X-Men Book Club: What Ever Happened to Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher?

So, let’s talk about Cypher,” said Nola. “Who the hell is that? Oh wait. Never mind! I know … I think?” Wendy replied, scratching her head. “I only really know of him because of the Phalanx Covenant business where he worked with/became Douglock or … Something … ?”

And that, folks, is how our very first X-Men Book Club came to be. Hang out with us as Nola Pfau and Kayleigh Hearn take Wendy Browne and Claire Napier to Xavier’s School for Gifted Mutants—wait, it’s Jean Grey’s School for Gifted Mutants now, right?—to learn about some of the X-Men Claire and Wendy may have overlooked in the past, and discover what the X-Men they did know and love are up to now.

First up on our list is Douglas Ramsey, who was created in 1984 by Chris Claremont and Sal Buscema for the New Mutants series.

New Mutants Annual #3 1987
New Mutants Annual #3 (Marvel Comics, 1987)

Kayleigh: Cypher, frequently cited by fanboys as one of the worst X-Men of all time! But why? Does he deserve it?

Claire: No, but he’s also not interesting. He’s like the junior version of what Rosie [Knight] sees as the use for Cyclops—just mister normal, there for comparison. Useful, but dull.

To be fair, I also first/mostly encountered him in retrospect, post-mortem. He was the X-Men’s first teenage death, right? I can’t remember if the Phalanx Covenant was before or after he died, but what I mean is that he’s a definitive plus one! Doug … and Kitty. Doug … and Warlock. Doug … and Rahne. Doug … and Betsy. He is a supporting character, a piece of the furniture.

Kayleigh: Doug’s passive mutant power to understand languages made him pretty unique next to the characters who had adamantium claws or could shoot force beams from their eyes, and his presence among the New Mutants was a potent reminder that they were supposed to be students first, not warriors. (Of course, we know how well that worked out.) He was a little milquetoast, yeah, but underrated as the normie on the team and possible audience POV character.

Wendy: He seemed like a plot convenience because of his abilities … whatever those are. But I never got a sense of who he was as a person and never cared enough to find out. His existence served only to move the Phalanx Covenant plot along, and that was good enough for me at the time.

Nola: He was their first teenage death, yes—well before the Phalanx Covenant; which didn’t happen until 1994. Ramsey died in New Mutants #60, after taking a bullet meant for Rahne Sinclair. Worse, neither Rahne nor the rest of the team noticed his death at first. His best buddy Warlock died a couple of years later in New Mutants #97, and Phalanx Covenant was the vehicle through which both characters were brought back—after a fashion.

The death of Doug Ramsey in New Mutants #60 (Marvel Comics, 1988)
The death of Doug Ramsey in New Mutants #60 (Marvel Comics, 1988)

Claire: I’m never sure about which arc titles attach to which arcs. I bought Days of Future Past in 2005 expecting it to be about Bishop, thanks to the Animated Series, and since then it’s been awfully hard to be sure which is what.

Doug first turns up as a Kitty Pryde supporting character, as I recall? An apparently non-mutant local teenager, a fellow genius with whom she can discuss computers and feel like someone of a normal age instead of the baby of the X-Men. He gets used as a stick in the wheels of the Colossus-Kitty “romance,” as Piotr’s unfounded jealousy over her age-appropriate playmate is making him frown just before he’s whipped off to Space in Secret Wars, from where he comes back a bereaved lover with a heart full of alien. How he gets reintroduced after that, I don’t know (I’m an X-Men fan, not a New Mutants one), but he’s barely there at this stage. A name, a face, some attributes to be discussed, but not a character on the page.

Douglock in Excalibur Annual #2 (Marvel Comics, 1994)
Douglock in Excalibur Annual #2 (Marvel Comics, 1994)

Nola: You’d like the issue where he first pops up, Claire, it’s got the New Mutants and Xavier both very deservedly reading Kitty the riot act. I was listening to an interview with Louise Simonson the other day, actually, and it’s funny—apparently no one liked Doug back then, either. She used to get letters all the time telling her to get rid of him. The voices of support didn’t actually turn up until after he died. He stayed dead a long time, too—the Douglock that turned up after Phalanx Covenant turned out to just be Warlock with some of Doug’s memories, and Doug himself wasn’t resurrected until Necrosha, in the late oughts. After that it seems like he’s stayed true to his first appearance—there’s just not much there. He bounces around from book to book because no one seems sure what to do with him.

Kayleigh: Honestly, I wonder how much latent homophobia had to do with all the cries to get rid of Cypher. He was a twinky comic book kid who didn’t meet the hypermasculine standards of most male superheroes. He didn’t blow stuff up with his powers, he didn’t like violence, and while he had canon crushes on Betsy and Rahne there’s an undeniably homoerotic element to Doug merging physically with Warlock and sharing his “life energy” (despite the risk of contracting a dangerous virus—look, the ‘80s are not subtle). Whatever his flaws as a character, there’s a kind of mean-spiritedness behind it that reminds me of the whole 1-900-Robin-Dies publicity stunt. Like, why did readers want to kill off these teenage boys, again?

Claire: I think that’s a fair question, Kayleigh. Was he brought back at the same age he was when he died? How old is he supposed to be now?

Nola: I’m not sure what his canonical age is these days; save that he’s firmly, generically “adult,” now. When he was brought back (properly, in Necrosha) he got a significant power upgrade, his ability to translate any language apparently now applies to body language as well, which somehow also translates to him being a master martial artist.

Claire: Hahahaha. Someone read some Batgirl, I guess. Taking cues from DC all over the shop!

