Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
As hard as it is to believe now, a few decades back there was only one X-Men comic. Marvel’s team of “hated by the world they have sworn to protect” mutants had been lighting the superhero world on fire every month in Uncanny X-Men, but it took a lot time to start them as a franchise. Today, a Marvel character that even starts to get white hot gets their own series and probably a movie option with a rumored Disney+ series. Back then, the company was weirdly slow in spinning out even a new comic book series.
The first attempt to capture the glory was The New Mutants. In 1983, I got in a bit of trouble for enthusiastically reading the very first issue of their comic. Now, not quite forty years later, I find I cannot motivate myself to see their movie.
I did not mean to get into trouble. I suppose no one ever does. I just forgot to pay attention to what was going on in class when I read the comic. Back in the day, my friends would sometimes get to the comic shop before I could. I think it was my buddy Craig who had snagged the first issue and he had brought it in for me to see. We used to transport these things around in folders, protecting them like combinations of irreplaceable art and top-secret documents.
I thought I could read the comic in the few minutes I had before class. I just got so engrossed that I lost track of time and I did not notice my social studies class started. It was okay. Mr. Skarvelis was pretty cool and he did not give me too much grief when he caught me and called it to everyone’s attention. And luckily, he did not take the issue away, thus sparing me what would have been a very difficult conversation with Craig.
The New Mutants were a different sort of X-Men team. The series returned to the school concept where young mutants learned about their powers that had been long abandoned by the main books with its adult heroes and its wrenching melodrama. The concept had already been tested out in what was then called a Marvel Graphic Novel. Nowadays, we know “graphic novel” as the snobby term people use when they are afraid to admit they read comics. Back then, the term also meant a more expensive oversized comic. I had loved that story and I was thrilled about a regular series featuring the original quintet of students– Cannonball, Sunspot, Mirage, Wolfsbane, and Karma.
That excitement held for a few years as the series ran, but then my enthusiasm began to dip. The New Mutants actually became the first series where I realized that I did not want to be a completist any more. I had every issue of their first comic book run, but I bought the second half mostly because I wanted to have every issue and not because I was really into the story. I had been doing the same with a lot of other X-Men spin-offs that followed and eventually I just stopped regularly buying many of the titles. I wanted more enjoyment, less obligation.
The film version of The New Mutants has been floating around in a cinematic limbo for many years, plagued by re-shoots and caught up in Disney’s acquisition of Fox. Just as the film was set to release, the coronavirus shut down the movie theater business. Now, the film is one of the first movies back as chains reopen and America tries to figure out if going to the movies is safe or not.
I am not ready to go back yet. And that is okay. The New Mutants are old friends that I have known for a long time. We will catch up when the time is right, like old friends do.