(Never play Frisbee with a werewolf.)
Time for a bit of a break from life-threatening alien-chasing hijinks for Xavier's junior class: this month their biggest problem is the series of threatening nuisance calls their friend/dancing teacher Stevie Hunter is receiving. You'd think that the guy who built Cerebro could slap together a call tracers, but Hunter's prickly about the whole thing and hasn't told Charles.
Whilst Stevie deals with her anonymous malefactor - brilliantly, she responds not with fear but by basically telling the guy to go fuck himself, and prepare for loss of limbs and organs when she finally IDs him - the students are still trying to process their recent brush with death at the hands of XaviBrood. The Professor faces the problem head on, stressing to his charges that they should feel free to leave if they're uncomfortable, but the(by his standards) heartfelt speech persuades them all to stay.
Shan is sufficiently worried about Stevie to spill the beans, and so Xavier gives the class their first assignment (other than "train until I eat you", anyway): come up with a way to help Ms Hunter out. Psyche complains that this is a fairly cold-blooded way to take advantage of the situation, which isn't an entirely unreasonable point, but Charles knows full well she's just saying it to be difficult, and suggests she considers not being such an unbearable pain in the arse.
Later that day, the team puts their plan into action. It turns out Xavier can build a phone tracer, and helps out Roberto in doing so. I'd have thought getting Charles to help would rather defeat the purpose of the exercise, but whatever. After a few hours waiting, Stevie's harasser makes contact again, and our heroes trace the call to a nearby phone booth. Their target has skedaddled, but Rahne is able to pick up their scent, once she's cut through the reek of hobo piss (that's not my joke; that actually happens). They're looking for a teenage boy.
Following their quarry's stink trail, the mutants find themselves at a local high school dance. Indeed, it's the same "spring mixer" they were invited to in NMU #2. The plan is walk into the dance with Stevie, whilst Wolfsbane and Cannonball watch the guests for any reaction that will identify the perp. Ms Hunter suggests the plan is a bit thin, and I don't blame her, but Da Costa is convinced everything will be fine. When has confronting a stalker ever led to problems, after all?
Ultimately, Operation: Walk In Slowly generates mixed results. Their target does indeed give himself away (Rahne notes his increased skin temperature, which is apparently something a dog can do through a pane of glass); turns out it's Peter Bristow, one of Stevie's dance students, who handily showed up briefly at the start of the issue in a classic example of Chekov's Twunt. On the other hand, our budding detectives haven't given any thought to what to do once they've loudly pointed the guy out, so Bristow is able to run to his car and tear off.
Cannonball gives chase, being the only one with any chance of catching up, but he's delayed by having to save a mother and child from being run down by Bristow, which gives Bristow himself time to crash his Corvette into one of those abandoned explosives stores they have everywhere. Gods, this kid would be too stupid to qualify as one of Skeletor's henchmen. I wonder if the team looked back on this caper fondly when the Beyonder showed up to kill them all? Simpler times, they'd think, back when they just had to chase a teenage boy until he got himself blown up.
Somehow though Peter avoids injury, and hides himself before the New Mutants arrive. Leaving Sunspot to drag the car from the fire started by the crash (and to look after Stevie, whose bum knee has kicked in and left her unable to walk), Shan, Dani and Rahne begin searching the nearby area. When you have one team-mate who can sniff out a target and another who can take over their mind, hide-and-seek isn't a particularly difficult game, but complications arrive when Roberto learns what a "DANGER BLASTING" sign means: the area is littered with boxes of TNT! By the time Karma has Bristow's mind in hand, the boxes of explosives are already going off, and the building Peter had hidden in is rapidly disintegrating. With help from Sunspot and the timely arrival of Cannonball, everyone trapped inside manages to escape, including their new captive.
For some reason, our heroes choose Stevie's apartment as their interview room. Bristow has no intention of saying anything, other than begging them not to tell his parents. So great is his fear of being ratted out, he becomes impossible for Xavier to read. Concerned (or perhaps merely frustrated), Xavier orders Dani to project Peter's fears, so they can learn what they're up against.
What happens next is kind of interesting. Dani admits to herself that she's not really sure it's OK to dig around in people's heads in order to cow them with their own secret fears. That's a fair point (though sadly left undeveloped), and it makes it all the more surprising that on this issue, Psyche decides not to object to Xavier's instructions. It's not clear why she does this, and it's possible Claremont is simply moving the story along, but personally I like the idea that Dani will butt heads with the Professor over the small stuff, but lacks the confidence to challenge him on the big decisions. That reminds me of more than a few teenagers, and older people besides.
In any event, like all the most interesting head-fucks, Peter's fear comes in layers. First off, Dani discovers the boy has a major crush on Stevie, which isn't particularly surprising. What comes next is far more disturbing - Peter has been regularly beaten by his father since he was a little boy, to the point where he can no longer distinguish between affection and violence. His harassment campaign against Stevie was purely because she was nice to him but never smacked the crap out of him.
That's actually a great and disturbing conclusion, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't belong within a million miles of this book. Claremont often displayed a tendency to combine light-hearted superheroic prancing with gut-wretching tragedy (hell, see Magneto, origin of), and a lot of the time it's difficult to process. This is certainly one of those occasions, especially since there's so little time for the kids to process what they've discovered. Xavier wipes Peter's mind of the evening's adventure - though not, and this is something which should really have been brought up, his memories of constant violent abuse - and hands him over to social services, promising he will help in the boy's therapy. In fairness, Charles does end the issue with a nice little speech about how the night's events are what truly demonstrate the worth of the New Mutants, but it still all sits uneasily together.
Part of me wonders if I should be kinder here; that the fact such issues are discussed at all in comics aimed for young people helps spread awareness, but even if that were true, I think you'd need to introduce the issue more than four pages from the end of the issue.
Given the snow on the ground, it seems likely that this issue takes place just after Kitty was repromoted from the New Mutants' ranks in UXM #168. We discussed at the time that the local weather patterns make little sense given the length of time the X-Men were in space, and the chronology problems are brought into focus once again here as the New Mutants end up at a high school spring dance, something that would be far more likely to take place in March (or even more probably, May) than around Christmas.
It's clear from the first few pages that the events of UXM #167 were only a short time ago, so we'll start this issue on the first Friday after Kitty leaves the team once more. This story itself takes place over a single day.