Required Reading: Marvel Graphic Novel #4 – The New Mutants
After the death of Phoenix (the first time) way back in Uncanny X-Men #137, Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was a tad vacant. The only true student still in attendance was Katherine “Kitty” Pryde, and so the concept of training mutants to work in harmony with the rest of the world seemed to be at a standstill. At least, so far as the school concept was concerned. But Marvel didn’t want to leave the school empty for long. No, instead long-time X-Men architect Chris Claremont teamed up with artist Bob McLeod to create the 3rd generation of students to attend Xavier’s school: The New Mutants.
It may surprise people that these characters did not originate within the Uncanny X-Men title, but my guess is Marvel wanted to test the waters first to make sure the concept was viable. And it was. Released as issue #4 of their Marvel Graphic Novel series, which were larger than your normal comic and on sturdier stock, the book was obviously a success as it eventually got its own title and has had several variations released to date. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at what was done here…
The main premise is the same as the original X-Men title from the 1960s. There are a number of mutants obtaining their powers on a daily basis. Some will adapt to their powers and others won’t, but all need to be trained. After fearing the X-Men dead, Professor Charles Xavier has decided to never teach again. He takes their deaths as a personal failure on his own part, as he believes their deaths were a direct result of his bringing them together. However, after a number of young mutants begin to come into their own, Charles reluctantly agrees to train several young mutants at the behest of Dr. Moira MacTaggart, Charles’ former lover and a mutant biologist in her own right.
Thus begins the saga of the New Mutants.
First, is Rahne Sinclair, codename Wolfsbane. Rahne is a devout Catholic Scott, who sees her powers as the hand of the devil. Her powers manifested in front of the parish minister, Reverend Craig, who declared her a hellspawn. Leading other villages with pitch forks and torches, they chased the young Rahne onto Moira’s land, where she collapsed in front of the doctor. Moira stood up to the crowd, declaring that the young girl is under her protection, and decides to take her to Xavier for training.
Next up is Roberto DaCosta, also known as Sunspot. Roberto’s powers manifested themselves in the middle of a soccer game in his homeland of Brazil. Roberto was a fairly strong soccer star, and also a bit of a braggart and show-off, so it comes to no surprise that he was targeted by the opposing team. After confronting those who attempted to beat on him on the field, his powers kick in and he frightens everyone in the stadium – including his own father and his girlfriend, Juliana.
Heading back to the United States, we discover Sam Guthrie, soon to be called Cannonball. Sam works in a coal mine in Kentucky, much like the other men in his family before him. Although only 16 years old, Sam takes on the responsibility to look after his family after his father passes away, which means leaving school and working in the mine to support his family. Unexpectedly, a cave-in begins within the mine, and Sam and another miner are trapped. Fearing for his life, Sam’s power kicks in, cannonballing the two men out of the mine to the surface. Unlike the other mutants so far, Sam has received some attention…
The fourth new mutant introduced in this book is Danielle Moonstar, a young Cheyenne girl who has the ability to pull visions of people’s worst fears or greatest dreams from their minds, eventually earning her the code name Psyche and subsequently Mirage. Dani’s grandfather tells her that because of her burgeoning powers he is sending her to see a friend – Charles Xavier – who will help in training her with her powers. She gets upset at this and pulls a vision of his own death out of his mind – which eventually comes true.
The final member of the team is Xi’an Coy Manh, a young Vietnamese woman, codenamed Karma. Of all of the New Mutants, Karma is the only one to have appeared elsewhere before showing up here. (Xi’an first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100, also written by Chris Claremont and co-created by Frank Miller.) Xi’an has the power to “possess” individuals, taking over their body. Although she wants to learn how to use her powers for good, she also has the responsibility of looking after her younger siblings, as all are Vietnamese refugees. Xavier offers her a position in the school to allow for that care.
This sounds like a lot, but everything I summarized above happens in the first third of this book. Cannonball does not start out as part of the team, though. When he exploded through the ground, he was noticed by Donald Pierce, a mutant-hating individual involved with the Hellfire Club. In fact, he recruits Sam from Kentucky and uses him as one of the guard. He then proceeds to chase after Roberto, whom he lures into a trap by kidnapping Juliana. Psyche and Karma also show up to try to recruit Roberto and help him escape the slaughter, but Julianna is killed in the crossfire by Hellfire guards. While that happens, Xavier and Wolfsbane are in Kentucky to find Cannonball, when their jeep is knocked over as a result of impact from their target mutant. Xavier is captured but Wolfsbane escapes, only to follow the group to the Hellfire compound. Because of her powers, Psyche has a natural affinity to talk to animals and they discover that extends to Wolfsbane when she is in her wolfen form. As such, a plan is put into play to rescue Xavier.
The team attacks, and is subsequently captured. When Guthrie, who really is an honest man, refuses to kill the mutants and Xavier, Pierce orders them all killed. But, with damage done to the machines holding Xavier’s powers in check, Pierce succumbs to the psi-powers of the professor and the battle is over.
So why is this book so important? Several reasons.
First, every one of these characters is still around and has grown so much. Sam and Roberto join an Avengers team. Dani becomes an Asgardian valkyrie. Xi’an loses her powers after M-Day but regains them, and now fights alongside one of the X-teams. Rahne is a member of X-Factor. Just like the original X-Men, we have seen these characters grow and they never grow old. And we owe all that is to come for them from the pages of this graphic novel.