91 – The Saddest Story Ever Told

Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available at the shop, or contact David to purchase the original.

Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available at the shop, or contact David to purchase the original.

 

In which New Mutants #64 is the saddest single issue of any X-book ever; the New Mutants have to grow up fast; Warlock comes to terms with mortality; The Last of Us is harder to play the second time; Tattoo Tales: X-Men: Masquerade is delightfully unhinged; animated Cyclops is totally the worst; Beast probably has a terrible garage band; Jean starts a kitchen fire; and Wolverine saves Jubilee’s birthday.

 

X-PLAINED:

  • The saddest issue ever
  • New Mutants #64
  • The only okay way to watch Grave of the Fireflies
  • The aftermath of Doug Ramsey’s death
  • Several unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • The Last of Us
  • Tattoo Tales: X-Men: Masquerade
  • Some varyingly impressive costumes
  • General irresponsibility
  • Why Wolverine is wearing a clown suit
  • Douglock
  • The New Mutants’ D&D alignments

NEXT WEEK: You never forget your first Ship.


You can find a visual companion to this episode on our blog!

Find us on iTunes or Stitcher!

Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men is 100% ad-free and listener supported. If you want to help support the podcast–and unlock more cool stuff–you can do that right here!

Buy prints of this week’s illustration at our shop, or contact David Wynne for the original!

39 comments

  1. XMenXPert says:

    Yeah, this issue is definitely one of those “remembered it exists and now I’m sobbing uncontrollably” things. It is almost cruel how quickly and how thoroughly it reduces me to tears. Beautiful work from Simonson.

  2. Alan Lawrence says:

    I have not contributed here before, but I would like to thank Miles for standing up on the air and holding at least a neutral attitude towards Bret Blevins’ art. I’ve read many people here tracing their disillusion with the New Mutants to the Blevins/Simonson run. It works out almost in reverse for me, as I started reading the book with Inferno and proceeded backwards through the series, eventually reaching the New Mutants graphic novel. The Blevins/Simonson issues seemed vivid and compelling to 9–year–old me, and their stories and the accompanying psychological landscape behind the stories seemed really clear and comprehensible. In contrast, the Claremont versions of the characters seemed suspiciously too adult and neurotic. The Claremont New Mutants wring their hands over complicated moral conflicts, and they worry in detail about the future––they obsess about how they’re growing and learning and changing, in language very similar to that of the regular X-men. On the Blevins/Simonson issues, the New Mutants are much more self-centered and in the moment, and so those issues seemed true to the psychology of childhood for me. But more about Blevins would probably be in order.

    During the Secret Convergence on Infinite Podcasts (I forget just which episode), Paul O’Brien mentions Blevins’ New Mutants work as something he has come around to as an adult. He describes it as some “damn fine cartooning,” I think, and that’s how I feel as well. Superhero work at the time came from such a different place, and seeing Blevins retain superhero dynamism and mutate it into cartoonish shapes was as revolutionary for me as seeing Sienkiewicz art for the first time was for Jay. I’m not sure there was another penciller at one of the big comics companies at the time, doing superhero comics that looked like The Secret of NIMH. Blevins had a very energetic line, and a loose, flexible feeling to his shapes that belied their actual, pleasing solidity and consistency. And Blevins was the perfect artist for Inferno: The demon infestation of Manhattan comes most vividly to life in The New Mutants. Simonson deserves as much credit here for coming up with the most mindbending and lugubrious of demons––the tower viewer binoculars who takes a customer’s eyes for itself remained a nightmare for me for years following my reading of the story––but it’s interesting that the X-factor issues she wrote feature nothing like the haunted barber shop, or the street that tries to wind around the New Mutants as they fly through the skyscrapers. It’s as if it took the cartoonist’s eye for detail to invent a lot of the demonic mayhem. Starting to read in the middle of these issues, the different characters of the various New Mutants and X-Terminators were immediately apparent, because Blevins was able to telegraph important characteristics of the characters through face and body language. Rahne’s wide-eyed innocence, Dani’s more hard-boiled practicality, Boom Boom’s just…being Boom Boom. It was clear reading through scattered issues who the Darkchylde was, even though she changed her appearance radically from issue to issue, because Blevins gave Ilyana extremely consistent body language throughout.

