New Mutants Vol. 1: Back to School collects the first six issues of the short-lived New Mutants Vol. 2 series (meaning the second New Mutants series, which was published in 2003-2004 as compared to the original New Mutants series, which was published from 1983 to 1991). It is telling that the series was terminated with issue 13, that this is the only graphic novel collection published for the series, and that Marvel never bothered to publish issues 7 thru 13 in a similar collected volume. That said, however, the series did ultimately serve as the beginning of what became the New X-men story arcs and is important for that reason.
One thing fans of the original New Mutants should know is that the only one making a major appearance in this collection is Danielle Moonstar (Mirage, aka Psyche and other names over the years). Xi'an "Shan" Coy Manh (Karma) is also around, but is a much smaller presence. Alison Crestmere (Magma) only appears in a couple of frames, and despite being in some of the cover art, Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane) does not appear in any of the stories at all, though it does seem like she shows up at some point in the later issues that are not part of this collection. So all in all, this book is about 90% Dani, 9% Karma and 1% Magma, which doesn't make for a great balance.
The Back To School story arc begins with a brief scene with Dani on a ski trip with a boyfriend, which quickly goes south when Dani has to intervene to stop a robbery and her boyfriend discovers that she's a mutant. The action then shifts down to Venezuela where we meet Sofia Mantega, a young girl who's just lost her mother and is being sent to live with her rich but cold and distant father in the US. Sofia is a mutant with the power to manipulate the wind. When things don't work out for Sofia in her new home, she goes on a rampage and uses her wind powers to trash one of her father's mega-stores, which Dani ends up seeing on TV. Which in turn leads Dani to intervene and take Sofia to Charles Xavier's Institute for Higher Learning. Professor X, glad to see Dani once again, offers her a position at the school and persuades her to help him find newly identified young mutants and recruit them for the school.
As the story progresses, we meet the newest 'new mutants'. Already at the Institute are Laurie Collins, a girl whose pheromones can induce anything from desire to fear, and Julian Keller, a gifted - and rather arrogant - young telekinetic. Dani's first assignment turns out to be a boy named Kevin Ford, whose physical touch causes organic matter to decay and wither into dust. Dani's next assignment though reunites her with fellow New Mutant Xi'an who is graduating from the University of Chicago. And who has been in contact with a high school student named David Alleyne, who can access whatever knowledge or talent anyone in close proximity to him has. Another unexpected addition comes in the form of a boy named Josh Foley who not only doesn't know that he's a mutant, he's actually a member of an anti-mutant gang called The Reavers who are headed by Donald Pierce, the mutant-hating cyborg and former White Bishop of Sebastian Shaw's Hellfire Club.
Though they do not yet have their code names at this stage, Sofia Mantega eventually gets the name Wind Dancer, Laurie Collins becomes Wallflower, Julian Keller becomes Hellion, Kevin Ford becomes Wither, David Alleyne becomes Prodigy, and Josh Foley becomes Elixir. And although they're only seen in the background, this also marks the first appearances of Victor Borkowski, who becomes Anole, and Cessily Kincaid, who becomes Mercury.
The art, as others have noted, is definitely not this collection's strong suit. One reviewer has already noted the strange way in which one artist's characters all seem to be constantly craning their necks, like their real mutation is that they all have one too many neck vertebrae. My personal peeve however is the recurring inconsistency between the way characters look on one page and the way they look a couple of pages later. Or sometimes even a couple of frames later, as when Pierce's blade arm switches from right to left and back to right again. I also get annoyed that none of the artists seem to know how to draw Asian characters. (Note: the pages with the cover art from the original comics are actually good. One can only assume that a different artist was involved.)
The writing - by Nunzio DiFilippis and Christina Weir - at least is decent if somewhat on the predictable side. There are a few bright spots though. I liked the way they gave Sofia some sympathetic human interaction in the form of Derek, an employee of her father who ended up becoming a kind of emotional substitute for her father. And I thought having Josh start out as a member of an anti-mutant group before he discovered he was a mutant was also a nice touch. And the bits with Xi'an's younger brother and sister trying to trick her friends into playing a game called Monnaie Disponible (French for "money supply") that only they knew the rules to and then meeting David who immediately knows all their secret rules was fun. I only wish they'd done more of that kind of thing to liven things up a bit.
Recommended for anyone who wants to go back and see the beginning of what became an important set of Marvel mutant characters.