In which the Juggernaut is advancing on the X-Men’s island home of Utopia, and can’t be stopped on his slow march of destruction. Cyclops has thrown hundreds of ideas and powers at the supernaturally-charged villain without success, and the last hope he has is that Colossus can beat Juggernaut at his own game.

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Colossus is a martyr to the cause. It’s become one of his primary traits, that this giant hulking man is the gentlest member of the X-Men and the first to sacrifice himself whenever the situation calls for it. He’s always made strange choices, but nothing is more defining than when he chose to take the Legacy Virus. By injecting himself with the virus and activating his mutant powers, Colossus was able to create the cure for the illness within his body, saving mutantkind from what had been a fairly credible threat to their entire community. In the process, though, he was killed by the virus himself.

He took the virus because his sister, Illyana, had been killed by it previously and he didn’t want any more mutants to suffer, and those are two traits which recur throughout his subsequent appearances – and yes, he did ‘recover’ from being killed and came back to life, because that’s what X-Men do. Since comic back, and especially since his sister also came back to life, the two things which have dominated his character arc have been “sacrifices himself” and “protects his sister”. When Fear Itself came round and Juggernaut was given supernatural powers so he could go destroy the X-Men, Kieron Gillen saw a chance to once more bring those two traits together for a single story.

As the final part of the story, every one of Cyclops’ plans to stop Juggernaut before he walks to the island of Utopia and destroys it…. has failed. The only plan left was for the X-Men to go to Cyttorak and persuade him to take away Juggernaut’s power at the source. Magik planned to take the power in his place, but Colossus stepped in and sacrificed himself so she wouldn’t have to – the obvious decision based on his character history. Colossus becomes the new Juggernaut, and is sent to go fight the old Juggernaut to a standstill.

What makes this sacrifice different from all his other sacrifices, though, is that he keeps living through it. Being possessed by a demon is hell, but he’s also conscious and aware of the decision. As he fights Juggernaut, his narrative captions openly celebrate, in effect, the joy of being a martyr. He seems to relish having given over control of his life once more, and having the power to fight and fight against Juggernaut. He speaks in terms of addiction, with the first intention that we’re to read this as Colossus being addicted to battle because of his possession by Cyttorak. Instead, though, it becomes clear that Gillen is actually writing Colossus as a man addicted to personal sacrifice.

Later in the issue, once the threat has been beaten and Colossus sits calmly in his own ruin, the X-Men find him and discuss his choice. Cyclops is upset that Colossus sacrificed himself,but mainly because he’s worried with how the power might corrupt his friend. The more important conversation is between Peter and Kitty, who is more disappointed than everything else. They’re dating again at the time of this story, and now she’s seen her boyfriend once more choose sacrifice over himself. It’s not exactly the sort of thing you want to see from your partner, is it?

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Kitty is aware of Colossus’ tendency to self-sacrifice as well as his overprotection of Illyana, and is uniquely qualified to tell him off about both. She quite rightly points out that something is wrong with the reincarnated Illyana – which will become important once the series relaunches in a few months and Magik’s plan comes to fruition – and that Peter’s martyr-happy approach to life isn’t any kind of approach to life at all. We’ve already seen that he seems to openly rejoice at being the person who sacrifices himself at every turn through his fight with Juggernaut, which comes across as a huge release of repressed energy from the Russian. Now, we see that he doesn’t even react to Kitty dumping him.

It’s an important moment for the character, because it shows how broken he’s become since he was resurrected by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday years before. Colossus can’t even muster a tear at losing the greatest love of his life, because he seems to be so much more invested in living the life of a martyr. In a sense – as Kitty suggests – this is what he’s actually wanted all along. He doesn’t want to live his life and be happy. He wants to give himself up to a greater cause. That choice of what defines “greater”, however, is misguided, and Kitty’s right to want to distance herself from him. If he can’t consider others when he does his big heroic self-sacrifice, what is he even sacrificing to begin with?

Cyclops says that he would have taken the sacrifice himself, no question, if that’s what was needed to save the X-Men, and there’s a clear parallel between the two men. Both of them have people who need them and rely on them, but they’re both more than open about the fact that they’ll give it all up in favour of their vague cause. The idea of heroic sacrifice is something that both characters are all too aware of – we all know Cyclops’ dating history – but that they’re immediately invested in sacrifice as one of their first options is damaging to both themselves and their cause.

It’s spelt out clearly in the issue: somebody sacrificing themself to become the new Juggernaut was Cyclops’ thirteenth plan. He had hundreds of plans in mind for taking down Juggernaut, and one of his most immediate thoughts was “somebody has to do a heroic sacrifice”. The X-Men’s survival instincts have been replaced by suicidal instincts, in a sense, and their increasingly militaristic approach to life has meant that they’ve lost sight of what it is to live, love, and be free. That’s the real sacrifice here, and it’s a relief to see Kitty reject it and move on with her life. If you aren’t living, then your sacrifices don’t mean a thing.

Uncanny X-Men #543 “Fear Itself, Part 4”
Written by Kieron Gillen
Pencilled by Greg Land
Inked by Jay Leisten
Coloured by Justin Ponsor
Lettered by Joe Caramagna

Number #543 was chosen at random by Ted Brandt.

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