Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

82 – Birds and Boys

Art by David Wynne.
Art by David Wynne.


In which Louise Simonson’s New Mutants run gets off to a rough start; drugs are not a reliable way to impress your space girlfriend; Magma gets a character arc; Tarot’s powers are kind of iffy; it’ll take more than a few illegal fish to stop Magik; and Bird Brain thoroughly fails to live up to his potential.


  • Sunspot’s brushes with villainy
  • The de-aging of the New Mutants
  • New Mutants #55-58
  • A memorable dress
  • Raek
  • A cautionary tale
  • The New Mutants as a Saturday morning cartoon
  • Bird Boy / Bird Brain
  • June Brigman
  • A romantic dilemma
  • Several alternative foci for Tarot’s powers
  • Redemption and humanization of villains in X-books
  • Undignified birds
  • The best and worst of Bret Blevins
  • Non-comics writers we’d like to see write X-books
  • Other teen time travelers we’d add to All-New X-Men

NEXT WEEK: Live in Las Vegas!

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

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We’ll have prints of this week’s illustration up at our shop later this week. As always, you can contact David Wynne to inquire after the original!


  1. I kind of.. really enjoyed the shift, now that I’ve started reading the comics. I loved the Claremont stuff, but the thing about the shift is that the art style really reminded me of the Tinkle comics I grew up reading – and the younger fun adventurous shift felt very Enid Blyton-y, also a big staple of my childhood, when I was just starting to read and really, really getting into it.
    That said, Magneto feels…increasingly useless as a headmaster the more of this run I read, which is a shame, because I feel like I’d really enjoy good-headmaster Magneto. I keep wondering if he’s constantly comparing the New Mutants to the Brotherhood.

  2. Don’t we ALL want to repress the Reignfire thing? I know I sure do.

    Much as I like Nicieza’s X-Force, it wasn’t really a mystery that was terribly mysterious or interesting, and that was before Loeb and folks after started picking at the scab.

  3. Because I’m really quick to judge and Claremont was my one and only reliable XMen source material for so long – I quickly dismissed Louise Simonson’s everything after reading the Bird Boy saga.

    1. A lot of Simonson’s run, for whatever reason, always feels like a digression from more important things, especially in light of what’s going on with X-MEN during this time.

      So if you’re reading both books, you’re reading the entire team disintegrating (and eventually worse than that) and in New Mutants . . .well, there’s this thing that feels like a really rubbish “Island of Dr. Moreau.”

    2. Me too! I stuck with it through the Spyder stuff, which I hated, until Inferno, where I felt so betrayed by the “happy” ending that I dropped New Mutants completely. I had Excalibur to take over, but I felt the NM/Excalibur post-Inferno was especially upsetting, it just felt like a betrayal to teenage me.

      Mind you, I still can’t unpick how much of my feelings about NM and Simonson’s run was because of Blevins’ art, so I’m really looking forward to listening to this one. (When I’ve tried in the past to re-read this run, the combination of Bird Boy and the teenagers-in-underwear page make me ranty, so I gave up, so I’m extra pleased I get to hear the Jay & Miles take on it, because maybe I’ll feel better about it, and I can re-live it without seeing it 🙂 )

  4. So with the conversation about the de-aging of the New Mutants a question came to me: Have they explained how Cipher is rougly the same age as the rest of the New Mutants after he came back from death? I’m pretty sure he had the same age as Kitty when he died, so he was fifteen, maybe sixteen, but he looks considerably older now.

    1. It’s never been stated in the comics, but given he was brought back by a oombination of ancient black magic and alien virus, it’s easy enough to come up with a “No Prize” solution.

      My pet theory is that the virus and spell based his revival on how old Doug was using his date of birth as the starting point. He’d died age 16 or so but now three or four years elapsed so he was rebuilt aged 19 or 20.

      Alternatively he might have hacked the TO virus himself before he made it go into remission, and asked it to make him fit in with his peers and it rebuilt him physically older.

      As for why no one else mentioned that he seemed to have grown several inches, well, this IS the X-verse.

  5. Oh dear, the Bird Brain issues (and I use the name because Marvel Handbook does)… I had to live through these a month at a time, and if Jay thinks _they_ have issues with it; Oyyy!

