Oct 9, 2020
The New Mutants #18: The Demon Bear Saga (part 1)
In my last article, I talked about how I had erroneously ASSumed the creation of the New Mutants meant my beloved X-Men were going away. After being assured by my local comic book store owner that it was not the case, I was persuaded to give the ongoing series a try. I purchased The New Mutants #1 and I guess I kept buying the title out of habit. To modern, younger comic buyers, habitually blowing cash on a comic you were indifferent to might sound insane, but bear in mind they were only sixty cents back then.
Still, by issue #12 I had grown tired of the series and quit. I can’t put my finger on why exactly the New Mutants didn’t register with me. I was a teenager and some of the characters were about my age. I guess I wasn’t into the teen angst that was featured in some of the stories, or perhaps I was just more interested in traditional superhero fare. So New Mutants and I went our separate ways.
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But at this point in his career, Chris Claremont was really at the top of his game. Whereas he had to share the spotlight with John Byrne years earlier and many of his prior projects never enjoyed the success of his X-Men work, he had two mutant titles doing well, and was working on titles published through the Epic line: The Black Dragon and Marada, the She-Wolf, both with artist John Bolton, and later on in 1987 he published the sci-fi novel First Flight. Arguably, the mid-’80s was Claremont’s golden age. As for New Mutants? Sure, it was doing well enough, but then an artist known as Bill Sienkiewicz came along…
…and he shook things up something fierce. I knew Sienkiewicz from his work on Moon Knight, a comic I never really got into. At that time, his work had been completely different; it was a dark and moody style that suited comics like Moon Knight well. But by the time he started on New Mutants, well, it got pretty insane. And it made New Mutants a comic that everybody was talking about, especially with Sienkiewicz’s debut story, the Demon Bear Saga.
First, a bit of background: The Demon Bear didn’t debut in issue #18; he actually had a cameo way back in issue #3 when Dani Moonstar had a nightmare…
…and the story also involved Professor Xavier having been impregnated by the Brood, and the being inside him manipulating Dani’s powers. It would seem that at the time, all of her fears and nightmares were just a product of this being messing with her head. But as we would soon discover, Claremont was a believer in the long game. Issue #17 would show glimpses of the bear once more…
…and then issue #18 dropped like a bomb, blowing people’s minds. Our tale begins soon after the New Mutants returned home after a confrontation with Emma Frost and her Hellions. And…okay, I can’t resist a tangent. If you read that story, Emma Frost comes across as cold, calculating, dominant, and yet later writers like Grant Morrison would have you believe all this time she was some pill-popping alcoholic under Sebastian Shaw’s control. Remember what I said about retcons before? It goes double now.
We find Dani Moonstar in bed, covering up under her sheets like a little girl as a creature from her darkest nightmares, one that killed her parents, haunts her. Right away the art is striking, with Sienkiewicz’s work enhanced by colorist Glynis Wein’s preponderant use of blood red as the image of the demon bear is seen on Moonstar’s comforter. It’s a hell of a way to start off a story; I can’t imagine how they’ll top it. I turn the page, and oh, look at that; someone is bombing the living hell out of the X-Mansion. Consider page one topped.
A young lady who I assume is Rahne Sinclair is running… But wait! She’s forming a telekinetic shield to protect herself, so this must be another redhead. It turns out this is Rachel Summers, future daughter of Scott and Jean, who originally appeared in the landmark “Days of Future Past” storyline and who… somehow wound up in the present. For the life of me, I can’t remember how she time traveled. If one of my faithful (and nerdier) readers know, feel free to lay it on me in the comments. Though, is this scene playing out in the present or is this the future (her past)? It’s only due to my years of watching Doctor Who that I’m able to keep up with the confusing nature of time travel. Rachel finds Professor Xavier, who tells her to get to safety. Rachel pleads with Charles to come with her but the mansion is surrounded and he feels his only option is to surrender. He uses the drapes to drag himself to his feet and call out… only to be struck down.
Cut to present day, and we find Rachel loitering outside the X-Mansion grounds. Rachel recalls how she was found with her powers neutralized by drugs, and how she was taken away to an interment camp and tortured. A cop car rolls on by and Rachel has to suppress her natural dread of authority. She realizes the police officer is just concerned, but all the same he’ll be back. She uses her telekinesis to open the gates to steal onto the grounds. Inside…
…Sunspot, Cannonball, and newer New Mutant Magma are having what a masochist might call “fun” in the Danger Room, taking on a plethora of robots. Someone is narrating and it turns out to be Dani, as she talks about how her friends are trashing robots at will. However, Sam/Cannonball, the oldest (since Karma left, like way back in issue #6 or 7, I think), is still not very good at what he does. Or if being good at what he does means flying headlong into stuff without being able to turn, then I guess maybe he is the best. Unless you’re Wolverine getting thrown by Colossus. Sam gets knocked right into Mara/Magma and he comes up with a clever trick on the fly: stop flying! He shuts off his power and then turns it back on, shooting towards the ceiling. This distracts Mara and she gets nabbed by a robot, which starts scrambling up a wall. But she becomes hotter than hell and melts the bot while Sunspot silently cheers for Sam, who tries to rescue her from the fall. But Magma assures Sam she could have just melted the floor to break her fall. Um, not so sure about that; turning the floor liquid would be kind of a hazard for your teammates, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, we see this session had some spectators.
