Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

203 – The X-Man’s Burden

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

In which the Morlocks used to have more agency, we have a surprising amount to say about the Rat King from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Archangel receives some exceptionally disturbing news, and 90s comics are all about finding the parts you love.


  • Marrow’s internal organs
  • The post-Image Exodus era
  • Judging books by their covers
  • Uncanny X-Men #291-293
  • Sexy dead girls (again)
  • The Morlock leadership vacuum
  • A significant Callisto personality retcon
  • Failures of leadership due to own-death-faking
  • The magical life and magical death of the Morlock Sewer Wizard
  • Science Made Stupid
  • Storm’s claustrophobia (again)
  • MeMe, scourge of Miles’s childhood
  • 90s Jean Grey: cartoon vs comic
  • The Br’er Rabbit Technique
  • Some unfortunate and significant continuity errors
  • Professor Xavier’s impressive upper body strength
  • Mikhail Rasputin’s genuinely terrifying mutant powers
  • Bobby Drake’s potential
  • Morlock organizational techniques
  • Mikhail Rasputin’s very bad plan
  • Jean Grey’s real talk
  • The Home for Infinite Losers
  • Piotr Rasputin, tragedy collector
  • Copyright law and Fair Use
  • Queer headcanon
  • X-beards

NEXT EPISODE: Hub from Titan Up the Defense joins Miles to talk Bronze Age X-weirdness!

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  1. “Just back from the dead, doesn’t give a shit” Jean is pretty much the byline for Tom Taylor’s “X-Men: Red” book right now. It reminds me a bunch of Original X-Factor with Jean going out with the express purpose of actively helping people. Really loving it, and I expect it’s exactly what many Jean fans have been looking for. I just hope Taylor can get Rachel away from Gold soon.

    1. Also wanted to say that, usually, I really like David Wynne’s artwork for the podcast, but THIS one? Very cool.

    2. I was introduced to the X-Men in the 90’s, and arcs like the one of this episode went a long way towards making Jean my favorite character. Just about everything she does in this particular arc is awesome and the story isn’t even remotely about her.

      I’m loving Taylor’s Jean in X-Men Red and am eagerly awaiting to see where he takes her. My only hope is that he resists the urge to Mary Sue her as Jean is a character who risks that much more than most.

  2. Yeah these Morlocks are… not good.

    Perhaps worth noting though that nearly all of the originals you mention survived the Mutant Massacre (My major irritation with the Mutant Massacre, was that only one named Morlock died and that was Annalee. The rest of the bodycount (Like Blowhard, Scaleface and Tommy the paper-thin girl) were specifically created to be killed in the MM). So Erg, Ape, Tar Baby, Beautiful Dreamer and the like etc SHOULD be there, because we know they weren’t killed.

    It’s also slightly ironic that the kid who caused all the problems here seemingly has _exactly_ the same power as Annalee did, a projecting empath who makes people feel whatever they are feeling all the time. It’s why they made Annalee and her friends live by themselves, much deeper than the other Morlocks so her powers wouldn’t affect the bulk of the Morlocks.

  3. I loved Science Made Stupid. I think my favorite part was the attempt to reconcile Creationist and Evolution theories of the development of humans.
    That or the periodic table. As a chemistry nerd, I was always fond of a good periodic table joke.

  4. So if Lobdell etc. thought the Morlocks were trapped in the sewer tunnels…. how’d they get to Callisto’s apartment?

  5. I am all in for genderqueer Quentin Quire. I’ve always read the character that way, and I can’t tell if it’s because it’s there on the page, or if it’s because QQ’s style (hair and clothes alike) is absolutely, fundamentally queer. We all have that haircut at some point in our lives.

    We’ve seen that Madrox’ dupes can have vastly different personalities and orientations, and I would love to see more of that. Give me transwoman Jamie Madrox just living her life and saying fuck you to the world.

    1. same. on both points, but especially on Quentin. I have always read him as queer/genderqueer, even before I identified as genderqueer myself. the style, the hair, the attitude, the seemingly performative attempts at straight, cis-ness….

  6. On trans or genderqueer head canons – another chance to mention Arclight!
    As a member of the Marauders they have had a number of different incarnations and appearances over the years. While their original comics appearance has a bizarre metal body suit they are pretty ‘female presenting’. Then in the third X-movie they appear in a very androgynous and delightfully punk appearance (however brief). In the Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon series Arclight appears several times and is consistently ‘male presenting’ and referred to with male pronouns.
    There again they have never been a real front and center character so I think there is still plenty of opportunity to explore and flesh out these aspects of the character without worrying about overturning established canon.
    I think there’s also an interesting thing to be explored as this is a character who has been cloned and cloned again by Sinister… it would kinda suck to be a person who wishes to transition but ends up making progress and then having to start all over again with a freshly cloned body.

    Lots to explore here.

    1. On the other hand, Sinister “rebirthing” Arclight into cloned bodies, but ones of of their desired gender might be an interesting means of securing their loyalty.

  7. My inconsequential queer head canon is that, for some reason, it often falls on Rogue to be the faculty sponsor for the Xavier/Jean Grey School QSA. Partially cause of her moms, partially because of what Kelly Thompson said about her powers and empathy, possibly because her relationship to sexuality is normative, and partially cause she’s one of the relatively more approachable faculty who doesn’t die or go evil as often as others.

    1. With Rogue there might be some difficulty communicating the issues as some of them might not be her’s but holdovers from the other personalities she’s acquired over the years (I have no idea if that’s still an issue for her).

      I remember when David “Prodigy” Alleyne came out as bi the writer had to make it VERY clear that this was _him_ and nothing to do with the many other psyches he had at least partially duplicated over the time his mutant power was active

  8. You guys had a lot of digressions in this episode. This is a good thing. I mean, we’re all here for the X-Men, but drifting off into other subjects (when done right, as you guys do) is just plain entertaining.

    Healer’s death would have to be the single most pointless of the entire era. It makes me angry. Not only did his death make no sense, but he gets insulted for it. Bah!

    By the way, Banshee’s sideburns aren’t so great in my opinion. They’re a holdover from his original design, which was a horribly racist “monkey-faced Irish” caricature.

    1. Agree on Sean, but after Corsair I’d have to nominate Jason Wyngarde for best facial hair. After all, when you can mentally project the best look possible, you’re going to present nothing but the finest mutton-chop sideburns.

      1. I’m surprised there was no love either for Magus’s or Cyclops’s Savage Land Piratical Beard. Both are utterly stellar.

    2. I also appreciated the tangents this time, which lead me on a few other mental tangents – like how the HFIL backronym completely fits with the tone of how Akira Toriyama names characters in Dragonball Z (it is harder to name a character in DBZ whose name isn’t a pun than it is to name characters whose names are puns) – or the comments about rat appearances going to cuteness not always meaning “good” and in turn to Kyubey (from Madoka Magica).

      Unfortunately, in my cursory attempts to find other neat examples of X-Men related facial hair via Google Search, most of my results ended up going to Hugh Jackman’s facial hair as Logan from the later X-Men movies and Old Man Logan – and I’ve got to say, of the various costume and character design choices to cross-pollinate between the comics and films, I’m kind of surprised Wolverine’s facial hair from the later X-Movies didn’t become more of a thing – unless I just missed it.

      (I realize that Logan’s also been dead for a bit, but still…)

    3. Weirdly, when I was a child in the early ‘80s and read Banshee’s original appearance as reprinted in Marvel UK’s “Pocket Books,” my friends and I completely ignored the racism of Banshee’s visual depiction – even though it’s very obvious -, because we were (a) happy to see an Irish character in a Marvel comic at all* and (b) because we were happy to see an Irish character in a Marvel comic with no connection to terrorism.**

      Aside from the visuals, the original isn’t too bad in this respect. He’s a total pipe-smoking “charming Irish rogue” stereotype that could be straight out of Victorian melodrama (e.g. stealing a painting because he likes it as art), but at least it’s a moderately positive stereotype. Gambit before Gambit without the creepy sexual politics, really.

      *The “Chief O’Brien” effect.

      **The other “Chief O’Brien” effect. Of course, subsequent invented backstory…

  9. If it makes you feel any better I have a headcanon about the Healer. Given his whole aesthetic, long white hair and beard, black robes, skull cap, general wizardy-ness, he was never “just” a Morlock, he was actually another one of Merlin’s disguises.

    I don’t think he debuted until around the time Merlin “died” over in Captain Britain, and Healer “died” around the same time Merlin came back in Excalibur. Co-incidendce? I think not!

  10. Current QQ, definitely.

    I’m not so sure about QQ as he originally was conceived in Riot at Xavier’s, where I think part of the point might have been that he represented a certain kind of straight cis masculinity, interacting with other aspects of the depiction — he’s one of those mutants who can pass for normal and has the traditional X-book top-of-the-hierarchy psychic powers, stated to be of the highest power level. His followers contrast.

    But that’s a version that was, I think, created very much for that particular story, and QQ as he’s been since Jason Aaron reworked him is essentially a different character altogether.

    1. That was supposed to be a reply to Robin Ell, but I must have mucked it up somehow. Apologies.

  11. Among the many things that make these issues bad is this.

    On the one hand, as our hosts note, they are hellishly sloppy and awful when they come to continuity, especially Callisto’s entire personality.

    On the other hand, this is all based on exploiting readers’ affection for continuity. The only reason to name something “The Last Morlock Story” is if you are assuming that readers care about Morlock stories. The absence of distinctive Morlock personalities plays into this: it comes across as a slapdash can’t-be-bothered assumption that the mere fact of them being Morlocks is enough for the purposes of the story, and you don’t have to engage the reader’s emotions with any of them as individuals.

    But a reader who cares about Morlocks as such to that extent Is also going to care about what Callisto is like. I don’t often think of texts as defining their implied reader with *contempt,* but this does: it seems written towards a reader whose affection for the “X-Men” is an entirely vacuous matter of surface completism, who will accept anything so long as it has the X-Men name and the recognizable characters.

    (I would never expect to have felt this, given that I didn’t care much for the chaotic mess of issues that led up this, but this even applies to the treatment of Mikhail Rasputin. I don’t know how many people there were who thought he was the sensational character find of 1991, but reading these issues managed to make me feel deep symptaht for him.)

    Against this background, all three of late-Claremont’s “I’ll plug different characters into essentially the same stories and style and call it new’, Lee’s “Let’s go back to a nostalgic X-past that never actually was!”, and Liefeld’s “[Expletive deleted] it, let’s kill the past and have new Kewl [expletive deleted]” seem so much better.

  12. Anyone else find it weird that Callisto supposedly can’t pass as a baseline human? She certainly stands out in a crowd, but I’ve never bought into the idea that most people would look at her and assume she’s a mutant.

    1. IIRC Callisto started out normative beautiful, but the scars and missing eye she got were the result of a never specified incident caused by, in her own words, her being stupid enough to think that being beautiful would be enough to allow a mutant to get by amongst humans.

      So she could still pass as human (and given her powers are not particularly visible even when using them that shouldn’t be an issue), but has no interest in doing so and would rather stand out as the representative face of the “not-pretty mutants who comprise the Morlocks

      Also IIRC some of the Morlocks were normal looking but asked Masque to disfigure them in some way so they’d be more Morlock than normal.

        1. Perhaps surprisngly, Callisto is one character who has never had her past explored in any great detail AFAIK. She’s made reference to why she’s scarred, but never details about the incident, we’ve never even found out her original name since Callisto is a name she chose for hereself.

          Uncannyxmen[dot]net has a history of her which is perhaps as good as you’ll find.

  13. Man, I can’t believe Marrow’s arc reflects Callisto’s so closely and this story considering how much it got screwed up in the end. I loved her so much until she got “fixed” by being made pretty.

    “Look! Pretty Marrow is who she was always meant to be! Ugly Marrow was wrong and disgusting, ew! And now she’s no longer angry because her beef was always tied to her looks and not the morlocks being relegated to the sewers due to their inability to live amongst the flatscans, unlike the X-Men.”

    Also, I really like the term “flatscans”. Fight me.

  14. I also wonder why X-Men editors don’t pay more consistent attention to their own continuity. My current related pet peeve is how often Hank McCoy reverts to having a cat face and/or feet even after Stuart Immonen and Brian Bendis gave him a new gorilla based form. Editor Nick Lowe definitely described the current Beast look as “gorilla” in interviews around the time of the change, and talked about wanting it to be more specific and distinctive than the old vaguely ape form. And yet artists draw Hank entirely differently all the time. Most recently in last week’s X-23 #1. Maybe Hank continues to wear an image inducer on the DL, just to mess with people?

  15. Catching up to all your podcast after taking a half a year break. When it comes to Queerheadcannons regardless of how true or not they are. One X-Men I do want to see as Queer would probably be Angel. Although I am debating between Bisexual, Pansexual, Androgenous, or Non-Binary. So many to chose from, so undecided. It is so obvious I have to wonder why hasn’t it already been done already in the comics. Only time will tell :/

  16. The Angel story doesn’t foot with Rogue kissing him in Inferno and not being able to absorb him because Apocalypse is in some way still in there. Of course, he was also blue-skinned and bald in that. While the suit might be a suit, it’s more akin to a Mutate skinsuit than a costume. Stupid 90s.

    This stuff is making me nervous. Between Bodybag telling the truth about not destroying Excalibur’s bathroom and this, among other stuff… I’ve been waiting to get to the X-Men after I gave up on them, but the attention to detail on things I know happened, textually happened… it doesn’t inspire confidence that the facts will be there when you get to things I don’t.

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