When X-Men Forever—essentially an extended "What If?" with writer Chris Claremont picking up where his historic X-Men run ended in 1991—was announced in February 2009 at that year's New York Comic Con, the news was met with both excitement and skepticism. Long-time fans were eager to see Claremont revisit the characters he defined for 17 years, and detractors wondered why Marvel would bother returning to a period now nearly two decades in the past.
More than a year later, X-Men Forever is still going strong, with a new No. 1 and relaunch as X-Men Forever 2 set for June. The "Forever" concept has evolved into a brand and mini-line, with the Louise Simonson-penned X-Factor Forever debuting in stores last month. The line's third entry is a five-issue miniseries and Claremont's second "Forever" title: New Mutants Forever, starting in August and with art by WildStorm veteran Al Rio.
It's the same concept as X-Men Forever, except this series goes even further back in time, as Claremont left New Mutants back in 1987, turning writing duties over to Simonson.
New Mutants was a rather revolutionary comic back in its early '80s debut. The team—originally consisting of Karma, Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Mirage and Sunspot—were introduced as a group in 1982's Marvel Graphic Novel #4, also the first appearance of all of those characters other than Karma. Their own ongoing title launched a year later, first with art by Bob McLeod, and, as of issue #18, genre-defying illustrations from Bill Sienkiewicz.
While X-Men spinoffs are now in abundance—since the '90s, there's usually about a dozen going on at any given time—New Mutants was the very first, focusing on young mutant superheroes in training; mentored first by Professor Xavier, and later by Magneto. After 100 issues, the comic transitioned in 1991 to X-Force, until being relaunched twice: in 2003 and again in a currently ongoing volume in 2009, featuring much of the original cast.
Given this legacy, Claremont had no problem returning to the characters and situations he left behind during the Reagan administration.
"As a creator, the characters always have a place in my brain," Claremont writes via e-mail. "Think of it like just walking down the hall, and opening a door that's been closed for some time. The room is full of surprises, but old friends are there, too."
Plot details are still scarce, with Claremont preferring to implore the audience to "read and find out" rather than divulging too much before the comic hits stands. As in X-Men Forever, action picks up following New Mutants #54, Claremont's last issue on the title and shortly after Magneto joins the inner circle of the Hellfire Club. An unknown threat leads the New Mutants to join forces with the Black Queen, Selene, a character in the center of the recent Necrosha crossover. And, uh, why exactly would the New Mutants team-up with her?"Because there are worse options out there than Selene," Claremont writes.
Claremont shares that the main characters throughout the five issues will be Cannonball, Magik, Magma, Sunspot and Warlock. Though X-Men Forever and New Mutants Forever share the same premise and the word "forever" in their titles, they take place in two separately diverging timelines.
"Like X-Men Forever, the story begins where I left off—but we go in new directions, developing the characters and their stories in new and interesting ways," Claremont writes. "The book starts at the Hellfire Club (White Queen, anyone?) then off to Nova Roma, lead by the Black Queen. The game's very much afoot.
"One detail that Claremont does let slip is that the Red Skull appears at some point in New Mutants Forever, but teases that's just one of many surprises in stores. In X-Men Forever, Nick Fury, another character not typically associated with the X-titles, has played a major role
X-Men Forever features art by Tom Grummett, who was very much active in mainstream superhero comics during the timeframe of the original material. Rio didn't come onto the scene until the late '90s, with his work on DV8 and Gen 13. He admits that he wasn't a fan of the original New Mutants comic until the assignment.
"After I was chosen to create the new version of New Mutants, I was curious to find out more about the original version," Rio writes via e-mail. "So I had to do research for three weeks and use not only the original, but also what I could create and add to it in order to make this project look more current. Therefore, I am trying to do my best each day so that the fans can be happy with the result.
"One thing that Rio didn't do was alter his art to strictly emulate the distinctive late '80s look and feel of the original New Mutants comics. He stuck with own style per Marvel's directions, but there are nods to the time period.
"Something modern that also reminds us of something from the past," Rio writes of his approach. "I didn’t push the limits because I think that a true hero should be simple. I believe that the difficulty and pain they have to go through to destroy evil—not their clothes, but the intelligence—is the most appealing factor.
"The "Forever" books weren't originally intended as an ersatz franchise. New Mutants Forever editor Jordan D. White revealed that both this project and X-Factor Forever were conceived following the response to X-Men Forever.
"They came about afterwards based on the positive reception the readers gave X-Men Forever," White writes via e-mail. "It’s something of an unusual concept—almost like a 'What If' that focuses on the creative team rather than the characters. But readers seemed to grasp the concept and embrace it pretty quickly. The Forever books allow fans of the original series to have more of what they loved about the books, and give new fans a completely different take on the characters they know from current series."
There aren't any concrete plans yet for further expansions of the "Forever" concept, but White writes that more books are a distinct possibility, and the next offering may stray from the X-Men family of titles.
"We’ve floated a lot of great ideas for Forever books," White writes. "We stuck close to the X-Men, since they launched the concept, but there’s no reason we’d be limited to the world of mutants. I am sure there are classic runs in all the big Marvel heroes that are just waiting to be revisited.
"With hundreds of characters handled by thousands of creative teams in the past 50 years, the options could practically go on, ahem, forever.