Don’t Call Him Cypher

This is a week late but it still holds true; Doug Ramsey is my favorite mutant. No, I am not going to call him Cypher and as far as I know he is still dead.  He has been my favorite mutant ever since I was a kid. Doug, and by extension the New Mutants, represented the best ideas and eventually the worst ideas of the Xverse.

It is important for mutants in the Marvel universe to be a little bit inept. Nothing annoys me more than the mutants who are completely in control of their powers. It stems from the very basis of the idea of mutants. They aren’t characters who received their powers through some strange act of fate that allows them to fulfill a destiny or make up for a past mistake. It is just chance that they are a mutant, there is no karmic quality to their origin Captain America was Steve Rogers. Spider-man was Peter Parker. Those heroes have an identity that is entirely separate from whatever costume they wear. Mutants don’t have that luxury. Their power IS them. When a mutant is wielding their power like a well-honed machine…yawn. Who wants to read about a character that has their act together?

That’s why the New Mutants always intrigued me (Doug in particular.)  He was gifted with a power that would actually be useful in the REAL WORLD. There hasn’t been a single time in my life where I have been stuck in a situation where I thought, “Man, it would be nice to be able to shoot concussive blasts out of my eyes.”  Imagine how different your life would be if you could speak any language and intuitively understand computers? Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could actually communicate with my work computer.

Doug has this incredible power but spends a lot of time being a fifth wheel, until they were able to add a character (Warlock) that heavily depended on Doug’s presence to function in the group. Doug could have lived a perfectly normal life and become rich and successful; instead he is dragged into the mutant soap opera. That is how mutants are supposed to be, dragged into scenarios. Characters want to be in the Avengers and lobby for inclusion. You end up in the New Mutants because you happen to be a mutant. Even though he didn’t quite fit into a super hero book Doug would eventually fit right into the ramshackle nature of a good mutant story. He got himself into trouble, got others out of trouble, and showed surprising skills at opportune times.  Doug would die a hero jumping in front of a bullet meant for Wolfsbane. The image of crumpled up Doug will always haunt young Tom Katers. HE WAS JUST A KID. How could Xavier let that happen?

Once you ended up in the New Mutants everything was going to be slog. Prof. Xavier wasn’t really Prof. Xavier. Your family would get kidnapped. The X-men would ignore you. The real Prof. Xavier would run off with a space tramp and leave his greatest foe (Magneto) in charge of you.

By the way, that is my second favorite Magneto story. Number one would be Grant Morrison’s New X-men run but I do love the Magneto in charge of the school period. It fit in with what I loved about the New Mutants. Here was a guy who was trying to change his life for the better and he gets tossed into a situation he isn’t suited for. Magneto wasn’t good with kids. He pushed when he should have pulled. He zigged instead of zagged. It was messy and fun. He had to explain away Doug’s death by telling the parents that he died in a hunting accident. Doug’s parents bought that. They simply accepted that their son was shot while hunting and that there was no further need to look into the issue. "Our son who was attending a prestigous school for gifted children was shot in the back while hunting? Well, not much we can do about that!" That is some goofy, messed up comics. Just the way I liked it. (Side controversy: There aren’t that many good Magneto comics stories and he has actually been mishandled for most of his history. Instead of occupying a grey area he is simply flipped back and forth between good and bad at a neck straining rate. The movies have actually been far more effective in portraying his character)

The New Mutants were the perfect counterpoint to Wolverine. I hate the “Best at what I do” line. It isn’t like Wolverine spent years perfecting being invulnerable. He doesn’t even need to know how to fight since he is virtually impossible to kill. There is plenty of drama to squeeze out of Wolverine but it isn’t the type I like from X-stories. I get tired of constant refocusing on origins and the characters perception of their origins. (Hello Hawkman!) The New Mutants were very much all about the drama of NOW. They weren’t perfectly formed characters with catchphrases. The book was like a real kid. It wandered around at times in trying to find itself. The costume changes to the weird space looking outfits? An awkward phase, like we all have.

As the years went on I lost track of the New Mutants. They became X-Force and I just lost interest. I know they brought Doug and Warlock back as some weird hybrid creature and Cannonball was in the X-men or X-Factor or X-something. It just felt too calculated to me, the drama of the inept was replaced with more conventional Xverse plot twists. I also remember a lot of cyborgs and swords. My memory may be faulty on that point.

I know that Doug Ramsey isn’t going to be in any of these X films. He isn’t flashy or sexy. No one is going to be wowed by his ability to understand Esperanto. I just hope that X-men: First Class captures a little bit of that mutant ineptitude and awkwardness that drew me in as a kid. I was drawn to the idea that these heroes DON’T know exactly what to do in a fight, both physically and mentally. They don’t even necessarily want to fight, but their life circumstances have forced them into that position. If hunting accidents are a plausible explanation for your sudden death, you are in a weird place.

