August 14, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
THE NEW MUTANTS
I bought my first comic books ever in early 1987, at Robinson News convenience store in Malden, Massachusetts, off an old-school comic rack. They were two issues of Uncanny X-Men. They were a great entry to comics, but I was also confounded by the detailed continuity I’d been dropped into. Soon I began going to New England Comics in nearby Malden Square to delve into their glorious boxes full of back issues. I discovered that there were nearly 25 years of X-Men comics, and that this intricate continuity was full of departed (sometimes dead!) team members, romantic relationships and breakups, and titanic world-shaking battles… sometimes all in the same narrative arc!
My weekly allowance permitted me two or three back issues at a time, and inevitably I found the many spinoff X-titles. The one I fell head over heels in love with was The New Mutants. The junior team at the X-Men’s academy in upstate New York, the New Mutants were outcasts gathered from all across the globe (much like the “all-new, all-different” X-Men back in 1975) taught to control their powers by the X-Men’s founder, Professor Charles Xavier.
The first set of New Mutants issues I bought were from late 1984: namely the “Demon Bear” and “Slumber Party!” arcs, when X-title writer Chris Claremont was first paired with penciler Bill Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz’s stunningly original art style, abstracted and jagged, perfectly illustrated the surreal tale of team leader Dani Moonstar confronting a demon summoned from her own subconscious.
But it was the double-sized “Slumber Party!” issue that hooked me. Here were ordinary teenagers doing ordinary teenager things — gossiping, talking about their crushes and feelings — but with the added appeal of a super-powered fight with a misunderstood alien lifeform (future New Mutant Warlock). Ultimately it was the teen drama and not the super-powered fights that kept me reading. Other teens my age might have had shows like 90210 or Degrassi Junior High, but my guide to surviving the coming turbulence of adolescence were those delightfully angst-filled thought bubbles penned by Claremont.
I identified with two New Mutants in particular: conservative religious New Mutant Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane) and resident “nerd” Doug Ramsey (Cypher). I didn’t have super-strength like Sunspot, I couldn’t fly like Cannonball, but Doug’s feelings of uselessness over his geeky powers (deciphering any language or code), coupled with his shyness as he slowly fell for Rahne, hit me on a gut level. The fact that Doug later became the first New Mutant to die (readers apparently hated him), a mere year after I first started collecting the X-titles, was probably the beginning of the end of my junior high-era love affair with comics.
Marvel mutants’ powers typically emerge at puberty, and I’m certainly not the first person to note how accurate that metaphor is for the hormone-fueled madness of one’s teenage years. The New Mutants provided me with vivid archetypes that allowed me to safely explore growing up, not understanding myself or my feelings, being in love… and loss.
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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