RSS Feed
Oct 18

X-Men: Black – Mystique

Posted on Thursday, October 18, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Shape changing is one of those relatively low key powers that often gets taken for granted by writers.  We know what Mystique can do, it’s a handy plot device sometimes, on with the show.

This is Seanan McGuire’s second story for Marvel – the first was the X-Men Gold Annual with the holiday camp – and since any wider plotlines are at best marginal, it’s free to spend its time re-stating the premise, and reminding us of why Mystique runs rings around everyone.  So whether it’s in the real world or a superhero setting, Mystique is happily bouncing around unnoticed as a background character.

Of course, this is from Mystique’s point of view, but the idea is pretty clear.  She’s dating a senator so that she can frame him for her own amusement.  She’s enjoying the challenge of sneaking onto commercial airlines disguised as a flight attendant so that she doesn’t have to pay.  She becomes someone famous when she needs the distraction.

Regardless, the plot involves a teenage mutant, Whitney, who’s being held prisoner at Trask Industries prior to being handed over to the bad guys.  Mystique seems to have heard about her somewhere, and decided to go and rescue her.  Kind of.  For one thing, Mystique also has a thingummy to steal from the same building, something to do with data from the Mothervine storyline – it’s really not clear.  Nor does it need to be, because while it’s ostensibly Mystique’s main goal, it’s entirely incidental to the story.

More to the point – and spoilers ahead, by the way, because it’s one of those stories where you really have to talk about the ending – Mystique is only dubiously here to help Whitney at all.  She certainly does get Whitney out of the building and free from Trask, but she also goes out of her way to gratuitously frame Whitney for other stuff.  The clear aim here is to screw Whitney over.

Why?  Well, that’s not spelled out.  In her narration, Mystique claims in passing to be helping a young mutant to “learn how the world works”, which is as close as she comes to giving us a clear answer.  So the suggestion is that she’s toughening up the mutants of the future, I guess.  But really, whatever reason Mystique might give for her actions, she shows very little interest in it – and that’s more the point.  Mainly, in this story she talks about herself as an artist and an agent of chaos.  She’s enjoying outwitting people and being one step ahead, and for the most part that’s become an end in itself.

Now, my main reservation is that I’m not at all sure I agree with that take on Mystique.  I’ve always tended to think of the core character having a much stronger genuine concern about mutants, even if its mixed in with self-interest, personal amusement, and a particular concern about Rogue.  She comes across here as a bit of a psychopath, and I see her as a lot less malicious than that.

But she’s also a character who’s never been written very consistently, and this take isn’t miles away from the norm.  And if you’re prepared to take the story on its own terms, it’s a pretty good take.  McGuire and artist Marco Failla play up the creepiness of Mystique’s behaviour nicely, with a string of inconvenienced, ruined or just plain dead bit players in her wake throughout the issue.  Failla’s art is suitably understated in the real world sections, but there’s a lovely range of character designs.

There’s a particularly good segment of Mystique going shopping as a teenage girl, in which essentially nothing happens other than her buying some rat poison – it works because we have no clue at that point what she’s up to, and the gap between Mystique and her innocuous appearance is nicely jarring.  Mystique only really shows up in her regular character design right at the end, when she’s playing the hero for Whitney’s benefit.  She’s not dropping the act; it’s just another act.

In the long run, it’s a take on Mystique that could prove limiting – she’s an agent of chaos and malice without much in the way of an agenda.  But for a story like this, where the point is just to restate the character, it gets to the core of what makes her an effective villain in a world full of characters that massively outpower her.  She’s on the margins of the story, steering it the way she wants to go.

Bring on the comments

  1. Brian says:

    Again noting that I haven’t read these yet (being a Marvel Unlimited reader), but it seems that these one shots suffer from the usual Villain Book issue of boxing the villain protagonist into being at least quasi-heroic (or at least non-villainous to a degree).

    Of course, the X-Men historically seem to have done this over time with their villains — look at how often Magneto, Mystique, Sabretooth, or someone like Daken have been on the various hero teams — to the point where they lose a certain cachet as actual villains, or at least a reasonable ability to be used for real evil purposes (especially with anti-hero sorts like Cable, Domino, Deadpool, and the various Wolverines doing as much bloodshed while wearing the Hero tag).

    One always thinks of what has been both gained and lost in Claremont making Magneto a more complex and morally-gray character, but Mystique is a similar example. There’s a lot lost when we get into her head so often and glimpse motivations of a character whose mindset was always a mystery in the early days (her affection for Destiny and Rogue were a marked distinction from the rest of a very ordered-but-multifaceted mastermind, quite the opposite of an “agent of chaos”). Placing who Magneto was an from where he came gained us something, while learning more about Mystique (versus not knowing who she actually was or what she actually looked like) has cost us a lot of her…mystique.

  2. Chris V says:

    I wouldn’t call Mystique’s presentation in this issue as being “heroic”.
    It’s a far cry from the sympathetic portrayal of Mojo in the last story.

    I liked how Claremont seemed to be presenting the different mutant characters as redeemable as his run went on.
    It was moving more towards those who would hate and persecute mutants are the villains, while the characters from earlier in the run who were villains were becoming more sympathetic.
    Even someone like Juggernaut, who was never presented as having a hatred of mutants as his motivation, was made in to a more sympathetic character.

    Claremont always said he didn’t want to repeat the same superhero themes over and over, like so many superhero serials. By taking away villains from earlier in the book, it made it so that it was harder for him to rely on a “villain of the week” format for his run.

  3. Ben says:

    Yeah she isn’t heroic in this at all. She in point of fact gladly commits unnecessary mass murder.
    I think this leaned a bit to heavy into being intentionally obtuse, and yeah I’m not a huge fan of the take on the character.

  4. Moo says:

    Well, Mystique being inconsistently portrayed over the years actually makes a degree of sense for the character given her powers. Must be hard for someone like that to cling to a sense of identity. Besides, if you’re going to have a character called “Mystique” in the first place, it’s probably not a great idea to get her personality and motivations completely nailed down.

  5. Paul says:

    Mystique isn’t acting as a hero (or even antihero) in this story, but I think the story is deliberately playing off our expectations that she might be.

  6. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Well, that’s the thing with this X-Men Black line-up – when I look at it I don’t see villains (Mojo and Apocalypse notwithstanding), I see former X-Men.

    Mystique is even currently a member of ‘Weapon X-Force’, which remains a brutal but on the whole rather positive team. And Emma, after her unfortunate temporary villainy and insanity in IvX is sympathetic again in her current appearances.

    If they wanted villains, they should have opted for Sinister, Cassandra Nova and… um… Sebastian Shaw, I guess? (Though even he was x-affiliated once…)

    God, the X-Men really don’t have a lot of high status villains who haven’t been X-Men at this point, do they?

  7. Moo says:

    Weapon X-Force, lol.

    DC ought to do “EJLTFA: Extreme Justice League Task Force of America”.

  8. wwk5d says:

    “Mystique is even currently a member of ‘Weapon X-Force’, which remains a brutal but on the whole rather positive team.”

    A team which includes Sabretooth, Omega Red, and Lady Deathstrike?

  9. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Sabretooth remains at least partially inverted. And if you look at what WXF has so far accomplished… yeah, they’re goodies. Brutal goodies, but goodies nonetheless.

  10. Paul says:

    Weapon X-Force are basically an antihero mercenary team. The broad idea is that before leaving them, Logan successfully pointed them in the general direction of at least going after other bad guys, which is better than having them running around setting their own agenda.

  11. wwk5d says:

    True, but given the body count most of the members on that team have, my point was Mystique isn’t all that much worse than the rest of the team.

  12. Moo says:

    They could put Century on the team and call it Weapon X-Force Works.

  13. Loz says:

    Writing Mystique inconstantly would matter less if they didn’t write other characters as treating her as heroic as she is appearing at that moment, how does she get to attend Rogue and Gambit’s wedding with no-one minding when she had previously being torturing Dazzler for months a while back for MGH?

  14. Omar Karindu says:

    They could put Century on the team and call it Weapon X-Force Works.

    Add Fat Cobra and it could be Immortal Weapon X-Force Works.

  15. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @Loz As a part time Mystique apologist I have to say that ‘torturing’ is a bit harsh. It was ‘keeping comatose and extracting DNA for drug-related purposes’. That’s basically jaywalking in supervillain terms.

Leave a Reply