Twenty-five years ago this month, Marvel Comics debuted a new mutant title called “X-Force.” The first issue, by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, sold a remarkable five million copies, making it (briefly) the highest-selling individual comic book of all-time — until Chris Claremont, Jim Lee and Scott Williams’ “X-Men” #1 arrived a few months later.
In honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of “X-Force” #1, we look back at the history of how the X-Men’s former New Mutants transformed into a mutant militia group, including the fact that Liefeld had a relaunch in mind before he even took over as the artist on “New Mutants” in late 1989!
Before he was old enough to legally buy alcohol, Rob Liefeld burst on to the comic book scene in the Summer of 1988 with his work on DC Comics’ “Hawk and Dove” miniseries, along with writers Barbara Kesel and Karl Kesel, with Karl also inking Liefeld’s pencils for the series.
It was quickly evident that Liefeld was a “hot” artist, and before he even finished this five-issue series, he was contacted by Bob Harras, who had been elevated from assistant editor to editor of Marvel’s “X-Men” line of titles less than a year earlier. Harras quickly gave Liefeld his first Marvel assignment — a fill-in issue of “X-Factor” #40, written by Louise Simonson and inked by Al Milgrom.
Liefeld’s next Marvel gig was a fill-in on “Uncanny X-Men” #245, a charming parody of DC’s then-current crossover, “Invasion!” by writer Chris Claremont (Liefeld was inked by Dan Green on the issue). Liefeld then drew two Annuals as part of Marvel’s “Atlantis Attacks” crossover, including “New Mutants Annual” #5. Liefeld was clearly being groomed for an ongoing series.
As it turned out, while slowly working his way into the X-Office, Liefeld nearly left for a different Marvel title, “Alpha Flight,” but Marvel’s unwillingness to let Liefeld restart the comic book at #1 led to the artist remaining with the X-Office. Liefeld explained to Rich Johnston a number of years ago, “Cable was, in fact, first introduced as a character in an “Alpha Flight” proposal that I gave to Danny Fingeroth that was green lit and moving forward until an Alpha Flight re-launch was ultimately ruled out, a condition necessary for me to jump over from the X-office.” Liefeld elaborated about how the man soon to be known as Cable would have come with him:
Well, before I was committed to “New Mutants,” I was looking for a vehicle that I could have more plot input on and it turns out that they were looking for a new team on “Alpha Flight”. I was a huge fan and sent in a two year proposal that pre-dates my start on ‘New Mutants’ by about seven months. Cable was introduced as a soldier from Wolverine’s past, who would have worked with the existing Alpha Flight roster. Danny Fingeroth was eager to get me on the series, but when it wasn’t going to be re-launched I opted for “New Mutants”
The start of Liefeld’s stint on “New Mutants” was delayed a bit (he was initially announced as drawing “New Mutants” #80!), but he finally took over with “New Mutants” #86 in December 1989, with longtime writer Louise Simonson remaining on the book as the writer.
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