Thursday, April 9, 2015

1982: New Mutants Year One part II: I Came In Like A Cannonball!

By Jef Willemsen (

In the second part of our lookback at the New Mutants' early days, professor Xavier has just overcome his hesitation at training mutant teens again. In the opening pages of Marvel Graphic Novel I#4, he'd already gathered Wolfsbane and Karma. Now we'll see how Xavier adds three more to the roster and forges them together... courtesy of a little hellfire.

                                                                           "It is time."

As we covered in our initial entry, the notion of a second team of X-Men originated with John Byrne in late 1978... Though, as he explained in 2006's Comics Creators on the X-Men, it was influenced by then newly minted editor in chief Jim Shooter who decided what Uncanny X-Men should be about. Shooter felt the true core of the book wasn't mutants protecting a world that feared and hated them, it should rather be about Xavier training mutants in a school setting... According to Byrne, Shooter wanted Xavier to become the stern and strict taskmaster of old, handing out demerits, complete with putting all the members back in a variation of the classic X-Men school uniforms.

Byrne tried to prevent this by pointing out that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves had abandoned the school approach by issue # 9 in which Xavier had all the X-Men "graduate", which marked the appearance of their individual costumes. But Shooter wouldn't budge and the Claremont & Byrne team tried to accommodate their boss with scenes like this, from January 1979's Uncanny X-Men I#129.

                          "Notify Wolverine that his childish outburst will cost him ten demerits"

In a fairly obvious tongue-in-cheek approach to Shooter's edict, Byrne & Claremont proved why the classic school approach wouldn't work with this new team of X-Men. They weren't impressionable teenagers desperate for training and guidance, heck... In retrospect Wolverine was older than the entire team and Xavier put together. That's why Byrne presented Jim Shooter with the idea of introducing a secondary team of "X-Men-in-training" for Xavier to guide and mentor.

Working from this notion, John dreamed up characters like Kitty Pryde and Caliban, as well as some other characters who according to Byrne ended up as members of the Beta and Gamma training squads during his Alpha Flight run. Shooter turned down the idea of this "Legion of Substitute X-Men" in the late 70s, only to warm up to it by 1982 when Spider-Man proved able to sustain more than two monthly titles.

In other words, the almighty dollar greenlighted the New Mutants. And because John Byrne had long since left the X-verse by then, Chris Claremont was left to his own devices when it came to dreaming up this new team. Along with artist Bob McLeod he determined the initial membership. Back in 2000, a few pages of McLeod's New Mutants character designs were published and they make for fascinating reading.

Karma didn't take too much creativity: she'd already appeared back in Marvel Team-Up I#100 even though she'd lose the yin/yang jacket before too long. It might have been a bit on the nose. But this new Sam Guthrie character was still up for grabs. Claremont and McLeod toyed around with codenames like "Inferno" and "Holocaust" before settling on the far less ominious sounding Cannonball. Watching Sam's facial features evolve in these sketches is also intriguing to behold. Before they settled on his sorta goofy, scrawny and big-eared look, Sam was a dead ringer for Douglas Ramsey, a mutant they'd introduce early in the regular New Mutants title.

Speaking of new mutants, it also took some doing to settle on Sunspot and Wolfsbane's looks and names. Sunspot's final appearance was a matter of some debat among the two creatives and as for Rahne Sinclair... At one point, the 13 year old ginger lass was scheduled to be named Mirazhi Shabandar.

So, by the time Marvel Graphic Novel I#4 came out, the look of all the dramatis personae had been agreed on. Time to tell the story... While Xavier and Moira MacTaggert had gathered Rahne Sinclair and Xi'an Coy Manh, there were others hunting for young mutants... Like disgraced, former Hellfire Club member Donald Pierce who had kidnapped the Inner Circle's mentat Tessa and was actively trying to hunt down and kill mutant teens, wherever they might appear.

                                               "Father... Juliana... Someone... HELP ME!!

