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Friday, June 3, 2016

Panel Vision - Who Are The New Mutants

With X-Men: Apocalypse already slipping into the background of the national conversation, Fox has already starting teeing up the next installments of the franchise.   That’s more or less just how things work in the wake of Avengers monster success and the continuing domination of the MCU.  Nowadays, most action films, but especially superhero movies, need to make it clear to audiences there’s some kind of larger syndicated plan in store. 

That’s part of why Amazing Spider-Man was already teeing up Sinister Six and Bryan Singer was already trailing Apocalypse before Days of Future Past came out.  Currently, the X-Men’s future is a little more uncertain with the next confirmed X-Men film coming out in 2018.   Fox’s already talking Phoenix for that installment but there are two more Fox mystery movies in between.  It’s starting to look like one of those two is going to be the long rumored New Mutants movie as it finally has a character line-up, let’s meet them. 

For the, most likely, uninitiated the New Mutants were a team of teen X-Men who popped up in the ‘80s.  One of the neat things about the X-Men franchise is that when the initial team failed to really draw readers in the ‘60s Marvel allowed the franchise to atrophy till the mid ‘70s.  When the book was revived in 1975 there was a much higher premium placed on wooing young adult audiences so it was decided that most of the original X-Men had grown up and graduated in some way.  

Iceman and Angel became part of the Champions, Beast turned blue and joined the Avengers, and Jean and Scott became teachers.  This cycle of growing up and moving only to be replaced with no students continues to this day and in the ‘80s, the first new class of X-Men since 1975 was the New Mutants, lead by frequent Deadpool collaborator Cable (though also Magneto for a bit but we’re getting sidetracked.)

Wolfsbane is the only one of the New Mutants to actually have a casting rumored attached to her, Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams.  Williams has proved herself a fine actor, both on Game of Thrones and in a reoccurring role on Doctor Who last season so I’m a little wary of this casting rumor.  It’d certainly fit the nonsense approach of the X-Men films to cast such an exciting new comer as Williams in the C-list role of Wolfsbane (seriously there are like 3 New Mutant who actually matter in the whole bunch and Wolfsbane is not one of them) but maybe Williams presence will turn things around. 

Wolfsbane’s power is essentially being the less interesting lovechild of Beast and Wolverine.  She can morph from a standard human into a feral beast with hilariously huge hair and sort of a wolf thing going on, basically she’s a werewolf.  That’s an interesting pitch for Williams, whose career highlights so far are playing intense characters of questionable morality, even if Wolfsbane is a little light on personality or import.  

She did go on to be a member of X-Force during its embarrassing early years and more interesting later stuff so it’s possible this is a long game style tee-up for a future film.  It’s possible New Mutants is part of a triple threat introduction plan, bringing in Cable in Deadpool 2 in October of 2017 then having him coach the New Mutants in January 2018 with an X-Force film spinning out of that down the line but that seems like a pretty extensive plan for Fox. 

Sunspot is one of the 3 New Mutants who actually kind of matters in the great scheme of things.  He already technically appeared in the X-Men films in Days of Future Past where he was one of the cannon fodder characters that got killed off by a sentinel and had no lines because the X-Men films expunge diversity like nobody’s business.  His power is more or less the same as the Human Torch, he can light himself on fire and shoot blast of heat, the only real difference is that his skin turns jet black for unaccountable reasons. 

Like Wolfsbane and most of the line-up Sunspot was a founding member of the New Mutants though he didn’t really appear in the X-Men comics after that.  He bounced around a lot of the lesser titles but for the most part he languished in obscurity till Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers.  During that run Sunspot came back to be a major part of the Marvel universe and a defining member of the Avengers, going on to have a lot of frontline adventures and even leading his own subsection of the team.

All that later stuff is more or less the only thing of note about Sunspot so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some of that pop in for the movie.  It’s possible he’ll end up as cannon fodder again as this is an X-Men film, they don’t really like to give equal billing to their team members and there are a handful of folks who did stuff that was either more X-Men centric or overall more worth exploring.  However, if it’s revealed that Sunspot is a millionaire and ends up leading the team I wouldn’t be totally surprised. 

Cannonball is a weird character to get a handle on.  He’s easily my favorite New Mutant with one of the coolest mutant powers ever, the ability to propel himself forward with powerful concussive force.  Like the name says, he’s essentially turning himself into a human cannonball and it looks really cool.  He’s one of the few mutants with a power outside of the standard nature control (ice, fire, weather) or enhanced physicality (super strength, super speed, telepathy etc.) so I’m certainly glad he made the cut for the movie. 

Aside from just looking awesome with a sweet power Cannonball is famous for two things.  Like Wolfsbane he went on to join X-Force with Cable during its initial run though he didn’t return later for the gray costume version a lot of folks know now with Warpath, Wolverine, X-23, and Arcangel.  I do hope Cannonball makes into the X-Force film if only because his X-Force costume is this amazing blend of pink and white spandex with steampunk goggles and giant shoulder pads, it’s one of the greatest things to come out of ‘90s fashion. 

