Despite the feature film being delayed until August 2019, Marvel Comics is pushing ahead with their second class of mutants with The New Mutants: Demon Bear. This new collection compiles the classic “Demon Bear” story alongside two not-so-classic X-Force excerpts that depict the Demon Bear’s questionable return to life. Despite being a 34 years old, Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz’s three issue story of an interdimensional bear wreaking havoc on the lives of the New Mutants is still an incredibly enjoyable read even if it occasionally shows signs of aging. The included X-Force stories, however, are better off unread.
The first half of this collection strings together New Mutants #18-20, the original “Demon Bear” storyline. As a first time reader of this classic I’d heard so much about, I’m surprised with how epic the story feels in just three issues. This trade made me long for the days when a single comic could tell the story that comics today tell across four issues. You know, those days when I wasn’t even alive.
This is still an ’80s comic book, so readers will see every thought that passes through each hero’s mind, even when they’re simply stating the obvious. Those moments of redundancy don’t take away from the surprisingly natural dialogue and dramatic tension between the young team. Sure, Roberto da Costa aka Sunspot can come off a little too dramatic, but more often than not this dialogue reads more realistically than its contemporaries.Even with a damn good story, it is really Sienkiewicz’s art that truly cements this run as a classic. The Demon Bear cover from New Mutants #19 has become one of the most recognizable covers in comics and it is just as mesmerizing in trade format as it is on the newsstands. The behemoth stature of the Demon Bear with its staggeringly large claws makes it standout as one of the more terrifying villains of copper age of comics.
Additionally, the claustrophobic confines of the hospital caring for Dani Moonstar coupled with the haunting possesions the Demon Bear turns his victims into give this book a horror-movie feel that must have felt unprecedented at the time of publication. The disfigured, Native American-themed faces of the afflicted plus the sheer look of terror and agony depicted as they’re turned make this book slightly unsettling even by 2018 standards. I found myself lingering on nearly every page that boasted the Demon Bear and its minions thanks to the mesmerizing art of Sienkiewicz’s.Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the end comes at page 81 of this 134 page story. Readers who want the best, most succinct Demon Bear story should just stop reading once New Mutants #20 concludes. Although the tacked on X-Force stories aren’t terrible, they absolutely pale in comparison to the original Demon Bear arc in the first 81 pages and actually demean the intensity of the villain rather than amplify it.
First up is X-Force #99 (precluded by annoying excerpts, but I’ll get to that), a terribly drawn issue from 1991 that, save for one decent page, has very little to do with the 1984 classic. The Demon Bear miraculously returns and the newly formed X-Force must fight it. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not bad, but the art looks ripped from Doug storyboards, making the Demon Bear feel considerably less terrifying than the comics it debuted in. The story doesn’t work as a standalone issue either, feeling like an unnecessary addition to this collection.
Rounding out the book is a collection of panels from X-Force #7-10 in 2008 — yes, not all three issues, but specific pages from each issue that depict Warpath and Ghost Rider exchanging blows with what seems to be a reincarnation of Demon Bear. This little story doesn’t have much to it and is lacking any context, but the modern interpretation of the Demon Bear is nonetheless gorgeous to look at. Don’t bother reading the words, there’s nothing worthwhile, but definitely check out the gorgeously rendered art courtesy of Mike Choi.
There is one constant negative throughout this collection that needs to be addressed: the one to two page excerpts stripped from random issues interjected before each story. I appreciate that Marvel wants to give readers as much New Mutants goodness as possible, but the one to two page excerpts make for awkward introductions to each story when a page of prose exposition would have been much more effective.
If this trade were simply a collection of New Mutants #18-20, it might just be a perfect 10 out of 10. However, the unnecessary excerpts and underwhelming X-Force stories forced into this collection make the $20 price tag a little too steep for a book that has 53 pages of poor storytelling.