Story Title: “The Beginning of the End”
Published: February 1991
Writers: Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Rob Liefeld
By the 1980s, the X-Men had become one of Marvel Comics’ most successful publications, prompting then-chief editor Jim Shooter to call for a series of X-Men-related spin-off titles. The New Mutants, a team of teenage students from Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, came out of this need for fresh new X-Men titles; created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod, the first team of New Mutants debuted in September 1982 before graduating to an ongoing title that was first published between 1983 and 1991. The original team, comprised of far younger characters than those in the ongoing X-Men comics and representing a number of diverse ethnicities, eventually fell under the command of the time travelling Mutant known as Nathan Summers/Cable and was transformed into more of a mercenary team and, ultimately, reformed into X-Force. In 1991, however, Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld introduced a new antagonist for this team of hot-headed youths, the mercenary known as Deadpool, and inadvertently created one of Marvel Comics’ most popular anti-heroes in the process.
The New Mutants #98 introduces us to Gideon in the midst of a training program at Shaw Industries. Gideon is quite the enigma; possessing powers of “super human enhancement manipulation” and a very…unique sense of style, to put it mildly, he easily overcomes Sebastian Shaw’s combat modules in what appears to be a bastardised version of the X-Men’s famous Danger Room. Having wowed his underlings with his incredible performance (which mostly consists of a bit of dramatic jumping about and throwing his assailants into walls; nothing I would particularly describe as “impressive”), he runs through his itinerary for the day, paying particular emphasis on his vague plans for one Emmanuel da Costa.
Gideon’s plot will have to wait, however, as an impressively Liefeld-esque splash page introduces us to the actual Danger Room, where Cable is engaging in a training exercise alongside Samuel Guthrie/Cannonball. Despite Cable’s rugged insistence that he doesn’t require any help, Cannonball pulls him from the grip of some giant, ugly green machine and justifies his actions by explaining that he’s supposed to be practicing at perfecting his Mutant abilities. Eager to put these to the test, Cable initiates a more aggressive counter-attack sequence and even takes pot shots at Cannonball himself with his incredibly versatile cybernetic arm. Despite failing to balance his focus on multiple threats at once, Cable commends Cannonball’s abilities and wishes for him to expand his kinetic abilities to shield the rest of the team in battle.
Cannonball then points out that the “team” is shy a few members and Cable conveniently runs down the reasons as to why; it seems Warlock died in the line of duty recently and Rahne Sinclair/Wolfsbane’s loyalties are in question but, in any case, Cannonball takes umbrage to him and his team mates being thought of as mere soldiers rather than family but Cable, rugged and war-ravaged as always, is steadfast that the reality of their situation is that all Mutants are soldiers in the world they live in. At the Da Costa International residence, a suspicious redhead hands the aforementioned Emmanuel da Costa a fresh cup of hot coffee that proves to be his last! Just one sip Emmanuel collapses to the floor in fatal convulsions while his assassin watches with glee. Back at the New Mutants’ bunker beneath the X-Mansion, Julio Richter/Rictor and the stupidly-named Tabitha Smith/Boom-Boom are arguing about having been forced to leave Rahne back in Genosha some weeks ago. While Rictor is all for leading a full-on assault against Genosha to rescue her, Boom-Boom is against it not least because such action would undoubtedly be suicide but also because Rahne chose to stay on the island. Undeterred, and temperamental, Rictor rushes out to help his team mate with or without Boom-Boom’s assistance or Cable’s permission.
Speaking of Cable, everyone’s favourite time travelling poster boy of nineties excess is suddenly attacked while browsing the library. His attacker? None other than a mercenary known as Deadpool; sporting unique speech bubbles and a quick wit, Deadpool immediately reveals that he was hired by the mysterious “Mister Tolliver” to find, and kill, Cable (though he insists that the job is nothing personal). I’m not really sure what the beef is between Cable and Tolliver but it’s enough for the man to have hired an assassin despite Cable claiming that he wasn’t to blame for “what went down”. Without any real effort, Deadpool is in a position to end Cable right then and there with a clear headshot but the time traveller is saved just in the nick of time by Cannonball. Impressed with Cannonball’s abilities, but no less unprepared for them, Deadpool quickly disables Cannonball and returns to the task at hand; a swift blow from Cable breaks Deadpool’s jaw as the Mutant states: “You talk too much” and he’s not wrong. Deadpool has been jabbering a mile a minute since his explosive entrance and, while he doesn’t directly address the reader or break the fourth wall and is a far cry from his rude, crude, wise-cracking self we know now, he’s still full of the quips, words, and even gets side-tracked talking to himself.