It’s Dani, Lockheed the Dragon, and Illyana Rasputin, Colossus’ kid sister who spent several years in Limbo being taught black magic by the Evil Belasco. It turns out the pair of them took a time jaunt a year into the future where all their teammates had become evil, corrupted by the White Queen. Neither one knows what Emma Frost did to their friends, or if what they saw was set in stone or a possible future. Chris had several tropes he loved; chief among them were time travel, mind control, and inappropriate relationships between teenagers and adults.
But before the pair can figure out what they should or shouldn’t do, the mansion’s doorbell rings. Illyana teleports up to answer it: it’s Rachel and she’s freaked out by Illyana. She gets even more upset when Illyana confirms her identity and Rachel runs off, trying to figure out how Illyana can be the same age now as when Rachel saw her die in the future… which is her present? Rachel figures that whatever’s going on must be her fault.
Cut to elsewhere, far, far away. An alien lays on some inert planet and tries to get its bearings. It then looks up at the sun.
Yeah, that can’t be good. Last time I saw someone eat a sun, it was Dark Phoenix. The (comparatively) tiny being flees, and the monstrous giant calls it “Warlock” and declares that the hunt continues.
Back on Earth, Dani Moonstar does a little hunting herself. A blizzard rages around her, but her insulated costume protects her. Suddenly, a bear attacks. Her aim is true and the arrow strikes the bear in the chest, but it doesn’t go down. After firing another arrow, Danielle is triumphant; the demon bear is d—Oh, wait, this was a Danger Room simulation. Never mind. Illyana enters the room after the simulation ends and tries to get into Dani’s head. Moonstar explains she just wants to be at a hundred percent in case the gang fights something her powers can’t affect. Illyana wonders why she wanted to fight a bear, and Dani says she’s gotta start somewhere. Me, I’d start with gerbils. Then work up to guinea pigs. After a month, maybe Chihuahuas. The girls leave, but in the darkened Danger Room, something stirs…
Later on, as a snowstorm hits outside, Dani says she knows Illyana’s pissed and didn’t buy her story for a second. Why Dani’s not telling her friends about Demon Bear, I have no idea. I know if Demon Fill-in-the-Blank was haunting me, I’d be telling everybody. Dani decides that facing off against the bear is something she’ll have to do alone. Face, meet palm. Palm, face. God…why? Why does she have to face this thing mano-a-mano? She’s got a teammate who can melt steel, and another is a teleporting practitioner of the dark arts. There are two boys who aren’t slouches either, and there’s a pint-sized dragon on the premises. And that’s just the “B” team. But nope, Dani feels all guilty about how her parents went off to face the bear to protect her, and from her dreams she knew it wasn’t even after them: it wanted her.
So instead of endangering the lives of her friends, Dani puts on her warpaint and heads off into the snow, alone, armed with her bow and arrows. I’d get that this is some teenage angst going on here, and Dani’s not exactly in her right mind, but all the same by this point, after 17 issues and a graphic novel and an annual, you’d think she’d have learned to lean on her friends. Out in the frigid snow, she calls out to the bear.
Yeah, maybe it’s not too late to call for help? Maybe give Ted Nugent a ring? But all that training in the Danger Room combined with a mad-on for revenge fuels Dani’s fiery courage, and she reaches into the Demon Bear’s mind to find what it fears most and creates a spirit image of it. And it turns out the bear is most afraid of… her?
The bear swats at the false image, giving Dani a clear shot. The arrow strikes the bear’s throat, and even though it’s a killing shot, this only makes the bear mad. It scoops Dani up in one of its utterly massive paws and opens wide, only to eat an arrow that Dani punches up through its snout. The bear drops her and she dashes for her bow, then spins and shoots into the bear’s open maw. The bear is down and Dani approaches the carcass, thinking that her parents have been avenged and her nightmare is over. Only, the bear’s eyes open and Dani’s nightmare, it seems, has just begun.
Inside the mansion, Rahne bolts upright in bed screaming Dani’s name, then switches into wolf form and heads out into the night with the other New Mutants, sans Magma, following after her. Sam, like the good ole country boy he is, took the proper precaution of grabbing a rifle. Roberto/Sunspot has Rahne switch to her half-human form so she can actually talk, and she explains that she sensed there was something wrong via the bond she and Dani share (and if you recall in my review of the graphic novel, said bond was established pretty much from day one), and it suddenly cut off. The reason?
Because Dani appears to be dead. But is she? Come back next week as I look at parts two and three.