Ok, so what comes to mind when I describe this: In one of the best X-book stories ever, the new generation of X-Men find themselves against a demonic entity that changes the team forever followed by a quiet down time story of the team dealing with personal stuff at night at the mansion all drawn by an innovative genre defying master artist. If you thought of Chris Claremont & Bill Sienkiewicz’s Demon Bear and Slumber Party stories, sorry, youre wrong. It’s New X-Men 37-43 by Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu & Dave Sharpe.
See, heres the thing, I think Skottie Young’s work on New X-Men is just like Bill Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants, but its criminally underrated and not talked about nearly enough. Im here to change that. Now New X-Men had become a very strong book under Craig Kyle & Chris Yost. As I described here the book was a real favorite of mine. But just like Claremont’s New Mutants, it really got onto another level when an extremely unique, experimental artists joined up. Now back in the 80’s when Bill joined Chris on New Mutants, there wasnt that many different, daring art techniques that broke the house style mold like Sienkiewicz’s work did. Back then it was revolutionary, exciting bold work. Since then we’ve had so many comics with amazing artists of a million different styles that I think we’ve all become a bit desensitized to when a truly special new art style hits us upside the face. Skottie Young has that style and he deserves more acclaim for his work here.
Up until he debuted on the title, New X-Men had fairly typical superhero artwork that, while great, didnt really try anything differently. Editoe Sean Ryan offered Young a five issue stint on the title. Young agreed as long as he got a chance at a long run and the upcoming crossover issue for Messiah Complex. Young really came to the book looking to make his mark on a long run. As detailed in the book The Marvel Art Of Skottie Young, he says this:
It was a drastic difference! Immediately the characters all had a visually distinct, unique look that told you everything you needed to know about them while also properly reflecting their ages. It was refreshing, new and spectacular! When the Quest For Magik came out, I remember being absolutely FLOORED by the art change. I imagine I felt like 80’s kids did when Bill’s Demon Bear showed up on the page. I showed it to my comic reading friends and they were hooked too! My one friend & I even went and ended up chatting with Skottie Young and buying a copy of his Bernard The World Destroyer with a sketch inside. I remember at the time thinking this guy was going to be HUGE!! His art was like a mix of classic Marvel house style comic art put through a blender with classic Disney animation, Pixar, Lupin & other anime to make a singularly unique product. To this day I think his style is unimitable.
But it turned out the Quest For Magik was just a warm up. Directly following that story is the two part downtime tale I NEED to highlight here – New X-Men 42 and 43. Sadly, behind the scenes, Skottie would not be given the Messiah Complex Crossover issues:
Its here where colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu comes in. And its here where we can really dig into how much coloring makes or breaks comics. On New X-Men 42 & 43, Skottie Young and Beaulieu try something different. Young goes on:
And here, even Young gets how similar this crazy style hearkens back to Sienkiewicz’s style. The art is something amazing to behold. And it’s all because of the crazy sketchy style with extra textures cooked up by the experimental team of Young and Beaulieu In a story that parallels New Mutants 21’s “Slumber Party” we drop in on our New X-Men team after a considerable upheaval from the Quest For Magik storyline. Everyone is either hurt, changed, or have their powers mucked with. The team is at a real crossroads. From the first page, a flashback to the Purifier’s attack on the Mansion, we see the art team has leveled up and has unleashed a wild, moody new experience for our eyes to marvel at. This is different, this is special.
It’s here we also get Yost and Kyle starting to develop the more wallpaper Mutant kids around the Mansion. We get some real introspective moments for all the kids. Their personalities as distinct kids with their own dialogue and characterizations really blossom here. Pixie and Nezhno featured in Quest For Magik but we really start to get a handle on them in these issues as they get more of the spotlight and join the official team. One thing I really love here is how Young draws Pixie so well and her personality shines through in her expressions and body language.
A big highlight of these issue is that except for a few pages, every character is just in plain regular clothes, but Young makes it so charming and unique. I especially love his Mercury in a raglan and cap and X-23 in suitably goth clothes
We get most of the kids at the mansion trying to figure out who’s the youngest mutant among them now that no more mutants will be popping up. Theyre all scared that one is the mutant with a target on its back. After all the death and destruction theyre all in a pretty depressing place.
We get some nice changes and development in this issue. Its here Rockslide is shown to be a “stone golem” instead of just a Thing knockoff, and here where his usual new look is debuted. This is also where Anole starts to get way more focus in the books as he is ever present in the issues.
We also get some classic X-Men soap opera shenanigans here as Surge and Prodigy’s relationship starts to fracture. In trying to get back at Prodigy, Surge kisses Hellion, which in turn causes X-23 to be unable to handle her new emotions for Hellion. Its wonderful, angsty stuff that starts to develop them all past the point of generic mutant teen couples.
This is where the issue really starts to turn. We get some really personal, emotional stuff that really endears you to the characters and team. Laura continues to be developed into the strong character we know today as feelings and emotions start to take hold of her life in a shocking depiction here. Its also a nice moment where Mercury consoles her and lets her know she’s not alone anymore, she’s part of a team.
We also get some development for one of my favorite characters, Hellion. Up to this point he has been the rich typical perfect jock character. Here is where it starts to change. Here is where we get some flashes of the deep character underneath and his untapped potential as a character. Yost and Kyle have really put Julian through the wringer lately and with his powers out of control we get a beautiful scene of him letting his guard down. Combined with Young’s visual redesign, we get a gentler Hellion thats trying to grow and deal with everything in his life. I always think of this page of him and Dust talking. I’d love to see more of this exploration of his character as a deeply caring, traumatized young man instead of the brash hothead we normally get. I point to these issues as a way to love the character for all the Hellion naysayers.
We also get some great development for Elixir in these issues too. For most of his existence up until Yost and Kyle took over, he was a brash, emotional, passionate young man. they put him through trauma after trauma and show his powers also can be used to hurt or kill, just as much as heal. In Quest For Magik, he has the Stepford Cuckoos telepathically instantly put all of Beast’s advanced science into his brain. This allows him a huge power up, able to do just about anything with his powers. Throughout these two issues we get running scenes of him alone in the dark, unmoving in his room seemingly going all “black” and evil. Were led to believe he’s losing it and he is turning into an unbalanced villain until Loa comes in and asks to make out, at which point he snaps out of it and reverts to normal. Its such a hilarious but also real portrayal of how a teen boy would act. Its just such a great sequence that really pays off over the course of the two issues.
These issues never stops giving us development as Prodigy, now powerless since M-Day, has the Cuckoos restore every skill he has ever learned back into his brain. He and Surge break up. Mercury, Dust and X-23 come together and bond. Surge deals with being a team leader and all the responsibility and heartbreak that brings. Anole is explicitly revealed as gay. The Anole and Rockslide friendship is really dug into here. Wolf Cub, Indra, Match and Loa actually get to talk and be apart of things instead of just being in the background as the kids have a campout together.
So why do these issues matter so much? These are just a treasure trove of rich continuity and development that have defined these characters ever since. So much can be traced back to these two issues. They are SO IMPORTANT, yet these issues go unheard of. The fact that were given groundbreaking art that jumpstarted an industry icon’s career is just an added bonus. I think these issues are even BETTER than the celebrated Sienkiewicz Slumber Party issue. I think this is career defining stuff for the writing and art team. I think these issues should be singled out as MUST READ, essential stuff on every X-Men list. Most of all, I just want them to be read, to be enjoyed, to be acknowledged. Theyre that good everyone. They are ultimate Comfort Food Comics.