by Chris Swartzlander, creator/author of the Tripping Over Reality Sci-fi novel series
I’ve Got Some More Issues No. 2 –
The New Mutants #18-20
The Demon Bear Saga
Imagine being a scrawny comic nerd in the early spring of 1984 when Marvel starts running this house ad:
I was a huge X-Men fan in high school and had subsequently read (and loved) The New Mutants since its inception. I thought it was a perfect comic already, but, also being an avid horror fan, this ad had me shivering in geek anticipation! It looked gritty, and scary, and totally different from everything the teen mutant team had been up to that point. I could not wait for the beginning of this self-proclaimed new style, and it opened with what became known as The Demon Bear Sage. Let’s crack open these dusty tomes and take a look at one of the best stories of the 80’s running through The New Mutants #18-20.
Complete Arc: (#18) – “Death Hunt”, (#19) – “Siege”, (#20) – “Badlands!”
Year Released: 1984
Creative Team: Chris Claremont (Writer) Bill Sienkiewicz (Artist)
Heroes: Psyche (Dani Moonstar), Cannonball (Sam Guthrie), Sunspot (Bobby da Costa), Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair), Magma (Amara Aquilla), Magik (Illyana Rasputin), Warlock, Rachel Summers, Lockheed, Storm (Ororo Munroe), Professor X (Charles Xavier), Corsair (Christopher Summers), Binary (Carol Danvers), Hepzibah, Ch’od, Cr’reee, Waldo, and Healer
Villains: Demon Bear, Magus
Notable Quotable: Psyche: “Bear! Come, butcher of innocents—Danielle Moonstar summons you! Show yourself!”
Before The Demon Bear Saga even gets warmed up, the unsuspecting reader is teased with subplots for upcoming storylines involving both Rachel Summers and Warlock. These plot threads are woven seamlessly through all three issues of the arc without taking away from the spooky main storyline that kicks off the new storytelling era promised by the aforementioned house ad. Suddenly, we are plunged into a gory, frightening nightmare the likes of which mainstream super hero comics had not yet seen. Dani Moonstar (Psyche) (full disclosure- one of my favorite mutants) had long claimed that a shadowy Demon Bear was responsible for the murder of her parents; a claim that her fellow students at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters found dubious. We first see her in the beginning of this terrifying tale armed only with a bow fighting against a bear in the Danger Room. Later that evening, she walks out of the mansion into a blustery winter night armed with the same bow, determined to get revenge on the monster that took her family from her. She summons the arcane animal and challenges it to a fight. Unfortunately, the heroine is no match for the gargantuan beast and quickly falls victim to its huge claws. Her teammates quickly learn that Dani is missing from the school and wonder into the woods to find her. They come upon the poor girl lying in a pool of her own blood and barely clinging to life. The team rushes Dani to Mid-County Medical Center where they are immediately trapped by a raging snowstorm as the on-call doctors frantically attempt to save Psyche from her life-threatening wounds. As the powerful blizzard grows, the New Mutants soon realize that the Demon Bear has arrived to finish the job. Will they be able to save their mortally wounded team member from the beast or will they lose her forever to the darkness?
Chris Claremont (Uncanny X-men, The Wolverine): Once again, Chris shines like a supernova on an 80’s Marvel mutant book. . While I’ve always had issues with Mr. Claremont’s work on his original material (IE: his novels), his stylistic writing in established universes has always been nothing short of inspiring. Not only is this tale incredibly engaging and his characterizations so very accessible, but his full force movement in the new “grittier” direction was pulled off beautifully. The subplots established during these three issues with Warlock and Rachel Summers set up some fantastic events in future mutant books. To top it all off, he adds a cameo of the Star Jammers (including Binary) and we get our first glimpse at Magik’s protective armor. So very good!
Bill Sienkiewicz (Moon Knight, Dazzler): I have to say it, I’ve always hated Bill’s work. His lines fall hard on the eyes and his art has always seemed too new age for me. That being said, his execution in The New Mutants is perfect for the new “spooky” back alleys Marvel wanted to run the book down. This arc is his first swing at the teen Mutants and he knocks it out of the park. Dark, shadowy, and sometimes unrecognizably frightening figures fill his flawless panel layouts like perfect Halloween decorations in a haunted house.
I reread this these books for this article while in the hospital after a serious accident, and the scenes of Dani in the ER after her first brush with the Demon Bear struck a nerve in me, making it a perfect read for what I was currently going through in my personal life. It also brought back the original feelings of freshness from my first look lo those many years ago. The friendships between the teammates seem so real, and the characters are so wonderful, even if Cannonball keeps reminding us “Good thing Ah’m invulnerable when Ah’m blasting.” We get it, Sam! Marvel wanted a new type of hero book and they got one when they teamed up Claremont and Sienkiewicz! READ THESE COMICS!
Well, the Percocet is starting to kick in and I’m beginning to see double. I’m going to snuggle up with some more comics and do some reading. I will see you all next month when we take a look at another classic storyline! Can you dig it!?!?!?!