    Bret Blevins is, I have no doubt, a lovely fellow and one I would cheerfully down a drink with, but his New Mutants work is… pretty much completely derailing in style.(and even as a young gay male I felt uncomfortable with the depiction of young women) and the change in personalities was even worse. (If they’d wanted to de-age them, they should have made use of Secret Wars II and reset them a bit the way they did their powers. It wouldn’t make any sense but since none of SWII did anyway what would have been the harm?)

    The personalities might have been a bit more realistic for kids their age, but it just jarred too much with what had gone before (like Dani sitting around dismissing the absence of good looking guys on the team, when Doug and Sam are sitting right there with them, That’s just pointlessly rude)

    The Doug and Rahne relationship was completely out of the blue. Hate to disagree with Miles comment but there was nothing in any previous issue to suggest their feelings were stronger than team-mates and casual friends. It just felt tacked on to give #60 some more bathos.

    Amara as proud and regal is a good thing, but that does not explain her choice of Empath as someone to be attracted to. Yes, he is proud and entitled, but ever single instance they have interacted, he has acted in a way which is completely anti-ethical to her own stance on pretty much everything. It just never seemed remotely plausible that she would lower herself to his level.

    The rehabilitation of Empath never sat right with me, yes, people have complexity and depth and no-one is truly bonary good or evil . but, if I can accept that some people choose to reform, then I would say it is also valid to have those who do not, but who choose to be, for want of a better term, evil. To act in ways that exclusively benefit themselves at the cost of others, (and sometimes it’s just nice to have a villain you can boo and hiss at with a clear conscience, and Empath an unmitigated sadist and sociopath, was definitely in that category). such people exist and there’s no reason the mutant community shouldn’t have one or two.

    As for Bird Brain…. I should note that he’s not the Jar Jar of the New Mutants, rather Jar Jar is the Bird Brain of the Star Wars movies (We had about 13 years of the feathered). I’m sure I read in an interview with Simonson at the time that the point of Bird Brain was that he saw the world in a very binary way; things were either “Food” (good) or “Not Food” (bad), which might have been interesting if they hadn’t just shuffled off Warlock whose Friend/Not-Friend worldview already covered that.

    Sadly he’s not even my least favourite Simonson addition to the team, (Gossamyr wins that post).

    I could go on, but I think I’d better take a break because it’s not good for my blood pressure to remember this run.

    1. Agree on the Rayne and Doug part. Also, I dunno… It seems to me like there’s an age gap between those too. It almost feels like it’s not right. I mean, having Rayne having a crash on Doug is fine, but making it a mutual thing is too much. I think this idea’s outcome might be the thing that eventualy killed Rayne as a figure of childhood innocence and made her a sexualized symbol like any other female character in the Liefied’s run and ongoing… But maybe it’s a far cry.

      But I have to agree with Jay and Miles in one thing: Louise DID give Magma more character develpment then Claremont ever did. I’ll give her that.

  6. Oh, as for Tarot’s powers, she seems to actually have two distinct abilities;

    Aside from the image creating ones, she appears to be a precog who channels her foresight through her cards, or it might be that she only THINKS she does.

    If she uses, as she seems to, a fairly standard Rider-Waite deck, then manifesting an angel when drawing The Lovers is entirely appropriate, though it’s perhaps just as well that it doesn’t remove her clothing too.

    The ever excellent fanfic “Go West” suggests that her manifesting powers will only really work with tarot cards that she has painted herself, and she has a couple of different decks for different situations.

  7. I was looking forward to this one, and really enjoyed it, thank you.

    On Magik – I hadn’t realised how much I had identified with Illyana until I read these as a teen, as they came out, and I felt so betrayed by the ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ version (nice phrasing). The boy-crazy stuff felt so wrong, and especially compared to how she was at the very recent Hellfire Party, where she was a totally different person. That tone jump & art jump was really, really disruptive for me, and I think it was my first disillusionment with comics. It was Illyana as outsider, feeling like she was bad inside and trying to be good etc that made me feel for her and this new characterisation didn’t seem to touch that.

