Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

87 – It’s Always Darkest… (Fall of the Mutants, Part 2 of 3)

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 the New Mutants learn that they are not, in fact, immortal; Louise Simonson finds her stride; the Ani-Mator makes Cameron Hodge look downright reasonable; hating humans is Magneto’s security blanket; Doug Ramsey dies; and we continue our coverage of the Fall of the Mutants.


  • Sugar Man
  • New Mutants #59-61
  • Bird Brain
  • The Ani-Mator
  • The Ani-Mates
  • Stylistic whiplash
  • Why you always leave a note
  • The death of Doug Ramsey
  • Black Condor’s amazing origin story
  • Interpersonal dynamics in New Mutants
  • Parsing ongoing series
  • Why Doug died
  • 616 characters we’d trade for their Battleworld counterparts
  • Storytelling trends and the decline of though balloons

NEXT WEEK: …Just Before Dawn

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  1. So I always resented the death of Doug Ramsey. Sure, destroying the teenage illusion of immortality was an important step and all, but I really felt like picking him out of the crowd for it was…well, my phrasing for it isn’t charitable. At all. And I always found it inexcusable that in a house full of bad-asses, NOBODY ever took Doug under their wing and taught him how to take care of himself in a fight. Not Ororo, not Logan, not Kurt. NONE of them.

    His death was doubly aggravating after his moments at the Hellfire Club party & such, where he showed new aspects of his powers & personality that would have really helped him.

    So to find out that this wasn’t so much the writer deciding she didn’t like him as it was responding to a deluge of reader feedback is pretty amazing to me. I had no idea. I don’t feel like it makes anything better in my mind, but that’s pretty interesting and it certainly changes the context. It also changes the number of people I think were horribly wrong. 🙂

    I totally agree that it was well done, even if I thought the whole Bird Boy plotline was the Jar Jar of New Mutants. But I still feel it was a terrible decision in terms of the cast.

    As an aside re: thought bubbles: I only read Marvel at this time, but I remember specifically that Larry Hama never used them in G.I. Joe (which was a HUGE success for Marvel at the time and sometimes even outsold X-Men). It was something that I never actually noticed as a young reader until it was pointed out to me.

    1. Frank Miller is also someone always pointed to as blazing the trail through Daredevil Born Again and the Dark Knight Returns. The two biggest things are first person narration and no thought bubbles.

      1. I don’t have the early issues of Miracleman handy to check, but glancing over V for Vendetta (1982) I didn’t see any thought balloons at all. I don’t know if the idea of getting rid of them was original to Moore or not, but I suspect that’s where Frank Miller got the idea from. (Much like the distinctive Sin City art style is seems heavily influenced by the original B&W V for Vendetta art.)

        1. Frank Miller was very clear that one of his primary influences was manga in general and Koike and Kojima’s “Lone Wolf and Cub” in specific. Manga generally doesn’t use thought balloons much, preferring a very cinematic approach. Miller’s ‘Ronin’ is very much him channeling that into his work.

    2. If I’m honest, I never understood the dislike for thought bubbles. To me they allowed an inner monologue and access to a characters unexpressed thoughts and feelings, without the need of a narrrator expressing things indirectly, or of someone to have the character to talk to.

      They could be used badly, as can all narrative techniques, but I think that comics lost something when they dropped out of favour.

  2. It’s weird, because I generally like where this lands, even if all the stuff around it is kinda problematic and doesn’t comfortably fit together, Doug’s death is given some weight and solidity and it does cause repercussions that will be felt pretty much to the end of the book.

    But in a weird sort of way, because nearly everything that happens in this book after this moment feels like we’re constantly wandering off from dealing with the repercussions (there’s two whole issues before we even get a proper “catch our breath post-crossover” issue) of Doug’s death and the changes in the Mutant’s relationship with Magneto never seem to happen as smoothly and build as intensely as they need to.

    It’s kind of a shame, as the book really seemed to be turning a page and going in a darker more complex direction.

    . . .and then we bugger off with Spyder and Gossamyr.

  3. Re: Brett Blevins – Ilyana with the pencil on her nose from a few issues ago is always golden. It helps makes up for the stuff I didn’t like.

