Sep 21, 2020
The New Mutants #19-20: The Demon Bear Saga (parts 2-3)
When we last saw our teen heroes, the New Mutants found their friend and teammate Danielle Moonstar AKA Psyche (I’m… pretty sure she wasn’t calling herself “Mirage” at this point. I don’t know if Claremont’s tendency to have characters re-name themselves was his regretting his first and in some cases second choices, or trying to get into the head of a teenager and their predilection for changing their minds. Then again, almost every size-changing character in the Marvel Universe seems to have changed their names at least once, so I guess I shouldn’t pick on the kids) bleeding out on the snow near the woods outside the mansion. Issue #19 picks up at Mid County Medical Center near Salem Center. We’ve got a team of paramedics wheeling in Dani and demanding a triage team. The nurses and doctors give out a laundry list of her physical trauma, there’s barely a pulse, and the doc’s calling up for a blood type match and six whole units.
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The gang watches as Danielle is wheeled into the operating room, then a police officer shows up for some answers. The gang gives up their names—real names, not code names—and explain they’re students at Xavier’s school. The cop says he hasn’t seen wounds like that since ‘Nam, and Sam says they think she was attacked by a bear. The cop is skeptical and Roberto’s pissed, but the officer lets the young man’s outburst slide. A nurse shows up and says Dani’s chances are admittedly slim but she’s “a fighter”. After the cop leaves, Roberto curses the storm because they aren’t going to be able to go after the bear.
That’s when Sam points out the bear is probably going to come to them. He points out Dani’s been afraid of this thing for a while but nobody’s taken her seriously about it, and Illyana points out Moonstar was fighting holobears in the danger room. So yup, the Demon Bear is really a thing, and since it didn’t finish the job it’s probably a-comin’ for Dani to finish things. The gang suits up and Sam has Rahne mindlink with Dani. She goes into beast mode…
…and it turns out Dani’s back is broken. At the time, it seemed that just as Professor X regained his ability to walk, Claremont was maybe going to put someone else in a wheelchair. And judging by how much the man loves the angst, that was a very real possibility. Rahne cuts the connection and tells the gang that according to Dani, the bear is afraid of her, but she doesn’t know why. Sam assures the gang that all they need to do is hold out until the authorities can get hold of Xavier, and then it’ll be the X-Men’s job to take out the bear. I like how the gang’s being written here, with a mixture of bravery and uncertainty. I also like how well Sam’s being written as team leader. He’s come a long way from that kid who was turned into a stooge working for the bad guys.
Elsewhere in deep space, we find the Starjammers, those roguish space pirates and the allies of the X-Men. Binary’s called a red alert. You know Binary, right? Carol Danvers? Hey, remember that thing I said about kids changing their names a lot? Yeah, Carol’s in contention for having the most name changes, beaten by Hank Pym AKA Ant-Man AKA Giant-Man AKA Goliath AKA Yellowjacket AKA Wasp AKA Ultron Pym… Ultron Pym? Seriously? Well, according to Wikipedia, Hank Pym is most definitely, assuredly, we-really-mean-it-this-time dead now. Yeah, no way he’s ever coming back.
Binary says she detected some heavyweight power signatures nearby. The smaller one matches the Starjammers’, and when she says that, she means the ship and not them. Although considering Binary’s no lightweight, she could’ve used herself as a benchmark. Before they can determine how powerful the big one is, it blows right on by.
Um… am I supposed to laugh at those faces? Maybe I’m just easily amused. The ship’s AI informs them those things are headed for Earth. An ultra-powerful AI heading for Earth? Somebody call Captain Kirk; he’ll talk that thing into self-destruction in five minutes. Corsair says they have to go after it, but it’s a no-go; they’re not fast enough. And by the time they build a stargate big enough to make the insta-trip, it’ll still be too late. And a sub-space phone call is equally a no-go. All they can do is wait and pray.
Speaking of praying, back on Earth, Rahne loiters outside Dani’s room in werewolf form. She gets spotted by the police officer, who instantly pulls his weapon and chases her down, but when he turns the corner he only finds a terrified Scots girl. The officer, whose name is Corsi, feels super guilty about drawing on a teenager and figures the low light and lack of sleep made him see things. I dunno; if I lived in a world of mutants and mages and super soldiers and aliens and, y’know, werewolves, I’d trust my first instincts and start melting down some sterling silver for bullets. I mean hell, Dani’s in there looking like she got mauled by a bear; is a werewolf really that much of a stretch?
Corsi escorts Rahne back to the others for some sleep, then he goes off to flirt with the night nurse. Big mistake, because the Demon Bear shows up. Sam, Amara, and Rahne get jolted awake by roars, screams, and gunshots, and they go to investigate only to find blood at the nurse’s station and the air stinking of bear musk. Elsewhere, Roberto and Illyana, pulling guard duty outside the operating room, prep for battle. Illyana sets up magic wards, and just in time too, because…
…Demon Bear. And every time I type that, I’m tempted to instead write “Manbearpig”. Curse you, Trey Parker and Matt Stone for creating such enduring and memorable characters!
Manb—Demon Bear attacks and the pair hold their own, with Illyana discovering she’s got other powers. And she discovers her magic sword can hurt the bear. It retreats as the others arrive, then the main power goes out. The gang has to split up, with the ladies going to protect the generators while the boys run defense above. As Illyana sets up more wards, she asks Rahne if Dani had told her any more about where the Bear came from, and Rahne snaps at her that she told everything she knew. She calls Illyana a “witch”, and I love this for a lot of reasons. Being a devout Catholic, Rahne distrusts Illyana and the source of her power. The Scots girl is on edge because, you know, giant Demon Bear. And maybe she’s also jealous because they’ve got this perfect looking pretty blonde suddenly in the picture, maybe becoming best friends with her friends, and turning the boys’ heads. There’s a whole lot of teenage insecurity represented in that one word balloon.
But enough angst: Demon Bear is back! The bear teleports downstairs, dragging Bobby and Sam with him, it smashes at the wards protecting the generators. Illyana’s about to stick it again with her sword but it tosses wolf-Rahne into her, because getting stabby-stabbed hurts. The bear powers up its teleportation power again.
Figuring it couldn’t beat our heroes on their world, the Demon Bear has dragged them to his.
Issue #20 opens with a one page synopsis explaining what’s going on, which is smart because any consumer picking up this issue as their first might be just a tad befuddled, what with all the demon bears and mutant teens. Which is not to say every comic should devote a full page to what’s gone before, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt. The gang find themselves on some sort of plain in broad daylight, with a scene of the operating room hovering above them in a bubble. Illyana explains that this is due to the wards she put up around the OR, but there’s no telling how long those will last.
But the Bear’s got a new trick up its sleeve. Maybe it didn’t bother before because it thought it didn’t need to, or maybe it can only pull off this trick on its home turf, but it drives its clawed paws into Officer Orsi and the night nurse…
…and turns them into cultural appropriators! Sam Cannonballs up and punches the Bear in the gut, but Demon Bear gives as good as it gets, smacking Sam aside while Illyana hopes she can sorcery away the Bear’s curse on the two innocents. But it doesn’t work, and the Bear’s two new sidekicks have some pretty impressive powers. They keep the kids busy while the Bear literally tears at the walls of reality itself. I gotta say, Claremont has created one badass opponent here; it makes me wonder how the X-Men would fare against it.
One doctor sees the tear in reality but it goes away. His colleague tells him to focus, but the former notes all the young woman’s injuries and wonders if it wouldn’t it be best to let her die. Yeah, Dani sounds more and more like a candidate for that wheelchair.
Back in Bearsville, the creature’s two minions are kicking all kinds of ass. They’re so good, I’m surprised they haven’t gotten code names. Roberto’s been knocked into the Demon Bear’s shadow where it’s supernaturally cold, and it sucks away his solar energies. Demon Nurse tries to kill him but Amara/Magma makes the save, but that leaves her open to… this:
Amara’s about to join the Demon Bear Fan Club, but Illyana jumps in. Her blade hurts the bear, but she knows it’s getting its power from its home turf. Still, she had enough time to free Amara; she stabs Magma and Sam thinks Illyana’s gone nuts or turned to the Dark Side or something. Sam jets Illyana away from Amara and then finds out her stab freed Magma, who lays into him. Okay, now this is just all kinds of wrong. If I saw somebody stabbing somebody else, my first instinct wouldn’t be, “Oh, my teammate is saving my other teammate by punching a hole in their heart. It’s all good.” My first instinct would be, “Oh, the teenager that was raised by a one-armed devil is maybe using my crush as a human sacrifice.” Sam really is getting unfairly ripped here.
Rahne gets Roberto to a patch of light, but it’s growing scarce. Illyana realizes their only hope now is if Dani can tell them how to beat the bear. The Bear beats at the wards surrounding the operating theater while the kids fight its minions. One is taken down, but Rahne has the answer!
Uh… whoops. Illyana stabs the Demon minion and it turns back into Officer Corsi. Only… it doesn’t. It turns into what looks like a Cheyenne man. So Corsi’s now Cheyenne? Are there three or four demon minions running around and I just lost track? A person could argue Bill Sienkiewicz’s art can be a little… obscure, but up until now I thought I was doing a credible job of keeping track. Okay, tabling this mystery for now.
Rahne’s Scots skull proves to be pretty durable, because she’s right back up and saying that Illyana’s sword is the key. It’s time for the gang to work as a team. Illyana tells Magma to light up the ground to spook the Bear… and it’s sad how suddenly Sam’s no longer team leader, because he was doing so well up until that li’l misunderstanding earlier where one teammate stabbed another. I mean, how dare he not understand the intricacies of black magic, right? Still, Sam has his uses; while the Bear gets the hot foot, Sam flies Illyana right into its face.
The bear gets torn in two and it looks like Corsi and the nurse are freed… only, that’s not what the nurse was wearing before. God, now I’m really confused. But boom! Everyone’s back at the hospital now that the Bear is dead… or at least defeated, until some later writer decides to undo all of Claremont’s work. Hey, it’s happened before. Chris had a great redemption story for Magneto until editors and rockstar artists decided to turn the guy bad again.
It turns out Corsi and the night nurse were the Native Americans we saw earlier, but even though Illyana’s cut freed them, the after-effects mean they’re stuck as Cheyennes. On the one hand, it sucks, because they’re going to have a hell of a time proving who they were before. On the other hand, maybe they’ll get a chance at that sweet, sweet cash from the reservation casino?
Meanwhile, two other people are here to reveal that they were also inside the bear until the kids freed them.
It’s Peg and William Lonestar, Dani’s parents! Uh, wait, isn’t Danielle’s name Moonstar? God, just when I get a handle on things, Claremont throws another curveball. The doctor comes out wondering what all the fuss is about, and he’s got bad news: Dani’s paralyzed. Well, good thing Prof. X has a wheelchair handy. But wait! Professor X contacts the gang and says he’s got a solution.
Soon, some crusty old dude looking and speaking like a Shakespeare company performer shows up to lay hands on Dani. It turns out this is the healer from the Morlocks, sewer-dwelling mutants that Storm is in charge of. Hey, this guy comes in pretty handy. Why not move him into the mansion? A now whole Dani shares a tear-filled reunion with her parents, while Xavier ponders the aftermath. Such as, was the Bear the true threat, or was there a puppet pulling its strings? Why did it keep the (ahem) Lonestars alive? But it’s okay; Xavier has Stephen Strange on speed dial… Oh, sorry, I forgot this is like ’83. He has Stephen Strange’s number in his Rolodex. And if you don’t know what that is, ask your grandparents. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to listen to the “we had to walk ten miles to school” speech, too. I’m sure Charles will get Stephen’s help on this, what with them both being in the Illuminati after all. The story ends with Chuck telling the gang how proud he is of them.
Demon Bear is a pretty decent three-parter, and just about the right length. Sienkiewicz’s art is perfect for the story, lending a true horror aspect to the work. I also think Chris Claremont does a great job of writing teenagers like teenagers. Like I said before, he gets their insecurities and they’re on full display here, especially in Rahne, who’s the youngest and most insecure of the bunch.
However, I don’t think the story itself is perfect. The Demon Bear is most afraid of Dani, but Moonstar’s knowledge of the creature doesn’t seem to be of much consequence. I could easily see Illyana coming up with the solution all on her own. It feels like Chris wanted the Bear to be stalking Danielle, but when it came to why, he couldn’t come up with a good reason. If Danielle had the knowledge to defeat the Bear, then what of it? This knowledge didn’t mean squat without Illyana’s magic sword, of which Danielle knew nothing of until well after her parents were believed to be dead.
Another point is the Bear’s nature seemed to change. Before, it seemed able to speak, and then suddenly that got dropped. If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, well, I really don’t think I am. These are some big plot holes/unanswered questions and it almost makes me wish this had been a four-parter so Claremont and Sienkiewicz could have given us maybe more backstory about the relationship between Dani’s family and the Bear. But if you enjoyed this story, there’s certainly no shame in that; the art is wizard and I’ve certainly read far worse. Tune in next week when I take a look at another film. Which film? You’ll know as soon as I do.