Last week, the Steve Ditko-created Charlton Comics character The Question returned to comic shops with the Black Label mini The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage, written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz.
A few months prior, Sienkiewicz reunited with writer Chris Claremont for the Marvel one-shot The New Mutants: War Children, an 80th anniversary comic that should have received much more buzz. After all, the duo’s earlier collaboration on New Mutants in the ‘80s generated stories that not only inspired the recent FX series Legion but also Fox’s long-delayed New Mutants movie, which may or may not be released next April. The duo only worked together on the characters for two years, and that was almost 34 years ago. Still, this work — particularly their “Demon Bear Saga” — is still inspiring creators today.
The Beat had a chance to talk to Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz about their new Question book, and during that interview, we asked Sienkiewicz about returning to the New Mutants with Claremont. He gave us a long and thoughtful answer about what went into his decision to make War Children.
“In a way, this links up to the Question,” Sienkiewicz told The Beat. “Because Marvel just had their 80th anniversary, I think part of what Marvel was doing was revisiting the books from the ‘80s. Months and months ago, maybe a year ago, I was asked about doing a special issue with Chris Claremont where we revisited and did the final story with the New Mutants. When I left it, it continued on, and other artists took over, so the storyline was changed. This was an opportunity for Chris and I to revisit the story that we had done and bring it to a close or at least a coda of some sort.”
It wasn’t as simple as just saying, “Sure, why not?” though, as Sienkiewicz had his concerns.
“When I was first asked about it, I was really uncertain if I was going to take it on, not that there is a cynicism associated with that kind of thing. Certainly if there’s an opportunity for the company to put the books back out in print, they’ll do it, and If it catches on, that’s great. My concern is that I did not want it to feel like an aging rock band going back onstage. There had to be a real reason for it,” he explained.
“Also, because we’re all older, [it’s about] going back to the characters and trying to bring something fresh to it and not ruin the legacy,” he continued. “If fans do feel a very strong feeling about a series, it’s really easy to go off the rail. Either the styles change or times change or the fanbase isn’t there or you just don’t have the same abilities or the desire to go into it. Whatever it was that was in place creatively may have just sailed.”
“I had a lot of trepidation about revisiting it, because it had to be done for the right reasons,” he said. “Even as I turned the pages in, I was apologizing, because I felt that I had all these high hopes about how I wanted to approach it. What I realized was that when Chris and I spoke, it became us talking about our love for the characters and not just simply trying something shocking or something avant-garde for its own sake, but really revisit the characters, which is what we ended up doing when we did it many years ago. We loved what we were doing. We had a lot of fun. We felt very protective of the kids. I think that’s what I brought back to it.”
Once the duo began talking about the characters again, it became more about giving them the proper send-off they never were able to do in 1986, both for the original fans and also for any new ones.
“My goal went from wanting to cram 30 years of hopefully more skill and artistic knowledge or maturity or growth or whatever, and then just hammer it and squeeze it into The New Mutants when it doesn’t really call for it,” he summarized. “When I realized that all we had to do was just revisit it and just give it the same level of respect and love that we gave it when we were doing it. Something that the fans would be able to relate to. It was walking that line between something that was familiar and comfortable, enjoyable, reminding fans from that era to revisit it and also give them something new as well, bring in some new people. There was a lot more going on underneath the surface.”
New Mutants: War Children is still available at most comic shops. You can also follow Sienkiewicz’s evolving work on the DC mini The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage, or check out the first volume of Bill Sienkiewicz: Revolution, a retrospective on his work so far.