By Steve Morris
Nextwave was meant to be a fun comic which made fun of all the other comics. It’d last maybe 12 issues at best and then get cancelled, and everybody would move on happily, with certain moments maybe getting remembered by Wizard Magazine in future years. But it became a cult favourite series for readers (and Marvel creative), and as a result its versions of Monica Rambeau, Boom Boom and Machine Man became the de facto personalities for each of those characters moving forwards. They were meant to be one-note on purpose, but that one note accidentally ended up being the only note anybody remembered from that point onwards.
Nextwave’s characterisation now dominates all three characters – but Boom Boom in particular. Even years later, Boom Boom’s previous characterisation as a fast-talking teenager has to be worked into the Nextwave characterisation if it’s going to appear at all. The bubble-gum blowing, rebellious Tabitha Smith from Fallen Angels and New Mutants has become a drunk valley girl, intended as a parody of various young female celebrities like Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears. She also sounded a lot more like writer Warren Ellis, which most of his characters tend to do. It was a jokey persona for a jokey series, and that was fine at the time… but now we’re into year fourteen of this stuff.
All of which brings us to New Mutants #4. At the start of the issue, Boom Boom is once more getting completely hammered at a Krakoan party, to the extent she collapses and has to be escorted home by Pixie (Krakoa’s truest hero). At the end, when she shows up for a hero moment, she’s swigging from a bottle of whisky. When Nextwave ended and Marvel had to explain the extreme shift in Tabitha’s personality as a result, their answer was mainly “she’s been drinking”, and New Mutants continues that dubious line of thinking.
It’s possibly worth noting here that since Nextwave, she’s also mainly been written by male writers. The more complex parts of her character – arguably created by female writers decades ago – were jettisoned in favour of making her a pretty basic, one-note comedy character. Every time she reappears in a new series, she reverts straight back to the end of Nextwave and that one-note… iness.
So the curious thing here is that it genuinely feels like Ed Brisson’s depiction of Boom Boom seems like it has a long-term eye on restoring a bit of humanity back into Tabitha Smith, and use her less as a punching-bag. I’m saying this having only read up to this current issue of the series, and there’s every chance this isn’t going where it seems to be going. But the choice to have brash, partying Boom Boom be taken home by Pixie at the start of the issue feels like a clear message: this is a character with some problems, and rehabilitation is required both in-story and off-page. The drinking is necessary as part of that story, but there’s the potential here to actually give her some forward momentum for the first time in over a decade.
We don’t only see drunk party animal Boom Boom in the issue, but quieter hungover Boom Boom as well – who we NEVER get to see when she’s played as a joke. Having seen the drinking depicted as a problem for her, we then see consequences for her in the form of that subdued hangover. And as she talks to Sage, she’s also the only person on Krakoa to realise that Armor and her team have been missing for some time. With no other friends (as the New Mutants have previously left for outer space, remember) she decides to head off herself to make sure they’re safe. So already the comic has shown a consequence of her Nextwave partying, and the further momentum of her choosing to be heroic. Those are arguably two shifts which we haven’t really seen anywhere else.
It doesn’t feel like Brisson wants Boom Boom involved here to be a joke, either. He wrote the character previously in his X-Force run, and this choice to give her a starring role seems like one based around the active desire to give her a steadier step as she moves forward. The rest of the issue shows us a hostage situation which rather unsubtly throws some darts at Big Pharma – the kidnapping antagonists want to get hold of Krakoas miracle medicines so they can sell them off in their home country at a high price: their Government hasn’t recognised Krakoa as a nation and so haven’t been allowed access to medicines. That’s not exactly the sort of story which needs to be Nextwaved up – so at this point it really does feels like we could be onboard for a redefinition of Boom Boom’s character.
That’s also backed up by that prior conversation with Sage, which again feels like Brisson taking shots at the previous way the character has been portrayed by – primarily – male writers. Ever since Nextwave she’s been erratic in portrayal, with some writers leaning into the full Ellis and others trying to make her seem happy-go-lucky and free-spirited. That’s created some real problems for her, and when Sage lists off all the random names Boom Boom has called herself by over the years, it’s a reminder that Boom Boom has been a character with an incredibly wild history. She’s so restless that every new series gives her a different codename to use – Boomer, Meltdown, etc – and nobody seems quite sure on where to take her next.
Whereas some of the big-name writers to use the characters in the past did were working off Duffy and Simonson’s grounding, most current writers are grounded in Ellis’ version of the character. And whilst Ellis did say he used her as he thought it’d be fun, some of the ways he described the character at the time looks decidedly toxic and worrying. Ellis was taking the piss out of the celebrity ingenue who goes off the rails with money, drink, and drugs, but there’s a cruel edge to that joke – especially when you (being aware of a content warning) read his comments around the same time about Lindsay Lohan. It reminds me of the famous monologue by Craig Ferguson where he described how he wasn’t going to make fun of Britney Spears’ very public breakdown, because he was a recovering alcoholic himself.
It’s stupid to read too much into a comic two issues into a storyline, but it also feels like New Mutants wants to take the core of Ellis’ version of Boom Boom, which has aged poorly (especially when you look back his comments at the time) and reverse the perspective. Instead of seeing her as chaotic and somebody to poke fun at, shouldn’t readers have a little empathy now – fourteen years later – and let the character get some help?
Better yet, as we see at the end of the issue – let’s watch the character help herself. Boom Boom was always able to look after herself in the early days, after all. She was wild and rebellious when she first came into comics, and she was silly and brash – like when she spent half of X-Cutioner’s Song talking through a broken jaw because she refused to ever shut up. But she was also capable, and there was a reason why she was so exciting, spirited, and independent-minded in those earlier years. Krakoa has offered the X-Men a chance to start things fresh, and wouldn’t it be great if it also gives writers the chance to break that fourteen-year joke at Tabitha Smith’s expense?
New Mutants #4: Fast and Furious
Writers: Ed Brisson
Artist: Marco Failla
Colourist: Carlos Lopez
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Designer: Tom Muller
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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