Despite claiming that Cable has broken his jaw, Deadpool continues to assault his target with both words and attacks and is again in position to finish off his foe when Rictor, Roberto da Costa/Sunspot, and Boom-Boom join the fray. This, however, is of little worry to Deadpool, who easily subdues Rictor and is primed to finish the others off when he is suddenly felled from behind by Neena Thurman/Domino. Cable’s demeanour is noticeable changed by Domino’s presence (the New Mutants believe he is smitten with her) and they easily restrain Deadpool, deciding that the best course of action is to send him back to Tolliver to face the consequences of his failure. With that, Deadpool is gone from the story as Cable gives Domino the rundown on what is left of his team; while Rictor makes good on his promise to go and try to save Rahne and Cable states that he has a plan to bolster his ranks, the issue ends with Gideon delivering the news of Emmanuel’s death to his son, Sunspot, ending the issue on a bit of a cliffhanger.
“The Beginning of the End” is a perfect of example of why I tend to shy away from X-Men comic books; the lore is so dense and impenetrable, with so many characters and stories and things to remember and keep track of, that it can be very difficult to pick up an issue, even a first issue, and know exactly what is going on. As much as I love the group and its wide variety of characters, this does sour me on trying to read more X-Men adventures as things are constantly shifting and changing all the time. Having said that, though, this is obviously issue ninety-eight so it’s geared more towards a dedicated readership than a first-time reader, so those who have been following The New Mutants since their introduction are likely to get a lot more out of this.
Even with that, though, there is some truly ugly artwork on display here; I love the excess and elaborate art of the nineties (which was all impossibly-defined characters, pouches, guns-upon-guns, and an abundance of unnecessarily dark grittiness) but even I struggle a bit with Leifeld’s signature style. Cable looks like a man-mountain in most panels, then dramatically shrinks or grows as the page dictates, and is a hodge-podge of every fanboy’s fantasy: he’s gritty and stoic, he’s got a metal arm that shoots lasers, and a bionic eye! Thankfully, he’s largely (uncharacteristically) under-equipped in this issue and is bereft of his trademark guns and pouches. He’s even caught on the back foot by Deadpool and seemingly unable to defend himself without the assistance of others, which kind of goes against the few things I know of Cable’s reputation as a “Gary Stu”. The team’s newest villain, Gideon, is equally hideous; garbed in a tight waistcoat and wearing weird gold/bronze armlets, he sports a frankly ridiculous little white ponytail on an otherwise bald head and exhibits what I am supposed to believe are exceptional physical talents in his little training simulation. As a puppet master, Gideon is clearly positioned as a kind of anti-Charles Xavier, favouring manipulative subterfuge over the more direct methods of the X-Men’s usual foes. Whatever his grand plans are, though, I find myself apathetic thanks to his uninspired presentation and little to know explanation of the scope of his powers of influence.
As a result, it’s pretty damn easy for Deadpool to steal the show. Looking like a twisted version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, he (literally) explodes onto the scene and immediately looks like a formidable threat by how easily he takes Cable off-guard and overwhelms not only him but his team as well. Deadpool comes well-prepared, able to counter all of the New Mutants’ powers and abilities, and seemed poised for victory before the untimely intervention of Domino. Though he’s clearly a far cry from the self-aware, hyper-violent anti-hero we know these days, it’s clear that Deadpool has far more charisma and appeal than the likes of Gideon. We know nothing about him or his abilities and yet, through his undeniable skills and his unique style of speech, he instantly makes an impression, even more so when compared with the issue’s primary big bad. Clearly the writers thought they had something there with Deadpool as well as he is spared from execution and his storyline is left up in the air, leaving him ripe for a comeback and a brighter spotlight in subsequent issues. All-in-all, there isn’t really much to this issue of The New Mutants. Obviously Deadpool made an impression on readers at the time but I can only view the issue in retrospect and, for me, he was clearly the stand-out part of this issue and the only real reason to read this story unless you like seeing Mutants prancing around in training simulations and prattling on about their current situation. Remove Deadpool from this issue and it’s pretty much a nothing story but, thanks to his inclusion, there is at least one bright spark amidst the angst and it’s just a shame that we didn’t get to see more of him throughout the issue rather than wasting time on uninspiring nobodies like Gideon.
Could Be Better
Did you ever read “The Beginning of the End” or The New Mutants back in the day? If so, what did you think of the team and the comic’s direction? What were your first impressions of Deadpool back when he debuted? Did you ever think he’d become as popular as he is today or were you, perhaps, unimpressed with his debut? If you were to assemble a team of New Mutants today, who would you pick and why? How are you celebrating Deadpool’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on the New Mutants, Deadpool, or X-Men in general, feel free to leave a comment below.