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 Rowan Grover
There’s something so inherently captivating about Mister Sinister. Ever since seeing his glorious form rendered in cel-shaded 3D in X-Men Legends 2 way back when, Mister Sinister is one of those characters who came across as completely captivating to my younger self. He had this vampiric appearance but tweaked and updated with an extravagant glam sensibility, which, combined with his dulcet vocal tones sneering with a metallic edge, lit a fire in my queer heart. Here was a character that captured the performativity of artists my parents enjoyed like Freddy Mercury or Roger Daltry but twisted it with a knowing, dark arrogance that was so irresistible to me on the cusp of an emo/goth breakthrough.
I know I’m inviting the ire of X-fans by staking this claim about Sinister, predominantly known as a genetically-modified human. But, in true-to-form Mister Sinister style, please allow me to indulge in what may be my biggest “Um, Actually” moment. Readers of the recent House of X/Powers of X know that Sinister recently cloned himself innumerable times until he was able to produce an X-Gene, and thus gain access to Krakoa as a mutant. This may not be directly tied to the issue at hand, but this is the first great example of the extravagant lengths this man will go to in order to achieve a goal.
It’s this side of his personality that makes our Best Mutant so compelling: his relentless pursuit of scientific discovery, and arrogance in needing to know and be in control of every aspect of his life. Mister Sinister will go to any lengths to pursue a goal, taking up any moral alignments that best suit his needs in a particular situation. But whilst that may sound quite serious, he revels in camp. He’s prone to grand outbursts of beautifully purple dialogue, massive displays of ruling, and physical power, and he rocks his iconic glam-pire look: purple, banded-metallic armor that shoots out into a rigid, tasseled cape and a big glowing red gem seated on his forehead.
Imagine, then, what a shock it was to open Kieron Gillen, Dustin Weaver, Jim Charalampidis and Joe Caramagna’s Uncanny X-Men #14 and see Sinister forego that shimmering hair-metal armor for a Victorian-era suit. Goodness gracious, what had happened to the fabulous eighties rockstar look that I grew up with? The sight of such a seemingly radical visual departure has me concerned that Gillen and Weaver were steering Sinister away from everything that I thought made him special. What kind of bland modernization had they inflicted upon my confident, futuristic fashion man? And yet, this single issue manages to capture the inherent flamboyance, arrogance, and irresistible energy of this extremely X-tra baddie.
Interestingly, Uncanny X-Men #14 is a tie-in to the Avengers Vs. X-Men, a lukewarm 2012 event comic that does largely what it says on the cover. All you need to know for context to this story is that Cyclops and a bunch of other X-folks have assumed the power of the Phoenix force. But that’s just the scenery: you see, Mister Sinister has taken it upon himself to build his own underground Neo-Victorian city to rule over whilst all this hero-hubbub has been going on upstairs.
Naturally, this city ain’t just filled with any old folks: Sinister’s world is populated by countless clones of himself. After all, who else but Sinister could faithfully occupy Sinister’s personal utopia? The city is also lovingly rendered by Weaver with sharp, pencil-style linework that makes it feel thematically appropriate and gives it the quality of a DaVinci sketch. Colourist Charalampidis in turn balances the gothic with the sci-fi beautifully, giving the city at large a faded beige palette that is lit up by neon blue trimmings, something that feels very characteristic to Mister Sinister. Drawing architectural inspiration from 19th century London makes the choice of setting feel like a reference to a time in Sinister’s life pre-modification, a time to which he had the most emotional connection and was perhaps the most vulnerable.
And in issue #14 we find ourselves looking through the perspective of a lower-class Sinister clone, who has the terrifying job of interviewing the head-honcho Sinister on how it feels to create and run a city in the midst of a cataclysmic superhero event. There’s an inherent queerness lurking beneath the way the boss Sinister answers these questions. The only women that Sinister keeps around are cows, simply because he enjoys milk, mentioning that he has no use for women in a society built on cloning technology. However, he also mentions shifting half of his society to a ‘female form’ should the cloning technology break. It’s an incredibly analytical approach that touches on themes of gender fluidity and potentially asexuality within Mister Sinister, which adds a lot to how we perceive the character.
There’s a twist lurking underneath all these pages, however, which proves key to Sinister’s character. The lower-class Sinister holds an ulterior motive of rebellion, being the one clone to see the inherent falseness in the Sinister utopia. Our underdog hero works his way through the interview with this agenda in mind, trying to undermine his lord with leading questions and push him into a corner to take him out, all amidst high-strung internal dialogue.
Just as it appears our focal Sinister has his superior by the ropes, Gillen reveals another perfect twist. The moment is dramatically paced, as the supposed true Sinister’s head-diamond falls off before a trap-door behind him drops and reveals the real, God-Emperor Mister Sinister who knew about his rebel clone all along. It’s not the most impossible twist – especially with readers familiar with the character – but it’s evident how much Sinister relishes in the pantomime moment of the denouement.
It shows how well Gillen has reconciled and boosted every aspect of Mister Sinister’s characterization across comics history. Having his literal kingdom take place underground works not just as an easy way to tie into an event, but also feels like a nod to his past operations also taking place underground, like the Mutant Massacre. Yet the way that Sinister executes this experiment now works as an inverse to that event – creating life on a grand scale rather than taking it, in order to fulfill a scientific goal. Mister Sinister is constantly trying new approaches to tease the X-Men and torment Scott Summers specifically, and he’s supremely confident in his ability to do so.
Interestingly, however, Gillen understands the one thing that Sinister can’t help but incorporate into everything that he does: spectacle. It’s evident in everything he’s been involved with; from the countless Morlock lives taken with the Mutant Massacre right through to the hellish takeover of New York in Inferno… and now, with just about everything within this issue. Gillen drives this need for showmanship to its logically excessive and gloriously trashy conclusion – revealing that deep within Sinister City resides clone farms, of Cyclops and Gambit; hunting grounds for a cloned Sabretooth pack; and most deviously of all an army of Madelyne Pryors, prepped and readied to steal a Phoenix.
Mister Sinister is the mad-scientist archetype in its final, ultimate form. He’s offers sharp, eighties excess visually and in characterization. He’s so self-actualized, he cloned himself to be inarguably the best mutant, with no need for my affirmation.
But here I am, wholeheartedly and unabashedly offering it regardless.
Uncanny X-Men #14
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Dustin Weaver
Colourist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Rowan Grover is a comics critic, writer and editor who is currently found most often over at Multiversity Comics, where they are the Weekly Reviews Editor. You can find their portfolio here, and follow on Twitter here!
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