Saturday, April 11, 2015

1983: New Mutants Year One part III: I'm Gonna Wash That Xi'an Right Outta My Hair!

By Jef Willemsen (

In the third part of our lookback at the New Mutants' early days, the team's monthly title is finally launched. The kids are all ready for their new life as gifted youngsters, but something dark is brooding at the school...

And away they go! Last time, we discussed just how diverse this new team of X-Men-in-training was compared to Xavier's original students from way back in 1963. International, more women than men and even a lesbian (though Xi'an dutifully watched Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.).

All the members and the premise of the book were already introduced in Marvel Graphic Novel I#4, so Chris Claremont hit the ground running and start with the New Mutants at the school, ready for action. The first page is literally a splash when we see Karma getting a haircut by none other than Stevie Hunter...

                                                     "Is this really necessary, Stevie?" 

Well, it actually is... Y'see, as Chris Claremont revealed in his interview for Comics Creators On The X-Men, the story that appeared in Marvel Graphic Novel I#4 was actually supposed to be told in the first two issues of the monthly New Mutants title. But, because the creative team scheduled for #4 couldn't make the deadline, Claremont and McLeod were asked to fill in. So, this rather mundane opening scene was intended as a scene for the team's third issue, after they'd settled into their new routine.

Still, it's a charming enough way to start a story, even if  having a rastafarian dance instructor turn out to be a qualified hairdresser stretches the suspension of disbelief quite a bit. In much the same vein one should never trust a skinny cook... Luckily for Xi'an, before Stevie can get to work Danielle Moonstar loses control over her powers and accidentally shows everyone Karma'  hidden terrors: the traumas she endured as a child in Vietnam. Xi'an didn't care for this too much...

                                                         "I'm sorry! I didn't mean...!"

Roberto is on hand to slap some sense into the incensed Karma... But the tone for the issue is set, Danielle Moonstar is a menace. You ask her, she'll tell you. Claremont focuses on Dani for most of the first three issues, establishing her background, insecurities and sense of isolation. Chris also used her to show what it must have been like for the New Mutants to arrive at the school which also doubled as the X-Men's home.

Sure, they were all lost in space and presumed dead, but their living quarters had been left undisturbed, giving off the impression they could come back at any given moment... But, let's not get too far ahead here. After the incident with Shan, Dani wandered the mansion and eventually discovered Storm's room in the attic.

                    "Doesn't anybody look after them? They're wilted... dying for lack of water."

Poor plants, but considering you can only reach the attic via a folding ladder you can hardly expect the wheelchair bound Charles to climb up there. Still, getting back to Dani for a bit: it makes perfect sense for her to feel the way she does. After all, she's barely 15 years old and essentially an orphan. Her parents left to fight a mysterious, mystical threat and left her with her grandfather Black Eagle who was recently killed, partly because of her. Add to that these mutant powers she didn't ask for and tend to make people apprehensive about being near her... After all, who wants their deepest, darkest secrets displayed to the world in glorious psi-enhanced 3d imagery?

But life goes on and so do the New Mutants, who get briefed by Xavier on the use of a piece of equipment X-Men fans were already intimately familiar with: the Danger Room. After showing them a holographic recreation of a monster filled swamp, which most of the New Mutants thought were real, Xavier proceeded to explain what they'd be doing in there.

                            "Your own sequences are primed and ready. Your task will be simple...
                                Merely cross the room to the exit and leave. Who'd like to go first?"

With Xavier and Stevie Hunter looking on, all the New Mutants made the attempt and succeeded, albeit with varying degrees of success. But when it's Dani's turn, she freaked out and refused to even try and complete the exercise. It was played as a great, embarrassing failure on her part but that's a tad unfair. If you're a scared, out of your depth teenager, barely in control of your powers and asked to enter a room where terrifying lifelike dinosaurs can pop up to eat you... Wouldn't you be scared? At least Cannonball, Wolfsbane and Sunspot have physical powers to fall back on, all you can do is play back nasty memories... which won't even work on holograms.

Dani ran off and decided she wanted to be alone for a while. She even ignored her friends' pleas to accompany them and Stevie Hunter to go see a movie at the Salem Center mall. The first issue's finale featured Dani overcoming her fears and returning to the now seemingly abandoned Danger Room. She activated the sequence Xavier had set up for her and proceeded to take the challenge, overcoming the robots that popped up as she crossed the room with grace and effortless ease. However, elation soon turned to terror...