    I like that Doug actually got to use off his abilities during this story. It was clearly a conscious decision knowing the outcome, but it still showed how useful he was. In the final battle, I really wish they at least showed Danielle Moonstar fighting. It’s one thing to say she’s a badass and Doug isn’t a fighter, but hiding her during the fight really calls attention to the fact that she doesn’t have powers either.

  4. Has Magneto ever had any interaction with Doug once he’d come back to life? I mean, as a story, I imagine it’d have to be one that had to have been done quickly after his resurrection, and I believe Magneto was on the good guy side of the X-Men at that time, too, so it wouldn’t have been difficult.
    Warlock’s reaction to Doug’s death was a kind of.. like, horror-chilling. It always gets me when there’s a character who genuinely doesn’t understand what death is and keeps talking to a corpse like it’s going to get up with enough prodding.

    1. Doug’s lack of appreciable interaction with ANYONE other than the New Mutants since his return is annoying.
      There is no sign of him even speaking to;
      His parents (Who must have been pretty outraged when the Xavier School was outed as a mutant school, I wonder if they were ever told the truth about how he died)
      I know Kitty and he worked together in that Phil Jimenez Wolverine story, but that’s about it.

      1. I always assumed family reunions for resurrected people happen off panel. Also the mounds of paperwork. Or maybe SHIELD has a special branch to help with the newly reliving.

        1. And it’s a sad loss that PAD never showed us that sort of thing when Doug was in X-Factor, because if any writer could….

        2. And now I REALLY want to see a Damage Control-like miniseries about “The Administrative Adventures of SHROUD” as we see the day to day running of Socialisation Hotline: Returnees from Outlying Underworld Dimensions)

  5. 16:38:

    “But he strikes me as a guy with a very specific passion, a very specific drive, who basically pulls disparate threads, and has been desperately attempting to rationalize pursuit of this passion for a long time, you know, to whoever has been writing his grants….”

    Okay, that made me LOL.

  6. You know, I never really bought Magneto’s heel turn coming up from this, but looking at those new costumes again I think they might provide all the justification needed…

  7. (Okay, going to ramble on this one, because it has a surpringly deep resonance to this day)

    Oh dear… THIS story… Back in the day, as a teenager reading #60 on the day it came out, this damn near ended me right there in the comic shop, because I don’t think I was even aware that anyone was going to die (Not reading a lot of solicitations or hoping that it was a fake out), never mind it was going to be the guy who had actually got me back into buying the New Mutants.

    I swear it was like my heart being pulled out and ripped into little pieces in front of me. It’s probably rather sad to admit that it’s still a tough one to read to this day when I am… very far from being a teenager.

    I was already disappointed by the new writing, the new artist (and thank you for highlighting how different the Ani-Mator is drawn, I’ve never been able to put my finger on it before, but the Wrightson comparison is a great one), and the way the characters seemed to be behaving, and this was the final cruel straw.

    I think in your discussion about the NM’s thinking they were immortal, overlooking that they all died _already_ back in Secret Wars II. They all knew the trauma of being killed (from the unique POV of one who is now alive enough to remember it). They know their own mortality a darn sight better than the X-Men (none of whom at that time had been through the same experience), or at least they should have been written so they were. Immortality is not something they should ever assume.

    I will give credit that Doug diving in front of a team-mate to intercept a threat was a long established pattern so his actual cause of death “fits” and that this is the one time he wasn’t wearing his graduation costume with it’s heavily padded jacket (I believe it’s later mentioned that the New Mutant style outfits the Sunder/Alysande Stuart/Amanda Sefton X-Men wear were now modified to be bulletproof, but might be wrong there, I like to think they learned from this).

    I also acknowledge that the fact Doug dies SO alone is a beautifully written, horrible scene (and as you’ll probably note in your coverage of the funeral issue, Rahne must have HEARD his last words, but paid them no attention at the time).

    Magik’s treatment of the Ani-Mator and the Smile-Faces remains one of the most terrifying of her career (though slightly cathartic as an incensed reader) and Magneto’s reaction is also excellent. The other New Mutants’ moments I’m not quite as sold on, didn’t Sam and Rahne have pretty much this conversation ages ago, when she got over her crush on him?

    Dani should be surprised, or in denial, since she never saw a death foreshadow for Doug, and that was the one and only time it failed. The later, somewhat shoehorned in addendum to explain that away never worked for me.

