By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Sept. 4, 2020 — The 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 (token 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, 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 (sin-KEV-itch) 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.”

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. (Cover art by Bill Sienkiewicz, copyright Marvel Comics)

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.

The New Mutants stars (from left) Maisie Williams, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy. (© 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

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 comicbook.com, 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.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).  

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...I am headed back base now after seeing New Mutants at the main " big " theater in Santa Cruz, which has now reopened! 

  I waa going to put this in my " Nice Thoughts ",   I'll discuss the movie later when I"m indoors in the warm, not going.over bridge over the (name) river on a chilly night with fog-like smoke from the fires still in the air - A couple days ago it was all red;;rose/pink/orange over the pinball day, though I didn't get out till.late in the afternoon - I wanted to spur-of-the-moment say " Here I am, now! ".

...Brief comment (Yeah, I'm making it here.) - I with the recently announced new Oscar qualification rules for Best Picture contenders - the " P. C. " " woke " ones - encouraging minority characters I note, having known really nothing about the NM characters...that the Brazilian character in the movie appears to have lost all " Afro- " bloodlines!

The tortuous explanation of who the X-Men are and who the New Mutants are made my head hurt, but all things about X-Men continuity do that.

The tortuous saga of how The New Mutants film had its release date changed again and again, however, interests me. I would hope the movie studios grade box office results on a curve this year. Under normal circumstances, a $7 million opening weekend is paltry, but these ain't normal circumstances. I don't know how anybody can expect any movie to do big box office if a third of all theaters are still closed and the ones that are open are, at best, at half-capacity.

This and other movies that have opened to tiny attendance during Covid need new release dates down the road. Why not? The money has already been spent and people will be hungry for movies at that point.

...Were the teen-lezzie cuddles between two of the Mms suggested/alluded to in the comic's story? Surely not as explicitly laid out, not in the Eighties or the Nineties.
...Richard, you seem to be thinking in terms of the pre-JAWS era, when movies could be released sometimes/could be stuck to by the studio rather than one weekend and away! I have meant to comment about all the changes to movie release and exhibition brought/possibly to be sparked off by COVID...Later I guess.

They've occasionally brought movies back to theaters because of awards received or other perceived demand. Also, there will be a scarcity of new movies due to the shutdowns. No reason not to reissue this year's movies since very few will have seen them. 

...The Santa Cruz theater is showing 4 movies in I guess all 9 of their screens New Mutants, the a9l-publicized TENET, and the new-to-me THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB and DAVID CIPPERFIELD.

...But wouldn't the " big " movies have done well on BOD already? For instance, I saw that the recent BILL & TED movie has done well.on VOD while having limited theatrical screenings. Apparently the VOD showings cost $20! For just one showing! 24-48-72 hours? That's far more, I'm sure, than any existing " normal " even midtown Manhattan prices - Disney got much publicity for making VOD MULAN $29.99 on top of a monthly Disney-Plus fee, apparently keeping it for - a weekend? Their excuse is, apparently, , Well, it's a family movie so people will watch as a family of 4 for $7.49&3/4c each "! I think Hollywood has long wanted to have expensive first release pay-per-view/VOD, but has walked tenderly around the theater owners - Now, they have been able to do it, and do you think that they'll make it larger/do it more?
...Trying to make up for distancing, don't you think theaters will play less movies in as many screens, as the one here is, thus compensating for less product?

For the last several years we were only going to movie theaters for superhero movies or others that demanded a big screen. We haven’t even been doing that the last couple of years. We’ve been getting new movies and selected movies from the 1930s-on as mailed DVDs from Netflix, and some old ones also on TCM. VOD is crazy-expensive unless you’re going to have a watch-party in the same room. I won’t get HBO MAX until I can watch it using my ROKU device on our 46-inch TV, and I haven’t seen a reason to get Disney+ at all.

When a movie theater has 18-plus screens they tend to show the latest blockbuster on four of them, eight if there are two blockbusters at the same time. That’s fine, because the blockbusters and the teens and young adults keep them in business. I’d still like to see smaller movies get the rest of the screens. Even the movies that opened on VOD this year need to reopen in theaters when the time comes. In the U.S., big releases and re-releases will happen when the biggest markets have open theaters.

...Well, you admit that you don't go to movies in theaters at all the last couple of years - Maybe you're not typical of people who do go to theaters. You live in/around LA, with many theaters, I presume you have decent transportation - I just think the movie biz is so inclined towards first-weekend-and-out, I doubt they'd bother with full-fledged rereleases of movies that have had their chance - and have had their " first weekend " business already and had VOD/whatever too. A couple of movies have been saved and I guess will get full theater releases - WW84 and Black Widow - Otherwise, I guess Tenet - and New Mutants - will likely never see the inside of a multiplex in New York, LA or San Francisco, since theaters are still closed there IIRC. Maybe some indie theater there might show Tenet briefly.

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