    What’s more, I recently reread all of New Mutants up through the end of the Blevins issues, and I was surprised how much more I appreciated the generally loathed Bird Boy saga, reading it as an adult. As obnoxious as the Bird Boy is-–and I loathed him the first time through, like most people seemed to––upon rereading, it’s very interesting to see the Skinnerian Behaviorism gradually revealed in Bird Boy’s origins. The depth of complication in the story is deployed with deceptive swiftness; the first few encounters with the Bird Boy have the qualities of a romp, establishing a tone in which the New Mutants can defy Magneto and jaunt off to the Animator’s island, all the while not really comprehending the potential dangers in trying to help the Bird Boy, or the consequences their impulsive decision might cause them to face. Suddenly the story seems to veer drastically into horror, but the seeds of that are there in the way the Bird Boy is grotesquely ill-fitting in the kids attempts to make him seem human. The New Mutants have read Bird Boy all wrong, and their insistence on pouring him into an ill-fitting suit and parading him in public underscores the way the Mutants are so far out of their depth in trying to understand who the Bird Boy is and where he’s from. It’s interesting that Warlock’s assimilation into human society is so comparatively smooth, while the Bird Boy’s attempts at blending in fail so spectacularly. It’s telling that the New Mutants don’t actually see the different between the Bird Boy and Warlock in this respect: in a way, Simonson and Blevins are setting up the larger misunderstanding that leads the New Mutants towards their tragedy.

    Blevins is very good at portraying the Bird Boy as a ersatz human, trying to blend in. There are distinct echoes of Frankenstein in the Bird Boy’s lurching body language. Admittedly, the art in these issues is nowhere near as polished as that of the later Inferno issues, but the issues in the saga have a manic energy that comes from Blevins’ furious cartooning. The Bird Boy is a monstrous infant unleashed on Westchester; the New Mutants are increasingly frustrated schemers, revealing their own awkward attampts to post as more adult than they really are. It’s hard to imagine any of this working with a stiffer, more traditional penciller on board, like, for instance, former series penciller Jackson Guice. But I think Blevins brings a special flair to these issues that is really a shot in the arm for the series.

    It was quite a surprise for me to discover, mostly from fans of this podcast, that the Blevins issues were so widely despised. After reading a lot of recounts of people’s experiences with the issues, I gather that this mostly comes from long-term New Mutants fans, reading at the time these issues were coming out, and really being unmoored from the title with the drastic change of tone brought about by Simonson and Blevins taking over. I think I can understand the anger one might feel at that kind of seeming narrative disruption. But for me, this is balanced against the feeling that the series had been running on significantly lower energy for some time before the change––really, since end of the Asguard storyline, the issues had been less gripping. The crippling blow that was Secret Wars II really changed the tone of the book for the worse, and in spite of some interesting issues and story ideas in the interim, nothing feels as urgent or vital again until Simonson and Blevins took over. But in the end, my bias is very much like those who resented the switch away from the Claremont-era New Mutants; I back the team that first hooked me on the book.

    Anyways, I wanted to thank you, Miles. You’ve stood up for not hating Blevins on numerous occasions. You didn’t have to do it, and I appreciate that you nonetheless did. There’s still something in me that can’t quite understand why people would dislike the art so much, because it interests and captivates me still. It has me dreading when you guys get to Larry Stroman on X-factor, and what people will think. I hope more people appreciate Stroman, at least. It’s nice to occasionally back a winner.

    • Alan Lawrence says:

      Today I was a little charmed to discover that Bret Blevins is one of the artists featured on John Allison’s Influence Map:

      http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/John-Allison-influence-map.jpg

      Allison is the author of Giant Days, and the author/illustrator of Bad Machinery and Scary Go Round, which are all pretty amazing. I can see a little of the Blevins influence on his art, if I squint hard, but more will probably be apparent pretty soon––he’s starting a webcomic called Mordawwa, in which one of his Scary Go Round/Bad Machinery characters becomes the ruler of hell, Mordawwa. He recently showed an image of her that is clearly very lovingly inspired by Blevins Darkchylde.

      • J. Rachel says:

        Oh–yeah, I can TOTALLY see that. Neat!
        (And Bad Machinery is awesome, for anyone who hasn’t read it. A+++ recommend so hard.)

    • XMenXPert says:

      For my part, I generally like Blevins. I think he did fine work. He was a very expressive artist. His style worked beautifully for bits that were more fun, and it gave a certain tonal dissonance to darker scenes that I found fairly effective. I was fine with him, though I read these comics a good 20 years or so after the fact.

      The Bird Boy Saga still sucks, though.

    • Icon_UK says:

      It’s always fascinating to read a well thought-out and expresesed assessment, even (or perhaps especially in cases where it varies from my own, so thank you for that.