    Finally then, to add insult injury we get… THOSE outfits, just hideous! Rahne in purple and yellow remains an offence against god, nature and art.

    Whilst appreciating that there were external factors in play, narratively I will never understand Louise Simonson’s decision to kill Doug, out of all the New Mutants (And a long time editor expressing surprise that more people write in to complain about a character than to praise them?).

    “We just killed the most defenceless of the team/We just killed our audience identification character because some fans didn’t like him”? I confess I don’t recall speaking to many fans at the time who had that POV but that may be selective memory by now.

    From a storytelling POV I always thought that if they had killed Berto, who is, as we are constantly reminded, just as un-bulletproof as Doug, it might have had more impact. The fact that even superstrength wouldn’t save someone from the bad guys, and how the non-physical-powered characters like Doug and Dani might react to that realisation seemed like more fertile ground. Or Bird-Brain jumping in front of Rahne or Doug to protect them, who would have been A) No loss (He was dreadful) and B) Highlighted that even good intentions aren’t enough to save everyone.

    Coupled with my lack of interest in the X-Men title, and my disappointment with (what I construed as) the “Hey, if you don’t have an offensive mutatiton, you’re not worth keeping” which manifested in different ways in X-Men (Re-power Storm), New Mutants (Kill Cypher) and X-Factor (Manufacture an offensive power for Angel) my interest in the entire line waned significantly.

    You can imagine the loud sighs of disappointment this still causes me, but I should thank you for an excellent podcast in any event!

  8. Great podcast once again, even though it surprised me that you would chose that one issue to praise Louise Simonson’s writing when my own teenage reader’s appreciation at the time was very similar to Icon_UK’s.
    Actually, since you posted a scan of Magneto’s reaction, I do wish you’d posted the whole page because the top of the page was the one detail that tipped me on the wrong side of the fence I had been sitting on since Louise had taken over.
    Magneto, reacting to what happened to the X-Men in Dallas, yells at the new mutants, saying “you could have been killed” and Sam answers “WE’re OK… but… but…”(and then he lets Doug’s corpse speaks for itself)

    He just can NOT answer that. I know the letterer emphasizes “we”, so the meaning is “we, who are standing here (doug is lying down over there), are ok” or “we, who are listening to you (Doug can’t hear anymore), are ok” but really, what the Hell is that reply? If you’re a team, that one of you gets killed, and your teacher tells you you could have been killed, HOW could your first answer be “we’re OK: we meaning of course those of us who weren’t killed- are OK, because the one who was killed, however, isn’t; but you were talking to us, not to him, right?”

    I was a kid, and not reading as a literary critic, more following what was happening to people I felt I knew on the page. But THIS, I thought, is bad writing. And not only did it sound totally stupid, it added insult to injury: beyond the first illogical meaning, it also completely conveyed a sense of Doug being a second rate mutant/character: “WE -the real new mutants- are ok, but… do you remember this guy named Doug who used to hang out with us? We have bad news…”

  9. Miles as Magneto talking about calling Doug’s parents? Made me cry on the drive home last night. Bravo, guys. Great episode.

    1. I wonder what he told them, given that the eventual explanation about Doug being accidentally shot by hunters when on a class camping trip was arranged by Emma Frost’s psi-powers and the Hellfire Club’s connections and influence.

      Did he make it up on the spot?

  10. As someone whose first experience with Brett Blevins came about through this podcast–it inspired me to go buy the first “Fall of the Mutants” TPB and read these stories for the first time, for which I’m glad–I tend to find his art style considerably more palatable than most seem to–I think he’s rather great, actually. The one notable exception, though, is the sexualization mentioned in the last “New Mutants” podcast, and very notable here with the Darkchilde scenes, where she is depicted in a way that feels very 90’s Image (as opposed to, for comparison’s sake, something like Mike Grell’s Warlord of Skartaris from the mid-seventies)and oh so wrong for a character her age. What the what, Blevins?

  11. With the discussion of what triggers Magneto’s heel turns (and what works as a trigger), it makes me wish (not more than anything, but more than a lot of things), that he had been alive, kicking, and active on-camera (panel?) during Civil War – since the SHRA was (depending on who was writing it) essentially the MRA with the serial numbers filed off.

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