RSS Feed
Oct 5

New Mutants: War Children

Posted on Saturday, October 5, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

Marvel’s 80th anniversary celebrations have spawned quite a few retro one-shots, ranging from the straightforwardly nostalgic to the barely fathomable. You certainly can’t dismiss it as a pure cash grab – nobody publishes a Ziggy Pig & Silly Seal one-shot because they expect it to rake in the profits.

One of the more welcome one-shots – for readers of a certain age, at any rate – is New Mutants: War Children, which reunited Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz for what amounts to a missing New Mutants Annual. Claremont and Sienkiewicz never did an annual during their run – New Mutants Annual #1 has a Sienkiewicz cover, but he didn’t do the interior art. So if you’re going to revisit a very specific run, this is certainly the way to do it.

Claremont and Sienkiewicz’s 1984/5 run on New Mutants was a remarkably odd publication at the time, and the sort of thing that the X-books probably got away with because X-Men itself was doing so well. If you haven’t read them, then to get the full impact, it’s best to read some of the earlier issues first. It’s no disrespect to Bob McLeod or Sal Buscema to say that their art is fairly conventional for the period. It sets the tone you would expect for a comics about the X-Men’s junior team who aren’t ready for prime time.

Then Sienkiewicz comes on with issue #18, and the book suddenly looks completely insane. The first issue is relatively restrained, except in its total disregard for the house style of the period, but within a few issues you’ve got giant abstract bears and Warlock. Warlock is such a Sienkiewicz character that for years other artists seemed to struggle mightily to figure out what he even looked like when rendered in somebody else’s style.

Appropriately enough, then, War Children is a Warlock story. Or at least a Warlock-centred story. And let’s be blunt: this is a comic which seems content to target itself at readers who already have an affection for the run. There’s a token explanation of the plot, which is rudimentary anyway, but Claremont is assuming an existing knowledge of the basic elements of the period. And fair enough, really; it’s a nostalgia product. If you don’t have that knowledge, you’re probably not the target audience – though you really should check out the first half of the run on Marvel Unlimited.

We’re somewhere around the tail end of the run, with Warlock still panicking about his eventual fated showdown with Magus. The story pretty much boils down to Warlock having a panic attack and causing all manner of chaos with the transmode virus until the New Mutants manage to rein him in, with a bit thrown in about Mirage as a Valkyrie, and Magik’s demon side.

Judged purely as a story, there’s not much to it. But focussing too much on that would miss the point. It’s a greatest hits issue, one designed as a vehicle for Sienkiewicz to go nuts visually – as it should be, given the remit.. And even after 35 years, a Sienkiewicz New Mutants story still looks unique. He isn’t even going for a straight retread of his old techno-organic techniques; this goes off in different directions even there.

Is it deep? Is it, even, especially coherent? Well, no. It’s got a climax that’s kind of obscure, and it could stand to be tightened up in that regard. But that doesn’t cause too much of a problem for it, because it does recapture the spirit of the original Claremont/Sienkiewicz run – which it rightly regards as its priority.

It’s a comic for people who remember a specific run from the mid-80s, but it’s one worth remembering.

Bring on the comments

  1. Ken Robinson says:

    Being a fan of 80’s X-books I bought this. I liked it a lot, the art and character interactions in particular make it work, but I have no idea what’s going on.

  2. maxwell's hammer says:

    I think Sienkiewicz may have been the very first time I started keeping my eyes open for specific artists as opposed to just buying books for the characters I liked. And the Claremont/Sienkiewicz synergy was definitely something uniquely special on top of that.

  3. Job says:

    Not exactly relevant, but in addition to being a fantastic artist, Sienkiewicz has some great social media activity. He always takes a stand for the things he believes in, and also spoke out openly against the comicsgate douches.

  4. Joseph S. says:

    Seconding Job, On Sienkiewicz‘s social media.

    I enjoyed this, though I have to agree it doesn’t make much sense. They talk about going off after Sam, who disappeared off panel. Lots of little things like that. But still, great to see Sienkiewicz doing NM again, and glad they stuck Kitty in there.

  5. ANDREW POTTS says:

    I loved the hell out of this issue. It really hit that sweet spot of Claremont writing the characters he dearly loves and working with an artist who is just incredible.

    Very happy.

  6. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    There’s a lot of little weird things here. Kitty complains about Magik putting her in a New Mutant uniform along with the rest – but she’s already wearing it on the previous page. The ghost bit with Roberto doesn’t work at all, since we don’t see what he’s reacting to before we see Kitty phasing him. The Sam bit mentioned above.

    I wonder if Claremont is still working via ‘the Marvel method’ instead of writing full scripts and these discrepancies are the result?

  7. Mark coale says:

    As a dumb teenager, I didn’t like his art on the book at the time. 🙂

  8. Mark says:

    I, too, was dumb back then! I was 11 and remember being ticked off when Sienkiewicz took over and nobody looked like a comic-book character anymore; a sort of “What am I supposed to do with this?” reaction.

    Then the Demon Bear showed up. “OK, that’s pretty scary,” I thought. Then Warlock arrived a few issues later and I was hooked.

  9. Voord 99 says:

    @Mark coale: I also was too young to get quite how brilliant Sienkewicz was when I first saw it. I remember that my reaction was that I did see what was good about it, but didn’t think it was right for this sort of comic book.

    So take comfort. 🙂

  10. Thom H. says:

    I had a subscription to the New Mutants that started an issue before Sienkiewicz took over. One issue, everything’s normal. Next issue, my head explodes. I remember walking around the house with issue #18 in my hand, looking at my family, and thinking, “I have no one to discuss this with.”

  11. CJ says:

    Add me to the pile of people who were confused by Sienkiewicz at first. “What’s so good about this? It’s not great, not like this month’s Joe Mad UXM.” Ah, 90s teen me.

  12. Chris V says:

    Geez, everyone has these strong memories of seeing Sienkiewicz’ art on New Mutants, but I don’t really remember my reaction.

    I remember reading some back-issues of Gerber’s Defenders and Starlin’s Warlock around this same period, and I thought they were weird.
    I didn’t understand them, at all.

    I’m sure if I had that same reaction to this run on New Mutants, I would have the same memories as I do of reading some issues of Defenders and Warlock.

    I think I was just such a huge X-Men fan at the time, that anything related to the X-Men appealed to me, regardless.

    I don’t even remember reading creator credits at the time.
    I knew who Stan Lee was, but otherwise, I don’t think I cared who was writing or drawing X-Men titles back then.
    If it was X-Men, then that was for me.

    I think it was when I was in high school that I finally figured out that those X-comics issues I loved so much were all written by Chris Claremont.

  13. Taibak says:

    FWIW, Sienkiewicz’s caused a lot of headaches within Marvel too. For instance, at one point Jim Shooter asked him to do a New Mutants poster, with the team in the “definitive” New Mutants pose.

    He came back with this:

    Which had literal radio parts glued to it.

    And if you *really* want to see someone struggle, check out what happens when they try to turn Warlock into an action figure. 🙂

  14. Chris V says:

    I have a Warlock heroclix figurine.
    They did a pretty good job with that.

  15. Dave says:

    It’s probably due to the weird art that I’ve still never read that much of New Mutants – that and the ‘boring’ uniforms, as opposed to the X-Men’s costumes. I’ll be getting round to it, though – I have Epics and the Legion/ Shadow King tpb already.

  16. MichaelWayne says:

    Count me among those who distinctly remember Sienkiewicz’s impact on the New Mutants. Sometimes I loved it, sometimes I got lost, but I had noticed his work on Moon Knight first and it was his work that, like some others on this thread, made me first notice and want to follow a particular artist.
    I live in Prague now, so I don’t have War Children yet, but it’s on its way to me, and I can’t wait to read it.

  17. Job says:

    “It’s probably due to the weird art that I’ve still never read that much of New Mutants – that and the ‘boring’ uniforms”

    As someone born too late to read New Mutants growing up, and started reading X-Men during Lobdell, I always thought there was something cool and logical about the New Mutants having standard uniforms. I felt the same way when I saw the late Claremont/Lee issues of X-Men when the X-Men in space were wearing standardized uniforms.

    I’m not saying I wanted the teams to look that way, but it seemed very practical for the nature of the books.

  18. Thom H. says:

    @Taibak: I bought that poster as soon as I could afford it. Still have it around here somewhere.

    I love to imagine Sienkiewicz’s thought process creating it: okay, I’ll leave a third of the team off of it. But I want Wolfsbane on there, so I’ll put her in this little box. And a big screaming mouth. Done!

  19. CJ says:


    Same here, re late Claremont-era costumes. UXM #275 is one of my favorite covers. And Banshee’s lasted well into Generation X with only minor modifications.

    Immediately upon seeing that New Mutants poster, I thought 1) WTF, 2) must be Bill Sienkiewicz, 3) No seriously WTF.

  20. Voord 99 says:

    The classic New Mutants costumes had the added attraction for me that they were versions of the original Jack Kirby designs, which were familiar to and beloved by me thanks to Marvel UK’s Pocket Books. Plus, I was at an age when I was wearing a school uniform myself, so it made obvious sense.

  21. Taibak says:

    I kind of want to know how they physically printed it. The circuit boards seem like they would have made that rather complicated.

  22. SanityOrMadness says:


    Wasn’t the scanning-equivalent step back then taking a photo with a film camera? If so, it doesn’t seem like it’d be more complicated than any other piece of painted art.

  23. Nu-D says:

    I didn’t really appreciate Sienkiewitz’ art until after I read David Mack’s Kabuki 20+ years later. At some point reading the latter, I had a flash and said, ah, this is inspired by Sienkiewitz! I went back and looked at the New Mutants run, and I saw what I had been missing all along.

Leave a Reply