You guys, I am so excited about my topic for this post. For today’s Throwback Thursday, I am throwing it way back, about thirty years, to be precise. Join me as I turn back the clock. The year: 1983. The place: Charles Xavier’s mansion in Westchester County, New York. That’s right, the home of… The New Mutants! Did you think I was going to talk about the X-Men again? Not quite; today I will be talking about the original New Mutants, the first spin-off X-title. The new students were the second group of inexperienced teenagers to make their home at the X-Mansion after the original class aged into adulthood and had been joined by even more adult members. It is my duty and my pleasure to make sure everyone knows about this greatly overlooked and under-appreciated team.
The quickest summation of the title might be to say that the New Mutants were the awkward younger sibling of the X-Men that no one ever met or perhaps forgot about; say “Karma” or “Cannonball” and many might respond with “who?” Though all the characters continue to be in publication in various titles to this day, the overall team and its individual members, for whatever reason, lacked whatever charisma and panache that have made folks like Wolverine and Rogue household names. Nevertheless, from their drab but practical uniforms, to their endearingly unimaginative team name, the original New Mutants have long been some of my very favorites. Let’s meet the crew.
Much like the first class of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and Marvel Girl, the New Mutants began as a quintet. But what a difference! Rather than white bread Americans with only one girl, the New Mutants were an extremely diverse bunch. Only one member was a white American: a young man from rural Kentucky. We also had a Scottish girl, a young Vietnamese woman, a very brown-skinned boy from Brazil, and a Cheyenne girl. Thus, a three to two majority were PoC, and the same ratio led to a majority of women. This wasn’t quite as big a surprise after the 1970s international infusion of X-Men with their large cultural diversity, but I still think it was awesome for a 1980s superhero team.
You might have run into some of these characters in later years in X-Men and other X-Books, primarily X-Force, a group in fact comprised largely of former New Mutants, not knowing their New Mutants roots. A version of Sunspot, a.k.a. Roberto da Costa, was even featured in this summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past blockbuster. In the comics, Sunspot is a Brazilian teen of mixed race heritage with the power to absorb solar energy and turn it into superhuman strength. Wolfsbane, or Rahne Sinclair, a Scottish mutant whose power is essentially that of the mythical lycanthropy, has also spent notable time in X-Factor and Excalibur in addition to X-Force. Cannonball, the codename of Sam Guthrie, was a wide-eyed hillbilly from Kentucky coal mining country. His body creates an energy field that propels him through the air like, well, a cannonball, while providing him with invulnerability during flight (and the inevitable impact). The Guthrie family has also produced other mutants, and you might have seen some of Sam’s siblings gracing the pages of X-teams, most notably his sister Paige, Generation X’s Husk.
The remaining two of the original quintet are probably my favorites. Danielle “Dani” Moonstar is a Cheyenne girl with psionic abilities briefly called Psyche when she first appeared, then Mirage for a while, though she has more commonly been known simply by her real name after her time with the New Mutants. In addition to some time in X-Force and with the X-Men, you might have seen her recently in the Fearless Defenders series. Her main mutant ability was to generate psionic illusions, originally often tied to a people’s fears or desires. Fun fact: she was also briefly a Valkyrie for a while? Oh, New Mutants. The other, the original de facto leader of the New Mutants, is probably the least well-known: Xi’an (often transliterated as “Shan”) Coy Manh, codenamed Karma, has the ability of psychic possession, psionically taking over and controlling another person’s body and mind. Though not addressed in her New Mutants years, Karma was eventually revealed to be gay, making her the only lesbian X-Character I can think of. I thought it was interesting that they gave the girls more nuanced psychic abilities than merely generic telepathy, and I also like that they did at times talk about the uncomfortable issues that stem from such invasive mental powers. In the very first issue, Dani’s power accidentally activates and creates an illusion that re-creates a personal trauma from Karma’s past in front of everyone, something that leaves Karma feeling extremely upset. In another instance, Cannonball yells at Karma for possessing her teammates in order to gather them all together to deliver an important message from Dani. All too often, sci-fi/fantasy literature glosses over the important discussion about mental powers and violation of privacy and autonomy.
Looking through the lens of what I wrote last week, we do unfortunately see a bit of gendered power in the original squad. The boys are the hardhitters with powers of strength and force, and the girls mostly have psychic abilities so they don’t hurt their dainty female bodies. Wolfsbane is a notable exception, her power is definitely physical, transforming into a wolf. Curiously, her human form is depicted in the original comics as somewhat unfeminine compared to early X-Women, with extremely short, almost buzzed hair and not very curvy. However, the gendered power tide changed shortly into the run of the original title with the first new recruits. In a hidden Ancient Roman society in the middle of the Amazon jungle (just go with it), they encounter Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla, a mutant with the incredible volcanic-related abilities. She is codenamed Magma, and displays power over rocks and seismic tremors, as well as her namesake magma and lava. The sheer power and destructive capabilities of her ability set her apart from ideas of dainty, non-physically combatant female characters. Magma even assumed a powered up form that covers her body in glowing heat and energy, not unlike male precedents such as her teammate Sunspot, but also Iceman and Colossus whom I mentioned in my last post.
Joining team Kickass Women is Illyana Rasputin, the little sister of X-Man Colossus. Her mutant ability is teleportation, but through disk-like portals, rather than Nightcrawler’s type. Her codename, Magik, comes from the fact she is also an incredibly powerful sorceress, due to the time she had spent captive in a mystical other dimension (again, just go with it). In a really neat instance of turning the ideas of gendered powers on its head, New Mutants also introduced a young male character whose mutant ability was not related at all to strength or physicality: Doug Ramsey was a friend of Kitty Pryde who had the power of omnilingualism—he can intuitively understand any language, be it human, alien, or computer/machine. Given the codename Cypher, he is best known for helping with a techno-organic alien life form known as Warlock, who also became a member of the team. I thought it was great to see a male hero who has such a theoretically “passive” power unrelated to combat and punching things still be very important to the group.
And here’s about where our journey ends; even though I obviously starting following the characters years after its original publication, these are the oldest characters to form the team, and my interest waned as the series went on and various other characters were introduced, largely those making up a sort of pre-X-Force. Not that there’s anything wrong with these characters—they include ones I do genuinely like, such as Tabitha Smith (known by a variety of lackluster codenames like Boom-Boom) and Rictor, whose somewhat recent coming out as gay added to the small but growing Marvel LGBTQ+ population; it just slowly stopped feeling like The New Mutants to me, thus the transition to X-Force.
I hope you enjoyed learning about a team most people have never heard of! I know that while writing this, I really enjoyed getting to look back through my mint-condition copies of the earliest issues of the series, still in the plastic covers from the website I got them from. It makes me sad that more people don’t know and cherish the New Mutants. On the other hand, their obscurity and underdog status is one of the main reasons I was drawn to them in the first place (does that make me a hipster?). While the representation isn’t perfect at all times, I still think it was marvelous to see a series start out with such a diverse cast, even though it got a more unbalanced as the series went on. And yes, the writing can be 1980s hokey, there are far-fetched and crazy plots, but overall I found the characters and their powers intriguing and well-developed, especially when compared with the first batch of X-Men, who for many years were pretty bland. I hope overall this post has inspired you to try and track down some vintage Marvel mutant adventures!