Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

65 – The Mutant Massacre, Part 1

Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available until 7/19/2015 in the shop, or contact David for the original.
Art by David Wynne. Prints and cards available until 7/19/2015 in the shop, or contact David for the original.

In which we hit the first big X-centric crossover; a lot of Morlocks die; X-Factor is a dark farce; Kitty Pryde talks down a mob without using racial slurs; when Doug Ramsey tells you there’s a problem, you listen; and Callisto should be one of the iconic leaders of the Marvel Universe.


  • Death by intellectual-property dispute
  • The Mutant Massacre
  • Mutant Massacres that might have been
  • Uncanny X-Men #210-213
  • New Mutants #46
  • The Marauders
  • The best way to guarantee the New Mutants’ involvement in a storyline
  • Limbo fashion
  • The responsibility of leadership
  • Wolverine vs. Sabretooth
  • Psylocke vs. Sabretooth
  • The evolution of crossovers
  • Characters we’d like to see more of post-Secret Wars

NEXT WEEK: The Mutant Massacre, Part 2!

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  1. Mister Sinister–responsible for everything in X-Men that Apocalypse and the Shadow King aren’t.

  2. I have a real problem with the Mutant Massacre. I liked reading it at the time (in my defence, I was ten) but put in a larger context, this is the beginning of a real down-turn/separation from the X-Books for me.

    This was the first time that reading X-Men felt like work more than fun. The Massacre heralds a time where basically, the X-Men fail, dissolve or threaten to dissolve, and nothing really advances or improves much beyond that. Things Get Worse, and keep getting worse for more than 70 issues (give or take), and as someone who reads comics for escapism, it wasn’t what I wanted. I still kept reading, but it become more of a sullen trudge.

    Although, in the interests of fairness, this eventually did give us Marrow, and Marrow is awesome, though I recognise we’re at least 200 episodes from that and I’m somewhat alone in that opinion.


    1. This is a really good summary of the Massacre and I agree completely. I didn’t trudge through these books on the time, I caught up with them years later…but things are really bleak until a couple of Australia issues, before things get forever bleak.

      1. By my estimation, things hit peak bleakness at the end of the Australia era, when every single one of the X-Men appears to be dead, thrown through the Siege Perilous or actively crucified. The Claremont/Lee era is actually pretty fun for a while, at least until Editorial Mandate ruins everything.

        1. A big problem with the way things trend from here on is that the X-Men are largely defined by failure from here on in and a sort of feeling of scraping along.

    2. Something I always noted was that there seemed to be a… well to paraphrase the musical “Guys and Dolls”; The Oldest Established, Permanent, Floating Hate Rally In New York…. Always the same spiel, always the same sort of attendess, possibly with some sort of shift system so the rabble rousers could catch some sleep.

      On the other hand, we only ever saw ONE pro-mutant rally in the whole history of the MU from 1963 to the early 2000’s, and that was in Paris.

      The next one to appear after that was, I think, in an early Morrison issue).

      So GO nuanced reflection of social commentary 1980’s MU!

      1. Wasn’t Lila’s concert in the Park that kicks off the ’90’s epic X-Cutioner’s Song in Uncanny #294 where Xavier gets shot by “Cable” a human/mutant unity rally? That sorta counts…

        1. I am happy to be corrected on that score. So that doubles the number of pro-mutant rallies we’d seen in 40 years then! 🙂

      2. ..it does kinda make one think Earth 616 is lacking in liberal or progressive minded folks, but I guess pants-shittingly horror of Marvel Canada should have tipped us off to that fact.

    3. The MM was kind of a Holy Grail for me as a kid; when I was even able to find an issue it cost more than my comics budget for a month! When I finally found it later collected in the Essential series I was… not impressed. Glad as a kid I got the Brood Saga in Classic reprints instead.

    1. Such a shame they didn’t just stick with that… always could fix it with “Well, they both have healing factors, so it makes blood tests unreliable… and all that other junk? Well, healing factor and a century plus of drinking will make a person remember all kinds of wacky crap.”

  3. So I know the follow up to the “How old is Psylocke question” has her being much older than Doug, but I still kind of wonder if Claremont recognized that in these first few issues of her with the x-men.

    If you read Wolverine’s statement on the “happy Alan Davis” panels from the as mentioned post, I swear it sounds a lot like his typical “I need a new teen girl sidekick, so XXXX is on the team” statements.

    I’m pretty sure Kitty, Armor and Jubilee all had moments like this too. Then again, that hadn’t become a trope at this point yet so maybe not.

