There are so many X-Men out there! You can’t walk round your private island paradise anymore without bumping into twenty mutants. But that raises a question which Shelfdust are going to try and answer! Who is the Best Mutant? We’ll be inviting some of the best writers in comics to argue their case!
By Vishal Gullapalli
The New Mutants are fairly popular when it comes to B-List X-Men characters. They’re less popular than your Cyclopes, your Wolverines, your Rogues, etc – their debut film was delayed countless times before releasing in the middle of a pandemic, for crying out loud! But when it comes to the X-fans who read the comics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t LOVE at least one of the original New Mutants. And I’m one of them. As much as I love the whole cast, however, none of the rest of them hold a candle to Sam Guthrie – Cannonball.
Cannonball is a character who, if you know me, is a bit of a surprise choice for my favorite mutant. He’s a lanky white boy from Kentucky who says things like “My ancestors fought for the confederacy.” He’s the one cishet white dude in a cast of characters who are otherwise anything but. But honestly, after reading nearly every X-Men comic from Claremont’s tenure to the present, I can’t imagine coming to a different conclusion. It’s so obvious. Cannonball is a character whose introduction starts with the loss of his father, but as his story continues he gains three father figures who all guide him in different ways. And X-Force #19, written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Greg Capullo, inked by Harry Candelario, colored by Steve Buccellato and Marie Javins, and lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, is a single issue that captures this guidance and the man he’s become so perfectly that I can’t imagine not loving Sam after reading it.
The issue serves as a capstone for the massive X-Crossover X-Cutioner’s Song as well as a transition into the new era of X-Force, and a lot of the issue is dedicated to the team outside of Cannonball dealing with the uncertainty of their future in their own ways. Cannonball, though, begins the issue with an argument with his first mentor – Charles Xavier. See, X-Force has been detained in the Mansion since the events of the crossover, and Sam’s had enough. Storm claims that it is because of some legal trouble they may be in, but Sam rejects that – after all, what has X-Force actually done that’s worse than anything the X-Men have?
Of course, Professor X believes that this goes beyond just petty laws – this comes down to X-Force’s own ethics. The choice between the open hand and the closed fist. It’s a simple dichotomy, one that’s defined the X-Men and mutants in general at Marvel – Xavier’s model minority approach vs Magneto’s Brotherhood, or Apocalypse’s Horsemen, or any other villainous mutant groups. Xavier’s own open-handed approach is visible in titles like X-Men and Uncanny X-Men as his pupils strove to defend even the staunchest of anti-mutant bigots from harm. X-Force, on the other hand, opted for the closed fist. Rob Liefeld’s stylistic choices during the genesis of X-Force played into this – the visual of Cable with a gun doesn’t evoke the kindly approach Xavier has always striven for. The X-Men would defend and offer salvation to their attackers, while X-Force would strike first demand consequences for one’s actions.
In Xavier’s view, X-Force’s aggression was exactly the kind of animosity that his dream wanted to quell. To him, there is barely any difference between Cable’s band of outlaws and their nemeses, Stryfe’s Mutant Liberation Front. But this isn’t the 1960s anymore – these simplistic ideals don’t work. An open hand doesn’t stop someone hell-bent on destruction. Sometimes it takes a closed fist to stand in the way, and Cannonball knows this. He just needs to make Xavier see.
Sam’s plea to his first teacher is impassioned. Xavier began their tutelage but didn’t stick around to see it through, handing the New Mutants off to Magneto for quite some time. And when Magneto, Sam’s second teacher, eventually abandoned these children he had grown tired of, they were taken in by Cable, the first man to treat these children with respect. He was their third and final teacher, yes, but he also understood that he could not – should not – control them, and that they had to make their own decisions. To go back to Xavier’s way of thinking, to act as his X-Men do, would be a step backward for X-Force. And Sam, the only member of the original New Mutants to have never left the team once, refuses this option. It’s not who he is, and it’s not who his people are.
After meeting with every member of X-Force to discuss what to do next, Sam returns to his erstwhile mentor with a clear answer. Rejecting the dichotomy Xavier tries to instil, Sam shows that the closed fist can be used to protect, while the open hand can be used to cause harm. Xavier’s approach is simple and naive, and while a much younger Sam may have believed in it, the man he’s grown up to be knows better. Sam takes responsibility for X-Force, as their leader and as a member of their family. And he goes with them into a new, unknown era.
I love a lot of mutants, and I could make a case for why any of them are great. But Sam Guthrie’s growth from an all-too-trusting child into a true leader of his group of misfits and outcasts has made it that he’s the only one I can call the best. He’s a student of three of mutantkind’s most unique leaders, and has taken all the lessons he’s learned to blaze his own path forward. By the time he eventually joins the X-Men proper, it almost feels like a downgrade for him – he’s been doing everything the X-Men have done for his entire adult life. There’s no one I’d rather see leading a team, and no one any mutant can trust more.
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Greg Capullo
Inker: Harry Candelario
Colourists: Steve Buccellato and Marie Javins
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Vishal Gullapalli is a writer and editor with bylines at sites including Comic Book Herald and ComicsXF. For more, you can follow Vishal on twitter here!
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