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New Mutants #18 (1984, August)

September 20, 2014

I won’t be doing reviews for the next two days. I work 3-11:30 tomorrow, and 4-8 Monday. So, no reviews those days. But for today – big one! Important issue! By Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkewicz (yay!), “Death-Hunt.”

Death-Hunt

Bill Sienkewicz! The Demon Bear! I’m excited!

We start with Dani in bed, terrified of the Demon Bear that murdered her parents. Her blanket blends into the shape of the Bear’s head. Sienkewicz is already great, and it’s the first page of his run.

The Xavier School is destroyed, and Rachel shields herself telekinetically and looks for Xavier. He tells her to go downstairs while he tries to telepathically reach the commander of the Army forces attacking. He gets shot for his troubles. Then we learn this was one of Rachel’s memories. She then goes up to the school to knock on the door.

In the Danger Room, Dani is watching Cannonball, Sunspot and Magma fight robots. Cannonball almost gets knocked into Magma, but he manages to change direction before he hits her. By the way, Sienkewicz draws an amazing Illyana, with an amazing Lockheed sitting on her shoulders. Dani think about how she keeps seeing the Demon Bear in her dreams. Illyana hears the doorbell, and teleports to the door. It’s Rachel, who runs away after Illyana introduces herself. She remembers Illyana as dying at her current age, years in the future.

Interlude on another planet. A being is weak, its energy stores depleted, and another being, its father, attacks. The first one flees. The being’s name is Warlock. Yay Warlock!

Dani’s in the woods in a blizzard, and a bear attacks her. She shoots it with a bow and arrow, and kills it. Then Illyana turns the program off, and asks why Dani keeps running it. Dani says she’s just training so she can be useful in combat against foes her power can’t affect. That night, she puts on warpaint and heads outside, calling out a challenge to the Bear. It responds promptly.

New Mutants #18

So awesome.

Yeah. That’s the Demon bear as drawn by Bill Sienkewicz. Earlier artists had drawn it as just a bear. He drew it as an entity, a force of nature. It’s terrifying. It’s awesome.

Anyway, Dani tries to find what the Demon Bear fears most. It turns out it’s her. While it’s distracted, she shoots it in the throat. It responds by smacking her around and grabbing her. She tricks it into biting down on one of her arrows so it pokes right through its snout. It lets her go, and while it screams in pain, she shoots another arrow down its throat. The Demon Bear collapses. Go Dani!

Then it opens its eyes.

Rahne wakes up screaming Dani’s name, and gets everyone together to find her. They ask her what’s going on, and she says she felt fear and pain through the rapport, then she sensed nothing. They find Dani.

She looks dead.

This is the first truly great issue of the series. The earlier issues were good, but this one’s outstanding. And a lot of the credit for that goes to Bill Sienkewicz. His art style’s very different from the norm, and it’s very eye-catching. It’s stylized, a touch of abstract, and it’s gorgeous. There’s a lot of mood and energy to it. It really elevates Claremont’s writing, which is also much better here than in the earlier issues. It’s a fantastic collaboration. Claremont’s writing here is tense and powerful. Dani’s characterization is excellent. She’s keeping her fears to herself, and she knows it’s wrong to keep her friends out, but she feels she has to face the Demon Bear alone. Her Cheyenne pride is on full display, and so is her general badassitude – her fight against the Bear is exciting stuff. I’ve said before that I find it cool when her skill with a bow and arrow gets shown off, suggesting a background in hunting. I like Dani best when she has a bow and arrows. And unlike Hawkeye and his trick arrows, she almost always uses normal arrows, giving her a certain edginess that Hawkguy’s always lacked. It suggests a totally different attitude between the two – Hawkeye uses his arrows to show off, Dani uses them to fight.

From this point on, New Mutants goes from good to “must-read.” It became one of Marvel’s best titles, up with Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four (by Byrne), Thor (by Simonson) and Captain America (by DeMatteis).

Song of the day: Roads by Portishead.

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