Tom Katers said he was going to go see Thor. He didn't.



  1. exactly how i feel about matter eating lad.

  2. Perfect commentary, Tom. Given the right screenplay, Doug could show up in the X-Men movieverse and kick major ***. One can only dream.

  3. The point about Magneto doesn’t come up enough. His “running the school” period ended because a crossover was coming up; he all but literally said, “They need me as a bad guy now” and flew off.

  4. Nice Tom. I also recognized that unlike every other mutant Doug had an enviable ability that would actually be useful in a real world situation. I can only speak one language and can barely turn on a computer. And that was in the mid 80’s, a per like that is even more enviable now. It was a shock to see him die, but mostly because it was so simple. He just got shot, and he died. Until Warlock took over and reanimate his corpse and made it walk around. THat was some creepy shit, much worse than him actually dying. Crazy techno aliens.

  5. Doug is back.  He came back in Necrosha, & I like him better now.  He can now see “language” in anything which leads to real heavy weirdness.  What do you do with a friend who comes back from the dead because he argued a loophole in creation?

    When he first joined the New Mutants, I hated it.  He was just a normal guy who hung out with Kitty & was a computer geek.  Why is he a mutant?  Just because you hang with mutants doesn’t mean you become one, & even if you did, do you ditch your friend to hang out w/ people she hates?

  6. Saw a little of yourself in Doug did you Tom?

    Like I said in another post today- it’s different when it’s personal.


  7. @ericmci Not really. I had a very pleasant childhood, good high school experience and I was never shot.

  8. Ha- Well glad to hear it.

    But what I meant was- aren’t you the guy that says embrace change it won’t be so bad.

    Don’t worry just enjoy the stories?

    Doug IS Cypher that is the character now- he’s not dead- he’s very much alive.

    Can you embrace it?

  9. @ericmci  I think you are missing the point. I have never advocated that you continue to read everything and learn to love it.

    Douglock is someone’s favorite character, and that is cool. It doesn’t bother me. Someone loves Doug now…and that is cool. I don’t expect or believe that there is any way to to lock that character up the way I like him forever. That would be stupid and pointless. I like the stories I like and have no bitterness towards anything that happened to him.

  10. I loved Morrison’s New X-Men run right up untill Planet X I thought he handled Magneto really poorly making him addicted to kick and made him a straight out terrorist villain idk his portrayal didn’t sit right with me in that arc

  11. I’m not familiar with the New Mutants at all. I suppose I’ll catch up whenever they release an omnibus or nice hardcover of the original stuff. But I was wondering, Tom, why will you never call him Cypher? I’m guessing there’s some crazy, convoluted continuity issues with that, and some of the comments are semi-confirming it. I guess I could look on wikipedia, but there’s a 50/50 chance I’d just end up more confused.

  12. I’ll say it again- It’s different when it’s personal.

    It’s one of the best things about this medium- that it can inspire personal feelings about these characters.

    I think that actually hits “the point” spot on.


  13. The closest Marvel came to reclaiming the New Mutants feel (which died out around issue 70 of that series), was New X-Men by Kyle and Yost. It was a little darker than the original (they killed a lot of people), but they were kids with kids problems, just trying to grow up. They killed that series for no good reason (part of one of the line reboots) and replaced it with Young X-Men which was quite amazingly awful. The “No More Mutants” has really put a damper on more mutant schooling. The latest effort (Generation Hope) is definitely not it.

  14. @JimBilly4  I stopped Generation Hope after issue #2. Couldn’t handle the Akira.

    I don’t want to seem old fashioned but is it me or are all the characters completely lame? Generation X was such a fun comic way back when.

  15. I always thought Doug could have been one of the more useful characters on the team if he was written a little better. The thing is, if you think about it, his power is really pretty awesome. The problem is, it was taken very literally. He was just written as somebody who could speak any language. But think about it: isn’t body language a language? Doug would be able to “read” people based on their body language. He would know if they were lying, aggravated, hostile, happy, etc. Also, he would be able to read body language and allow him to anticipate his opponents moves. He would know what his opponent was going to do in a fight before it happened. He should have been written as a really useful character. instead, he was just kind of there. 

  16. Great article, Tom. Doug’s death was my very first comic book gut punch. And then the next issue was the funeral where Warlock starts trying to animate Dead Doug and he walks around like a zombie. I was enjoying the recent NEw Mutants book until they brought back to new “body language fan fiction Doug”. It was just an example of how sometimes they don’t get how powerful a good character can be instead of a superpower.

  17. Original Doug was a great character.  Cursed with a mutant power that has no direct combat use.  However he could run the Danger Room better than anyone else.  His death was huge deal.  I am really glad that he came back and now much more cynical than scared.  The way Doug is written now, I could see him leading the New Mutants instead of Sam.