Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

147 – The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

Art by David Wynne. Buy prints at Redbubble, or contact David to purchase the original!

In which the New Mutants get a new status quo (and new costumes); we have deeply mixed feelings about Rob Liefeld; Cable is the comprehensive sex-ed to Xavier’s staunch denial and Magneto’s abstinence-only; Rictor gets a new dad by right of arms; and you should totally come party with us at Emerald City Comic Con!


  • Feral Wolverine
  • Jay & Miles at Emerald City Comic Con
  • New Mutants #90, 91, 93, and 94
  • Early Rob Liefeld
  • Caliban vs. Sabretooth
  • Vertical spreads
  • Stately Xavier Ruins
  • How to confuse Freedom Force
  • Imaginary fashions of the early ’90s
  • How Rictor’s father may or may not have died
  • The New Mutants’ new uniforms
  • A lovingly-rendered butt
  • Improv with Apocalypse
  • The mystery of Rictor’s shirt
  • Seismic weaving
  • The Japanese branch of the MLF (Kamikaze, Sumo, and Dragoness)
  • The Mutual Liberation Front
  • Diana, Warrior Princess (again)
  • Several kisses
  • Sleet

NEXT EPISODE: X-Factor Fights Yuppie LARPers or Something

CORRECTION: In this episode, Jay referred to Bob Harras as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel in 1990. Tom DeFalco was in fact Editor-in-Chief; Harras was the X-Men line editor.

The visual companion to this episode will be up later this week!

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  1. Rictor’s vest always annoyed me. Even back as a teenager I couldn’t believe such an obvious error was allowed through. You have literally hit the issue where I stopped describing New Mutants as my favourite comic.

  2. I really do hope you guys do Doom Force Special #1. The whole “shirt disappears due to using powers” is taking to a strange extreme in Doom Force where the main characters clothing goes from Liefeld-esque costumes to S&M Gear to tiny leather straps in proportion to how they use superpowers.

    I think Jay would have so much fun pointing out when Walt Simonson is actively aping Liefeld for such comedic effect.

  3. I know you two were joking that Cable was Rictor’s dad… but I think that’s EXACTLY what was being set up. Rictor lost a dad and Cable lost a son in some sort of weird Tie-Fighter battle. Couldn’t that be because they WERE the father and son? Each thought the other died, but both survived. It reminds me of Cyclops and Corsair. That’s what I’m thinking, anyway.

  4. The only criticism I have about this episode is that now I have to wait an entire week to listen to the next one.

    Also, every time there’s an Emerald City con I can’t go to (because of the inconvenience of living on another continent) a leprechaun dies.
    But one of these days… One of these days I’ll plan a trip to the US… And then you’ll see. *shake hands in villainous rage*

  5. That’s pretty cool to hear about Lenore Zann! I live about an hour from Truro and had no idea about that connection.

    I used to completely ignore this era of New Mutants because it always made me sad. Also when I was collecting the series as a kid in the mid 90s these issues were usually more expensive. The only issue I had was #92 which I can’t wait to hear your take on in the future. I almost didn’t even read these issues before the episode but I found them entertaining. So many weird moments that I appreciate on a new level now.

  6. I’m happy to know that Jay and I have pretty much the exact same critique of Nolan’s Batman.

    Also, maybe Rictor is secretly a Sailor Senshi? Or has similar powers? Their clothes tend to appear/disappear depending on how powerful they are…

    1. Side note: If there’s a way to edit comments, please let me know so I stop adding stuff I think of later as replies to earlier posts….

      I just want to note how much I respect how you’re beginning to approach the 90s. I think it’d be easy to just do the cliche critiques (Liefeld’s feet), but both of your approaches (Miles’s insistence to find the good bits even among the headaches, Jay’s vocalization of critiques as very tangible issues that have objective problems rather than merely whining about style) are going to make this decade feel fresh and also appeal to those of us who may have nostalgia for it (darnit, the summer of Onslaught was cool to a 10-year-old) despite its MANY MANY flaws.

