New Mutants (1983) #64
For this Sunday Classics, we go deep into the issue that deals directly with the grief of our “team supreme on the loose again” around the death of old-time member Doug, a boy that could talk any language. The scenario is his funeral, and the plot, “Night of the Living Death”, but too real to be on a TV screen.
Before you read further, I want to warn you that I’m gonna get into sensitive topics in this review, talking about personal experiences with grief and the communal experience of it by LGBT+ (and specially trans) communities.
A lot of people look at the death of Doug Ramsey in the ‘Fall Of The Mutants’ event as one of the pivotal stories of loss, grief and shared trauma within New Mutants, and that story closes its last page in this self-contained issue. What Louise “Weezie” Simonson crafted in this arc, with the outlandish expressionist art of Bret Blevins, dramatically detailed inking of Terry Austin, sparkling colors of Glynis Oliver and trembling emotive lettering of Tom Orzechowski, and under Ann Nocenti’s editorial guidance, is one of the most humane stories a superhero comic has gotten into. A bullet hit the mutant who did not have extraordinary powers. The mundane entering the metaphoric in a visual explosion of tears and shook. Silence.
New Mutants #64 is a whole three issues after we already dealt with the aftermath of Doug’s death. And grief is here again. I remember when I read this comic for the first time as a kid I was… bothered by it. Challenged. I was comfortable going back to supernatural storylines, self-contained issues, “monster of the week” stuff, I didn’t wanna be faced with the literal coffin. But, the second time I went back to it, other feelings started to grow on me… empathy, comfort, healing, understanding. As all the crushing tears, effulgent pain and mundane terror of this issue accompanied me during the years, I began to read it to feel less lonely.
I dealt with the loss of a family member when I was eight, and as a trans person, death has gradually become part of my experience of community. Our (almost always too young) numbers are out there. Death of someone I knew, even if by little, has always been a sudden numbness of my body to a certain memory. And then my body reacting to it again, with a hope for change, by any means necessary. I’m also Rahne in the first pages of this story, reliving the scene in a fictional fight against the monster again, pushing a different outcome. Hoping for the kind of joy she gets just before getting crushed back into reality, when the cries start and the panel turns full blue.
The sci-fi and almost surreal feel of this comic helps portray the desperate feelings of grief that too many times are otherworldly, too difficult to conceptualize, as each of the New Mutants deals with a burial recurring to their own rationalizations or fantasies of escaping grief. After we get exposed to Rahne and Illyana’s pain in character-defining scenes that mirror each other, the metaphorical element of this comic takes a central picture in Warlock, Doug’s merging soulmate. In a kind of Frankenstein tale with Warlock as protagonist, he tries to alleviate everyone’s pain by an idea that burst of ‘Night of the Living Death’, the Christian upbringing of his teammates and the New Mutants’ collective sorrow, and he desperately tries to turn all of that into a clear motive, a solution, an explanation. Warlock is the face of grief that predates its understanding, and that just wants for death to not be true. It’s a face of death I was very aware of when I was a kid, and it’s the one that kept me going back to this issue for that feeling of comprehension.
Warlock’s close to caricature pacing in the comic is carefully detailed by Bret Blevins so it contrasts with the sorrow but isn’t parodic nor does it break the very real sentiment that he closely gets to understand as the issue unfolds. And it’s that care and detail to everyone’s emotions and body language that makes this one of the most heartrending issues for both Blevins art, Austin’s inks and Glynis’ colors, that bring a vivid and deep contrast to the first-plane reality.
This is one of the best visual stories on the irrationality of grief ever made, including the open end of Illyana’s trauma unraveling that Weezie would close issues later in Inferno. And it’s also one that speaks to me of that grief too common on LGBT+ communities, as this too young boy gets killed in a way that has not always been safe to even say out loud, that is suspected by strangers to “be his fault” and that is, ultimately, an unfair tragedy product of the world we live in.
New Mutants#64 is one of the most heartfelt and empathetic visual stories about grief, and it couldn't be done in a better way than this. I'm grateful for this comic that has accompanied me in all unfairnesses.
SUNDAY CLASSICS: Dealing With Grief in NEW MUTANTS #64
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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