This last post of the mid-term break returns again to the theme of anti-heroes of Marvel Comics and another tpb collection from my local library. As we noted yesterday, it would be hard to top The Son of Satan, a shriekingly melodramatic mash-up of the Hulk and The Exorcist. As you’re probably aware, Daimon Hellstrom also had a sinister sibling, Satana The Devil’s Daughter, who made her debut in the b/w Vampire Tales ( although she was more of a Babylonian demoness than a vampire and a Vampirella rip-off to boot.)
Marvel gave Satana a colour launchpad in the mid-70s but the sultry succubus didn’t catch on- perhaps she was just too unsympathetic. In any case, Chris Claremont- something of a champion for Marvel’s femmes fatales in the Bronze Age- gave Satana a heroic send-off in Marvel Team-Up. (Relax. She came back from the dead: comics. Although I think some modern creators conflate her with Dracula’s Daughter, Lilith).
Claremont’s fascination for the morally ambiguous, self-damned heroine can be seen in his addition of Rogue to the X-Men roster although he de-aged the character to make her more vulnerable, easily manipulated and more accessible. He then revisited the trope in New Mutants with Illyana Rasputin. Introduced to the series as a hostage initially, the baby sister of X-Man Colossus was magically aged to adolescence and positioned as a kind of demon seed for about a year. The storyline gave Claremont the chance to have a demon sorceress interact with his wider superhero community, an opportunity which Satana’s horror mag heritage rather denied her. The character of Magik is very much a product of the horror/heavy metal/Dungeons and Dragons subcultures of the early 80s.
The backstory of Illyana’s experiences in a magical dimension (ruled by a bargain-bin Beelzebub from the direct sales Ka-Zar comic of the 1980s) was revealed in a miniseries entitled Storm and Illyana: Magik. This format of course, which had begun at DC, was a very popular one and was really the starting point for the popularity of Wolverine. The first couple of issues by John Buscema and Tom Palmer are in the classic Marvel vein. We are reintroduced to the corrupted version of Nightcrawler (from the Brent Anderson fill-in issue of summer 1982) and meet Cat, an adult Kitty Pryde who has a strikingly simple (and again classic) design.
With assistance from Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema, the four issues explore themes of power, mercy and choice while Claremont puts his characters through the usual ordeals and torments. Illyana learns dark magic from Belasco the demon king and from an elderly Storm. She also develops her own mutant teleportation powers which, Tardis-like, randomly transport her through time and space. It’s not at all clear why Illyana’s mutation is so different to her brother’s -except that there’s a precedent with Wanda and Pietro. The story ends with Illyana musing on her future as a living conduit for Lovecraftian elder gods. The same fate was promised to the Scarlet Witch and to Spider-Woman, during Claremont’s run.
From my current perspective, re-reading the series, the Lolita/corruption imagery and themes are somewhat distasteful. As noted above, many of Claremont’s heroines undergo experiences of submission and corruption- from the Daughters of the Dragon, through Rachel Summers , Psylocke and Sage. In the case of a young teenager, it’s even more unpleasant and even a little salacious. Interestingly, Claremont already had a character poised on the brink of evil in the original roster of the New Mutants. Karma, one of the Vietnamese boat people, had absorbed her evil brother’s personality but this duality wasn’t explored and she vanished from the comic for years until the close of the Sienkiewicz era.
Like Magma before her, whom Magik derailed rather, Illyana’s presence dominated the New Mutants storylines and pulled focus particularly from Cannonball and Sunspot. (Relax. They share the spotlight in Al Ewing’s Avengers books) Illyana was ultimately freed from her “darkchilde” affliction in the late 80s but, a child again, was a casualty in the 90s of the Legacy Virus, an unsubtle metaphor for AIDS.
Relax. She came back from the dead: comics. In the recent Bendis era of X-Men, a more provocative incarnation of Illyana became the apprentice of Dr. Strange. Given her clear influence on several characters in the Buffy franchise, I would be surprised if the recently-announced New Mutants movie does not count Magik as one of its roster.
Coming soon: Fifty years of Fantastic; Starlin’s Warlock; Byrne’s Superman, thirty years on
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