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Thursday, March 13, 2014

X-amining New Mutants #60

"Suspended Ani-mation!"
February 1987

In a Nutshell
The death of Doug Ramsey 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Bret Blevins
Inker: Terry Austin 
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
The Animator brings the captured New Mutants deeper into his complex, where he imprisons them before ordering his Animates to destroy a failed batch of fellow creatures. Back in New York, Magneto flies off to the Hellfire Club to use their equipment to search for the missing New Mutants. Meanwhile, Roberto and Warlock discover the maps their friends had been studying and deduce their relative location. Leaving a note for Magneto, they fly off to find their teammates. Meanwhile, the Animator is contacted by Cameron Hodge, seeking reassurance that the Animator is still working to find a way to stop mutations. Though he insists he is, Hodge decides to visit the island himself. Worried the Right will usurp his work, the Animator decides to flee. But when the New Mutants convince the Animates guarding them that the Animator intends to kill the Animates, they break free and overpower the Animates. Believing they've won, the New Mutants prepare to take an elevator to the island's surface, but when it opens, Hodge and a group of Right soldiers emerge.


The New Mutants are quickly re-captured and given inhibitor helmets, and Hodge orders his soldiers to purge the island. However, Bird-Brain leads the Animates against the soldiers. On the surface, the Animates help free the New Mutants just as Roberto and Warlock arrive. As the battle rages, Doug watches from behind a rock as the Animator shoots at an unsuspecting Rahne. Doug leaps out, pushing Rahne out of the way and taking the bullet himself. The battle turning, Hodge orders a retreat, but a tentacled Animate in the ocean grabs the plane as it prepares to bomb the island and drags it underwater. Back on the island, Bird-Brain wrestles with the Animator, seizing the animal skull he wears, declaring himself the leader of the Animates. As the New Mutants celebrate their victory, they discover Doug, dead from the gunshot wound. An enraged Illyana prepares to shoot the Animator, but Rahne insists they need to be better than that, so Illyana sends him to Limbo instead. As the Animates argue over whether or not they're human, Sam tells them it's the choices they make which make them human. He says the Animates have chosen what they'll be, and have earned the right to name themselves, just as Doug would have wanted. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Doug dies in this issue, taking a bullet meant for Rahne shot by the Animator during the New Mutants' fight with the Right. He is the first New Mutants character to die, and the first X-Men character in general to die since Jean Grey. Though Simonson has said she always had a plan in mind to eventually resurrect Doug (basically, he'd be revived by the techno-organic virus, which he was hinted at having acquired not too long ago), she won't get a chance to do so before leaving the book, and as a result, Doug's death stood for a relatively long time.


In the 90s, Excalibur will feature Douglock, a techno-organic being who looks like Doug and seemingly possess his memories, but he will eventually be revealed to instead be a resurrected Warlock, taking Doug's form. Eventually, Doug will be brought back for real, as part of 2009's "Necrosha" event, and he remains a part of the larger X-universe today. But for a good chunk of time there, Doug stood alongside Thunderbird as one of the few examples of a character death that stuck in the X-Men universe. 

Cameron Hodge, leading a force of armored Smiley Face Right soldiers, appears in this issue. In the wake of both recent issues of X-Factor (in which the X-Factor kids were captured but escaped) and the fight with the New Mutants in this issue, Hodge officially abandons the Right's "capture young mutants, study them, and use them for our own purposes" plan and basically devotes the organization to the straight-up genocide of mutants, a mission it will attempt to carry out in all future appearances.


Hodge once more seemingly dies,  though we'll eventually learn he's once again escaped death.

A Work in Progress
As of this issue, the Animator has added an increased level of spittle and pixie boots to his menacing repertoire.


Somehow, a net is able to contain Sam, because he can't steer while trapped inside it. Even though his whole schtick early in the book was that he had a hard time steering, net or not.