Meet Roberto Da Costa, the fourteen year old son of wealthy Brazilian business tycoon Emmanuel DaCosta. During a soccer match, his powers suddenly flared up and caused an understandable commotion. Pierce monitored the incident via remote control and vowed to slaughter the abberation. Little did Donald know though that Roberto was the offspring of the man who who would eventually succeed him among the Hellfire Club's Lords Cardinal.

Pierce was too busy checking in on another possible mutant, teenage coal miner Samuel Guthrie who had manifested his powers to free himself and a co-worker following a cave in.

    "A power such as his could be useful to me and then, when he has served his purpose...
He can follow young daCosta into the grave."

Figuring the young, poorly educated Guthrie was easily recruitable, Pierce approached the teen mutant who accepted the job, eager to make a living and support his widowed mother and his many, many siblings. With a young mutant in his employ, Pierce continued scanning for possible targets. That's when he encountered the young Cheyenne girl Danielle Moonstar, living with her grandfather Black Eagle and barely in control of her mutant power. This caused her to manifest a person's deepest fears or desires in giant, lifelike 3d images for all the world to see. 

Black Eagle happened to be an old friend of Xavier's, who he felt was the only one capable of helping his granddaughter cope with these strange and frightening abilities. When he told her, Moonstar she didn't react well and even accidentally manifested Black Eagle's greatest fear, which turned out to be getting clobbered to death by Hellfire Club operatives. 

                                         "A white?! You would send me to an ANGLO ?!?"

It's interesting to note that apparently Black Eagle was already aware of the Hellfire Club and the threat they posed. After all, Dani couldn't project the future, only a person's most intensly felt emotions. It would also be a few years before she could see when and how a mortal would perish as a member of Hela's Death Maidens. 

Yet, before Moonstar or Black Eagle could take comfort in the notion it was only a dream, Pierce made his move. And, faster than you can cite Puck's monologue from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream... "If we shadows have offended/think but this and all is mended/You have but slumbered here/While these visions did appear"... They came true.

                                                              "I will have vengeance!"

A laudible and understandable sentiment, Danielle Moonstar... Unfortunately, that happens to be exactly what Donald Pierce is counting on. Y'see, killing your grandfather was all part of his big ol' master plan and you're playing right into it. Black Eagle had already invited Charles to visit with him so he'll come either way, especially now that there's been death in the family.

"When Xavier reaches the Rockies... Alone, without his precious X-Men to protect him... I'll strike!"

So far so devious, Pierce... Only problem is, gee whiz, Charles won't be coming by himself. He was accompanied by Wolfsbane and Karma on his trip and the two girls proved exceptionally useful during Black Eagle's funeral ceremonies which were interrupted by Pierce's forces chasing down Dani Moonstar in the nearby jungle.

And even though the young Cheyenne had matters well in hand, Karma and Xavier decided to involve themselves just to make sure she'd be alright.

                          "I am Charles Xavier. Like you, I am a mutant. I have come to help you."

Even though she was slightly stunned and impressed by Xavier's power, Dani decided she wanted no part of Charles' promises and demanded he left "her hills" even as Black Eagle's funeral pyre burned in the distance. Xavier tried to reason with Moonstar and finally calmed her down long enough too probe the minds of her would-be assassins, only to discover some disturbing facts... And not just about the pink armored troops...

                                           "If you've no more need of this butcher...
                                Let Black Eagle's war-knife be buried in his craven heart!"

Yeah, headstrong Dani "Murder On Mah Mind" Moonstar will be quite the handful. But for now, let's focus on what Xavier learned from the Pierce's flunkies: they're about to move on two mutants, one in Brazil and one in Kentucky. Xavier decides to split up the team, taking Wolfsbane with him to Kentucky while Moira MacTaggert was tasked to accompany Xi'an and Dani to Rio de Janeiro where they had quite the adventure trying to get to Roberto DaCosta.

Moira allowed herself to be captured by the local, corrupt, police, which gave Karma and Moonstar the opportunity to locate Roberto. When they ran into him, he and his girlfriend Juliana were already under attack from Pierce's forces.