      The parallels between Warlock and Bird-Brain in the teams attempts to “humanise” them is a good one, though at the time I read him as more of an annoying replacement.

      Warlock had just been removed from the team (for contrived reason which never really worked for me) and the next thing you know another not quite human being had arrived with a similar worldview: Warlock’s binary worldview descriptors of selffriend and selffoe, and Birdbrain splitting things up into food (good) and not-food (bad). I didn’t want to read about someone I viewed as a sort of bad knock-off, I wanted to read about the original! Which seems kinda petty of me in retrospect.

    • Sol says:

      Thanks for providing another perspective on this!

      I read New Mutants #1 when it came out. I was twelve years old, and most (all?) of the characters were older than me. The effective de-aging of the characters when Simonson started meant the characters went from seeming my age to seeming my little sister’s. It was incredibly annoying. And the cartoony art just emphasized that.

      But in 1988, 95% of the comics market was targeted at people more or less my age. Much as I wished the New Mutants had kept up with me, it was probably a lot more important to the market to have a book a 9 year old could love. And just because it wasn’t what I wanted to read does not mean it was a bad book.

      • J. Rachel says:

        “And just because it wasn’t what I wanted to read does not mean it was a bad book.”

        Just wanted to highlight that, because it’s such an important sentiment. Thank you. =D

  3. Icon_UK says:

    New Mutants #64…. where do I begin.

    I’m a grown ass man now, I have a repsonsible job, and a mortgage and, okay, a few too many action figures, but after all this time, this should NOT still wreck me the way it does. I’m probably not going to textblock the way I normally do, and post bits as I process them again, because the whole thing is too much. (Oh, and Jay, I have to say your Warlock voice is amazing!)

    The context of this history of this is important to me because, again, I read this as it came out, with a month between each issue, not knowing what was coming next and that added to the experience immeasurably, if not in a good way.

    So Doug died in #60, and then it’s the sad core of #61 (despite the “Aren’t we happy in our hidoues new costumes?” cover), and then we get two months of more or less distraction, which was just annoying!

    Then, having waited for three months through some degree of almost… mourning for my favourite character, we’re presented with “Night of the not-quite-Living Doug”, which is, as you say, bleakness boiled down to it’s essence and then dumped all over the team from a great height.

    This was a devastating and horrible culmination, so I was not inclined to be forgiving to it, and that feeling has remained as an undercurrent even 30 years later. A new writer whose style I didn’t enjoy and an artist I actively didn’t like, had killed the character I liked the most in a terrible story, and then turned his funeral issue into a story with a zombie on the cover. This was the final emotional kick in my nether regions and I more or less stopped by the title after this.

    (more later)

  4. Icon_UK says:

    I should add that listening to this podcast on the morning I find out David Bowie has died did not help my Monday morning mood, but that’s hardly your fault.

  5. Icon_UK says:

    Next comment-ette

    I read the Danger Room sequence a little differently, as I don’t think it’s caught in a loop.

    Rahne saves Doug and they embrace happily, with him grinning his head off. He lying on the ground because she kicked him there to save him. He then says the same thing he said when he actually died, but here it’s in a happier context, he’s reassuring Rahne here, and then he fades away because the simulation is over.

    As an aisde, this also means that either the Danger Room is really, REALLY good at estimating simulacrum reactions or, more likely to me, Rahne must have heard Doug’s last words on the island (She has sharper hearing in wolf form) but didn’t pay them any attention and assumed he was giving her the same sort of reassurance we see him make here, and that must have been a singularly horrible realisation for her later on.

    Then there’s the fact that this poor, emotionally devastated, lonely girl didn’t just find one solution, but SEVENTEEN… and STILL wants to keep going? A happy ending isn’t enough, she’s self-flagellating here over and over and over.

    In the Rahne scene I did keep wondering where Dani was? Her mindlink with Rahne’s wolf form should have given her SOME idea what was going on. The fact that it’s Sunspot, the other youngest team-member, who finds and consoles is very powerful, but it’s not the character I feel SHOULD be consoling her, that should be Dani, who feels what Rahne feels some of the time.

    Also note that when Doug thought he was responsible for Bobby dying (In New Mutants Annual #2), he was at least honest enough to admit that they had never really got on with each other, es evidenced by their many confrontations. I liked that about them; on a team of nine disparate teenagers, it’s not going to be harmony all the way. Doug and Bobby are team-mates who trust each other and rely on each other in the field, but are not exactly close friends, and I wish Bobby had reflected on that too.

  6. David says:

    Jay: “[Warlock] doesn’t understand that dead is dead.”