              "In the booth, hidden from view, computers are engaged, safety locks deactivated."

Well, gee... wonder what Dani's complaining about? That sure looks more exciting than any film you'd get to see, especially considering the limited special effects of the early 80s. Speaking of which, before we continue Dani's arc, we might as well check in with the other New Mutants who had just been to the movies in issue # 2. As it turned out, they were being watched very closely...

         "That's why Project: Wide-Awake was established, Shaw. To combat that threat." 

That's another, truly revolutionary part of adding New Mutants to the X-universe... Claremont was able to seamlessly carry over storylines and characters from "the parent book" Uncanny X-Men to the spin off. People could suddenly interacted with others in an organic way and on a level previously unseen with other titles that received a spin-off. Amazing Spider-Man and Sensational Spider-Man all pretty much revolved around, well... Spider-Man. Not so much with New Mutants, who didn't even feature the X-Men, rather they used the tapestry of what had come before.

Stevie Hunter was an understandable first, she'd already been serving as Kitty's dance teacher and got involved in another of the X-Men's adventures against the Hellfire Club, making her a perfect choice to be the teen's fitness and dance instructor. But there were other, established supporting players Claremont could use. For instance, Moira MacTaggert and Illyana Rasputin who were seen in #2 visiting Israeli ambassador Gabrielle Haller (last seen as Xavier's lover in Uncanny X-Men #161). Gabrielle had a little secret to impart that she hoped wouldn't give you too much of a start...

                                                     "Charles Xavier... is the boy's father."

The man... in the wheelchair... made a baby! As for villains, it had already been established that the Hellfire Club was monitoring both the X-Men and any new mutants out there. Heck, ousted Inner Circle member Donald Pierce was the reason the New Mutants got together in the first place. Now the Hellfire Club's leader Sebastian Shaw and government operative Henry Peter Gyrich were working together on Project: Wide-Awake. Which was a direct result of a seemingly throwaway piece of dialogue Shaw had with senator Kelly back in July, 1980's Uncanny X-Men I#135.


Ignoring the fact he's a mutant himself, Sebastian Shaw focussed the efforts of Shaw Industries to quietly help develop a new type of Sentinels to deal with "the mutant menace". Henry Gyrich, mostly known as a bureaucratic thorn in the Avengers' side up til then, was added to the mix and proved a perfect fit. Together, they launched the next generation of killer robots against four mutant teens and one African-American dance instructor with a bum knee.


Yeah, Sentinels... But, thanks to a little team work plus the help of CIA-operative Michael Rossi, a character Claremont wrote back during his days on Ms. Marvel. Rossi opposed the government's stance on mutants and decided to warn Xavier and his students of the impending threat. He was a little late, but still played a vital role along with Stevie to help keep the New Mutants out of the Sentinels' clutches in the long run. Ironically, the team relied heavily on Karma's mind control powers during this encounter, which would at first seem rather useless fighting killer robots. 

Yet, when Rossi spotted a number of government agents on the scene, having someone around who can take over a person suddenly turned out to be a true godsend. 

                           "All right Shan, that's enough. You can release your hold on him."

After making the government agent John Ogilvie confess to the Salem Center police he is responsible for calling in the Sentinels who wrecked the mall, the New Mutants head home. Interestingly enough, Rossi disappeared sometime before the team got home. You'd think that he might want to at least fill in Xavier first hand. Instead, the teens and Stevie return to find the barely conscious Dani in the Danger Room.

                "I was first attacked outside the Danger Room! Don't any of you believe me?"

Ow, I believe you Dani... And so would any other reader of Uncanny X-Men at the time. In perhaps one of the most unfortunate scheduling conflicts of the early 1980s, New Mutants started in March of 1983, a month before that the closing page of Uncanny X-Men I#166 revealed professor Charles Xavier was the unwitting host of a young Brood Queen. 

                     "Before she died, the Brood Queen boasted about another royal embryo"

The X-Men, Carol "Binary" Danvers and the Starjammers rushed back to Earth to stop the young queen from hatching. But that battle was decided the same month the New Mutants monthly debuted. So, by the time we got to #3, much of the dramatic tension was already gone. All we got to see was the nascent nasty subconsciously influencing Xavier as it prepared to take over. The focal point of the alien creature was Dani, interestingly enough.

