The rumors are true, the news is official: the upcoming X-Men spinoff THE NEW MUTANTS is going to be a “full-fledged horror movie”, which director Josh Boone describes as “Stephen King meets John Hughes” (via EW).
It’s the sort of announcement that might sound weird to some people, like it’s some sort of radical new direction for the teen superheroes who make up THE NEW MUTANTS, but if you read the original comic books you know better.
If you read the original comics, you know that THE NEW MUTANTS was nightmare fuel.
Quite literally, in some respects: One of the protagonists, Danielle Moonstar, had the ability to project images of other people’s darkest fears. It’s an eerie superpower that came to particularly eerie life in THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #18-31, which were penciled and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. These issues featured horrifying journeys inside the human subconscious, and introduced kids to a terrible boogeyman – The Demon Bear – and also the mentally disturbed mutant Legion, who eventually received his own TV series earlier this year.
Bill Sienkiewicz’s impressionistic artwork and Chris Claremont’s unsettling stories left many comic book readers – myself included – suffering through sleepless, shivering nights when we were children. But the fact is that the original series of THE NEW MUTANTS was a comic book about teenaged trauma, subconscious monsters and actual demons (since one of the characters, Magik, had the power to teleport into a twisted version of Hell). It was pretty damned creepy from the very beginning and, to a lesser extent, right up until the end.
Most of the NEW MUTANTS comics were worth reading, but you could often get the gist of just how messed up this comic was by looking at the cover. Just passing by some of these covers at the newsstand was enough to give littlest kids the shivers, and even today – as adults who love the genre – it’s pretty surprising that this was the forward-facing direction that the series decided to consistently take.
Let’s go back in time and scan some of the most uncomfortable covers from the first volume of THE NEW MUTANTS, and remember…
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #3 – “NIGHTMARE”
THE NEW MUTANTS was pretty disturbing from the very first issue, which pit the young heroes against Marvel’s version of the alien xenomorphs, The Brood. By the third issue we were already dealing with issues of mental illness, as Danielle Moonstar has visions of a bloody knife, and Professor Xavier considers the ramifications. And it’s all represented right here in a cover that wouldn’t have been out of place in the classic EC Comics.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #7 – “FLYING DOWN TO RIO!”
Speaking of EC Comics, the image of an angry, muscly man holding your bound and gagged mother up with one hand, raising a giant axe in the other, and threatening to kill her is the sort of thing you’d normally expect to see on the cover of TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Instead it’s the cover a teen superhero comic about getting in a tussle with supervillains while you’re out shopping in Rio De Janeiro. That’s messed up.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #15 – “SCAREDY CAT”
Things are getting weirder: Magik, the mutant who can teleport by making quick jaunts through Hell, lets some real-life demons loose in the X-Mansion in “SCAREDY CAT.” In this cover they appear to emerge from her eye sockets in a grotesque white goo. Again, this was for kids.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #18 – “DEATH-HUNT”
Even the title of the first Bill Sienkiewicz issue is messed up. In “DEATH-HUNT,” Danielle Moonstar summons her own worst nightmare, a Demon Bear that has something to do with the death of her parents in this classic, creepy issue. The dramatic change in the visual style of the series is quite shocking, even when the dangerous is as abstract as phantom fangs in the background.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #19 – “SIEGE”
The second issue of the DEMON BEAR SAGA finds Danielle Moonstar in a hospital, where the Demon Bear is attacking. The gigantic but malformed nightmare beast overwhelms the heroes on the cover, and our eye is drawn by the bright yellow negative space in the upper left corner. The space usually reserved for hero shots of the protagonists has been replaced with Moonstar, getting a blood transplant, giving us a sense of increased helplessness.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #24 – “THE HOLLOW HEART”
The dead-eyed New Mutants in the foreground contrast eerily with the scratchy, wild-eyed, gigantic clawed figure in the background of this otherwise simply weird issue of the series, which founds Wolfsbane and Sunspot taking on the powers and abilities of Cloak and Dagger.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #26 – “LEGION”
The divided psyche of Professor X’s mentally ill son takes center stage in this storyline, and Bill Sienkiewicz illustrates the character’s identity being literally ripped apart. Aside from those innocuous floating heads in the corner, the heroes of the comic make no appearance on the cover of “LEGION.” All we get is this warped, screaming head and the shards of his sanity.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #28 – “SOULWAR”
Professor X and the New Mutants venture deep inside of Legion’s mind in “SOULWAR,” and it’s as twisted as you might expect. This cover represents their journey but it would be creepy as hell even in a vacuum, with our heroes besieged by gigantic, void-mouthed wraiths with elongated fingers and pointed German helmets.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #31 – “SATURDAY NIGHT FIGHT”
In this issue the New Mutants are forced to fight each other in a gladiator arena. So naturally Bill Sienkiewicz has illustrated this concept with a giant caricature with impossibly tiny hands, wrapping thin cords around the protagonists and pulling them every which way. Naturally. Bill Sienkiewicz’s covers were weird.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #36 – “SUBWAY TO SALVATION”
CONAN illustrator Barry Windsor-Smith took over the cover duties for “SUBWAY TO SALVATION,” but it’s still pretty messed up. We’ve got Shadowcat in limp bondage, a wall of skulls and a very prominent pentagram to deal with here. This tie-in to SECRET WAR II finds the all-powerful Beyonder helping Magik achieve her true potential, which of course releases a whole bunch of demons and nearly gets Shadowcat sacrificed to form an unholy Bloodstone. You know, like you do.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #38 – “AFTERMATH”
Oh good, the heroes of our teen superhero comic are all dead, or rising from the dead, or going to bed in their graves. Nice and wholesome. This issue was about the New Mutants disbanding (for a while), and this image only refers to a dream sequence. But it’s the creepiest thing in the comic so of course THE NEW MUTANTS cover focused on it.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #64 – “INSTANT REPLAY”
This is one of the most messed up superhero comics ever. Doug Ramsey, the mutant called Cypher, has been killed. While his friends and family mourn, the alien Warlock has trouble understanding the human concept of death. So he digs up the teenaged boy’s body and tries moving it around. He tries returning the body to the Doug’s grieving parents (who have no idea he was even a mutant), which backfires horrifically. The teen heroes have to explain the permanence of death to an extraterrestrial while the dead body of their dear friend lies on the floor, and then they have to sneak the body back into the cemetery.
The cover illustrates the horror pretty damned clearly. “INSTANT REPLAY” is freaking weird.
THE NEW MUTANTS (Vol. 1) #88 – “THE GREAT ESCAPE”
The second half of the original NEW MUTANTS comic book wasn’t as disturbing as the first (except for “INSTANT REPLAY” of course). Demons invaded the Earth, there’s some weird kinky stuff in there too, but eventually in the Fabian Nicieza/Rob Liefeld era, the comic book settled into more familiar superhero territory. But “THE GREAT ESCAPE” is worth mentioning because the X-Men villain The Blob never looked more freaky than he does right here. The sinister smile, the playful fingers… he looks like he’s about to eat Cable.
But even creepier than that is the fact that this giant monster has somehow managed to sneak up on our hero. How the hell did he do that? Now that’s scary.