ANYWAY, the reason we all gathered here today was that time I saw a picture of Doug Ramsey looking fifty years old and bad for it, and I believe that may have been from this latest mentioned run, “Weapon Lost,” whatever that means. (Whatever that is, I don’t like that title. It sounds like it’s pretending it’s a pun? But it’s just … nothing.) Explain this to me. Explain to me why Doug Ramsey, who died a clear-faced teen, is now looking like he’s lived in a cave eating bats while—and this is a significant while—Kitty Pryde is having baby-skinned wedding days and looking like that old adage “you’re only as old as the guys controlling your reality allow you to be.” Explain it to me!! He’s fucking HAGGARD.

A disheveled Doug Ramsey in Hunt for Wolverine: Weapon Lost #3 (Marvel Comics, 2018)
Hunt for Wolverine: Weapon Lost #3 (Marvel Comics, 2018)

Kayleigh: One of Doug’s tragedies is that he was a character who missed his time; if he had been created a few years later when the internet was just taking off, he could have taken an Oracle-like role for X-Force or something. So here we have a Doug finally in the internet age, and writer Charles Soule takes a very boring and stereotypical route by portraying Doug as a shut-in internet addict who gets savaged by a Wolverine-lookalike android. Considering he’s the only actual mutant in this miniseries named after Wolverine, his treatment here seems especially cruel, like the writer literally just kicking him because he thinks he sucks. Honestly, I just feel defensive of every mutant like Cypher or Dazzler or Jubilee who are frequently named on “Who’s the Worst X-Man Ever?” lists like the real answer isn’t Iceman.

Nola: Honestly, same. I mentioned to Claire while reading this mini that I find a lot of Soule’s work … vaguely offensive. Not in that I feel targeted or injured in any way, but in that I think he writes with a carelessness and a lack of respect for the material he’s working with. In the same way it is possible to be too beholden to canon, I think it’s also possible to be too free of it, and it’s a trap he falls into repeatedly. I also get frustrated with people who don’t like Cypher because a guy who speaks any language—including computer languages—in the modern age is a guy who potentially has a lot of power. Doug could bring down AIM, HYDRA, Roxxon, any of these organizations by himself. He could just digitally walk into any of their mainframes and take whatever information he wanted. It’s bizarre to me that he hasn’t been leveraged in this capacity. Besides, the worst X-Man is clearly Havok.

Claire: The worst X-Man character is definitely Deathbird, but I have to go with Kayleigh on the worst Actual X-Man. Havok’s just a bad person.

Speaking of Havok … what is the worst Summers brother ever up to these days …

Series NavigationX-Men Book Club: Havok Makes Us Cry >>
Nola Pfau

Nola Pfau

Nola is a bad influence. She can be found on twitter at @nolapfau, where she's usually making bad (really, absolutely terrible) jokes and occasionally sharing adorable pictures of her dog.

7 thoughts on “X-Men Book Club: What Ever Happened to Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher?

  1. I haven’t even born when the original New Mutants were published, but Cypher’s definitely one of my favourite Marvel characters. I really liked him in the 2009 New Mutant series. I also read Weapon Lost and was so disappointed–Doug deserves way better than that. BTW, can I translate this interesting piece into Chinese so that more people can learn about him? I will put a link back here as soon as I finish. Thanks!

  2. I wept when Doug died. That comic meant a lot to me, and his death, inauspicious as it was, shocked me. That was my first comic book hero death and it was so conventional. He was shot to death in an arc about another weird character, Bird Boy, by the.. animator? Some weird portmanteau name. I loved Cypher and identified with him as being this seemingly normal person in a room full of fantastically brighter, more powerful people and I never found him boring. As an adult, I think of him as the gateway, the boy adventurer with all the other more mature heroes. But then, I also like Cyclops.

  3. I was definitely a New Mutants reader back in the day, and when they killed Doug Ramsey that was one of the bricks in my own personal ‘comic books will always disappoint you’ wall.

      1. I want to say I stuck with it for a little while longer. Checking wiki, I definitely remember reading issue 64), but when Liefeld came in I bailed pretty quickly. And it was about 1992-ish when I went on my first (of several) hiatus from superheroes because they had gotten too 90s for me and have only read a couple X-books since.

        As for the 2018 version, I haven’t and almost certainly won’t read it, but my reckons are how can you have a Doug Ramsey without a Warlock?

        1. If Doug with Warlock is what you’re after, you might check out All New X-Factor from a few years ago–that has both of them on the team.

          1. Big time Cypher (and Warlock) fan here (Seriously I collect art and commissions of them). I first read Doug in the New Mutants when i was a teenage boy too, and really warmed to the non-martial powered mutant with a skillset I could sort of relate to. (and the subtext of the "selfsoulfriends" merging was NOT lost on me as a gay kid)

            The fact he was so ordinary made him,perhaps, the best auidience identification character the series has had. His parents weren’t supervillains, or mutants, or demon bears, or abusive assholes. Kitty was a genius at astrophysics (IIRC) and most kids don’t even know what that is, Doug’s specialisation was languages and everyone dones languages of some sort at school.

            All that plus the world’s most passive mutation, which meant that even using his powers to the utmost, he’d still look like an ordinary everyday teenage kid, but Sentinels would target him as much as they would Wolverine or Storm.

            The decision to kill off the most obviously kill-able character never sat right with me, though I give full credit to Lousise Simonson for giving his death some gravitas and impact… sort of.

            In fairness, he was reading body language back when Claremont was writing him (he was pretty much impossible to bluff at poker, since he could detect lying that way).

            Soule’s treatment of Cypher in "Hunt for Wolverine" did not impress me, though it _might_ be looking up in his new role as Daredevil support character, but it’s still too early to tell for sure.

            Anyway, thank’s for reminding the world he’s still out there (After the second longest run as a dead X-mutant ever, Thunderbird still wins that one)

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