    1. Claremont created Captain Britain and knew how old he was, he knew that Betsy was Brian’s twin sister. I think that pretty much rules out him not knowing about the age gap.

      1. Valid point that I’d forgotten…though it had been 10 years since he created her. Maybe the twin thing got briefly forgotten. Every other scenario feels a little creepy.

        1. In the Psylocke issue of the Mutant Massacre, Betsy talks about being twice Kitty’s age, which puts her in her lower thirties, I guess. So Claremont knew exactly how old she was. I don’t think that dodge is going to work.

    2. Does Bets really respond to Doug’s crush in an explicitly romantic way though? I always thought she was just being politely appreciative of his help with a nod to his affection. A teenager crushing on an adult is perfectly normal, it is only creepy and wrong if the adult actively encourages it.

      1. To be fair there was nothing ever defined as an actual romantic relationship between them, but it was repeatedly stated that Doug loved her, and Betsy knew this (being a telepath) and Betsy was usually left wondering exactly how strong her own feelings towards him were (since apart from being innately adorable, he and Warlock had risked everything to save her life/mind/soul in the Wildways) then never actually deciding what that was…. Or, if she did realise how creepy it would be, taking the only acceptable course of action and explicitly doing nothing at all about it EVER.

        1. …re-read it again since my previous comment, and I still say it was innocent on Betsy’s part; you can love people with out gettin’ all tingly… BUT it is a touch odd. Considering it has a telepathic element to it that does blur the morals of today, let alone the time when it was written, so yeah it is a bit much yet serves as an example of the pitfalls of trying to conform contemporary morality upon the morals of the past. I think at the time it was was written purely innocent but seeing as how it was written when I was a toddler vs. re-reading now as an adult involving characters who age 1 or 2 months for each year we age in reality… the implications are more complex and questionable.

  4. Aside from the general air of gloom and depression that this event instilled in me as I was reading it (on its first publication), what felt “off” about it was that it cheated.

    Out of the entire Mutant Massacre, there was exactly ONE previously named Morlock who died…. just one, and that was Annalee. All the others, from Tommy to Blowhard to giant purple mole guy to Scaleface were… ciphers, they were created, but purely so they could be killed in front of us and attempt to make us care in that happening, and that had varying levels of success.

    Consider that every single other previously named Morlock survived (some injured for awhile, but alive); Sunder, Beautiful Dreamer, Masque, Tar Baby, Healer, THEY all got to live.

    We’d never even had a clear idea of how many Morlocks there were before, it might have been less than fifty (We see a lot of silhouettes, but nothing definitive). Suddenly we are told that there are hundreds of them and they’re now all dead. It felt like a very contrived attempt at making us be awed by the scale of the devastation; Look at us, we’re prepared to kill ALL THESE CHARACTERS for the story… but we’d never even suspected this many Morlocks existed and knew only one of them, so whilst yes, there was a lot of death and carnage and it was graphic and horrible, it felt like it was at one remove.

    And since every future interaction with the Morlocks (for a great many years) has us meeting those who we knew from before the Massacre, in a good many respects, it happening seemed to have no impact on the narrative in the future.

    I will say that the Marauders, horrible monsters though they were, have to be one of the best thought out mutant killing teams imaginable. They had ALL the bases covered: Scalphunter had, IIRC, a Forge like intuitive ability to know which of his many wepaon components would combine to kill a particular target. Prism reflected energy blasts, Vertigo countered fliers/speedsters. Scrambler could turn anyones powers back on themselves with potentially lethal effect with a single touch, Harpoon had an effective energised projectile weapon, Sabretooth and Riptide could kill/injure anyone who wasn’t actually invlnerable and Arclight had the earthshattering powerhouse impact powers… it would be hard to think of many trained superbeings who could stand up to them for any length of time, never mind a bunch of cilivians like the Morlocks.

    Betsy’s psi-signature being a butterfly I found to be fascinating for what it suggested about her personality. Xavier always used the “giant floating head” (authority) Jean and Rachel’s psi signature was their namesake, the Phoenix (power). For Betsy it’s something beautiful and delicate like a butterfly… though yes the eye thing was a tad creepy when you considered her eye-problems at the time.

    1. I liked that Betsy’s psi-butterfly effect persisted all the way into the 1990s fighting game.

      Good point about the Morlock inflation–I never really thought there were that many, and I found myself really bothered by the fact they always seemed to keep finding pockets of Morlocks left after the Massacre (seriously, either the Morlocks multiply like wet Mogwai or the Marauders are incompetent twits) really blunts the story in a lot of ways for me.