    Partly because of being a Technarch; partly because he lives in the Marvel Universe. It can’t be easy to accept death when you live somewhere where people routinely come back to life.

    • Icon_UK says:

      Well…. this was in 1988, when the revolving door to the afterlife was only just beginning to start up, Jean Grey was IIRC the only big name back from the “really, honestly, truly” dead and that was by sidestepping Jean having been the person who died in the first place, and also ignoring the fact the entire New Mutants team had died and been revived by the Beyonder not long earlier in Secret Wars II.

      • Sol says:

        Hmm? This was the Marvel Universe. Probably every month since Stan and Jack began it someone apparently died only to be revealed as still among the living later. Indeed, Karma was believed dead from NM #6 until … sometime in the #20s?

        Admittedly it’s somewhat more rare to have a dead body, but that’s still no great impediment to a creative writer….

  7. WizarDru says:

    Man this was…wow. I thought you might be over-selling it, but damn. These issues came out just after I had stopped getting comics on a regular basis; I was in college and comics were simply too expensive a hobby on my budget at that time. I had dropped the X-titles due to the sudden surge of indies that the glut of ’88 brought and due to feeling that Claremont was kind of running in a loop..and that somehow I had ‘moved beyond’ superhero comics at the big two. I had not, in truth, done so…either conceptually or literally.

    That Doug would eventually come back does not make this any less sad, IMHO. This is written devastatingly and truthful in a way many comics are NOT. These days, few comics would show this kind of impact of a character death or a lengthy discussion of how life changes afterwards. This is one of the all time greats.

    As for Blevins’ artwork…I see what Jay’s talking about, at least with respect to Warlock. What I do think is that when you start colors your view of him. I started with Mcleod and worked forward…so by the time you get to Blevins, he’s competing with some hard acts to follow. I mean, can you imagine trying to follow someone like a Sienkiwicz, Miller, Byrne or similar landmark artists? As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to appreciate solid draftsmen who at the time I was dismissive of, not the hot style of the time. Al Milgrom, for example, I always thought of as white-bread dull…but now I look at his work (especially after the 90s, when such skills were lacking) how good he actually was.

  8. LAndrew says:

    This issue is fantastic. My sole regret is that there’s such a delay between the final Fall of the Mutants and this issue happening–we really needed it to happen sooner to be more bitterly felt.

    I can’t help but compare this to the issue after Secret Wars II where the Mutants were getting over being dead. In some strange way, they feel like parallels.

  9. Seth says:

    So as much as I love this issue…it still doesn’t quite bring me to tears the way Uncanny #303 does.

    And because I’m trying to bring a lighter note to things I have a question that it’s possible only the X-perts can answer.

    In Uncanny X-men #303, a major element is that little Ilyana has a Bamf doll (obviously inspired for her back in the day by the fairy tale).

    In Uncanny X-men #168 Nightcrawler is essentially posing “strategically” with a Bamf doll himself as a surprise for Amanda.

    So did Amanda and Kurt at some point give Ilyana their almost sex-toy plush Bamf? Was she visiting Muir Island for treatment, found it while wandering around, and no one had the heart to take it away from her after she decided it was her favorite toy? Did the Xavier institute at some point license out Nightcrawler’s image to make a line of plush toys?

    I have a hard time believing they’re the same toy…but at the same time it’s not like the Xavier Institute has a gift shop or something.

  10. Icon_UK says:

    I’m assuming open casket funerals are a common thing in America? I’ve never heard of one in the UK, and certainly never been to one. Not sure how I’d feel about going to one to be honest, in my experience I want to remember the person as they were when alive, not when dead.

    I also wonder why Doug’s parents were at a hotel at all. Of all Xavier’s students over the years, as far as we know Doug was the only one who was actually a local kid from Salem Center so his folks wouldn’t need to stay anywhere other than their home.

    (Of course, I also still think there’s a story to be told about Mr and Mrs Ramsey’s reaction to the school being “outed” as a mutant school, since Doug was AFAIK also the only student to never tell his parents he was a mutant. Did anyone from the school ever tell them the truth about his death? (I’d like to think Kitty might have done so, or even Rahne)

    • David says:

      In regard to open-casket funerals, I wouldn’t say they’re “common,” but they’re not unheard of. They are definitely uncommon (if not unheard of) in a religious service, though in a secular one I think they’re probably the norm.

      (That being said, the US is a REALLY big place, and cultural practices certainly vary widely, so while I have a lot of experience at funerals, my experience is by no means to be taken as normative for everyone in the country.)

