The New Mutants: Dead Souls series debuts in March and a major motion picture is on the horizon in 2019. Here’s a step back in time to look at Magik, and how she came to be a member of the X-Men’s youngest team and ruler of the demonic dimension of Limbo at the same time.
X-Men – Magik: Storm & Illyana
Trade Paperback, Collects Magik: Storm & Illyana #1-4 (1984)
Author: Chris Claremont
Artists: John Buscema, Ron Frenz & Sal Buscema
Cover Artist: Bret Blevins
Inker: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Colors: Glynis Oliver-Wein
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
In Uncanny X-Men #160, the X-Men fought the demon Belasco. During a battle with the heroes, Colossus’ young sister, Illyana, was grabbed by the demon from the dark side of an inter-dimensional portal. When the X-Men managed to bring her back to their own dimension, Illyana had aged seven years and become a teenager. This series tells the story of Illyana’s journey from innocent child to the new ruler of Belasco’s dimension of Limbo. It’s a psychological tale of how good can be corrupted but also a story of hope, as Illyana continues to fight the evil that has become a part of her soul.
What You’ll Find Out (Spoiler Alert!) :
The X-Men’s Storm (Ororo) in Limbo is not just a weather-controlling mutant in this series – apparently, her other-dimensional counterpart has cultivated the abilities of a powerful sorceress. In this storyline, there are two groups of X-Men. One team – the team we know from mainstream continuity – is trying to retrieve Illyana from the portal. The few X-Men we see in this series are from an alternate reality, one where the X-Men – instead of Illyana – were trapped in Belasco’s dark dimension.
On the heels of the scene from Uncanny X-Men #160, sorceress Ororo is looking for Illyana to take her back to the “correct” reality, where her brother Colossus and other X-Men are frantically waiting. Ororo stumbles across Belasco, who has placed an unconscious Illyana on an altar. It seems Belasco wants to corrupt the young child’s innocence and use her as a portal through which Belasco’s superiors, the Elder Gods, can re-enter the mortal planes.
As Ororo watches helplessly, Belasco separates a piece of Illyana’s soul from her body and conjures the first of five bloodstones from its essence. Once all five bloodstones are completed and placed within a pentacle inside a golden medallion, the summoning will begin and the Elder Gods will return. Illyana keeps the medallion as a gift from Belasco, who promised her power and a great destiny once the five bloodstones are contained within.
Belasco’s triumph is short-lived – Cat, the alternate dimension’s Kitty Pryde – attacks Belasco from the shadows. Cat, it seems, has been corrupted by Belasco and is now a warrior with feline eyes and a temper to match. In this reality, many of the X-Men were killed – and those that remain have been transformed in some way by the darkness of the dimension or by Belasco himself.
As Belasco fades away to fight another day, Ororo and Cat remove the comatose Illyana from the altar and take her back to Ororo’s sanctuary, a lush garden paradise in the middle of the hellish dimension. Here, Ororo and Cat debate what they will do with Illyana. Should she be trained to fight against Belasco’s dark influence? And if Illyana proves too weak for the dark power that infects her now, should she simply be killed, to avoid unleashing more evil on the world?
Cat believes training Illyana in sorcery is too dangerous and she should learn to fight instead. After a surprise conflict, Cat takes Illyana away from Ororo, determined that making the child physically stronger trumps the risk of turning her into another sorceress.
Flash forward one year – and Cat is traveling with Illyana through what appears to be a cavern. During a battle with a demon, Illyana accidentally steps through a light disk and winds up face to face with the body of her brother, Colossus, whose other-dimensional counterpart was killed by Belasco. The light disk has taken her right into the clutches of S’ym, the Cerebus the Aardvark-esque demon who serves as Belasco’s right-hand man.
Once again, Cat arrives in time to save Illyana from S’ym, dragging her through a portal in Limbo itself, as the walls of the dimension apparently shift periodically. Now, the duo is found in a mutated version of the Savage Land. Here, as time passes, Illyana is taught to fight. It’s not that she’s necessarily a quick learner, but time passes quickly in Limbo and Illyana finally manages to land a minor wound on Cat, indicating that her training has improved.
Ororo approaches Cat in a vision one last time, asking her not to set out to kill Belasco in the way she intends (physically) or to send Illyana home unprepared. Cat ignores her, and it is the last time they speak. Together, Illyana and Cat head off to Belasco’s citadel, where they come face to face with a warped Nightcrawler, who serves as one of the demon’s chief guards.
Cat finishes Nightcrawler off, and they both head to Belasco’s summoning area, where Cat claims the walls between reality and Limbo are thinnest. The real X-Men, still trying to reach for Illyana in the portal (from Uncanny X-Men #160) see her – and Kitty Pryde, with the X-Men beside her, reaches out for Illyana….only to have Belasco pull both Cat and Illyana through the portal instead in a very unpleasant surprise.
Belasco transforms Cat into literally a feral housecat with vaguely human features. Fearful, and having just lost her guard and companion, Illyana looks to Belasco and cutting herself, fills the second bloodstone in the medallion.
Ororo, watching everything transpire through a scrying pool, swears that now she must destroy them both.
The remainder of the story involves Illyana’s self-exploration – and knowledge gained – and Ororo’s attempt to defeat Belasco and like Cat, ultimately fail. In the remaining decisions Illyana must face, she goes through much more than any child should EVER have to deal with and returns to her own reality as the Darkchild – the Magik that we know from Marvel continuity today.
You’ll be missing an important part of X-Men and New Mutants history if you choose to pass on this series.
What Just Happened:
This graphic novel is a great example of the comic medium as a compelling storytelling device and a go-to piece which supports Chris Claremont’s legendary status as a writer of “x-characters.” Claremont has touched on every emotion in Illyana’s turbulent time in Limbo – the blind trust of a child, the curiosity, the violence and the betrayals. It’s a lesson in what can happen when a mentor is irresponsible and downright evil, and a look at how that evil impacts the life they have attempted to mold.
In the relationship between Belasco and Illyana, you see the love-hate relationship Illyana has with her demonic mentor – intrigued by power, yet still good on the inside and constantly fighting a battle within herself. Ultimately, Claremont delivers a convincing story which is only made better by the artwork of John and Sal Buscema. Ron Frenz, who penciled the third issue in the series, is obviously the weakest link art-wise, but Tom Palmer’s consistent inks tie all of the different artists’ work together in a way that works. Claremont’s work here doesn’t rank up there with “God Loves, Man Kills” but it should still be a piece of “required reading” for die-hard New Mutants fans.
I do have a few minor complaints about this book worth noting. Ka-Zar and Shanna, the “Tarzan and Jane” of Marvel’s Savage Land, defeat Belasco relatively easily in their own 1984 series, yet Belasco makes short work of the X-Men here? In addition, the art of Ron Frenz doesn’t mesh neatly with that of John and Sal Buscema. While Tom Palmer’s inks tie them all together, the change from John Buscema to Ron Frenz is somewhat jarring – it would have been nice to see the Buscemas with two parts each, as their artwork blends more cohesively.
Writer Chris Claremont brilliantly tackles seven years of time in four short issues. If you have ever wondered how Illyana became Magik of the New Mutants we know and love, this story does not disappoint. The writing is detailed and extremely graphic – somehow, this story was very disturbing yet still was written capably enough to get the approval of the Comics Code Authority. Kudos, Mr. Claremont!