Also, while the New Mutants are eventually placed in tubes which are strong enough to contain Sam's blast and Rahne's werewolf-strength while allowing the Animator to use gas to keep Illyana sedated and unable to teleport away, prior to that, the New Mutants are simply held in large shackles around their necks and hands, and no reason is given for why Illyana simply doesn't teleport everyone off the island at that point. Later, after the New Mutants break free, but before the Right arrives, Illyana even teleports back to the mansion for Magneto, but never considers bringing everyone home with her. And of course, in the battle with the Right in which Doug is killed, Illyana is one of the first New Mutants freed from her inhibitor helmet, yet once again stays and fights whether then sending everyone home.


Rahne spends a few panels in this issue angsting over losing control while in her animal form. 


Magneto leaves for the Hellfire Club this issue, to use their equipment to try and track down the New Mutants (since Cerebro is still damaged), something which puzzles Roberto and Warlock, as they were absent when Magneto formally joined the club.


For what it's worth, we get an origin of the Animator this issue.


The Right uses the same inhibitor helmets on the New Mutants that they used on the X-Factor kids in X-Factor #22-23.

Even Hodge thinks the Animator is a joke.


Artistic Achievements
Rahne's hybrid werewolf form tends to get a depicted differently by every artist; I genuinely like Blevins take on it, as seen in this panel.


Louise Simonson on the death of Doug Ramsey
"The artists hated Doug, because he never did anything! He wasn't fun to draw. He just stood around and hid behind a tree during a fight. And the only time he didn't hide he got killed. It just goes to show! Every artist to ever draw him said 'can't we kill this guy?' We would get letters from fans about how much they hated him. We never got any letters from people saying they liked him until he was dead."

Grant, Paul J. "Poor Dead Doug, And Other Mutant Memories." Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty July 1993: p68.

"I loved him so much he had to die. This was one of my big experiments. Doug had the transmode virus, so really you shouldn't have been able to kill him anyway, right? He would just come back in some other form: a Warlockian form. So killing him was not that big a deal. I never kill a character if I don't know how I'm going to bring him back because it's comic books, after all. We'd gotten a lot of letters from readers who hated him and thought he was boring, thought his powers are stupid and blah blah blah. They wanted us to kill him and there is nothing I like more than pleasing my readers. Lightning is going to strike me! Also, he was a difficult character to write and to draw. He was not a visual character. His powers were mental. He could translate languages, which meant to get him to use his powers, you had fool around every issue and have him translate something and that gets a little old after a while. So there were a lot of reasons for Doug to go away."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. pp149-150

Teebore's Take
Poor dead Doug indeed.

This issue attempts to add some gravitas to the current "New Mutants are somehow menaced by a dingbat in animal skins" plotline in two ways. First, it follows through on the Animator's connection to the Right by porting over Cameron Hodge, complete with armored Smiley Face goons, from Simonson's X-Factor. Though little is ultimately made of thiss (Hodge and company mainly show up for a fight scene, say "nuts to this" and leave, never quite taking it seriously in a genuinely entertaining approach), it does give the New Mutants a credible opponent in the Right soldiers (I can buy that the armored Right guys can overpower the New Mutants; the Animator, not so much), and any effort to to further strengthen the connections between the X-titles, especially given their various status quos at this time, is appreciated.

The other attempt to add gravitas to the story is the death of Doug. This one doesn't work quite as well. On paper, it makes sense: killing off one of your main characters is a pretty easy and obvious way to say "hey! The stakes of this story have never been higher! It is an important story in the history of these characters!" (it's a technique superhero comics' will overuse to the point of comedy in the 00s), and Doug is an easy mark: his power isn't flashy, making him visually boring and a pain for artists to draw, and Simonson maintains she received plenty of letters from readers asking her to kill off Doug. If you're going to kill any New Mutant to lend an otherwise mundance crossover story some oomph, Doug is pretty good candidate.

But even putting aside the fact that killing a character to make your story feel more important isn't just easy and obvious, it's also lazy, the reasons for killing Doug specifically are the exact same as the reasons against killing him. You don't kill him specifically because it's the obvious move. It also doesn't help that Doug's death suffers from poor micro-plotting in this issue: there's no good reason Warlock doesn't immediately form himself into armor for Doug the moment he arrives on the island (like he's done countless times before) or that Illyana doesn't teleport all the New Mutants and the Animates off the island the moment she regains her senses (or, conversely, sends the Animator, Hodge and the Right to Limbo) except for the fact that if either of those things happen, Doug won't die.

