Marvel's Fallen Angels miniseries, released in 1987, is a good microcosm of Marvel's commercial and artistic fortunes in the 1980s. Marvel had a big hit with The X-Men, which they spun off into The New Mutants, and which they then spun off into the Fallen Angels mini-series.

"Mutants" were widely popular in the comic book fandom in the 1980s. They were misfits who were trapped in a world they never made, which allowed writers to make serious social statements, and for Marvel to make money. The X-Men had surpassed The Fantastic Four as Marvel's "family" super group, with angst filled, complex plots.

One thing I have observed is that the social commentary aspect of the X-Men is much more noticeable in retrospect. Commentators later may have annotated the X-Men and friends as stand-ins for youth subcultures or LGBT youth, but if you read most X-Men comic books from the 1980s, it is about a group of people living in a gigantic mansion with a jetplane that flew into space. It was, most of the time, pretty standard comic-book fare.

Which brings us to the Fallen Angels. One way to look at this story is as Jo Duffy really taking the mutants-as-outcast thing seriously. Roberto de Costa is a runaway, 14 years old, a minority who is not a native English speaker, who falls in with a bad group of people. These are The Fallen Angels, a group of petty thieves who live in a "clubhouse" that is both grimy, and, this being the 1980s, glitzy. One of the more interesting and realistic characters that Roberto meets is Chance, a young Korean runaway who fled a thinly-disguised Unification Church (called "The Glorification Church" in the comic). Although it is not explicitly stated, Chance appears that she might be a lesbian. Along with Boom Boom, another runaway mutant, it seems that Roberto's descent into the gritty streets of New York, away from the alien invasions and futuristic environs of the X-Men compound, might be a way to tell a more personal, and socially relevant story.

But then we get Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur. We get Gomi, with two cybernetically enhanced lobster friends. We get The Vanisher, a C-List Marvel villain who lives down to his name by not contributing anything to the plot. And the plot, which starts out in the alleys of New York City, recenters to be about a space alien named Ariel who can teleport between dimensions, and takes our angsty teenagers to an interdimensional club that looks like it came from Miami Vice. What could have been a story that told a relatively realistic, street-level story about teenagers growing up outside of the categories of Heroes and Villains turns into a weird tour through Marvel continuity. The story whiplashes through the same type of weird interdimensional shenanigans that happen every few issues in any other Marvel comic book. Marvel can only tell a serious story as long as the forget to interject a clone into a story. (And yes, this story has a clone, of sorts).

Not that I mind. This is what you sign up for when you read a Marvel comic book. The real story is in the background, in the nest of connections that Marvel established decades ago, and you are only skimming off the surface. Was this story started as a serious story, that later got piled on with other ideas? Or did the Editor-in-Chief come across a file of characters that he needed to assert copyright over, and hand it to Jo Duffy to do as she pleased? No one probably knows, but while the result is somewhat uneven, I don't object.