                  "I have possessed a body, Dani. But I do not know how to use it properly."

And, to add insult to injury, Dani ended up kicking the crud out of Karma's host. Their lack teamwork inevitably led to Juliana getting shot, dying in the inconsolable Roberto's arms. Watching the love of his young life die was enough for him to join with Shan and Dani to have his revenge on Pierce.

"Whatever the cost, however long it takes... I will find him... And make him pay!"

Meanwhile, Rahne and Charles were in Kentucky where the paralyzed Xavierw was driving a jeep using hand operated steering pedals. Having a cripple driving an off road vehicle at night through unfamiliar territory. Now, what could possibly go wrong?

Ow, you hadda ask...

"I keep forgetting these are children...
As far as being X-Men as they could possibly...

That's right, Charles... the mutant you'd come to Kentucky to find already found you... and the first thng you do is send away a 13 year old she-wolf into the woods. Another solid command decision on the part of ye ol' professor X. Rahne watches from a distance as Cannonball helps the unconscious Charles out of the burning, wrecked vehicle just as Pierce's forces arrive to take Xavier in.

                                         "Who is he, Chase? Why'd you send me to attack him?" 

Cannonball complied and went along with Pierce's men to the cyborg's base where Charles was quickly locked up along with Tessa. Wolfsbane, after gathering enough courage, decided to track their scent, breach the base's security and locate Charles. And, as soon as she did, help arrived.

                           "Oh, hurry, all of you! Professor Xavier's in terrible danger...
                                              If we dinna' act now, it'll be too late!"

Ow, calm down Rahne... this is Charles "I fought off two alien invasions with wheels on my can" Xavier we're talking about here. He can handle a two-bit cybernetic bully like Pierce, if only Donald wasn't using a mind-tap device to both inhibit Xavier's psi-abilities and drain his memories. However, the young mutants teamed up, even convincing Cannonball to help them. Pierce tried to fight them all off, but Wolfsbane disabled the mindtap and well, we all know what that means...

"One man's brain, and strength of will is pitted in mortal combat against a man-machine bionic construct. For a time, the outcome is in doubt."

After Xavier defeated Pierce, Karma stepped in and took control of him until Tessa was freed and offered to take care of the Hellfire Club's former White Bishop. Charles took his students home, except for Cannonball who was turned down by the others because of his role as Pierce's, albeit unwilling, flunky. Two weeks went by after that, a fortnight during which Charles trained his newest mutant recruits before assembling them. Turns out they weren't exactly the obedient, 

                                  "Danielle, you're out of uniform... please explain yourself."

In a sign of the changing times, Claremont has Moonstar openly rebel against Xavier's dresscode, perhaps in a way to signal to Jim Shooter and all the other traditionalists out there these wouldn't be your father's X-Men-in-training.

For one thing, they were all international students, as opposed to Xavier's initial all American recruits. And, unlike the international team of X-Men that Charles had recruited to fight Krakoa, this one included no less than three women as opposed to Storm, who was the only female "new" X-Man. Add to that the fact Rahne, Xi'an, Roberto and Dani were already strong, determined young people with their own opinions... With Danielle being the most determined to assert herself.

Still, there were some similarities to Marvel Graphic Novel I#4 ended the same way the classic X-Men I#1 began... Charles Xavier called his pupils into his study for an inspection... And, to introduce their newest member. Way back in 1963 it was Jean Grey, but in this case it's their former enemy Samuel "Cannonball" Guthrie. After some initial misgivings,

Xavier couldn't help but smile as he watched how the group accepted the lanky Kentucky coal miner.

                                                              "The dream is still good."

And with that, the New Mutants were off to the races... Not to mention their own, monthly title. More on that next time when something's stirring deep inside Charles other than pride and joy. Plus, we meet the team's dance instructor in part III of New Mutants Year One: I'm Gonna Wash That Xi'an Right Outta My Hair! 

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