The other major thing Cannonball is known for now is being best friends with Sunspot.  I realize that’s a kind of sad statement but it’s really his biggest achievement as he ended up tagging along with Sunspot to become an Avenger heavyweight.  Given the plans for X-Force and the rest of the names on this list I wouldn’t be surprised if Wolfsbane moved on to X-Force while Cannonball and Sunspot stayed behind to take over leadership of the New Mutants. 

I’ve mentioned before my interest in indigenous and first nations superheroes so I’m ecstatic that Mirage is finally coming to live action.  The X-Men easily have the most Native American characters of any single franchise with 4 and Mirage is easily one of the most enduring and interesting, second only to Forge.  Her power, as the name implies, is illusions…kind of.  Like a lot of Native American characters who came up in the ‘80s and ‘90s Mirage’s powers don’t stop at mutant abilities.  In addition to being able to cast illusions she’s also possessed vague shamanistic powers that ended up bringing her into conflict with plenty of mystic threats. 

That mystic connection ended up serving Mirage well after the Decimation.  In case you’re a non-comic fan, the Decimation was an X-Men event where Scarlet Witch used her reality warping powers to turn 90% of the world’s mutant population human.  Mirage was among those reverted but she still had mystic powers so she got to stick around and be interesting.  It’s possible, even probable, her mystic abilities will be the crux of her character in New Mutants as they would afford the film an easy access to antagonist beyond just the standard collection of mutant threat. 

That’s one of the weird things about the X-Men film franchise, they tend to go out of their way to nerf the wide world of more interesting mutant threats.  Reoccuring bad guys who can prop up side movies like the Sentinels or the Hellfire Club have been completely obliterated in their individual films, which means every individual movie needs to squeeze in some new X-Men D-list bad guy and explain who they are in addition to everything else.  If the bad guy of New Mutants was the Great Beasts or some other Mirage foe it’d at least provide an easy point of explanation for the movie.  There are a few other options. 

Alright, let’s get weird.  So, Warlock is not a mutant, in case that wasn’t obvious.  He is, in fact, an alien, part of a species of techno-organic beings known as the technarchy.  I’m not terribly clear as to why he was made a founding member of the New Mutants, though they tended to fudge his alien status by claiming he was a mutant member of his people (though that’s not really the case, he was just a weirdo.)  His inclusion in the movie is a little weird as he’s a character that would need a mountain of CGI to realize properly and even then his powers are very strange.  Despite looking like a giant sentient circuit board his power is that he can telepathically control machines, along with whatever benefits being a living computer brings with it. 

There’s really only one reason for Warlock showing up in this New Mutants roster and that’s the Phalanx.  If you put the Borg and the Terminator in a blender you’d get the Phalanx, a group of villainous sentient robots that infest and take over whole civilizations.  The Phalanx are one of the big name aliens to emerge from the X-Men franchise and they emerged through Warlock.  See the Phalanx are actually an artificially created race, the child species of the Technarchy, created as an experiment gone wrong.  If Fox has any plans of doing stuff like the Phalanx Covenant (a pretty major X-Men storyline they haven’t approached yet,) Warlock would be the point from which they approach it. 

Okay, first things first: it is incredibly lame that Magick is being subbed in for New Mutants founding members Karma and Magma.  They’re both women of color and Karma was also a queer character so it’s pretty infuriating that they would both end up ditched for another straight white character, but I suppose that’s just X-Men tradition at this point.  I will say that I at least see the logic in including Magick even if I don’t agree with having her replace these other characters.  Her powers and look are visually stunning involving portal creation and inter-dimensional travel and her ties to actual magic make her a source of additional conflict like Mirage and Warlock. 

If you’ve never heard of her, Magick is the only New Mutant with some history prior to her role on the team.  She’s Colossus’ little sister and while the main franchise still has no idea what to do with Colossus it’s at least some kind of tie to the bigger picture.  What’s more, Magick has been at the crux of a handful of events herself, most importantly ‘Inferno,’ where the X-Men fought demons and a cosmic entity known as the Goblin Queen, and Avengers vs. X-Men where Magick became one of the avatars of the Phoenix force along with Namor, Colossus, Cyclops, and Emma Frost. 

Magick is the big question mark hanging over this whole endeavor.  Her connection to Colossus brings up the issue of continuity, a problem the X-films have yet to really solve, and her various mystic powers and major event roles provide a lot of potential going forward.  Most interestingly, her time as an avatar of the Phoenix could mean she’s being set-up for a larger role in 2018 if the rumors of the Phoenix Force’s role in the next X-Men film is to be believed. 

Currently, New Mutants has no scheduled release date. 
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