    2. I’ve got to disagree about the “cheating”. Yes, the named Morlocks (except Annalee) all survived, but the Morlocks as a civilian and semi-benign mutant population have been pretty firmly established over several years. I think the fact that we still get to see the reactions of the few characters we know gives it even more impact.

      1. Were they a population though? Up until the start of the Massacre, they had always felt more like a street gang living under the streets rather than the heavily populated underground city we saw here.

    3. It’s not just that it’s mostly never-before-seen Morlock redshirts killed. The Marauders (for all that their powers are admittedly well-grouped to be deadly) are completely content-free villains. They have NO motivation for being utterly evil. They just show up out of nowhere, make some “Man, we are so EVIL” speeches, and start killing helpless old women, children, etc, grinning while they do it. Oh, right, they were hired by another character who no one had ever heard of and we would not see until some future issue. This is TERRIBLE writing, far below the standards Claremont had set in these titles.

      Seriously, think of how much more interesting this would be if it were Nimrod instead. We’ve seen him before. We know his motivations. We know he should be (thanks to that Sentinel mojo) even more powerful now, better prepared to face our heroes. And we’d have a great contrast — he will do anything to protect human children, but will cold-bloodedly destroy mutant children.

      As for that last Alan Davis page, with the happy smiling heroes — how can that possibly be appropriate with what they’ve just gone through? It looks good, because Davis is great (though it’s always seemed to me the inking was a bit off in this issue?) but half the team is seriously injured and they’re having a happy group hug with a newcomer without an apparent care in the world? It feels wildly out of place after six of the most grim-n-gritty issues ever published in the X-line.

      1. I can sort of buy the Marauders not needing to justify their actions beyond “It’s what we’ve been paid well to do”, mercenaries do that in the real world all the time.

        However, it might have been interesting if at least SOME of the Morlocks had put up an impressive fight, not because they wanted to, but because the powers they had made it something they were good at. The Marauders should have suffered a non X-Men inflicted casualty or two along the way, since the Morlocks are not helpless.

        Someone who finally takes the thick mittens off the razor-sharp talons they have had to hide for so long, and uncoils their barbed tail…

        Someone who is relieved to finally have someone they can unleash their telekinetic anger with the human race out on (as they reduce Scrambler to mush before he can so much as lay a hand on them).

        Someone who lets the Marauders get in close before relaxing… and melting into their default acidic slime-form.

        Just because they don’t _want_ to fight (though some Morlocks clearly have no problem with it) doesn’t mean that a few of them wouldn’t have been bloody good at it, more than just the previously named ones at any rate.

        1. Sure, I can buy killing the Morlocks because it’s your job. But the Marauders are portrayed as enjoying slaughtering the elderly and children. That’s pretty flat-out evil.

  5. I can side with the statement that Storm beat Callisto, and has Callisto’s title, and Callisto is going to make DANG sure she lives up to it, but Callisto is all about her people and the job first, everything else second, that I disagree with. Our introduction to her was her abusing her authority and putting her people in harm’s way to kidnap a boy-toy. She then toys with retribution from the X-Men to fake Kitty’s death and kidnap her to force her to go through with her promise to stay with Caliban forever – which I would attribute to her wanting to precipitate a confrontation with Storm.

    In the framework of “everything else second”, what is your take on where Callisto winds up in the Claremont run, leaving the Morlocks entirely to be “the most beautiful woman in the world”? With Masque having become ascendant, does Callisto consider her obligation to the Morlocks over? She’s done with that, and will now pursue happiness with Peter rather than reclamation of her people (who, again to be fair, have been hunting her for sport under Masque’s leadership)?*

    *In the interest of discussion, I’d like to be clear that these are actual questions regarding this stance and how it foots with what we will see later, not “Did you think of that before you said your dumb stance? Did you? Huh?” questions.

  6. A few points, in no particular order:

    1. Callisto’s speech made me cry, you guys. Nice job.

    2. Though it also reminded me of Galaxy Quest. Never give up! Never surrender!

    3. I remember reading Uncanny 213 at the time it came out, and I distinctly recall being fairly unimpressed with Sabertooth. I know that y’all are right, that he is or becomes one of the most physically dominating foes of the X-Men, and Wolverine in particular. But at the time, in context, we just had Wolverine fight Lady Deathstrike, Nimrod, and Rachel Summers. We also had him fairly recently go up against various Asgardian gods and monsters, including a poisonous dragon and Thor-Storm. By the time we got to issue 213, “Wolverine is nearly dead from getting his ass kicked” was just … normal. Sabretooth honestly didn’t register for me as important. When he kept coming back as a villain, I was merely miffed that we kept seeing him and not Deathstrike.

