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News that Josh Boone will develop New Mutants for Fox will likely raise some questions from comic book fans and non-comic readers alike. From the former, how will this connect with the previously-announced X-Force movie, as — in comic book lore — the New Mutants became X-Force? From the latter, a more basic question: who are the New Mutants anyway?
The answer to that last question comes in two forms. The real-world answer is that New Mutants was Marvel’s first attempt to expand its successful X-Men franchise beyond the main comic book series; written by then-X-Men author Chris Claremont with art by Bob McLeod and, later, Bill Sienkiewicz, the 1983 series revived the original concept behind the X-Men by giving Professor Xavier a new class of super-powered students to teach.
Unlike the original X-Men, however, New Mutants went far beyond mostly-privileged white Americans for its lineup. Indeed, of its original roster, only one of the New Mutants conformed to what was still the superhero norm; alongside Sam Guthrie (Cannonball), there was the native American Danielle Moonstar (Mirage), Xia’n Coy Manh (Karma) from Vietnam, Roberto da Costa (Sunspot) from Brazil and Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane), a werewolf from Scotland. The international nature of the team continued when Amara Aquilla (Magma), who’d been raised in a secret society based on ancient Rome, and Illyana Rasputin (Magik), the little sister of the X-Men’s Colossus, became the first new recruits to the team within two years of the series’ launch.
Whereas Claremont’s X-Men had become a fan-favorite title for its mix of superheroics and soap opera, the original New Mutants series leaned more heavily into the latter than the former, with much of the action being the result of outside events than any desire to fight crime or save the day. Instead, they rescued each other from kidnappers, demons and alien invaders, or found themselves lost in time due to teleportation mishaps, all while trying to come to terms with their latest crushes, teenage heartbreaks and essay deadlines.
Things changed somewhat when Claremont left the series in 1987; as the direction of Marvel’s X-Men line shifted in general (A third series, X-Factor, had been added by this point, and more were en route, including British spinoff Excalibur and a solo series for Wolverine), things headed down a darker road, with characters dying or being de-aged and replaced by new (noticeably less diverse) faces — the series also abandoned its school setting during this era, leaving it without a core concept. Within a couple of years, artist Rob Liefeld had taken over creative control, co-plotting and drawing the series and re-positioning it as a paramilitary task force led by his new creation, a time-traveling cyborg called Cable. When this new angle caught the attention of the fanbase, the series was canceled and relaunched under a new title, X-Force, in 1991.
That wasn’t the end of the New Mutants, however. The series has been revived on two different occasions by Marvel; the first, a short-lived series from 2004, saw it return to its roots as a series about students at a school learning about their powers, with the twist that the students from the original series were now the teachers. In 2009, a second revival saw the team reunite again, this time focusing on the relationships between the original cast instead of the school concept. After 50 issues, it was canceled in 2012.
Quite what Fox’s New Mutants will be isn’t clear at this point; although Professor Xavier’s school has made multiple appearances in the franchise, it has become an increasingly background element of the series with each successive installment. Some of the classic New Mutants cast have appeared in the background of earlier X-Men movies — most notably Sunspot, who appears in the opening fight sequence of last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past — but, for the most part, the characters are available for use in either the retro time-period of the most recent X-movies or more contemporary period.
One thing is for sure, however; if Boone and co-writer Knate Gwaltney lean on the teen melodrama of Boone’s earlier Fault in Our Stars while developing the project, the movie will be headed in a direction that’s at least faithful to the source material.
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