    (I have so many problems with Blevins’ work. I did love the casual body language moments, but I think I’ve mentioned this in your comments before, the underwear shots by Blevins really skeeved me out, even as a teen. He draws breasts in a very specific way, and it was weird to suddenly have BOOBS! everywhere. I used to read and share New Mutants with 2 guy friends, and Blevins’ art changed our interaction over these comics, because of them talking about how sexy the comics-girls were in ways I didn’t feel comfortable with (esp as I identified with Illyana, and it would be that clumsy teenaged boy thing of one day saying I looked a bit like Illyana (blonde + fringe) & next talking about her in a bra which freaked me out as did it MEAN anything? etc). I guess that could have been a coincidence that that change in our dynamic happened at the same time, but it was a shame that moment came from my gateway into comics)

    On Tarot’s specificity – I think I remember Claremont addressing this in the back of one of the issues – I think drawn by Sienkiewicz – in one of the “Emma Frost report cards”, where IIRC (my comics are in the attic right now) Emma says that the reliance on the tarot cards is a weakness. I always wanted that to be explored more, but then I always wanted a Hellions series too.

    On the powers – I remember a letter in the letters column complaining about how the characters had suddenly got really proficient with their powers in this run. I vaguely remember something along the lines of ‘teenagers change a lot’, which is funny, considering the mandate to de-age them…

    tl;dr? Thanks for this, I am enjoying reliving this run.

  8. I wish I could share your enthusiasm for Simonson’s New Mutants but I must admit I’m not a fan. The combination of silliness and melodrama doesn’t work for me, and all of the stories feel both drawn out and inconsequential. (Even when there are consequences!)

    I do think she handles Doug’s death in an okay way, and there’s something that *almost* works for me about the way Illyana’s descent into Darkchilde lunacy is kinda indistinguishable from the ravings of a particularly obnoxious teenage brat. But those feel like the only bright spots.

    While a lot of people lay the nosedive the series takes on Blevins’s artwork, I’ve always sort of liked it. It’s cartoony and “young” but to my eyes it has an edge darkness to it that I can really see working if the writer had tapped into this energy. (For all the issues flaws, Blevins’s art on X-Men #119 is creepy in just the right way.)

    And while Claremont’s New Mutants is about as good at it gets at its high points, I think he always had trouble nailing the tone in a long-term way. In particular, he really has a hard time with teen dialogue. I would have loved to see what a writer who really knew how to write teenagers would have been able to do with it. (It would require a time machine, but I’m thinking someone like Holly Black.)

  9. Another enjoyable episode, thank you. Some observations:

    — For those of us who were roughly the same age the New Mutants were when they debuted, it’s worth noting that the letters columns were, for many of us, the only place where we could talk about the comics we loved with like-minded people our own age. Even though most of us never got our letters published (if we wrote them at all!), we still read those letters columns religiously. It was a way to keep the story going even after the issue was done.

    — What you clued in on about Rahne quoting Reverend Craig and Dani ignoring her origin story was what made a lot of readers upset with Simonson taking over the book. There was the great sense that Claremont would never have let such character inconsistencies happen. The thing is, out-of-character actions rocked other books all the time; the Avengers and Fantastic Four were basically entirely dependent on whichever writer happened to be writing them. X-Men and the New Mutants were different; Claremont, as you’ve noted, played a hell of a long game, and so it was a treat to watch a characteristic of a character re-manifest years later to impact the plot, like some incredible Easter Egg. Little things like what you mentioned above were seen as just another example that Simonson didn’t know how to write our beloved characters, which is, ultimately, unfair since most of this was dictated to her by Marvel editorial.

    — The Doug/Rahne thing was daft on so many levels; Doug was Kitty’s age, and Rahne was 13/14 when introduced to the book, so at best you’re looking at a Senior-Frosh relationship. Also, Doug was still seen as a possible love interest for Kitty, especially once that older bastard Piotr broke her heart. Suddenly having him making googly-eyes at Rahne was yet another abrupt shift in writing, and it just felt awkward.

    — But Bird Brain. O Lord, Bird Brain. So close on the heels of Warlock, what really is there to say? I think I’m most looking forward to hearing what you have to say about what happened to Doug and why. What are the odds you can get Louise Simonson to come on the show and tell the secret-ish history?

    1. Doug was also doing Kitty one better in the relationship with an inappropriately older partner department by having a sort-of-not-quite thing with Betsy Braddock.

    2. Wasn’t Kitty at most 15 when the New Mutants started? Not sure how much time has gone by since then, but if Doug was 1-2 years older than Rahne that doesn’t seem crazy for a relationship. (Doesn’t necessarily fit with how they’d been written, though.)

      Hmm, interesting point I don’t think I’d considered before. I was the age of the younger New Mutants when that title started, and while I didn’t read it consistently (very limited comics budget in those early days) I did read it from #1. Since I was a teenager growing up in real time, it felt very right for the team to be growing up with me, so to speak. As such, I took the Simonson de-aging very, very badly. I don’t think I ever read more than an issue or two of her run, or the writer(s?) that followed her. (Mind you, I was definitely reading X-Factor in this time period, so it wasn’t a general issue with her writing.)

