Captain Comics: Long, strange trip to screen for 'New Mutants'

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"The New Mutants: Demon Bear" contains the three stories involving the Demon Bear, including the first one, on which the "New Mutants" movie is based. - Marvel Comics/TNS/TNS

“New Mutants,” the final, no-kidding X-Men movie by Twentieth Century Fox, finally made it to the theaters after three years of delays. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

That trip really began back in 1982, when Marvel Comics launched its third major X-Men team. Which means, I guess, I have to tell you about the first two. They’re pretty famous, after all.

The first team was the original X-Men, the superheroes who launched the franchise in 1963: Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel Girl and Professor X. Joining in the late ‘60s were Cyclops’ brother Havok and his girlfriend (and Magneto’s daughter) Polaris. They didn’t set the world on fire — the series went reprint in 1970 — but they got the mutant ball rolling.

Marvel revived the concept in 1975, with the “all-new, all-different” (and all-international) X-Men: Banshee (Irish), Colossus (Russian), Cyclops (American), Nightcrawler (German), Storm (Kenyan), Sunfire (Japanese), Warbird (Native American) and Wolverine (Canadian). This group made “Uncanny X-Men” the best-selling title of the late 1970s and early ‘80s … which meant an expansion of the franchise was inevitable.

For this new venture, dubbed “The New Mutants,” Marvel went back to the original well. “We felt that the series needed a school, and The X-Men were too old for that,” writer Chris Claremont said in Les Daniels’ history of Marvel. “So we got Xavier some students and it’s evolved from there.” They even adopted the old blue-and-gold “school uniforms” for the new kids’ training sessions.

Due to a scheduling snarl the first New Mutants story launched in graphic novel form in 1982, a 47-pager by Claremont and artist Bob McLeod. That was followed by “New Mutants” #1 in 1983, by the same creators, starring the same group:

· Cannonball: Sam Guthrie, a teen from the backwoods of Kentucky, can blast around like a … well, a cannonball. He’s invulnerable to all harm while “blasting.”

· Karma: Xi’an Coy Mahn, a Vietnamese refugee, can seize control of the minds of others.

· Psyche: Danielle Moonstar, a Cheyenne woman, could project illusions of another person’s greatest fear. Well, at first. Somebody eventually figured out this was a lame super-power, and she changed her name to Mirage and developed a number of psionic, energy and magical powers.

· Sunspot: Roberta da Costa, a fabulously wealthy Afro- Brazilian, can convert sunlight into super-strength. He’s called Sunspot because of the visual effect of his power, where he turns completely black with little bubbles of black energy sloughing off.

· Wolfsbane: Rahne (pronounced “Rain”) Sinclair, an extremely devout Scottish lass, can change (much to her embarrassment) into a wolf. She also has an intermediate, werewolf form where she can still communicate.

“New Mutants” being an X-Men book, it didn’t take long for things to get weird. But it got super-weird when an artist named Bill Sienkiewicz took on the art chores. An experimental and often abstract artist, Sienkiewicz combined photorealism, collage, painting and other techniques that exploded off the page. And he arrived just in time, in “New Mutants”#18, the first issue of what would be dubbed “The Demon Bear Saga.”

Which is kinda grandiose for a story that lasted all of three issues. But they were three very good issues that became famous as much for imagination and execution as for, well, a bunch of teenage mutant superheroes fighting a bear.

It should be noted that at this point the New Mutants roster had changed a bit. Karma was out, and these guys were in:

· Magma (Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla) is a mutant who can project heat and lava, from a lost Roman colony in the Amazon (someone was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, evidently).

· Magik (Illyana Rasputin) is the sister of Colossus, and can teleport via the land of Limbo, from which she also draws magical powers and a fearsome “Soulsword.”