But the most important reason you don't kill Dough is because, for however much artists may not like drawing him, there's still potential in that character. He has strong connections to Warlock, Kitty and Psylocke, and a budding relationship with Rahne that's been one of the more well-rendered elements, in terms of characterization, of Simonson's run thus far. He has a unique and interesting power that, while not visually flashy, lends itself to the book's "students first" aesthetic, and it's not that difficult to craft situations that allow him to shine (Claremont did it on several occasions), especially when he can just team-up with Warlock in the situations where his power isn't as useful.

He does at least get to go out a hero, saving Rahne, but the story simply doesn't provide enough justification for why that situation had to play out the way it did. There was more to Doug than being the guy who can't shoot energy blasts or lift cars, and he deserved more than to be one of the franchise's first cases of "event fodder".

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the Horsemen of Apocalypse run amok in X-Factor #25. Next week, the X-Men battle the Adversary in Uncanny X-Men #227 and the New Mutants deal with the fallout of Doug's death in New Mutants #61.

24 comments:

  1. One thing I like about this issue is that Simonson pulls the old "character gets killed but no one notices until after the fight is over" trick, which is always a good stunt. You think your heroes have won, and only afterward, as they begin their celebration, do you (or they) realize that one of their number didn't survive the fight.

    (I almost had a typo that said "didn't survive the right", which, ironically, would have also been appropriate here.)

    Also, I continue to love Blevins's expressive faces. Look at Illyana in those pictures you posted! He did such a good job of making her look pseudo-demonic even while she was a "normal" girl.

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  2. @Matt: You think your heroes have won, and only afterward, as they begin their celebration, do you (or they) realize that one of their number didn't survive the fight.

    I like that too. As I'll discuss next issue and/or for issue #64, I do think Simonson handles Doug's death well - it's given appropriate weight and everyone is given a chance to react to it, a far cry from most event fodder deaths that happen these days and quickly get swept aside. I just wish she hadn't killed him off in the first place.

    He did such a good job of making her look pseudo-demonic even while she was a "normal" girl.

    Indeed. And while I maintain the tone of this story overall is lacking relative to the events in the other two titles, I can't deny Blevins fits this particular story well.

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  3. I didn't notice until someone else reviewed these issues what you also point out here, about how the use of Illyana's powers is inconsistent, and that that inconsistency is the only way for the story to work out the way it does.

    Which I guess just goes to show that I've never read these issues all that critically. I feel sheepish about my vehement defense of this era of New Mutants.

    (That said, I still like these issues better than the concurrent X-Factor ones.

    *X-Factor Rant Forthcoming in One Week*

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  4. (Though I do agree with Matt about Blevins. Still love his facial expressions and his use of body language.)

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  5. Again, Illyana doesn't use her scrying pool to find Magneto. What are the limits on the thing? They might just say it can only find whatever the plot requires.

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  6. Man, this issue.


    Doesnt Illyana travel through time AND space? Isn't she the sorcerer supreme of her own dimension?

    Doesnt Rahne have enhanced smelling even when in human form?

    It seems like everyone had forgotten how there powers worked.

    Also, Doug is the MOST useful member of the team. He works in any situation: hacking computers, talking to aliens, thrown into the far past or the far future,foreign lands, etc. If you really need him to be more dynamic, give him fire arms or make him take karate.

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  7. "after the New Mutants break free, but before the Right arrives, Illyana even teleports back to the mansion for Magneto, but never considers bringing everyone home with her."

    One of the more grating plot holes of this issue. Granted, these are teenagers, but still.

    Also, was I the only who thought when Ilyana was asking herself if Magento noticed where they were gone, where was he, etc, "Maybe he noticed and is out looking for you and your friends, you silly twit!"

    "For what it's worth, we get an origin of the Animator this issue."

    And Hodge is even nice enough to provide us with a slide show as well! I wonder if he and Apocalypse use the same program. And if you think about it, its hilarious that he is providing a slide show of the the Animator's origin to...the Animator. Just in case he forgot his own origin.

    "Even Hodge thinks the Animator is a joke."

    Which makes it even harder to take him seriously as a threat.

