BOSTON -- When the obituaries for Ms. Magazine were written last fall, it was hard to go into deep mourning.
The founding magazine of feminism had been, to put it kindly, floundering. With a revolving door of owners, a dearth of advertisers and a variety of magazines nibbling at its demographics, it was no longer must reading. The early ''click'' of original insight had turned into the ho-hum of predictability.
In fact, the last cover of the old Ms. featured Glenn Close with a headline that should have been banned from the sisterhood subscription list: ''Move Over, Meryl. Glenn's Got It!''
Ms. had lost its edge. But then the '80s had lost their edge. Where was the edge anyway?
The magazine suffered from the same success and failure syndrome as the movement. On the one hand, you could find feminism in Women's Day. On the other hand, social activists were busy power-dressing, finding babysitters and joining 12-step programs to conquer stress.
The only true reason to rue the demise of the magazine was that it still carried the feminist standard. There was a vague uneasiness that the death of Ms. would be used as another indication of the decline of the movement.
Now Ms. is back. It's not the same magazine. It's not even a magazine. Robin Morgan, its new editor, calls it a ''magabook.''
But it is ad-free -- or as Morgan says, ''Free at last, thank God almighty, free at last'' -- and on its way to finding a new sense of self. ''If the magazine was to go on imitating its imitators,'' says the editor, ''it was past its time. Now we're in a totally different place. Ms. will go back to the cutting edge.''
It's hard to find that razor-sharp edge of original insight in these pages. Maybe we have moved beyond surprise. But at least two pieces in the first issue are worth the price of admission. The first is an article rich in black humor about the relationship between the old Ms. and its would-be, or rather wouldn't-be, advertisers. Gloria Steinem, the founding editor, tells all about the unholy alliance between women's magazines and advertisers, and her failure at bucking it.
Her best story about the difficulty of selling a feminist audience takes place at lunch with Leonard Lauder, president of Estee Lauder. At some point, he explained, Ms. readers are not ''our women.'' Why not? Because, he told Steinem, Estee Lauder is selling ''a kept-woman mentality.'' But 60 percent of his cosmetics customers work, she countered. But, he answered, they would like to be kept women.
The second piece is an essay on ageism and feminism that has enough hard truths to make many younger readers squirm in recognition. The 76-year-old author, Barbara Macdonald, draws some uncomfortable images of the ways younger women plug their elders into sacrificial family roles.
''The old woman is at the other end of that motherhood myth. She must not fight for her own issues -- if she fights at all it must be for 'future generations.' Her greatest joy is seen as giving all to her grandchildren.'' Macdonald's voice is strong, honest, fresh -- the sound that we called ''angry'' when it came from younger women in a younger Ms.
What is newest in the magazine is its international flavor, including some fine reporting on women in Eastern Europe by one of their own. There is also rather wifty piece or two (circa 1970s) including one on the relationship between meat and male dominance called: Postpatriarchal Eating. Oh, well.
Early on, Ms. did seed work. Today nearly every robotype envelope in America comes addressed Ms., and even Glamour magazine is running pieces about fetal rights and sexual violence between its perennial worries about hair and hemlines.
The magazine that took these issues to the mainstream is no longer targeting a mass audience. As Suzanne Braun Levine, the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review who once edited Ms., says, ''The old Ms. tried to catch the potential of readers who didn't know they were feminists. The new Ms. is written, if not for the converted, for the well-disposed.''
The old magazine had a circulation of nearly half a million. To stay afloat, the magabook wants fewer good women, 100,000 readers, who will pay $30 to $40 for six issues a year.
There may always be a conflict between the mass market and marketplace of ideas. The new magazine is less glossy, less hip than Ms. at its best but more focused than Ms. in its long schizy decline. After a bit of rest and regrouping, Ms. is entering a second phase. It's called ''promising.''