      • Icon_UK says:

        I suppose I might be basing my assessment of the prevalence of open-casket funerals from watching too many US-based murder mysteries. I think they like to make the most of their actors by ensuring they get one last scene out of them at their own funerals!

      • J. Rachel says:

        Even when the funeral itself is closed-casket, there’s often open-casket visitation.

        • Icon_UK says:

          Interesting, I don’t think open casket visitation is that common here either, with the notable exception of the classic Irish Wake.

          There are sometimes closed casket visitations for certain people like important members of the Royal family or significant public figures, which is the whole “lying in state” thing.

          Apologies, a rather morbid train of thought to pursue, even allowing for the rather bleak miasmia this issue engenders in me.

    • Viridian5 says:

      Warning: Some readers may find this disturbing since I talk about some issues of death people prefer not to think about.

      We had an open casket funeral this year for my grandmother, and while it was a bit weird I ended up being thankful for it. While at her best, as herself, my grandmother was someone who always looked well put together, prided herself on it, but she had months of decline where she didn’t feel well and thought she looked sick and old no matter what we said and gave up on everything. In hindsight, we see her angry(!) refusal to get her hair colored as a sign the end was near. She didn’t have a Do Not Resuscitate order, so even though she had passed thirty minutes before anyone official had arrived the EMTs tried really hard to get her heart restarted and getting her breathing. I’m very glad we put a sheet over her when they gave up so my brother didn’t have to see how roughed up and more dead she looked after that.

      She was embalmed, dressed in the outfit we decided, and made-up for the open casket wake… and she looked like the Grandma of my memory, as I’d prefer to remember her.

  11. David says:

    I did not expect to cry tears of crying and then tears of laughter in the same episode. New Mutants 64 is a gut-punch of an issue for sure, but Jay found the perfect chaser for it, and then Miles about killed me with his backer thanks. My God, man. That was genius.

  12. Kelvin says:

    And the whole time Scott is thinking “Man, I put all this time and effort into my Team America (not THAT Team America) cosplay and nobody’s even noticed…”

    Also, more reasons it sucks to be the Grey family: being turned into DEMONS then told to forget about it in the upcoming Inferno! Yay! It’s almost here! And we will meet MY Harvey & Janet… those erstwhile baseline humans that will one day be known as The M-Squad!

  13. Icon_UK says:

    Is this the only time Dani’s Valkyrie-vision death-perception failed? I know there’s some stuff in this issue about it all being down to shifting probablities, but I don’t think that was ever the case before or after. A Valkyrior never seemed to be the sort to play the odds as regards death, if ahe saw the death sign, the person was going to die, if she didn’t, they wouldn’t.

    This seemed to be quite a changed precept.

    • Ron says:

      I’m wondering that too. To be honest, it almost seemed like the creative team temporarily forgot that Dani could see death visions; I don’t remember Simonson mentioning them at all until well after Doug’s death.

      I’m not saying that she and Blevins DID forget, and even if they did, I wouldn’t blame them all THAT much (as much as I’m into continuity, things do get lost when titles change creators–even major things like a character’s powers). I just remember it seeming like Dani’s Valkyrie powers had gone away for a little while and then they suddenly reappear around Inferno. I’d have to reread the run to know for sure.

      That said, the arc with Hela post-Inferno more than makes up for the temporary lapse in Dani’s powers. Whoo boy, does it ever!

  14. Icon_UK says:

    Probably a final comment on this story (and thank you for letting me pour forth about 30 years of… let’s be charitable and call them “issues” about this whole sad saga)

    I suspect you knew already, but if not, your fun little exchange about Doug’s only weakness being bullets, is actually canon. During the “Second Coming” event in X-Force #27 when the X-Men realise Doug can reprogram the Sentinels if he can access their core AI and Cyclops is going to send him in.

    Wolverine actually says, on panel, “Well, maybe you’re forgetting about Ramsey’s one weakness; bullets.” This was a comment so tacky that Dani was on her feet angrily calling him “You son of a bitch” before anyone could stop her.

  15. Aaron Coggins says:

    So Magneto is all about protecting mutants. If that is the case, what’s his opinion on Warlock? Warlock is technically a mutant, but definitely doesn’t posess the X-Gene.

    • Icon_UK says:

      Warlock was a student entrusted to Magneto’s care by Charles, that would automatically make him his charge. That and the fact that Warlock is powerful, eminently likeable and Doug’s best friend doesn’t hurt either

  16. jpw says:

    Holy shit, my brother and I totally had the Tattoo Tales book when we were kids! I did not realize there was a second one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *