This is more like it!
The previous installment of New Mutants: Forever was simply abysmal, riddled with with Warlock's overly-technical, insipid dialogue. The great characterization and high-octane action that characterized the first issue were no where to be found. With its status dubious, this is the defining issue of the series. Was issue 1 a misnomer among a collection of mediocrity or was issue 2 a small hiccup in an otherwise great title? Well, let's find out.
Confronted by the brainwashed and newly transformed Magma,Tiberius, and Cypher, the New Mutants stand aghast, reluctant to fight against their friends. Before they can attempt to reason with Magma, a volcano erupts from the earth, haphazardly spewing fiery flames and knocking our heroes into the air. Before they even fall back to the earth, the Red Skull's team goes on the attack. Doug, wearing the visage of the Red Skull, rushes toward Selene, cutting her deep with his claws. As the battle rages on, Warlock attempts to inhibit Amara, putting her in some sort of headlock. Reproaching 'Lock for his compassion, Cypher responds by thrusting his claws forward, puncturing his techno-organic body. With Warlock gravely injured, Doug subsequently orders Amara to consign the event, ensuring that his weakness will never again taint this earth.
Amara engulfs Warlock in scorching flames, capping things off by trapping him in a ball of earthly rock. Elsewhere on the battlefield, another of the Red Skull's proteges sneaks behind Selene, injecting her with the same poison that spearheaded Doug's transformation. She attempts to counteract the poison by taking the Skull by the head and absorbing her life force. Unfortunately, her life force is not sufficient to overcome the poison- the transformation continues. .
In dire straits, reeling from the apparent death of Warlock and Sunspot's capture, Illyana teleports Cannonball, Selene and herself to Limbo.
Back in Limbo, Sam and Illyana engage in a heated debate about what to do with Selene. Suffering from the poison given to her by the Skull, Selene's appearance becomes twisted, beginning to resemble that of the Red Skull. Sam, inclined to save Selene, asks Magik if she has a spell that can counteract the effects of the poison. She says that there is nothing she can nor would want to do. Instead, she proposes that they kill Selene before she turns into another of the Skull's drones. Appalled that she would even suggest such a course of action, Cannonball begins giving her the whole X-Men don't kill Stick. Of course, having been abducted and held prisoner by the Demon Lord Belasco in Limbo, Illyana's sense of morality and justice is quite different.
Off in the distance, Selene's condition causes her to contemplate life, her priorities and the monster she is becoming. Was her beauty just a deception ? Is this who she truly is? Does her monstrous appearance now simply mirror the blackness that exists within her own heart? After much bemusing, she decides that she must return to Nova Roma. She will not allow her people and most importantly, her granddaughter, to suffer at the hand of the Red Skull.
The scene shifts to the arena, where the Red Skull has pitted his new protege against a legion of soldiers. The Skull watches from his box, as Amara and Tiberius tended to his needs. The skull watches in awe, as his protege deftly, yet viciously, dispatches the men on the sand. Demonstrating the extent of the mind-control, the Red Skull, making what an "amorous advance," orders Magma to kill her. Poetically, in a macabre sort of way, as the two kiss, the final warrior falls to the sand.
Back in Limbo, Selene realizes she must go return. Under Selene's orders, Illyana teleports them back to the streets of Nova Roma. Hearing the footsteps of approaching soldiers off in the distance, they take refuge in a bar. At the bar, observing how far the transformation has progressed, Illyana decides that she will provide Selene with an honorable death.
However, as Illyana pulls the Soulsword out of her chest, Selene is approached by a man. The man is a warrior of Nova Roma, and ostensibly, still loyal to Selene(Selene had once controlled Nova Roma). Realizing that he cannot possibly overcome the threat fighting by himself., he offers his life to Selene. She accepts, promising to honor his memory and free Nova Roma from the Skull's oppressive tyranny. She absorbs his life force, allowing her to overcome the effects of the poison, reverting to her true form.
Back at the Skull's fortress, Doug stands staring at himself in front of a mirror. Through possibly sheer will or some other force beyond understanding, Doug is able to regain his mind. While the Skull's visage remains, he is once again Doug Ramsey in heart and soul. Before he even has time to understand what has happened though, an augmented Warlock, now guided by a combination of pure survival instinct and vengeance, bursts into the room, poised to kill the Skull in front of him.
*Although the Red Skull's Protege is in fact Doug, the new mutants are not aware of this.
What isn't good about this book? Chris Claremont really knows how to tell a story. He provides a fantastic mix of a richly detailed third person perspective, compelling character interactions, and emotional inner monologues. Everything is so descriptive and well done, probing deeply into the psyches of these characters, conveying their true essences. While few titles still employ a third person perspective at this point in time, it's perfectly executed in this situation. Claremont does a masterful job of recapping past issues, setting up the plot, and figuratively describing the setting.
While Chris Claremont does a superb job on his end, Al Rio is no slouch either. His pencils are great, combining rich, realistic detail with an almost framed photograph quality. The art is a great complement to the writing. The only issue I have is that some of the facial expressions are a bit wooden, void of any emotion whatsoever. Overall though, this issue only occurs in a few places and does not deter one from enjoying the book.
The story provided here is great. There's a ton of action and enough characterization to balance things out. The Red Skull is a great villain, and I wish we would see more of him.
Claremont also does a great job of writing Illyana. He really seems to understand her character and the ways in which this innocent girl has been corrupted by Limbo's vile, dark magic. In the scene where Sam and Illyana are arguing about killing Selene, Illana's refers to herself as an "old hand at it[killing]." It's hard not to see some stark similarities between Illyana and Selene.
Put simply, this is a perfect issue.
Save an extraordinarily in-depth, picky analysis, I don't think there's anything I could find wrong with this issue.
5 out of 5
The series had a slight hiccup with issue 2, but the team of Claremont and Al Rio is doing a fantastic job of establishing this as a great X-miniseries. If your a fan of the New Mutants, you should be reading, period!