Last week, Fox dropped the first trailer for its upcoming X-Men spinoff film The New Mutants, and it proved to be every bit the horror-inspired riff on the superhero genre that director Josh Boone promised it would be. Fascinating as the trailer is, its ties to Marvel’s comics might not be immediately clear.
In Marvel’s books, the titular New Mutants are a group of kids who come to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to learn how to control their burgeoning abilities and to discuss the finer merits of becoming superpowered child soldiers. Fox’s The New Mutants introduces many of the same characters, but rather than matriculating at a school in upstate New York, they’ve all seemingly been lured to and trapped in a twisted asylum-hospital hybrid where they’re being experimented on.
It’s a drastically different origin story for the New Mutants as a team, but reinvention and change is kind of these folks’ deal. For proof, all you need to do is look at where they began in the comics and where they are today.
We’ve known for a while that New Mutants wanted to bring elements of the “Demon Bear Saga”—one of the most iconic stories that ran through New Mutants #18-20, by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz—to the big screen. So it makes sense that Dani (played by Blu Hunt in the movie) has such a prominent role in this trailer, even if we don’t actually see the bear itself. The bear is a representation of the nightmarish creature that killed Dani’s parents when she was a young girl. You can spot Dani wearing a bear necklace at several points, though, so there are a few subtle seeds sown for its arrival already.
But who is Dani Moonstar? She’s gone by several code names in the comics, like Mirage and Psyche, and is a Cheyenne whose psionic Mutant powers activated at a young age. As well as the abilities to fire psychic arrows and bond with animals, Dani’s primary power was “Empathic Illusion Casting,” which let her conjure an illusory manifestation of the thoughts of herself and those around her. Although she went on to be able to refine her control over the power to create projections based on a variety of emotions, initially Dani could only create one kind: a projection of someone’s deepest, greatest fear, an ability that looks like it may play a huge role in the New Mutants movie.
Beyond her membership in the New Mutants, Dani’s been through a lot over the years in the comics. When the team was captured by the Enchantress and imprisoned on Asgard, she inadvertently linked with one of the flying horses of the Valkyries, gaining some of the Odin-blessed powers they wielded, such as the ability to sense imminent death. Dani was one of the many Mutants depowered when Scarlet Witch altered reality to wipe the concept of Mutantkind out of existence in Decimation—an event known in the comics as M-Day—but she retained her Valkyrie abilities, only to eventually lose those, too.
Hela, the Goddess of Death, would eventually restore Dani’s Valkyrie powers, which ended up coming in handy recently when the vast clouds of Inhuman-creating Terrigen Mists swirling over the world (it’s a long story) began poisoning and sterilizing the Mutants it came into contact with. Although she was no longer a Mutant, Dani helped the X-Men save the lives of many by using her death-sensing powers to locate ailing Mutants across the world, so they could be taken in by the X-Men and treated for the “M-Pox” that was ravaging their kind.
Ilyana, known by her codename Magik, might not be well known outside of the comics, but you’ve probably heard of someone with her surname: her brother, Piotr, better known as the metal-skinned X-Men member Colossus. Like her brother, she is a Mutant, with the ability to manipulate “stepping discs”—portals that let Ilyana and people near her teleport through the hellish Limbo dimension, and reappear anywhere else in space and time.
Ilyana had a much more nightmarish upbringing than her brother. As a child, she was kidnapped and drawn into Limbo by an evil sorcerer named Belasco, who was planning to use her to summon dark gods to Earth. Ilyana was raised and tortured in the demonic dimension, but also developed magical powers through her time there, including the ability to wield the soulsword, a magical blade she eventually used to defeat Belasco and return to Earth mere seconds after she was first kidnapped as a child, but aged into her now-teenage self.
Ever since, Ilyana (played by Anya Taylor-Joy in the film) has been with the X-Men, learning to hone both her Mutant powers and her magical abilities as a sorceress. She was one of the first members of the New Mutants team and was later a fully fledged X-Men member, though she died after contracting the Mutant-targeting Legacy Virus and got reborn as a soulless amalgam of her light and dark sides at one point. Most recently, Ilyana helped hide the Xavier Institute inside Limbo, acting as a refuge for Mutants avoiding the effect of the Terrigen Mists, and continues to fight alongside the X-Men now that they’ve found a new home in the heart of Manhattan.
Like every good teen drama about confused kids who find themselves transported to wild new places, fast-forged friendships were a hallmark of The New Mutants’ original run. It’s in Rahne Sinclair that Dani finds one of her first allies and confidantes, and in Dani that Rahne finds one of the first people who’s able to help her cope with the trauma of her upbringing and her mutation.
In the books, Rahne’s devoutly religious, Scottish upbringing instills a deep sense of shame in her that only becomes magnified when her Mutant ability to transform into a wolf-like creature first manifests itself. Though being raised by an emotionally abusive priest (who is secretly her father) leaves her with deep emotional scars, she finds a new kind of freedom whenever she shapeshifts into her lupine form. This tension—between the parts of herself that truly love being a Mutant, and the religious parts of herself that see her mutation as a sin—is essential to her personality. In the trailer, there are brief glimpses of Rahne (Maisie Williams) tearfully collapsing in what appears to be a graveyard, suggesting that she’s going through it with the whole Mutant thing.
Born into the Brazillian lap of luxury thanks to his parents’ economic success, Roberto grew up confident and sure of himself despite being harassed about his mixed-race heritage. Blessed with smarts, good looks, and natural athleticism, Roberto’s life was charmed until the fateful day his Mutant power to absorb solar energy and convert it into brute strength first manifested.
Roberto first meets the rest of the New Mutants after his girlfriend is attacked by Mutant-hating terrorists in an effort to lure him into a vulnerable position. Though the New Mutants aren’t ultimately able to save Roberto’s girlfriend, their willingness to stand by him in a time of need inspires him to join their nascent squad and begin studying at Xavier’s.
Of all the New Mutants, Sunspot’s spent the most time moonlighting at various jobs throughout the rest of Marvel’s comics universe. When the rest of his friends decide to become a Mutant strike force led by Cable, Roberto instead decides to take a leave of absence. He becomes close with a former business partner of his father’s who reveals himself to be a member of the Externals, a group of immortal Mutants manipulating the world from the shadows. This time away from the X-Men not only grants Roberto a power boost, but also whets his appetite for making power moves within other super circles.
After a brief tenure as the head of the Hellfire Club and member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Roberto comes to the realization that the racism he faces as a Mutant is a problem that he’ll never be free of so long as he’s connected to the X-Men. So he joins the Avengers and leverages his vast wealth to initiate a hostile takeover of Advanced Idea Mechanics, which he rebrands as Avengers Idea Mechanics. There’s barely any footage of Roberto (portrayed by Henry Zaga) in The New Mutants trailer save for a glimpse of him walking down a hallway.
Originally from Cumberland, Kentucky, Sam’s power to render himself invulnerable while propelling himself through the air triggers during a catastrophic mining accident. The nature of Sam’s powers put him on the radar of the same anti-Mutant terrorists that attacked Roberto, and for a while, Sam (played in the movie by Charlie Heaton) works as a hired mercenary hunting his own kind before being convinced to join the winning team.
It’s when the New Mutants (minus Roberto) are recruited by Cable to become members of X-Force that Sam really begins to come into his own. Under Cable’s tutelage, Sam learns that his invulnerability may in fact be the result of his unique External physiology, something that Cable hopes to take advantage of in his time-travelling battle against Apocalypse.
Sam’s time being trained to co-lead the New Mutants (along with Dani) sets him on a path that he initially believes will end with him earning his rightful place on the X-Men. But over the course of his adventures, Sam repeatedly questions whether or not he’s worthy of wearing Xavier’s X. More recently, Sam’s walked away from his life as an X-Man to focus on his wife and son.
At first, Alice Braga’s mysterious doctor might seem like a new addition to the X-World for the movie, but she actually shares a name with a Mutant doctor from the comics. First introduced in 1997, the Cecilia of the comics was a young Puerto Rican Mutant who was inspired to become a doctor after witnessing her father’s death in a drive-by shooting.
Cecilia went to school and completed her dream, only for her powers to manifest. namely the ability to defensively and offensively project a bio-field around her body that can absorb impacts and protect Cecilia from harm. Cecilia never wanted powers, though, and definitely didn’t want to give up being a doctor to go train as an X-Man. Initially rejecting Charles Xavier’s offer of a place at his institute, Cecilia was eventually forced out of her job, leading to her spending time with the X-Men in a limited capacity, and primarily as a medic instead of as a fighter. Since then, she’s faded into the background, mostly operating out of Utopia, a Mutant base recently restored to its former glory when the X-Men exiled themselves off in their own nation during the events of Secret Empire.
Braga’s character might share a name with a comic character, but it seems like beyond that and her medical profession history, there’s little comparison to be made between the movie and the source material here.
One of the most shocking things about the New Mutants trailer is its tone. Although director Josh Boone has been teasing a horror-style film for a while, the trailer makes it look less like a scary superhero movie and instead a scary story that just happens to star Mutant teenagers. Part of that is because the bizarre asylum the kids find themselves in starts warping and twisting into some kind of nightmarish hellscape, giving us creepy masked dudes, washing machines with people trapped inside (and on fire), and walls stretching with giant faces trying to call out to people. “This isn’t a hospital,” Cannonball says at one point in the trailer. “It’s a haunted house!”
But as we mentioned earlier, it seems like Dani is going to be the crucial character of the New Mutants movie, especially if it’s drawing upon the “Demon Bear Saga” storyline from the comic series. And we know that Dani’s powers involve creating illusions out of the worst fears of herself and the people around her. So what if much of the horror we saw in the trailer was because of Dani, freaking out and losing control of her nascent abilities? We’ll have to wait until we see more of New Mutants to really say, but there’s a good chance Dani’s powers might be the key to what makes this one of the most unique Mutant movies ever.
The New Mutants hits theaters April 13, 2018.