Not that any of that mattered to The Bear, you see, because it isn’t physical. It had been haunting Moonstar’s dreams, before manifesting as a spirit form that mauled her physically and psychically. The other New Mutants took Moonstar to a hospital, where all of them were trapped by The Bear. The story became more claustrophobic, the Bear bigger, the stakes higher … wait, is this beginning to sound familiar?

Yep, the “New Mutants” movie takes place in a haunted hospital. Yep, the Demon Bear Saga is the basis for the movie. And yep, the characters are very familiar. “New Mutants,” the movie, features:

Cannonball: Charlie Heaton, who is Jonathan Byers on “Stranger Things,” portrays Sam Guthrie.

Magik: Anya Taylor-Joy, who starred in “The Witch,” is Illyana Rasputin.

Mirage: Blu Hunt, whose name already sounds like a cool code name, plays Danielle Moonstar.

Sunspot: Henry Zaga, a.k.a. Henrique Chagas Moniz de Aragão Gonzaga, who is actually Brazilian, is Roberto da Costa.

Wolfsbane: Maisie Williams, famous as Arya Stark on “Game of Thrones,” gives us Rahne Sinclair.

(If you’re wondering about Dr. Cecilia Reyes, played by Alice Braga, she’s lifted from another corner of the X-universe entirely. Apparently this was done just for name recognition, since the on-screen character is completely different from the print version.)

These teenage characters have been the core of most iterations of the New Mutants, and often of a team named X-Force as well. If you’re a comics fan, you’re thoroughly familiar with each of them, their back story and story beats.

Which is the only easy thing about “New Mutants.” Just getting it to the screen was a chore.

The film was greenlit around 2014, with director Josh Boone (“The Fault in Our Stars”) attached. By 2017 it was finished, with an announced release date of April 13, 2018.

Oh, if only.

In early 2018, the movie was pushed to Feb. 22, 2019. According to CinemaBlend, this was for two reasons: One, to have extensive reshoots to emphasize horror elements (“IT” had done well) and to give it some breathing room from “Deadpool 2,” scheduled for summer 2018.

Which happened again, when “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” got too close. “New Mutants” got bumped to Aug. 2, 2019.

But now discussions were serious about Disney buying Fox, which threw in another monkey wrench. The reshoots weren’t finished, and word was Disney wasn’t impressed. So an all-new, all-different date was set: April 3, 2020.

Which was right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic! Who could have known? “New Mutants” got bumped again, to Aug. 28, and by this time almost no one took the date seriously. The director joked that he expected a meteor to hit in August and delay the movie again.

But it happened. “New Mutants” premiered at whatever theaters were open on Aug. 28 (2,412 of them, according to The Hollywood Reporter) for a $7 million opening weekend. Which impresses nobody. And the reviews are … well, “mixed” is probably the right word.

What is a sad finish to the “New Mutants” saga. It had a great premise (a teen-horror superhero movie)! A great inspiration (the legendary “Demon Bear Saga”)! A hot, young, star-studded cast (Williams, Heaton,Taylor-Joy)! A groundbreaking romance (no, I won’t spoil it)!

And a probable future. According to, Boone had plans for including Colossus (he is Illyana’s brother, after all) and a certain introductory scene made famous in the first appearance of the “all-new, all-different” X-Men.

And according to ScreenRant, Boone had planned a New Mutants trilogy. The second would take place in Brazil during an alien invasion, and include X-Men staples like a character named Warlock and the Hellfire Club. (And if they’re in Brazil, why not introduce Magma?) For the third movie, Boone planned to adapt a famous X-Men story titled “Inferno,” in which demons invade the Earth and Illyana is transformed into a demon form called Darkchylde.

But alas. Unless “New Mutants” shows some unexpected legs, we’ll have to wait for these characters to be introduced in Marvel Cinematic Universe films, get developed and spin off into their own films. By then, the stars of “New Mutants” will probably have teenagers of their own.


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©2020 Andrew A. Smith

"The New Mutants" stars (from left) Maisie Williams, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy. - Twentieth Century Fox/TNS/TNS