    "and any effort to to further strengthen the connections between the X-titles, especially given their various status quos at this time, is appreciated."

    True, but it doesn't really pay-off until we get to the X-tinction Agenda (especially once the X-factor trainees have ended up joining the NM).

    "One thing I like about this issue is that Simonson pulls the old "character gets killed but no one notices until after the fight is over" trick, which is always a good stunt. You think your heroes have won, and only afterward, as they begin their celebration, do you (or they) realize that one of their number didn't survive the fight."

    Why, its almost like having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory...

    "If you really need him to be more dynamic, give him fire arms or make him take karate."

    Well, now that Doug is back, they are emphasizing his ability to read a person's body language (like the Cassandra Cain version of Batgirl), so he is at least a more formidable hand to hand combatant.

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  8. @branden: If you really need him to be more dynamic, give him fire arms

    We all saw the nineties and should be rather thankful that they didn't give him massive fire arms, cybernetic limbs, some latent telecinetics and put him through a time grinder and bring him back as his older self to lead his former teammates under another moniker starting with a C.

    Someone somewhere was commenting about Doug's mutant power that with the computerized world of the 90s and forward he wouldn't have been the team weakling anymore but a (too?) massive overkill.

    So considering between those options, maybe it wasn't so bad a thing as it happened that by his death he kind of got immortalized as the powerless hang-aroung POV character for all these flashy mighty mutants, because that is the what the reader would be if he got to hang around with his (or her) comic book heroes. I don't wonder there was loads of complaint mail coming in after his death, because with this one it was driving it a little to close to home.

    Funny thing really, but it's kind of hard to think about him without Warlock coming up. Warlock, who for Doug was, when you think about it, a sentient suit of extraterresial origin, but unlike with that other all-time favorite teenage hero, also his best friend. It pays to be gifted with languages.

    As a fitting obituary for our young mutant, my captha for the post is "translated ungpule", ironically explicitly asked for a person to prove he's not a robot.

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  9. @Teemu

    There is a wide gulf between those two extremes. They easily could have gone the Kitty Pryde route by making him a badass over night.

    Also, Cable is the most marvelously convoluted character ever created. :)

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  10. You're right, branden, but I somewhat deliberately limited my options there. ;) Though about the instant ninjafication, doesn't that come only in girl sizes in the X-world?

    The Cable connection was a bit of innocent fun, but a minute ago I had a fridge brilliance moment: prior his alleged death Doug was suspected to have this certain condition in his body, and soon after he's conveniently cleared away, cometh Cable, who has this certain condition in his body...

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  11. Everything that Teebore & Teemu said about why killing Doug Ramsey was a bad idea echoes anything I'd say, so I'll just second it all. I do believe that Louise Simonson wasn't lying when she said she was calling fans' bluff; I used to think she was, but between his constant presence on "lame superhero" lists created by Cracked & Cracked wanna-bes, I see she was probably 100% honest. Plus, even as far as X-Tinction Agenda, her resurrection plan was pretty clear. I still think it was bad, short-sighted storytelling that cost me a favorite character. Still, props to Blevins for the art in his death scene being suitably horrifying.

    "If you really need him to be more dynamic, give him fire arms or make him take karate."

    It's worth noting that Claremont had Doug state both Xavier & Magneto had him train extra-hard in hand-to-hand combat in the fairly blah New Mutants Forever miniseries. That should have been made clear from the issue after he joined, frankly; it would've made him the equivalent of the Legion's Karate Kid - low-lever powers bolstered by martial arts prowess.

    The appearance of Hodge & the Right always struck me as such an afterthought. It felt like Simonson realized that her villain for the crossover just wasn't threatening enough & had to bolster him with a more established one. I always had a weird soft spot for Hodge (he's such a gleeful slimeball), but it still felt random & arbitrary to involve him.

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  12. Teemu,

    "The Cable connection was a bit of innocent fun, but a minute ago I had a fridge brilliance moment: prior his alleged death Doug was suspected to have this certain condition in his body, and soon after he's conveniently cleared away, cometh Cable, who has this certain condition in his body..."

    That would have been amazing, especially considering that Cable didn't have any known powers until X-Force 1.

    This issue is the only Simonson/ Blevins New Mutants comic I own. It's telling that I couldn't remember anything about it beyond Doug's death.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  13. Yeah, guys, I'm officially calling it now: go check X-Men Annual 10, the one where Mojo de-aged the X-Men and take a long look at Cypher's graduation (coming-of-age, hem, hem!) costume. A technical-looking vest with lots of pockets. A goddamn thigh pouch. A freaking visor!, just for to taunt us all. "yeah i'm summers lol"

    He won't even allow Wolfsbane into X-Force because he's learned now she would just get him killed.

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  14. One other problem with this issue- how is dumping the Ani-mator in Limbo to be tortured for the rest of his life any better than killing him?

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  15. It's sad that no one really used Doug's powers to full potential until after he came back. Basically, no one back then realized that his powers couldn't just be applied to written or spoken language, but also BODY language. (Thought this was hinted at when Doug won big at a casino, using his powers to "read" his opponents moves and tells). So basically, if Louise Simonson had put a bit more thought into it, Doug could have had the second (third if you count the pre-Crisis one) Batgirl's powerset years before her debut.

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  16. A few thoughts from the perennial straggler:

    I finally realized whose color scheme Bird-Boy reminded me of: DC's Firehawk. Her name is Lorraine Reilly, and Happy St. Patrick's Day to her.

    Aren't tranquilizer darts in a rapid-fire weapon that goes "budda-budda-budda" gonna do a lot more than tranquilize, considering both volume of drug and sheer velocity?

    I'm not sure if you're keeping track of these things, Teebore, but on Pg. 30 Warlock arrives as a Popeye rocket and paraphrases his theme song.

    I pretty much agree with the general consensus here on the convenience of everyone forgetting how to use their powers (or sometimes apparently just forgetting to use them, period) as well as on the lameness of killing off Doug from a storytelling perspective. I'll just add that Illyana's jaunt to the mansion is even more hilariously pathetic when she triumphantly returns with a baseball bat.

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  17. Teemu,

    I've long maintained that X-Men Annual 10 is the Rosetta stone of X-Men in the '80s. Liefeld, Jim Lee, and others looked at Art Adams's costume design, the "everybody fights each other!" plot, and Adams's anatomy and went, "ooooh!"

    Art Adams did it better, naturally, but reading that comic after growing up in the Image Era (1989-1994, from prominent X-Books work to the year we all wised up) was eye-opening.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  18. @ Mike: I've long maintained that X-Men Annual 10 is the Rosetta stone of X-Men in the '80s. Liefeld, Jim Lee, and others looked at Art Adams's costume design, the "everybody fights each other!" plot, and Adams's anatomy and went, "ooooh!"

    Ha! Not only are you making an extremely valid point, but reading this I realize it can't be a mere coincidence that a comment on the heavily X-Men oriented Avengers Annual 10 post on the awesome Supermegamonkey comics chronology site raises one Captain America panel by Michael Golden as an obvious pointer where Todd MacFarlane got his influences.

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  19. @ Mike: I've long maintained that X-Men Annual 10 is the Rosetta stone of X-Men in the '80s. Liefeld, Jim Lee, and others looked at Art Adams's costume design, the "everybody fights each other!" plot, and Adams's anatomy and went, "ooooh!"

    Ha! Not only are you making an extremely valid point, but reading this I realize it can't be a mere coincidence that a comment on the heavily X-Men oriented Avengers Annual 10 post on the awesome Supermegamonkey comics chronology site raises one Captain America panel by Michael Golden as an obvious pointer where Todd MacFarlane got his influences.

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  20. @Anonymous: Again, Illyana doesn't use her scrying pool to find Magneto. What are the limits on the thing? They might just say it can only find whatever the plot requires.

    Pretty much, yeah. Especially since she *just* used it to find Colossus in X-Men #225.

    @Branden: Doesnt Illyana travel through time AND space?

    Yes, though her ability to travel through time has always been portrayed as being wonkier than her ability to travel through space (which has gotten better as the series progresses), so I'm willing to let the "not going back in time to save Doug" thing go, since that's a rabbit hole that just leads to the deconstruction of the entire narrative.

