I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
At the peak of my devotion to Marvel Comics, in the mid-nineteen-eighties, I had a keen enough sense of the publisher’s history that I felt a melancholy tinge of starting my collection late enough that I missed out on getting in on any of their major titles from the very beginning. It’s not like this was short-sightedness on my part. My birth date conspired against me. So I was always especially enthused when it felt like something potentially huge started up, a title I thought might be historic in some way. To anyone familiar with the current line-up of Marvel publications, it is probably odd that I might think a new title tied to the X-Men might qualify as something unique or special, but that was exactly the case when The New Mutants launched in early 1983.
At the time, there was exactly one X-Men title coming out on a regular basis, the flagship The Uncanny X-Men. It was a huge success (only bolstered by the recently completed Wolverine limited series), and Marvel was clamoring for a spin-off. What they settled on was a new group of mutants recruited to be pupils at Charles Xavier’s school, a fairly natural idea given that the main X-Men title had drifted so far from that original concept. This notion had been kicking around for a while, inspired at least in part by a drawing that famed artist John Byrne rendered of the then-current X-Men in the original “school uniforms.” After a formal debut in Marvel’s pricey new graphic novel line, the New Mutants arrived in a monthly comic. I was overjoyed (seriously, I’m sadly not overstating that) to be there from the very beginning.
Written by regular X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, almost fully credited at the time with the transformative success of Marvel’s merry mutants, he doubled-down on the international flavor of the X-Men (featuring characters hailing from Russia, Germany, Canada and a New York-born daughter of a Kenyan who grew up an orphan in Egypt and on the Serengeti) stocking the New Mutants with characters from such exotic locales as Scotland, Brazil, Vietnam and Kentucky (zing!). Rounding out the quintet is a member of the Cheyenne tribe whose misgivings and fears factor greatly into the first batch of adventures. From the very first scene of the series, Claremont made it clear that he was going to utilize his very successful X-Men approach (almost wholly abandoned in that title at the time) of dropping in on the team as they were just hanging out together.
Clearly there were also hints of his penchant for soap opera. Dealing with new students also allowed Claremont (along with co-creator and artist Bob McLeod) to incorporate elements of the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters conceit that were harder to wedge into the main title with more seasoned heroes. Chief among them was the Danger Room, the ever-adaptive gymnasium housed at the school designed to put mutant powers to the test.
In Uncanny X-Men, Claremont was increasingly indulging in overly epic storylines that seemed to drag on endlessly (I remember the X-Men spending an awful lot of time in outer space around this stretch), but The New Mutants, at least initially, gave him a ready avenue to deal with smaller, more personal issues, the sort of thing that was truly Claremont’s strength. I remember reading an interview with Byrne–never one who was excited to praise his former creative partner from the pinnacle run of the main X-Men series–in which he said Claremont was better than anyone at developing a fully-rounded, interesting character in just a panel or two. Evidently, he and McLeod were also confident that such a scene of personal development could be enlivened by giving the reader they were sharing the experience of listening in with an eavesdropping raccoon.
Much as the elements of series were in Claremont’s wheelhouse, it also seemed his heart wasn’t fully into it. The series had a tendency to drift. It was surprisingly unmemorable and there were specific instances that were just this side of embarrassing. It picked up a jolt of added energy later when Bill Sienkiewicz joined the title as artist and decided he was going to draw it however the hell he wanted to. I sensed it at the time, but it didn’t really matter to me. I’d bought it from the very first issue, and that was a point of pride. I stuck with it far longer than I probably should have. It didn’t matter. If I couldn’t be there when the Marvel Age of Comics first launched, I could surely convince myself, if only occasionally, that I was witness to the next wave of revolution.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema