SUNDAY CLASSICS: The Demon Bear Saga
Mirage watches over three of her teammates, Cannonball, Sunspot, and Magma, training in the Danger Room. As always, Cannonball is having difficulties controlling his powers. Still, the mutants win against the robots as Mirage confides in Magik her concerns over trusting her team. But it’s not just that…Professor X isn’t around and lately, Mirage has been having dreams about the Demon Bear, the one that killed her parents.
A little while later, Mirage fights a rather large bear. She lodges an arrow in its throat, killing it. The image fades as the Danger Room program ends. She’s been at this for days and passes it off to Magik as just making sure she can defend against something her powers won’t affect.
That night, Magik puts on her war makeup and goes out into the cold with nothing but a bow and quiver of arrows. He calls out for the Demon Bear, demanding that it reveal itself. She’s been able to feel its presence for days now. And show itself the bear does, towering over her. Mirage uses her powers to find out what the bear fears only to discover it’s her! She fires a single shot into the bear’s neck. It should have killed it, but the bear seems unfazed. The two fight, with Mirage barely escaping the heavy blows. Finally, she shoots an arrow into the bear’s mouth. The bear falls to the ground. Mirage is exhilarated. Finally, the bear is dead.
But as she approaches, the bear’s eyes open.
Through their psychic link, Wolfsbane wakes up. She rouses the other mutants who rush out to find Mirage, bleeding in the snow.
Mirage is rushed into a local Emergency Room, the doctors and nurses frantically working to save her life. Her fellow New Mutants watch on in a waiting room, helpless to do anything. A police officer, Detective Corsi, questions them about what happened. The mutants stick to their story about it being a bear mauling. Sunspot, as always, is quick to anger, but his friends, along with a nurse (Sharon Friedlander) manage to calm him down.
Sunspot is anxious for the storm to calm down so they can begin hunting the bear themselves, but Sam points out it will most likely find them at the hospital. This makes it pretty clear that Mirage’s Demon Bear was not a myth or a figment of her imagination, but was a real danger. Sam gets out the team’s school uniforms, with Wolfsbane asking to wear Mirage’s belt.
At Cannonball’s command, Wolfsbane transforms to her half-wolf form so that she can mentally communicate with Mirage. Mirage, though in pain and unconscious while doctors operate, struggles to explain to Wolfsbane how to beat the Demon Bear. But the effort is straining her already severely wounded body and she begins to wake up on the operating table. She is fading fast.
Some time later, Thomas has decided now is a good time to flirt with Sharon. They don’t notice the shadow creeping up on them until it’s too late. They both scream and Thomas fires his gun. This wakes up the New Mutants (I’m not sure why it wouldn’t have everybody in the hospital running, but oh well). They run to the sound and find nothing but a stain of blood on the floor.
Magik decides to place a magical ward around the operating room, hoping for it to protect Mirage from the Demon Bear. Sunspot is with her and as soon as she is done, the Bear attacks! Sunspot is knocked aside. Magik faces the Bear with her Soulsword. A swipe of the Bear slices her arm but instead of finding torn skin, Magik finds a shiny silver armor, much to her surprise. Magik retaliates by driving her sword into the Bear’s head. It screams in pain and vanished.
The rest of the New Mutants show up just in time for the power to go out. The outside lines were cut. The girls on the team head to the generator room. They don’t find anything, but Magik can feel the Bear attacking her wards. Above, Cannonball and Sunspot are battling in vain until the Bear teleports both of them to where the girls are. The Bear strikes out at Magik again, causing more of the mysterious armor to appear on her back. Finally, the Bear teleports again, taking all five of the mutants with it.
The mutants and the Bear appear in the daytime, in the middle of a desert. The Bear is towering over them with both Thomas and Sharon held in some sort of stasis. Through a bubble, the mutants can see the inside of the operating room.
Magik is ready to try some of her magic, but before she can, the Bear pierces Tom and Sharon with its claws. In their place are demonic Native Americans. Cannonball springs into action, but the Bear knocks him back. The possessed civilians lash out now, distracting the New Mutants long enough for the Bear to once again attempt to break through Magik’s wards surrounding the operating room.
Tom and Sharon begin to overpower the mutants, tossing Sunspot into the shadowy part of the land where his power is immediately exhausted. Wolfsbane and Magma rush to his aid, missing that the Demon Bear is looming overhead. He thrusts his claws through Magma, turning her into a demon.
Magik draws her Soulsword, hurting the Bear and giving her time to tend to Magma. She drives her Soulsword through her teammate’s chest. Cannonball reacts instinctively, slamming into Magik, revealing more of her armor. Magma then scolds Cannonball for acting so rashly. Whatever Magik did, it saved her from the enchantment.
The mutants regroup, trying to figure out their next move. Magik tells Wolfsbane to once again try and communicate with Mirage. As she does so, Tom and Sharon once again attack. This time, Magik drives her Soulsword through Tom’s chest. The demonic nature dissipates, leaving a man who resembles Tom, but not quite him, unconscious on the ground. Wolfsbane reveals that the key to defeating the Demon Bear is the New Mutants, working as a team. Magik’s Soulsword was able to destroy the enchantment, maybe it could work on the Bear itself.
With Magma providing a distraction, Cannonball flies Magik into the air. She cuts down with her Soulsword, from the head down to the ground. The Bear vanishes into thin air, the darkness falling away, revealing a man and a woman.
And suddenly, the mutants are back in the hospital on the floor. Sharon and Tom are there as well, unconscious, both no longer Caucasians, but are now red skinned. The man and woman freed from the Demon Bear when it collapsed explain that there’s nothing to be done. The Demon Bear fundamentally changed their bodies. One of the surgeons comes out, asking what’s going on. The man introduces himself and the woman as William and Peg Lonestar: Mirage’s parents.
The doctor reveals that Mirage will live, but she will be paralyzed. The New Mutants are shocked and horrified that their friend will never fully recovered, but a telepathic message from Professor Xavier explains otherwise. He has arrived with the Morlock Healer who is able to mend Mirage’s body. Mirage is finally greeted by her parents whom she thought dead. The battle is over, the demon bear dead, and while Tom and Sharon may never be the same again, Xavier declares that the New Mutants did well and he couldn’t be more proud.
When I think of vintage New Mutants, two particular eras come to mind.
There’s the Liefeld/Simonson era (and towards the end, it was just Liefeld) that led up to New Mutants #100.
And then there’s the Claremont/Sienkiewicz era.
I mean sure, there have been plenty of other artists to tackle the series. Jackson Guice. Bret Blevins. Bob McLeod.
But none of them left me with the lasting impression that these two eras did.
Ironically, when I first read the Sienkiewicz books, I couldn’t stand it. Coming from someone who first experienced the flashiness of Rob Liefeld, Sienkiewicz’s style was difficult to look at. And so when I first read this book, I never cared for it. I couldn’t appreciate it. I’ve talked to others who still can’t. Sienkiewicz is definitely an unusual style.
But for a story that is essentially a horror-themed book, Sienkiewicz fits perfectly.
Looking back, this book is the epitome of a classic. So much of what we attributed to the New Mutants started here. Remember Illyana’s silver armor? Yup, this was the first appearance (her Eldritch armor).
Her Soulsword that is known for dispelling enchantments? The first time her team sees it in action.
First appearance of some key characters too. Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander would go on to be key supporting characters throughout most of the book and even small roles in later Uncanny X-Men issues. Warlock has long been one of my favorite characters. This story included the first appearance of all of them (although Warlock was more of Claremont’s typical planning of plotlines several issues in advance).
We also see a lot of Claremont’s tropes in here. It’s very wordy, with either dialogue boxes or characters explaining everything in-universe. We get a lot of little hints of longer stories to come (as mentioned earlier). We, once again, get reminded how Sunspot isn’t invulnerable. I mean how many times does Sunspot need to be reminded of this? I think he knows by now.
But as with many of Claremont’s stories, these are very human characters. They feel like real teenagers. Cannonball has a crush. Wolfsbane is distrustful of those different. Sunspot scoffs at authority. They are all real. Which makes this so much more of an enjoyable read because you actually feel for them. You actually care for them.
There were some iconic scenes as well: Mirage lying bloody in the snow, Warlock’s daddy tearing apart a star, Magik’s sword plunging into Magma… All so many images that have been burned into my brain over the years came from this story.
With everything that’s happened throughout the New Mutants, from the formation of the team to the death of Warlock, to the transformation of the New Mutants into X-Force, this arc still remains one of my favorites. And it’s an essential to any New Mutants fan.
Claremont and Sienkiewicz definitely wrote a gem with this book. So yes. I do believe in magic. This story is absolutely it.
With The New Mutants movie rapidly (and finally) approaching, take a look back at the story that inspired it all, The Demon Bear Saga (Claremont, Sienkiewicz) with Comic Watch!
SUNDAY CLASSICS: The Demon Bear Saga
Writing - 10/10
Storyline - 10/10
Art - 10/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 10/10
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