- Printing is inconsistent. There are sections that are washed out or where text is missing because the print head (or whatever - I’m no printing press expert) simply didn’t hit the page square on. These aren’t due to the ravages of time - I can remember being frustrated with these issues when I was a kid.
- Having a stack of comics to work through is kind of a pain in the ass. Where do you put them, how do you work around the stack with other things? This is amplified by the fact that these are now part of a collection that I’m trying to keep relatively pristine, and so makes what should be a casual activity, occasionally involving the presence of food and drink, somewhat less so. (I’m actually pleasantly surprised that I did not find cereal flakes and milk stains in any of the books - I wasn’t nearly so careful when I read them thru the first time).
- Advertising! I’d actually forgotten that these are full of ads (the digital versions are not). It’s a little jarring at first, and there is some nostalgia to seeing the ads for New England Comics and Charles Atlas. I can remember wondering exactly what Sea monkeys were (spoiler alert: brine shrimp), and how the Sales Leadership Club worked. TSR role playing games and Nintendo game cassettes also feature prominently in these. Still the reminiscent curiosity wore off quickly and soon they were just intrusive, like all other advertising.
Fortunately I’ve worked through these now, and can move back to the digital haven whence I started. Of course, that also means I need to put them away and stack all of the crap back in the closet...