There are so many X-Men out there! You can’t walk round your private island paradise anymore without bumping into twenty mutants. But that raises a question which Shelfdust are going to try and answer! Who is the Best Mutant? We’ll be inviting some of the best writers in comics to argue their case!
By Duna Haller
The isolation and trauma that Illyana Rasputin A.K.A. Magik has had to face parallels very few characters in X-Men comics. As a consequence of the first activation of her powers at age of six (way before most mutants showcase them), she was displaced to an alternate universe where she lived a seven-year experience of child abuse at the hands of a demon – which was greatly implied to have parallels to parental abuse and sexual grooming.
Further down the road, Illyana had to face the death of her teammate Doug in New Mutants #60 and the apparent death of the whole X-Men team (including her brother Colossus) in X-Men #227. To add to this, the psychic mutant Destiny told Illyana a prophecy about her bringing chaos and hell to the world, as some sort of Exorcist-like satanic figure. As her survivorhood story unfolds and comes to conclusion in the events of the Inferno storyline, Illyana started to acquire the persona of Darkchylde: first a demon-like costume and then an armor that protects her from outside harm. It shields her from retraumatizing, and from the difficult situations she has to face as a mutant and as a survivor of childhood abuse.
Illyana faces a kind of avoidance relationship with her trauma very common among childhood abuse survivors. There are gaps in her memories, uncertainty in the severity of what happened to her and fear of her own future – not just of the pain for herself, but the possibility she will mistreat those she loves. Most times, Illyana doesn’t want to face the feelings that come from what she experienced as a child, so instead we as readers more often get glimpses and nods.
In New Mutants #63, we are presented with a dream that might be a modified memory in which she visits an alien world and saves all the family (both Colossus and her friends) she hadn’t been able to save, on repeated occasions, on Limbo or on Earth. At the end of the issue, this imaginary corrective experience gets shattered again and fills her with insecurities, as Illyana is not relating to her past and trauma in a linear way, but in the way her trauma leaves her only path: messy, circular, and forever shifting between healing and the possibility of more harm.
In this way, Illyana’s experience mirrors the experience of people with C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), where the presence of various repeated or singular traumas around your life shapes how you view the world, your relationships, and others. Furthermore, the disconnected perspective it fosters of the world around you is a literal reality within the fictional hell where she spent her childhood – Limbo is a non-linear wasteland adrift from time, space, and memory.
Limbo plays as a brilliant metaphor for how many abused children process their childhood. Within this realm, and specially as the Inferno event brings Limbo to Earth, the non-linearity of trauma comes into the page with a supernatural element. The streets shake, demons run among them and the scenarios, buildings, casual viewers… get twisted and feel scary, with the pages literally pushing their boundaries around how you see the world as Illyana’s reckoning with her trauma gets a center stage.
The climax of the Inferno storyline for Magik is New Mutants #73, titled ‘The Gift’, written by Louise Simonson with moving art by Bret Belvins, All Williamson and Mike Manley, and colors by Glynis Oliver. With Manhattan fully invaded by demons lead by N’astirh and S’ym, and the limits between Limbo and the city streets shattered, the issue opens with Illyana, completely covered now in the Darkchylde armor, fighting with the demon S’ym and struggling, at the same time, to cope with her supposed destiny as a destroyer and the decisions she must take, as her own Limbo is now threatening reality itself.
Throughout the pages, we see the other members of New Mutants, as well as Illyana’s brother, Piotr Rasputin A.K.A. Colossus, trying to reach for her as they struggle to fight the demonic invasion. Thanks to Limbo’s non-linear time, they have met Illyana as a child, and the story plays with various images and appearances of Illyana before her abuse, as the various characters (mainly, Piotr, Rahne and Dani) reckon with their feelings and regrets in their relationships with her. It all explodes when Illyana meets her own childhood self again, and makes a choice that entails both her death and a magical reborn of sorts.
As someone with C-PTSD myself, the concept of New Mutants #73 and what happens to Illyana here (and, most importantly, the decisions she takes) is incredibly moving to me. The issue sees the unfolding (and questioning) of the supposed “destiny” of destruction and death that Illyana has waiting for her, as Destiny previously suggested. It’s not by accident that, in this same issue, we see Dani’s fear of death and her own trauma intertwine with other characters fearing or doubting Illyana – including Roberto and even Magneto.
The fruits of Illyana’s survival to trauma have created this ‘monster’ that she sees in herself, and – through her Darkchylde persona and actions that imitate the demon-world she was raised in – she convinces others to see. She dehumanizes herself, blames herself for her own trauma, and overidentifies with the abusers. That vision crashes with the growing empathy and understanding from her teammates, especially Rahne, as they see and understand what happened to her and how it has affected her. The reader is also met with that clash of visions around Magik’s character, facing the fact that trauma survivorhood stories are sometimes messy, scary, and yeah, crazy, but nevertheless they deserve recognition, empathy and healing.
Scholars writing about comics have often considered queer identity and mutant identity to have a historical relationship, specially in the 80s X-comics, more restrained to showcase explicit LGBT+ representation. This analogy stems from the way that, in adolescence (with the wakening of sexuality), mutant teenagers are singled out from their peers and marginalized. But, in Illyana, that queer mutant identity is further complicated. Illyana’s transformation to Darkchylde brings themes of sexual abuse survivorhood into this queer metaphor, and forces readers to reconcile things that you aren’t born with into your experience of sexuality: like trauma. Illyana is considered by a big part of the fandom to be queer in some way (with Kittyana being a popular ship), but we’ve yet to see this definitively on-panel. This could be because the mutant-awakening of the character remains inseparable from her experience of abuse, which many writers have honed in on instead.
There’s a magical subversion of childhood abuse tropes that Louise Simonson brings in her use of Illyana on New Mutants and that crystalizes in New Mutants #73: while the story plays into all the Exorcist-like and demonic tropes about mentally ill children dealing with abuse, it subverts them, making the reader more and more prone to empathy and understanding as it develops. Here is where Illyana is, for me, the best example of subverting real-life tropes and using the mutant metaphor for reaching out empathy. The same demonic magic that Illyana has forged to survive her abuse has kind of a cathartic end in which she faces her own child self before the abuse and saves herself from that experience.
This type of fictional reckoning with abuse that leaves room for what should have happened brings tears to my eyes everytime, and makes for a powerful stance in humanising Illyana’s choices and agency towards her destiny, while not exactly “solving” her pain and trauma. She makes the choice (that, sadly, no other abused child has) of saving herself from abuse, and she makes it using the same tools that her trauma gave her. Mutation is survivorhood.
New Mutants #73
Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Bret Blevins
Inkers: Al Williamson and Mike Manley
Colourist: Glynis Oliver
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Duna Haller is a writer, musician, collagist and journalist from Madrid, Spain, as well as an editor at Comic-Watch.com. Her writing has been published, among other anthologies and zines, in ‘99% Chance of Magic: Stories of Strength and Hope For Transgender Kids’ by Heartspark Press. You can find her on Instagram here!
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