What 'New Mutants' Must Learn From the Comics

Never mind the supernatural and superpowered, Josh Boone's movie needs to get the everyday teenage experience right.

The new trailer for Josh Boone’s The New Mutants continues in the same horror tone as the first, with the added benefit of showing off some of the characters’ mutant abilities to keep fans of the comic book source material happy. (Although, really, I’m still waiting to see Sam Guthrie be nigh invulnerable when he’s blastin’, but that might just be me.) The real test of the finished product won’t be superpowers or demon bears — it’ll be whether the movie successfully captures the relationships between the comic book characters.

When New Mutants debuted on newsstands in 1982 — initially as a stand-alone graphic novel, before becoming a monthly comic followed a year later — co-creator Chris Claremont was in his ascendancy as the writer of the regular X-Men comic, having successfully transformed it from a traditional superhero comic into something increasingly more soap operatic and open-ended in terms of narrative arcs. While physical problems were still dispatched on a near-monthly basis, emotional and existential threats remained across months, if not years, as the characters grew and changed in ways that went beyond the comic book status quo.

New Mutants, arguably, took this approach and ran with it. After a relatively traditional opening 17 issues, the arrival of artist Bill Sienkiewicz — whose interest in pushing the boundaries of abstraction in his artwork was already at its peak — allowed Claremont to refocus the title into a comic that slipped free of the trappings of the traditional superhero comic book, and became… something else entirely.

Claremont and Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants, as well as the work Claremont did on the series with other artists including Mary Wilshire and Jackson Guice, paid lip service to the superhero genre at best and veered from outright horror to broad comedy, “special episode” interludes about teen suicide and bullying and everything in between. The characters traveled through time and dealt with forbidden romance and disappointing their teachers! They went into space and actually died and fought in weird underground gladiatorial contests! It was a comic where anything could happen, month to month.

The one constant in this purposefully inconsistent book — “purposefully,” because it was intended to invoke how turbulent being a teenager feels, amped up to melodramatic superpowered levels — was the relationships between the main characters, as uneasy and passionate as they all were. Again, this felt true to the teenage experience, where everything in the world could change but friendships remained central to everything.

The friendships between Sam and Bobby, between Dani and Rahne, Doug and Warlock, and so on, felt complicated and authentic to the readers and provided a necessary emotional anchor that allowed the stories to go wherever necessary without losing the audience.

As outlandish as the stories could otherwise seem, Claremont’s masterstroke as a writer was to make fans believe in the characters going through such ridiculous adventures; the New Mutants, at the height of their popularity, were characters that felt “real” in a way that few comic characters manage.

The drawback of that, however, is that any adaptation of the property has a higher hurdle to clear to please the core fan base. It’s one thing to show Illyana’s Soulsword armor manifesting itself on her arm as she walks through the trailer — that’s just special effects. Convincing everyone that Dani and Rahne have a bond that few can understand will, ultimately, prove more difficult… but if Boone et al manage it, the reward could inspire as much passion as the original comic and prove to be something Disney can return to again and again in the future.

The New Mutants is set to be released April 3.