  7. The coloring in New Mutants #92 and #93 does really weird things with shading and lighting — I didn’t remember the coloring being like this in New Mutants, as I associate it with early X-Force (X-Force #4, what the hell is even happening?!).

    1. I know that very late New Mutants and early X-Force tend to blur together in my mind–there’s a lot that I associate muddily with that year but not one or the other title.

  8. Fascinating info about the Lenore Zane. For interested folks, The Podcasts “Saturday morning rewind” has an interview with her as well as some interviews with some of the other voice actors from the 90s animated series. Including the voices of Jubilee, Storm, and Gambit.

  9. Liefeld. Ugh. So awful. Even aside from the horrible anatomy, I find his work really posed and static. For all people talk about it being “dynamic,” it doesn’t feel that way to me. And Liefeld was a terrible visual storyteller. Also, holy hell, his tendency to recycle poses. Especially one pose. Legs wide, arms spread, bet slightly. That one pose.

    The new costumes are not great. But that’s nothing new. These kids just have such poor luck with costumes. And these are arguably their least-terrible so far, which is sad.

    Nicieza! I like his work. He’s a great writer. He did some great work in the ’90s. (Even aside from his X-work, he was probably one of the best Marvel writers of the ’90s. New Warriors was great, and his run on Nomad was fantastic, and really socially aware. One issue was focused on cross-dressers, and it wasn’t laughing at them at all. It treated them sympathetically. This was in the early ’90s. So that’s pretty great.) Between Nicieza and Lobdell, I think Nicieza was the better writer overall, though Lobdell did some of my absolute favourite single issues. Like, ever.

    Cable vs. Wolverine is a fun fight. It’s always fun to see those two go at it.

    The fact that the Canadian Parliament has Rogue in it makes me happy. We’re great like that.

    I think another reason so many female heroes have Bad Girl periods is so they can be redeemed by men. It’s just another part of the Women In Refrigerators trope, where trauma happens to women in order to motivate men. So a woman goes bad so the guy can angst about it, or else she starts bad but turns to good because she loves the guy so much. But yeah, luckily, we’re moving away from that. So you get the new Wasp, who was raised by bad people, but is an irrepressible bundle of light and joy.

  10. This podcast reminded of how visceral and immediate my reaction was to Liefeld’s work. I couldn’t stand these comics, didn’t buy them, but I didn’t need any visual reference to remember Sunspots garish uniform, like it was branded in the back of my brain. If nothing else Liefeld’s work is memorable. There is a primal thrill to his crudeness, I’ve realized, as if the doodles one crafted in spiral notebooks during interminable middle school classes were projected into widescreen action cinema. But like Jay I am repelled by the overwhelming volume of bad choices.

  11. One of the many reasons I didn’t warm to Cable was the fact that they kept establishing him bad-assness by revealing existing characters who had had multiple dealings with him in the past and who had just never mentioned meeting the man mountain cyborg with the glowing eye, X motif costume covered with grenades and a gun the size of a minivan to anybody ever…. and you think that’s the sort of thing that might just crop up in conversation every now and again.

    It seemed to be a lazy way to establish his credentials and ended up like watching “Murder, She Wrote” and meeting yet ANOTHER of Jessica Fletcher’s “very best friends when we were growing up”.

    BTW did they explain WHY Sunfire got in touch with the New Mutants to help sort out Madripoor drug operations? They don’t seem like the go-to people for that.

    1. Yeah, agreed. They’re trying REALLY hard at this point to prove how very cool Cable is; and it backfires tremendously, at least for me as a reader.

      1. Not just that, but there’s a very Mary Sue scent to him, with every character almost instantly talking about how cool and smart and awesome Cable is. Like they can’t stand to have anyone actively dislike him for any period of time, or let the audience develop admiration of him through storytelling. Cable gets shoved down the audiences’s throat with loud proclamations that he’s the best and we should all be amazed and proud that he deigns to have is with his muscley presence.

  12. I disagree strongly with the idea that female heroes go darkside or are ambiguous more often than male characters; in fact, I’ve always thought it was the opposite. Female villains tend to have their crimes minimized or whitewashed. I feel like it’s the heterosexual male equivalent of what fandom tends to do to characters like Loki: sexualized and woobified. Look at the evolution of characters like Emma Frost, Mystique (PARTICULARLY in the movies), and Frenzy.

    Society is afraid of powerful women, yes, but it also has trouble believing that they even exist. Society doesn’t credit women with the power to harm. When it does, that power is often specifically sexual in nature: women have power because they can seduce, or break hearts, whereas men have power because they can kill or injure.

    Characters of any gender, especially in X-Men, tend to vary between alignments, but it seems to me that male characters tend to gravitate towards their original alignments, whereas female characters tend to gravitate towards being good guys. Jean Grey went through a villain phase once, yes, but that was a pretty short period of time for such a long-running characters – and Angel did too. Scott Summers is going through a dark period right now too. Wolverine and Professor X have ALWAYS been in a dark period. And on the flip side, there are characters like Ororo and Kitty Pryde who’ve never really been villainous or shady the way Psylocke is.

    1. I think the difference is that Emma, Mystique and Frenzy were introduced as villains. Whatever their powers or motivations, they had chosen to act in ways contrary to societal norms from the outset.

      So they are villains who have reformed (to one extent or another) in some cases with, I agree, quite startling levels of “brushing some of that bad behaviour under the carpet”. Emma talks about owning her decisions, but AFAIK hasn’t spent a single day in court for the deaths she caused as the White Queen of the Hellfire Club.)

      That’s a distinct trope from the notion of a powerful, heroic woman becoming evil simply because she was powerful.

      Jean is the patron saint of this one of course, Dark Phoenix may not have lasted long, but killed billions in the process and that tends to leave a mark on a character. It has certainly impacted on every version of Jean since then, how many times have we seen her power take a raptor shape with the ever present threat of “what she might become”.

      And let’s not even start on the Madelyne Pryor scenario.

      Magik might be another example I think, the constant clash between her 2/5 human – 3/5 demonic nature was always going to end badly, but even then in the end the way the writers chose to deal with her achieving her full demonic power was not by having her deal and cope with it and move on, or transforming it into something NOT evil, but by erasing the entirety of her narrative and reducing her to a little girl again.

      The Scarlet Witch is the most obvious example of the genre in recent years. Despite years of loyal and heroic service in the Avengers, during which she married, had children and then lost the children in a horrific John Byrne plot, she had got through that, and had continued as a heroine and done even more great deeds.

      Randomly retconning in “Wanda was always mentally unstable and emotionally fragile” to make Avengers Dissassembled have some vague form of justification was one of the worst examples of throwing a character under the plot bus I can think of.

      (There are I am sure many interesting stories to be told about how someone whose power is fundamentally reworking probability and reality relates to a world that only exists as it does because of their current mood, but this was not it. (The 1980’s Marvel miniseries Spellbound had a woman who gained the power to create or or destroy anything on a whim and it had a cumulatively negative impact on her mindset (It also had a cameo from Lila Cheney and the New Mutants, but that’s not important right now))

      Can Wanda going evil be compared to something like Xavier going evil as Onslaught? Possibly, though IIRC the Onslaught story was quick to make it clear that Onslaught was not created by Xavier going darkside and shutting down Magneto’s mind, but by Magneto corrupting Xavier’s mind during the shut down, thus more or less absolving Xavier of guilt in a way that I don’t think Wanda never was.

      Storm hasn’t gone evil that way (that I recall), but we have seen her, in her “goddess” days, feeling that she was above and apart from the rest of humanity because of how powerful she was.

      Gosh that rambled on a bit, sorry.

      Certainly not seeking to invalidate your counterpoints, especially about the visibility (or lack thereof) of powerful women, which is sadly true, but I do think the original point stands.

      1. Thanks for the detailed, well-thought out reply! I’m gonna quote liberally here and try to respond to it bit by bit.

        “That’s a distinct trope from the notion of a powerful, heroic woman becoming evil simply because she was powerful.”
        My point is that it’s the exact opposite trope. It also, IMO, happens too often to female villains.

        “Can Wanda going evil be compared to something like Xavier going evil as Onslaught? Possibly, though IIRC the Onslaught story was quick to make it clear that Onslaught was not created by Xavier going darkside and shutting down Magneto’s mind, but by Magneto corrupting Xavier’s mind during the shut down, thus more or less absolving Xavier of guilt in a way that I don’t think Wanda never was.”
        I wasn’t really thinking of the Onslaught incident when I brought of Xavier – I was thinking of the constant reveals of “oh no, the Professor kept a horrible secret from us!” which have, cumulatively, contributed to X being a much darker character than, say, Storm. I wasn’t really thinking of Jean, either, I was thinking more of Betsy’s general shadiness.

        But with that said, I think Onslaught does have SOME parallels with the Dark Phoenix Saga, and I would also point to Archangel and AvX Scott Summers as other examples of the same thing happening to male characters.

        “Randomly retconning in “Wanda was always mentally unstable and emotionally fragile” to make Avengers Dissassembled have some vague form of justification was one of the worst examples of throwing a character under the plot bus I can think of.”
        I hear you, man. I’m not here to defend Avengers Disassembled, that’s for sure.

        I haven’t done a detailed analysis of which characters switch alignment which ways, but I did run the numbers on basic gender/alignment, and it did bear out my assumption that there is a bigger gender gap among villains than among heroes. Here’s my chart: https://68.media.tumblr.com/8dce259700de6a5ab97c1e46935dc16c/tumblr_oltxiqUuqX1tksm6bo1_1280.png

        My further hypothesis is that female villains /do/ become heroes more often than female heroes become villains. I also suspect, although this would probably be impossible to quantify, that female heroes are less likely to be antiheroes (I would not count Jean or Rogue as antiheroes, villain phases notwithstanding) than male ones.

        I’m gonna try to run some more numbers after I sleep, maybe I’ll also have some more put-together thoughts then too.

  13. I’m re-listening to some older episodes to continue to help with my X-men literacy and thus have a Belated question Re: the origin and differentiation of the morlocks vs. x-men. My first exposure was the cartoon and the difference there was that they didn’t look human and thus lived below ground. On the podcast you’ve mentioned the dark Beast created a machine that created them off some tech he stole. But in describing some of the morlocks they don’t seem to all be non-human in appearance. Is it a biological difference or is it just a community of like minded mutants? Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

    1. The Dark Beast origin was retconned in a couple of decades after the Morlocks were introduced. Up until then they had “simply” been a mutant population who had rejected life in the world above and chose to live in the tunnels.

      Some were social outcasts because of their powers and/or appearances, some simply preferred it. Some went so far as to have their physical appearance altered and made less “normal” by Masque. Otherwise thery were common or garden mutants.

        1. Sharing one’s geek knowledge is all part of the service here! 🙂

          (Oh, and being corrected on your geek knowledge by those even more geeky/knowledgeable, as I’ve found more than a few times! 🙂 )

  14. How the hell does Richter’s “power to shatter things” increase ‘geometrically’?! What does that even mean??? Seriously. What. Does. It. Mean? Are shapes easier to shatter?

    1. When something increases geometrically, that means it increases via geometric progression. That is to say, Richter’s power increases faster than it would if it increased arithmetically, but not as fast as it would if it increased exponentially.

      1. You’re correct except for the last bit. Geometric increase and exponential increase mean the same thing.

  15. I have been mildly puzzled for a long time about those Morlock tunnels. Maybe I missed something, but my impression is that they were established early on as being under New York City, but later they are under the X-Mansion. I kind of recall it being established that they were so extensive that they literally ran from NYC to North Salem, but that’s at least 45 miles! Who dug secret tunnels that long? Maybe one writer didn’t realize it was that far, and they established it into canon, and no one ever bothered to think about it later — just “hey, we need a story in the tunnels, they’re under the mansion, right”?

    1. I guess I always had the vague impression that they were two different tunnel systems, and maybe they were at one point but later got accidentally merged…

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