    4. This entire story just makes me to SAD as an adult! As a teenager, though, it made me … Well, it strengthened my resolve to never let anyone know I was different, lest they try to kill me. Geeky or queer or any other sort of difference, I understood perfectly well what the Mutant Metaphor was, and I took it very much to heart. People will see you dead merely for existing. Age does not matter. No crime is required, simply birth.

    Oh, Claremont.

  7. As others have pointed out Claremont intended them to be related from the beginning. The first reference is actually Iron Fist #15, right after Daniel Rand (Iron Fist) fights Sabretooth in IF #14 then in IF #15 he fights Wolverine at Jean Grey’s apartment and actually says that Wolverine and Sabretooth fight alike.

  8. So speaking as someone who essentially majored in magic in college I want to weigh in on the pronunciation of “Magus.” While the Marvel Universe is notorious for having its own pronunciations (see Quasar), the word magus is pronounced “Mah-ghoos” it’s latin they don’t have a “j” sound. Further more while Magi (its plural) does use the j sound, I don’t believe there is a word in the English language where g is soft before a u (it’s only soft before e,i, or y). The magus archetype was my B.A. topic, I don’t often get to use this information so when I do, I do so passionately.

    1. That’s a relief, I’ve been calling him “Magus” (with a hard g) now for thirty years and was feeling slightly disconcerted by him being called “Majus” but assumed it was just my ignorance of such matters.

  9. Is Scalp-Hunter suit made out of guns??

    I don’t know if that’s amazing of ridiculous. I think it’s both.

    1. Gun pieces. He seems to have some sort of weapon-oriented Forge-thing going on. Uncanny #222, as he tracks Rogue in his gun-sight, he thinks: “You’re supposed to be pretty near invulnerable. But the body ain’t been born or built… that Scalphunter can’t craft a weapon…to return it to it’s maker–”

      In #219, he says something similar about Polaris as he actively builds a weapon. Later in the issue, as Polaris (Malice) uses pieces of his own costume to attack him, he thinks “Weapon modules– goin’ crazy–“

  10. This was the beginning of the end for me; the remainder of Claremont’s run was an increasing disappointment, never as good as what had gone before. Or so I felt, at least.

    But I remember how I felt reading these issues for the first time, how I felt a genuine chill when Colossus killed Riptide. How shocked I was at the state of the team after, with so many characters as casualties.

    I find it hard to re-read Claremont these days. His prose is just too purple, and it’s so hard not to trip over his rampant Claremontisms and the weird sexual politics. But when I look back on reading these at the age of sixteen, and how I was just blown away by them…Claremont will always be a favorite.

    It wasn’t until the first issue of Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL a few years later that I read a comic that hit me as hard as X-MEN 211.

  11. Psylocke’s stand against Sabretooth was one of my favorite moments as a kid reading X-Men, and it’s why I was so, so disappointed with her ninja-badass revision. The ethnic part of that I’m less bothered by, since yes, diversity is important (does literal body-swapping make it better…?), but I feel like something important was lost there.

    Betsy had a very “soft” and warm image and persona. It was easy to take that to be the full range of her character until this moment where we saw just how tough and pragmatic and gutsy she could be. I loved it because she didn’t NEED a bad ass image to do bad ass things. This moment said a lot for me about femininity vs. strength and how those two things really aren’t in conflict AT ALL…and then they made her a ninja. They put an archetype on her that has bad ass right there on the label.

    Comics were full of ninjas while this was going on. (And I’m sorry, nobody’s ninjas held a candle to Larry Hama’s ninjas.) We didn’t need another freakin’ ninja. A prom queen who was 100% as bad ass as any ninja? THAT was different. That SAID SOMETHING. Aaaand then they made her into another freakin’ ninja. Yay.

    I disagree with Miles in that the New Mutants issue is less relevant. I honestly thought it was the most relevant in terms of the massacre itself. It showed us more of the lasting pain of violence, and it emphasized that bodies don’t just fade away three seconds after death like in a video game. The 2nd X-Men issue does that, too, but it just never left the lasting impression.