You'd think that roping along the mind controlling Karma would be the ideal way to ensure the upperhand over your prospective hosts for royal eggs... but no. The Brood embryo used Xavier's telepathy to enhance the effects of Dani's powers, causing her illusions to appear beyond lifelike. This made her all but question her own sanity, especially when she started suffering from the most horrendous of nightmares...

                                 "I don't know, 'Berto. I think... I think I'm losing my mind!"

One has to compliment Chris Claremont for already having most of his early days on New Mutants plotted out before the book even got off the ground. In retrospect the bear's reveal might look somewhat trivial, but a year or so down the line it would bookend into the Demon Bear arc, possibly one of the most loved storylines of his entire run.

But for now, dreaming about a talking bear who didn't warn you about forest fires seemed like just cause for suspecting a major mental malfunction. Danielle certainly felt she was about to lose it, especially when she overhead Xavier making a particularly revealing phonecall...

                                                    "He thinks I'm insane. Maybe I am.
                                      If that's true, I don't want... I shouldn't be allowed... to live."

Rather than stabbing herself with Black Eagle's ceremonial blade, Dani lives to fret another day until she decides to have Xi'an summon the New Mutants for a special meeting in the nearby boat house. Now, I know this is 1983, well before the advent of pagers, let alone e-mail, social media or Whatsapp Messenger... but d'ya really think this is the best way to tell someone you want to meet them? Sam Guthrie certainly doesn't think so...

                      "NO WAY does that give you th' right t'go muckin' about with my mind!"

Oh Sam, so young, so much to learn about being in a Claremont comic... Of course someone's going to muck with your mind! For instance, moments after you arrived at the boat house to set Karma straight for messing with your head, Moonstar did the same thing! Yes, the reason why the Brood embryo focussed its attentions on Dani was the fact Xavier's telepathy could augment her powers, causing others to see lifelike illusions of the Brood's design. In this case, the young Queen influenced Dani to make them all believe they were suddenly on an alien world and attacked by a Brood Queen. Though scared at first, the teens rallied and took to the offensive... especially when they discovered Dani was inadvertently causing all this. Cannonball decided not to pull any punches.


Now, don't let the sound effect fool you... Sam actually pulled his punch, leaving Dani merely knocked out instead of shattering her jaw or worse. Still, if their entire Brood encounter was little more than a shared illusion conjured up by Moonstar, why is she still wrapped in that weird cocoonlike webbing? That'll be a mystery for the ages, because the issue ended with the newly declared sane Dani on the porch watching the stars, just as Roberto came up to check on her. In yet another ironic twist, the young students ruled out Xavier's involvement in all of this. And, to add insult to about to be received injury...

                                     "Look, a shooting star... I've never seen one so bright.
                                                         Consider it a good omen."

And with that, it was May of 1983 and the sequel to the story, including that night's episode of Magnum P.I. was already told two months earlier. Let's briefly revist Uncanny X-Men I#167 to see the New Mutants' first encounter with the X-Men. For one thing, they were innocently watchin Tom Selleck hamming it up on screen in all his 80s glory when the X-Men stormed in. They valiantly tried to fight off the intruders, but pretty much failed. Then, the Brood Queen that was ready to hatch inside Xavier finally showed its face. After the transformation, the X-Men immediately engaged. Wolverine cut off her backstinger, forcing the Queen to try and escape. That did not exactly work out well for her...

                         "I hate to disillusion you, monster. But from us... there is no escape."

Long story short, the X-Men decided to take the not-quite-yet transformed Brood Queen up to the Starjammers' ship in hopes of somehow finding a way to reverse the process. While everyone waited around for Moira MacTaggert and the Starjammer's medic Sikorski to come up with a treatment, the New Mutants were left to their own devices aboard the vessel. That led to some telling remarks from both Nightcrawler and Storm.

              "It's one thing to watch someone like me on a cinema or a television screen...
                                    Quite another to share a dinner table with him."

That already set up the first attempt to bond the two disparate bands of mutants. What Claremont didn't forget was the simple fact they already had something major in common: Charles Xavier. While Sikorski and Moira failed to reverse the Brood's transformation process they were able to clone his original body, allowing Xavier a new lease on life. In this newly construed mortal shell, Charles was no longer paralyzed and all too giddy to introduce his students to one another.

                  "I have admitted new students to the school (...) I hope you'll all become friends."

And with that, we reach the end of part III. Next in New Mutants Year One, the threat of every day life, like a Viper's bite... 

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails