In a genius marketing move, Fox surprised nearly everyone by positioning its latest X-Men superhero movie as a horror movie, and dropping the teaser trailer on Friday the 13th.
In so doing, they gave us the best trailer for a comic book movie since Wonder Woman.
Behold, The New Mutants:
Growing up as a comic book collector in the late 1980s, there were four core X-Men titles:
- Uncanny X-Men – the main title, with the team who first appeared in Giant Size X-Men # 1. These were the popular characters, including Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm.
- X-Factor – the “original” (pre-1975) X-Men, including Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, and Jean Grey.
- Wolverine – the most popular character (and my favorite) was the first to score his own solo title.
- The New Mutants – this was the weak link, a 1980s attempt to recreate the magic of the early 1960s original X-Men. Whereas the original team had grown into adults (and were featured in X-Factor), the New Mutants were a new batch of teens.
While The New Mutants ultimately lasted for 100 issues over eight years, the most notable part was the last 15 issues.
These issues (# 86-100) gave us three things:
- Rob Liefeld art
Rob Liefeld is reviled today for his over-the-top style, but in 1991 he was a wunderkind artist who helped launch the new comic book company Image.
The move shocked the industry at the time and still has repercussions today – it’s a creator-owned company that has enabled an entire generation of new talent to essentially self-publish their work.
The most significant Image title? The Walking Dead – which has since garnered mainstream acclaim as a hit TV show.
Liefeld himself was so popular in the early 1990s that he even starred in a Levi’s button fly commercial.
In just over a dozen issues of the New Mutants, Liefeld introduced two significant characters, Cable and Deadpool.
New Mutants # 87 gave us Cable, a cyborg bounty hunter from the future who became one of the most popular comic characters of the 1990s.
This introductory issue skyrocketed from $1.00 to ~$50 in the space of a year or so.
As a 12-year-old kid, New Mutants # 87 was my comic book holy grail, and my friend PJ Brennan and I actually mowed lawns for the better part of a summer to save up the money for it.
Cable will appear in a movie shortly, played by Josh Brolin.
Then came New Mutants # 98, which introduced Deadpool.
As the years passed, Deadpool gained more and more popularity among comic collectors and on the cosplay circuit.
Then Ryan Reynolds made him famous with a subversive film featuring the character a few years ago.
Today, New Mutants # 98 stands as one of the most valuable mainstream comics of the last 30 years. Copies bought new for $1.00 in 1990 now sell for as much as $900.
The New Mutants
But here’s the thing, until issue # 86, virtually nobody cared about The New Mutants.
So the idea that Fox was planning a movie about this team of D-List wannabe X-Men (after what? Six X-Men movies) excited precisely no one.
Even I, as a huge childhood comic collector, couldn’t care less.
Releasing the first trailer for next spring’s New Mutants film on Friday the 13th before Halloween and revealing it’s to be a horror movie was a masterful marketing move.
And I think this will work, because the key to successful comic book movies today is the writing.
Only recently have studios realized that audiences are bored with typical superhero origin stories, and have adjusted to begin producing genre films that could work well on their own.
Comic Book Movies – 1978-2007
Prior to 2008, comic book movies generally followed a standard formula:
- Normal guy gets superpowers
- Guy wrestles with superpowers
- Climax features now-comfortable superhero battling (and defeating) supervillain with equivalent powers
This served well enough for the Superman films of the ‘70s-80s, the Batman films of the ‘90s, and the early X-Men and Spider-Man movies.
But today, with studios are pushing out five-six superhero films a year, the traditional formula’s no longer enough.
Comic Book Movies 2008-Present
Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight broke the mold:
Rather than limit the story to Batman vs. The Joker as the 1989 Batman film had, Nolan instead gave us an epic crime thriller in the vein of Heat or The Godfather.
Here’s the key: It was a solid movie in its own right. It just *happened* to have Batman in it.
Fast forward to 2017 and the movie studios – who have promised us superhero movies well into the next decade – have realized that the key to blockbuster box office success is to craft a good story first, and then add in the comic book elements.
Logan – The third solo Wolverine film worked because it was primarily a road trip film about family – Logan struggles with getting older, dealing with an aging parent who is struggling with dementia, and discovering he has a daughter he never knew.
Wonder Woman – Take out the superhero elements, and Wonder Woman still would have worked as a decent World War I espionage thriller.
I am a huge fan not just of comic books in general, but of X-Men stories in particular.
Yet, I skipped the last movie (X-Men Apocalypse) and had little interest in watching the forthcoming New Mutants.
By opting to frame this next X-Men film as a genuinely scary horror movie, Hollywood has sparked my interest, and that of likely legions of fans as well.