X-Men: New Mutants

X-Men: New Mutants

(pop culture)

The New Mutants were the first tentative step into expanding the X-Men franchise into the marketing behemoth it is today. The original 1960s premise of X-Men was that of a school where those with inherent superhuman abilities, or mutants as they were labeled, would hone their talents away from the public eye, for the eventual betterment of humankind. The X-Men, as relaunched in the 1970s, were a diverse multicultural group, and elements from both incarnations were combined in the New Mutants. They were drawn from the global population of mutants, but their youth and inexperience helped them stand apart from the X-Men, while their similar costumes doubled as school uniforms.

Writer Chris Claremont, then enjoying a sustained creative peak writing X-Men, created the cast in 1983. Artist Bob McLeod joined him, and the New Mutants were launched via the then experimental format of the graphic novel, only Marvel Comic’s fourth to that point. While their title ran a respectable one hundred issues, none of the original New Mutants really caught the public imagination. The most popular has proved to be Cannonball, able to propel himself through the air with tremendous force, simultaneously becoming invulnerable. His powers manifested under extreme conditions when a cave-in trapped the young Sam Guthrie on his first day as a miner. His initial characterization was unsophisticated and awed, but nowhere near as reserved and awkward as Wolfsbane, essentially a mutant werewolf, who also assumes transitional forms between human and wolf. Her costume shreds during transformation, leading to embarrassing moments for the already shy Rahne Sinclair.

Confidence is no problem for Roberto Da-Costa, alias Sunspot, scion of a wealthy Brazilian family, whose ability to draw energy from the sun provides prodigious strength and force blasts. The sometimes aloof Native American Dani Moonstar projects three-dimensional images drawn from the minds of others. As the series progressed, she also developed a bond with the Valkyries of Norse legend, from whom she inherited a winged horse named Brightwind, and learned to predict imminent death. She never settled on a permanent alias, being known as Psyche and Mirage as often as she was just by her surname. Xi’an Coy Manh was older than her teammates, a Vietnamese immigrant who thwarted her Uncle’s aspirations to form a criminal empire via her ability to have others act under her control. As Karma her participation with the New Mutants was sporadic, as her priority was always the welfare of her younger brother and sister.

The initial team was expanded relatively quickly. Ilyana Rasputin is the sister of the X-Men’s Colossus, a Russian farm girl and a sorceress known as Magik. She had been abducted by an other-dimensional demon named Belasco as a child and grew to puberty within his realm, but when she escaped back to Earth mere seconds had elapsed. Amara Aquilla was retrieved from what was seemingly the unspoiled Roman civilization, Nova Roma, secreted within the Amazonian jungle. As Magma she possesses assorted volcanic-related abilities, enabling her to cause small earth tremors and control lava.

The early adventures of the New Mutants were competent, but undistinguished, and it took the appointment of maverick artist Bill Sienkiewicz, in 1984, to provide a unique visual identity. In his artistic debut, the team confronted a demonic bear that Moonstar believed responsible for the disappearance of her parents. Then heavily influenced by the scratchy distortions of Ralph Steadman, among others, Sienkiewicz’s bear was a sinister heaving mass. It transpired that the bear was Moonstar’s parents, transformed by an ancient evil. Sienkiewicz also concocted the visual template for Warlock, an alien “techno-organic” life-form, memorably conveyed as a morphing parade of metallic components. At times, Warlock would form a protective suit around Doug Ramsey, whose ability to communicate with machinery as Cypher was ill-suited to combat, although his abilities enabled him to perceive reality as Warlock did when within his protective cocoon. Their relationship grew deeper, and each began to manifest the personality traits of the other, a fusion halted by Ramsey’s death protecting Wolfsbane. Not comprehending the concept of death, Warlock unsuccessfully attempted to revive Ramsey’s corpse. Years later, though, Doug was resurrected through means of a techno-organic virus.

In the tradition of the X-Men, although ostensibly studying, the New Mutants stumble into plenty of adventures. A recurring playground was Belasco’s dimension of Limbo. Bearing many similarities to conventional depictions of hell, it’s populated by assorted demons, many of whom have aspirations to control the realm. Members of the Hellfire Club provided recurring foes, the most prominent among which were the Hellions, mirror images of the New Mutants, being trained by the Hellfire Club’s White Queen, Emma Frost, as future mutant enforcers for the Club. They were briefly joined by a group of New Mutants rebelling against the appointment of reformed villain Magneto as their teacher, but came to an untimely end at the hands of a mutant psychopath from the future.

Several mutants introduced in X-Factor, and briefly teamed as X-Terminators, later joined the New Mutants. Skids projects a body-encompassing force field, and was romantically entangled with Rusty Collins, who had heat-related powers, but rarely displayed them before his death at the hands of the Mutant Liberation Force. Rictor generates vibratory waves, while Boom Boom creates small parcels of detonating energy. Her later change of code name to Meltdown was well advised. She would develop a relationship with Cannonball. Youngsters Artie and Leech also tagged along before being forwarded to Generation X.

A much-needed boost in profile and popularity came with the appointment of Rob Liefeld, first as pencil artist, then as co-plotter, in 1990. Not very much older than some of the characters he drew, Liefeld brimmed with ideas and enthusiasm, and possessed a portfolio of superheroes he’d created since his earliest days reading comics. Foremost among these was Cable. A hulking brute of man, with muscles larger than most people’s heads and guns the size of supermarkets, he was an imposing figure with cybernetic body parts and the odd robotic limb. His agenda, though, was not one of harmonious coexistence between mutants: he knew his enemies, and he planned to sort them out before they eliminated him.

The final days of the New Mutants saw the departure of all long-serving team members, with the exception of Cannonball and Boom Boom, as Liefeld introduced more new and extreme characters. One, Shatterstar, dealt with a man restraining him from behind by impaling them both on his own sword. With Cable’s proactive policies and the new cast, little was left of the New Mutants, and their title was canceled in 1991, to pave the way for X-Force. This was the name of the team that the New Mutants had become under Cable’s leadership.

After he was publicly revealed to be a mutant, Professor Charles Xavier greatly expanded the student body at his original school in New York State’s Westchester County, now known as the Xavier institute. The New Mutants Vol. 2 (2003–2004), created by writers Nunzio Difilippis and Christina Weir, and artist Keron Grant, was about some of these new students, with Dani Moonstar and others from the original New Mutants appearing as instructors. This series was followed by New X-Men: Academy X (2004–2008), which also featured students at the Xavier institute and their teachers. In this series, Dani Moon-star was the instructor for a training squad named the “New Mutants,” comprised of Elixir, Icarus, Prodigy, Surge, Wall Flower, Wind Dancer, and Wither.

The third New Mutants series, which began in 2009, and was initially written by Zeb Wells, has focused on members of the original New Mutants team, including Cannonball, Cypher, Karma, Magik, Magma, Sunspot, and Warlock. — FP & PS

References in periodicals archive ?
X-Men: New Mutants, Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix will all land in cinemas next year.