  10. I can’t say I’m a fan of Simonson’s New Mutants. There was some good stuff. But quite a few of the stories were just really weak.

    On Empath’s redemption, it occurred to me just as I was listening to this that Empath was a teenager. He was a spoiled, rotten bastard who was trying to define his own personality, and he’d clearly chosen “evil bastard.” Amara changed him. He found himself actually starting to care about her, and it made him rethink the identity he’d created for himself. So he did start to change. Sadly, that doesn’t really get explored in a lot of detail, and after the Hellions are killed, Empath really drops into limbo for a long time.

    Blevins . . . There are times I honestly can’t decide how I feel about his art. It really is very cartoony. And it can be a lot of fun. It can also be a little annoying. I think it depends on my mood when I read an issue. On the whole, I think I do like it, though. At the very least, there’s a lot of potential, and with better stories, he could’ve done some amazing stuff.

    Bird Boy got annoying fast. Or at least, the story got annoying fast.

    1. The Magma-Empath issue in the 60s (I want to say 62 or 63?) was where Empath really started to change. It also gave a bit of background on the character and why he was the way he was, rather than a Silver Age villain.

      I think Louise Simonson might have written the Hellions with more varied personalities (if not better) than Claremont. Sadly, I think she only wrote them for this issue and a brief appearance or two.

      Also, in the discussion about Tarot, is it worth mentioning that Dani kind of moves in on her power schtick after the Evolutionary War annual? I hadn’t really thought about it until this episode.

      Finally, a Magic the Gathering-based Tarot would always lose fights due to drawing 5 land cards in a row.

      1. Dani’s Evolutionary War upgrade was such a MESS! She can physically manifest someone’s greatest fear or desire? Suppose what the person feared was immolation, or ebola, or being hit by a truck?

  11. I only really started reading New Mutants here (having picked up 46 and 55-61 in a “Mutant Massacre/Fall of the Mutants” sale on Comixology last year). While I had also read some of the earlier stuff in some New Mutants Classic TPBs obtained from the library, I had not followed it all the way through. So I never experienced this as a tonal shift. Starting with it seemed perfectly fine to me, and I guess that shows the value in jumping on titles when the creative team shifts.

    Quick question for our hosts: do you plan to review New Mutants Forever? I haven’t read it, but I know it was collected along with New Mutants 53-54, so I figured it might take place around here (or a bit earlier). Or is it out of continuity?

    1. New Mutants Forever is ostensibly a New Mutants #55 if Claremont had never left the title, but is definitely not in continuity. Which is perhaps just as well, as it’s not very good. Which is a shame, as the notion of Nova Roma attracting the attention of escaped Nazi’s living in South America seems like an interesting one.

  12. I read all of New Mutants as back issues (it was about two years into X-Force when I went and found most of the New Mutants series in dime and quarter bins at a local comic show) and I read most of them out of order. I was 12 at the time and actually gravitated to the early Simonson issues because they were a more fun read. It wasn’t until later that I grew to love Claremont’s writing and truly appreciated the rest of the series.

    I reread the series again up to the Fall of the Mutants just a few years ago, and now I definitely agree with the tone shift being weird.

  13. Speaking about Sebastian Shaw as a sympathetic villain – I love his forced team-up with professor Xavier and Gambit in Mike Carey’s X-Men Legacy. Shortly after, however, he was mindwiped by Emma, and then picked up by Hope and her Lights, and kind of, sort of rehabilitated into a hero, and that was a bit much for me.

    I guess my question is: what did you think of that?

    I think I’d maybe like it better if it was ever resolved one way or another (as in, he became a full fledged hero, or reverted back to his old self), but as far as I know he disappeared completely after AvX. I think he was still an amnesiac good guy in his last appearance, though.

    Not really relevant, but: what is your opinion on Mike Carey’s run? You’ve often said in the podcast that you like when Xavier takes responsibility for his shitty decisions, and about a third of Carey’s run was just that.

  14. So I guess there is going to be no visual companion this week, seeing as it’s the end of the week and you’re probably working on the next episode. I’m still a fan, but you’ve pulled this shit before.

