New Mutants #18 (August, 1984)
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – Bill Sienkiewicz
Colors – Glynis Wein
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Edits – Ann Nocenti
Chief – Jim Shooter
Cover Price: $0.60
Welcome back to the Merry Marvel Month of May, here at the humble site! I’m beyond happy that the sudden shift to the #MarvelMay gimmick month has been positively received!
Today, we’re going to look at and discuss, what I’m guessing was probably my first issue of “classic” New Mutants… that is to say, pre-Rob Liefeld New Mutants. Back in the long ago, when I was “back-filling”, these scary Sienkiewicz issues were among my top priority when it came to this title.
This was, ehh, probably the late 90’s, so the bottom of the back-issue market hadn’t quite dropped out yet… so, these issues were still demanding quite a bit of coin (well, for me anyway). I managed to snag the entire “Demon Bear” story in this raggedy old dog-eared trade collection I happened across at a used bookstore.
I think I even paid over cover-price for it! What’s more… I was happy to do it, because it meant I’d get to read the whole story! It’s been a long while since I’ve revisited it… so, without further ado… let’s hurdle over those hyphens!
We open with a striking splash page featuring Dani Moonstar huddled under a big blanket, scared out of her wits by the bear that haunts her dreams. The bear is depicted in the quilt pattern… just awesome stuff. We don’t linger long, however… instead, we hop outside the school grounds where Rachel Summers is hoping to meet up with Professor Xavier. She flashes back… to the future, well… her childhood in the future. It makes sense, trust me. Anyhoo, she thinks back to the time when the government stormed the school…
… and assassinated Professor X! Rachel is stopped by an officer passing by the grounds, who asks if she’s lost. She just tells him that she’s there to see the Prof. Officer really doesn’t seem to care one way or another. She decides at this point, that it’s best that she actually head up to the school and knock on the door.
Inside, we join the New Mutants in a Danger Room Scenario. New Mutant sessions were always so much more fun than the regular X-Men trainings. The kids, as we see here, have so much to learn about their powers… and we actually get to watch them sorta “grow into” them. Here we see Sam, who despite being the oldest member of the team, appears to have the most trouble when it comes to controlling his combustible powers… this time, however, he does okay.
We also see here that Sam’s got the old hot-pants for Magma. He’s very protective of her, even though she probably really doesn’t need it. This session is being watched by Dani and Illyana… who have less offensive (ya know, physical “fighty”) powers, so they sat this one out.
Illyana can see that Dani’s mind is elsewhere, and asks what might be troubling her. Moonstar sort of dodges the question by alluding to the fact that she’s not sure who she can trust anymore. This is a reference to a recent issue where she and Magik popped one year into the future, to find all of their teammates workin’ for the bad guys. She does not mention anything about the bear in her dreams.
The conversation is interrupted by a ringing of the door bell. Illyana heads up to check it out… and finds: Rachel. Rachel, who knew Magik in her time, kinda freaks out… and runs away.
We next jump to a three-page interlude introducing us to techno-organic Sienkiewiczian alien… Warlock! Oh, also his father, Magus. We’d learn a whole lot more about him/them over the course of the next little while.
Back at the school, Dani is putting herself through a Danger Room session of her own. In it, she’s honing her archery talent against… you guessed it… a bear! Illyana asks what’s up wit dat… to which, Dani suggests that this will make her a more valuable team member on the battlefield. When asked “Why a bear?”, she laughs and says “Gotta start somewhere.”. Illyana ain’t buyin’ it… and Dani knows it.
Later that night, Dani feels she’s ready to face the bear that killed her parents. Oh, I don’t think I’d mentioned it to this point… but, this Demon Bear killed Dani’s folks. Moonstar heads outside the school, trudging through the snow… to a place where she can summon the beast.
Well, this might be one’a them “be careful what you wish for” sort of situations… What a page!
The battle begins… and, from the looks of things… Dani’s holding her own! She’s actually doing some serious damage. Or so she thinks…
Suddenly, Rahne is shocked awake. She gathers the rest of the New Mutants to head outside, where they find Danielle… bleeding out in the snow!
Ah… this is still wonderful!
We almost gotta start… with the art. I’ll concede that perhaps Bill Sienkiewicz ain’t for everybody. Personally… I love it! It’s such a weird fit for a “kids team” book, ya know? I remember the first time I’d ever saw it… and it disturbed me! Many long-time readers know, I came into the comics fandom via ElfQuest back in the mid-late 80’s. I started collecting the Marvel-Epic run of the book, which… as a Marvel book… was crammed full of Marvel ads. Stands to reason, right?
Well, I remember coming across a Sienkiewicz New Mutants ad… and, woof… it bothered me. Like, a lot. I didn’t quite know what to make of it… all I knew, is that it really bothered me. I never thought that this book would wind up becoming one of my favorites… and that this peculiar artist would eventually be a reason why I’d actually buy a book, and not a reason why I’d avoid one!
Bill’s work, perhaps especially here, during Dani’s battle with the Demon Bear… is… disturbing, ugly, and beautiful. Even 30 years later (for me), this art never fails to evoke an almost visceral reaction. Sienkiewicz shows such amazing versatility between the innocent faces of the children… and the absolute nightmare that is the Demon Bear. Just amazing… can’t help but to gush. Hard to believe this is the very first time we’re discussing his work here on the site!
The story… also very strong. This totally takes me back to the first time I’d x-perienced Claremont’s work. Not only do we get a great (and fleshed out) chapter of a story here… but, in classic-Claremont form, we’re also given a handful of subplots left to bubble in the background, promising to become more and more prevalent as we move forward. The Rachel scenes, as well as the Warlock interlude really inform us as to “what’s to come” in this title (and the X-Men line overall). I miss things like this… so very much. There isn’t a feeling of padding to fill a collection here. This is a story being told serially… and, it’s just excellent.
Overall… if you haven’t read these early-ish issues of the New Mutants… I’d definitely recommend ’em! If you’re “on the fence” about Bill Sienkiewicz (as I know some are), I’d encourage you to give him a shot here!