    Basically, she travels through time when doing so causes problems, not fixes them, and I'm okay with that from a storytelling perspective.

    If you really need him to be more dynamic, give him fire arms or make him take karate.

    Yeah, as wwk5d mentions, they pretty much went the karate route when they brought him back, having him read body language and such so that he became a decent hand-to-hand fighter. Which is something that easily could have been done in this era if someone had bothered to take a second to think of it instead of complaining that Doug was boring and useless, especially since the New Mutants as a team don't really have a skilled fighter type.

    And of course, if Doug had survived at least a few more years, than his whole "good with computers" schtick would have made him pretty indispensable.

    @wwk5d: One of the more grating plot holes of this issue. Granted, these are teenagers, but still.

    You can chalk up a plot hole or two to "their teenagers", especially in this book. But when the issue is rife with them, that excuse only works for so long.

    was I the only who thought when Ilyana was asking herself if Magento noticed where they were gone, where was he, etc, "Maybe he noticed and is out looking for you and your friends, you silly twit!"

    No, you weren't. :)

    @Teemu: prior his alleged death Doug was suspected to have this certain condition in his body, and soon after he's conveniently cleared away, cometh Cable, who has this certain condition in his body...

    I'm not 100% sure, but I think a resurrected Cypher was one of the possibilities teased for Cable's identity (possibly in "Days of Future Present?), back in the days when teasing Cable's identity was a thing but before the X-office had settled on Cyclops' son.

    take a long look at Cypher's graduation (coming-of-age, hem, hem!) costume. A technical-looking vest with lots of pockets. A goddamn thigh pouch. A freaking visor!, just for to taunt us all. "yeah i'm summers lol"

    Ha! You're right, that costume is surprisingly Cable-esque.

    Also, thanks for the mention of the SuperMegaMonkey site - I hadn't seen that before, and now will spend far too much time exploring it. :)

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  21. @Mela: I do believe that Louise Simonson wasn't lying when she said she was calling fans' bluff

    Ditto. I've heard her talk about in interviews, and she does sound like she genuinely liked Doug, had every intention of bringing him back, and is sad that she never got the chance to do so.

    I always had a weird soft spot for Hodge (he's such a gleeful slimeball)

    Me too. He's easily my favorite of the various "human with a zealous hatred of mutants" villains.

    @Anonymous: One other problem with this issue- how is dumping the Ani-mator in Limbo to be tortured for the rest of his life any better than killing him?

    It's really not, though I guess it still allows Illyana's hands to stay technically clean.

    @FuryofFirestorm: So basically, if Louise Simonson had put a bit more thought into it, Doug could have had the second (third if you count the pre-Crisis one) Batgirl's powerset years before her debut.

    Exactly. There are plenty of ways to use Doug's powers in cool and clever ways. It just takes slightly more work than, say, having Sam cannonball into something.

    @Blam: Aren't tranquilizer darts in a rapid-fire weapon that goes "budda-budda-budda" gonna do a lot more than tranquilize, considering both volume of drug and sheer velocity?

    Even if they were drugless, I'd hate to get shot by needles fired from a gun, even if it didn't kill me.

    I'm not sure if you're keeping track of these things, Teebore, but on Pg. 30 Warlock arrives as a Popeye rocket and paraphrases his theme song.

    I totally missed that.

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  22. "I think a resurrected Cypher was one of the possibilities teased for Cable's identity (possibly in "Days of Future Present?)"

    I always thought the tease in that series was that Cable maybe would have turned into Ahab.

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  23. @wwk5d: I always thought the tease in that series was that Cable maybe would have turned into Ahab.

    That tease is definitely in that series. I just wasn't sure if there was also a "Cable is Doug" tease as well. Or even that there WAS a "Cable is Doug" tease at some point.

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  24. Cable as Ahab would essentially be the son of Scott Summers and Jean Grey doing nasty stuff on his alternate reality sister/female counterpart Rachel(if we live in the Cable = Nathan Summers canonized imaginary world), and effectively a harsher version of the young Kitty/older Kate temporal lesbian masturbation thingy that CC slipped in the end of DoFP making Byrne quite mad.

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