  15. Bret Blevins, I believe, is the reason Rob Liefeld became popular. After years of spindly teenagers, Liefeld — for all his many, many faults — made the heroes muscular and powerful looking.

    This means Blevins is doubly to blame.

    Rachel and / or Miles, if this is the place to ask such questions: I’ve been curious for a while now why you have reservations / are against Kitty / Peter and Doug / Psylocke but haven’t made the same sort of comments about Cannonball / Lila Cheney. I’ve always gotten the idea she’s as old as Psylocke. Given Lila’s level of fame, it seems likely she’s past college age. Sam’s just a teenager, still in mutant kinda-high-school. Yes, Lila is great, but is she getting a pass because of her style, or do you think she’s more age appropriate for Sam?

  16. JR&M-
    Alright you guys, this is COMPLETELY your fault, so you HAVE to help me. Please? Speaking of a boiled-down Illyana, my 14 year old son was playing Marvel’s Contest of Champions, pitting his Magik against an opponent’s Iron Fist, when a female classmate asked “Who’s she?” Well, my son, studious little book nerd/X-Pert-in-training that he is, proceeds to tell her the Cliff’s Notes version of the life story of Illyana Rasputin and what makes her a favorite character of his. To which she replied “Oh. So why is she dressed like a slut?” To which he, of course, had no answer. He shared this story with me as I told him goodnight. But then, thanks to YOU guys I began to really think on it. Now a year ago? I would have chuckled a dadly chuckle and left it at that. But now the back of my mind is nagging “Teachable gender equality moment?” at me. There is of course the “Because teenage boys read comics.” answer, but a narrative reason? Perhaps, because, it’s within her control to be a little shocking and out of the norm? This is a girl who, at max level, has cloven hooves and horns. She needs to perhaps have control over SOME part of her life (considering her childhood) and keep people a little off balance so if/when she goes full Darkchylde it’s not so jarring? Or am I simply justfying my habit of occasionally looking at at cartoon boobs? I know you’re not parents, but as X-Perts would you recommend turning this opportunity into a “Why it’s better that Psylocke now wears pants.” conversation? Your thoughts please.


  17. http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=10156

    I liked that you covered the culture of fan mail back in the day, and the way we had an ongoing dialog with the writers. (I’m betting a hundreds of us caught Mastermind’s shadow on the wall back in the Dark Phoenix Saga and wrote in about it.)

    I was an avid letter writer in this era, writing more than a dozen letters about The New Mutants & X-Men. I chatted with Claremont at a signing once when he rembered a 7,000 word scholarly essay I wrote about Illyana which the bullpen passed around and discussed.

    I especially appreciate the link to Simonson’s interview where she confirms a letter of mine which was published in New Mutants #78, where I pointed out that the little girl version of Illyana 0.0 after Inferno was the original “one who got away” back in Uncanny X-Men #160, and that 616 Illyana 1.0 is therefore still lurking around somewhen in Limbo, and could come back to displace Illyana 2.0 any time. (Also confirmed in a written interview with CBR “Where Has The Magik Gone?” about Magik’s return in “Mystic Arcana” in 2007)

    Cold opens have to happen for a reason, right?

  18. Hey ya’ll, I know ya’ll are more tuned into the newer storylines than I have been, and wanted to ask if Doug has even hung out with Kitty, Betty, or especially Rahne since his resurrection? I’ve seen some NM issues before the cancellation, but all three of the crushes/relationships before his death never really popped up from what I saw. Is that something that got addressed in an issue I missed? (sorry, but I didn’t know if this was better as a comment for the episode or a question to submit for the actual show)

  19. Hey, I don’t agree with the criticisms of the Doug/Rahne relationship. First, Doug is about fifteen at this point and Rahne is about fourteen, so I don’t think the age difference is a big deal. If I have that wrong, please tell me. Second, I think the criticism of their relationship being “out of the blue” is unfounded. All Doug did in this issue was tell Rahne she is pretty. Nothing else. No, he never expressed an interest in her before, but there’s no rule saying he couldn’t develop one.

  20. Has Hellion/Julian Keller ever interacted with any of the old Hellions that are still alive, specifically Empath? If not that’s a shame, since I think Empath would be such an interesting foil for him!
    They both have a lot of parallelism to one another, but Julian’s major defining traits are being loyal to almost a fault and having a strong moral code; where Manuel only cares about himself and is amoral. I think it would be so fascinating to see these characters interact and to see Julian jarred by his similarities to Manuel.

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