    Also: Thomas Corsi was guarding the entrance to the Morlock Tunnels with a machinegun! That was such a great moment! “Yep, crazy mutant killers gonna rush us at any minute and I’m totally outclassed, but they’re gonna have to go through me and this M-60 first…”

  12. Also: Was anyone else severely disappointed that Wolverine did not, in fact, bring the pain to the Marauders? I mean Storm’s last panel at the end of part one REALLY sells it like it’s gonna be this big, brutal thing, but then we get…basically just another standoff. And yes, saving Healer is unarguably the best thing to do tactically, strategically, ethically…but the set-up for that issue makes what actually happens into a big disappointment.

    I felt much the same way after Logan’s “Alright suckers, you’ve taken your best shot, now it’s my turn!” end-of-issue panel in the Dark Phoenix saga. It SEEMS like it’s gonna be a big deal, and yet he just…kinda brawls with some flunkies.

    Maybe it’s another reason why I never got hooked on Wolverine as a kid. He was always such a let-down.

    1. Yeah, at the time, I thought he’d give the Marauders the sneak-assassin treatment in the tunnels, much like he gave Cole, Macon, and Reese back when they were Hellfire guards.

  13. Holy Corbeau, I love you two!

    This podcast series was just brought to my attention a little over a week ago, and I became as instantly addicted to it as I did to the Uncanny X-Men as a kid (which was in the ’90s but thankfully my introduction was Classic X-Men issues just before the start of the Dark Phoenix Saga, the Arcade stories to be exact, just like your awesome guest co-host). Thankfully during the summer months I am able to listen just about all day at work and in about 10 days after a wonderful friend of mine introduced me to your podcast have made it to episode 34, and making this the first premier episode I have had the privilege of experiencing.

    Aside from the podcast and you two and your guests simply being delightful, and the fact the subject matter is all about my favorite, nearly life time addiction comic book saga (and being able to experience a cascade of blissful nostalgic overload), I am already finding your love and wealth of knowledge very helpful in a practical sense.

    My future husband (now a realistic possibility for only a couple of weeks now, thank you SCOTUS) has never been a big X-Men fan (he digs Spider-Men) but our 10 year old son has been in love with the X-Men for a couple years now and getting old enough to express interest in our comic book collection and as you can imagine the process of screening what is and is not appropriate for the little guy, as well as being able to answer question of context and continuity, is very staggering with such a complex mythos. So, I cannot express enough how much you all help ease this process in an extremely entertaining manner, as well as inspiring my (future) hubby to read the X-Men as well. We live in a very Liberal bubble in a very “Red state” (Alabama) and having a mixed race son with two fathers I hope the allegories that can be found in X-Men specifically will be as helpful for the inevitable bullsh!t our son will have to face as they were for me when I was a little older than he.

    So, I just want to thank you both for not just the awesome of satisfying my “nerd needs” but helping in the effort of two parents to find what is both appropriate and relevant for our little guy who I am proud to see is as wide-eyed and exuberant a fresh fan of X-Men as I was at his age. I think this family of comics transcends the greatness of what it is as a super hero comic, which is why it is so beloved and timeless, and having the two of you who are so in love with the epic and each other with a conscious effort to make a point of content.

    Anyway, sorry for the rambling comment, just wanted to express my deep appreciation for what you two are doing, and let you know for some of us it is about even more than just indulging in the love of the X-Men epic.

    1. “…which is why it is so beloved and timeless, and having the two of you who are so in love with the epic and each other with a conscious effort to make a point of content” …IS VERY HELPFUL AND APPRECIATED. (sorry hard to type with a hyper 10 yr old bouncing around makes it difficult to make coherent comments)

      Anyway, thanks again and keep up the spectacular work! There aren’t enough words to express how much I love your podcasts except maybe they are the space pirate mustache of Corsair awesome of all podcasts that will ever exist before or sense.

    2. Aww, shucks – I’m so glad you’re enjoying it, and congrats on your finally SCOTUSified pending nuptials! Thank you for listening!

      1. epppp! haha thanks… and again, sorry for the rambling, just couldn’t resist posting for the first time without expressing me deep and sincere appreciation as both an epic X-Men fan and father of an X-Men fan for what you two are doing in both content of covering the epic and the context you give on a topical and personal level.

        And I kinda didn’t want to mention the personal stuff but it is sort of the underlining current of what makes X-Men more than just another comic book or bit of fiction for me and now my family… anyway, again, my eternal thanks, you two really are doing something transcendent and the love involved can be felt.

        1. Oh, and I really loved your Wraith the Oblivion shout out to the Labyrinth many weeks past, that is the most under-appreciated game ever. Okay, sorry, I will stop gushing now I promise

  14. If your goal was for us to picture Mister Sinister saying “you get a retcon! You get a retcon!” like Oprah Winfrey, mission accomplished.

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