It’s hard to believe for those of us who were raised on the comics boom period of the early 1990′s, but there was a time when Uncanny X-Men was the only X-Men book that Marvel published. But under the watchful eye of writer Chris Claremont and artists Dave Cockrum and John Byrne, the book became so popular that demand was strong enough to warrant a spin-off. The X-Men had long since abandoned its original premise of young mutants being students at a “school” for “gifted youngsters”, so the obvious goal was to introduce a young crop of new mutants quite unoriginally dubbed the “New Mutants”. And thus five new characters – Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Psyche (later Mirage), Sunspot and Karma – came together in the 1982 Marvel Graphic Novel #4, back when there was a difference between comic books and graphic novels.
New Mutants was the first of its kind for Marvel, though DC had long since featured the younger version of the team in Teen Titans, which had launched in 1964, just one year after the original team of X-Men. But unlike the Titans, the New Mutants weren’t simply the sidekicks of existing heroes (basically younger versions of the franchise characters), but heroes themselves. And by 1982, Marv Wolfman and George Perez had turned the Titans into their own genre of heroes (and the most popular franchise DC had at the time, hard as that is to believe), so New Mutants really was in a class of its own.
But the premise itself ran into a problem of its own as it searched for an identity of its own. In its founding, Professor X plainly stated that the New Mutants were not intended to be X-Men, and thus would not be doing the super-hero schtick which he had sent the original kids on immediately, though he still made them wear the skintight outfits. That raised the question of just what the title would be about. And the first couple of issues dealt with things like bullying and the dangers of the Danger Room, but those could only go on for so long.
Soon it came time to allow the kids to stumble into villains of their own to fight, which presented an entirely new problem. To milk off of their association with the bigger franchise (which is the entire point of a spin-off), in theory they would need to deal with some of the rogues gallery of the X-Men. But to keep the villains remaining a viable threat should they reappear in the main title, they couldn’t exactly lose to these rookie mutants. After all, the Hellfire Club were just a weak floor and a freak storm away from defeating the X-Men during the Dark Phoenix Saga. How could you have them lose to these kids? Would you need to have the kids either lose or be bailed out every storyline?
The answer would be to introduce new villains to be associated with the established ones in the same way the New Mutants were associated to the X-Men. And with issue #7, did writer Chris Claremont ever throw us a whopper.
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