By Cori McCreery
So, here’s the thing. Over the course of 2020, I read over 6,000 issues of X-Men related content. I read everything from X-Men #1 in 1963 to the newest weekly additions to Reign of X. When I started this project, my favorite mutant was Kate Pryde. I didn’t expect that to change… but it did.
Somewhere around War of Kings, my favorite shifted to Lorna Dane, the mistress of magnetism. What’s weird about that is that throughout her 52-year history, Lorna’s characterization has mostly ranged from not great to downright offensive.
See, one of the things that makes Polaris special is her very real struggles with mental illness, specifically Bipolar Disorder. It’s a characteristic that has been part of her character for decades now, to varying degrees of good representation and extremely problematic storytelling. For some writers, like Chuck Austen and Peter David, Lorna’s mental health became a storytelling crutch or an incredibly offensive joke. Particularly, in the latter years of David’s long X-Factor stranglehold, he treated her mental illness as something to be laughed at, in that way that he often did substituting nastiness for actual humor.
So, for all my love of the character, I was left with little *actually good* content. You’d get a smattering here, a dab there, and then three years of offensive jokes punching down at people already in pain. But then came a writer who understood how problematic this portrayal had become. Leah Williams took over the X-Factor title with a new series in July of 2020, taking the title in a new direction with a new cast – and with the only holdover from X-Factor teams past being Lorna. Immediately, it was more evident that this Lorna was the one that existed in my head between all the offensive jokes and bad storytelling. But it wasn’t until X-Factor #4 that it really shined through that this Lorna was different from the previous portrayals.
Aside from her mental illness, Lorna is often defined by the male characters in her orbit. You’ll notice I spent my first three paragraphs talking about her without mention of her father, and that was intentional. Lorna is more than just Magneto’s daughter; and she’s more than just Havok’s ex. These are the other crutches that writers usually lean on when using Polaris, and it’s a disservice to her as a character. She deserves better than to be defined by those around her, or to be made a laughingstock due to something that is all too often joked about in reality too. Which brings us to the issue that really makes her stand out as the best of mutantdom.
X-Factor #4 does some very heavy lifting, both in terms of being the second part of a massive crossover (X Of Swords) and in being a statement issue for Lorna’s character. In this issue we are able to see just where Lorna’s head is, through the brilliant internal monologues provided by Williams. Within these, we’re given both insight to both of the things that have cast a shadow over the character for years. Williams digs deep into Lorna’s battered psyche to deliver us some of the most relatable and humanizing thoughts in the X-Men franchise.
“I am always furious with myself, but the times my self-hatred reaches its zenith are the days in which I am a desperate wispy thing, feverishly seeking validation from everyone around me.”
In this opening salvo of inner monologue, Williams sets the tone for what’s to come in the issue: the deep and troubled thoughts of a woman who struggles with both her own expectations of herself and the expectations of everyone around her. She’s mutant royalty; the daughter of a figurehead; a woman who has never felt that she’s lived up to the potential that everyone sees within her. She’s been a leader – but even that isn’t good enough, because despite that she doesn’t truly know herself. It’s been a theme of this X-Factor run as a whole, but one that is truly given space in X-Factor #4.
Importantly, that is one of the things that really draws me to Lorna as a character. As a psychology major, the psychological theory I subscribe to most is that of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. Maslow posited human actualization is reliant on a pyramid of requirements to be achieved. At the bottom of the pyramid are base physiological needs like shelter, food and safety. Once those needs are met, an individual can start working to meet the psychological needs. These are broken into two categories: relationships with others and relationship with self. In Maslow’s theory, it’s only when all these are met that one can reach their full potential.
Let’s look at this pyramid as it relates to Lorna. Her basic needs are met by the island of Krakoa. Krakoa provides shelter, food, and safety. None of these things are things that Polaris has to worry about. As to her sense of belonging, that’s a bit shakier. She absolutely has friends that love and support her on the island, and at the moment seems to be content to not be in a romantic entanglement.
Where it gets rockier (no pun intended, RIP Santo), is with her relationship with her father, as stated above. Magneto expects much of his daughter, and in turn she expects much of herself. So, while the “relationships” block of the pyramid is supporting the block that contains esteem, often the two are intertwined and inform each other. Throughout this most recent run of X-Factor, Lorna has been trying to rein in others’ expectations of her. She declined to lead the new team and she attempted to temper Magneto’s lofty goals for her by telling him that she needs to define herself first. So, she’s actively working towards actualization, but there are roadblocks in the way, especially with her father.
Specifically, in X-Factor #4, it’s clear that despite her insistence, Magneto is still trying to hold her to his expectations of her. He yells at her that she’s a disappointment, which is what triggers her connection to Saturnyne and also snaps her brain space back to unhealthy thoughts. “One specific shout aimed at me is all it took to shake loose the damned prophecies? What a fitting humiliation.” So again, because she doesn’t quite have the support she needs at the familial level, she can’t start laying the blocks on the next level yet.
The reason I feel that Polaris is the best mutant isn’t because she’s perfect. She’s far from that. But she is remarkably human and relatable. She’s struggling to make herself better so that she can make the world better, and that’s all anyone can really hope to do. And, at some point, she’ll get there. But for now, as she puts it best, she is a “clumsy and fumbling congregation of flaws”.
Writer: Leah Williams
Artist: Carlos Gomez
Colourist: Israel Silva
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Designer: Tom Muller
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