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Jan 4

The Complete Moira: Part 1

Posted on Saturday, January 4, 2020 by Paul in Moira, x-axis

One of the big ideas of House of X and Powers of X is the massive retconning of Moira MacTaggert. Under Jonathan Hickman, Moira is no longer just the X-Men’s scientist friend; she’s actually a mutant with the power to start life over again, every time she dies, and with perfect recollection of her earlier lives. Plus, she has knowledge from those earlier lives of things like Nimrod, the Technarch and so on.

How well does any of this actually fit with the established history of Moira MacTaggert? On one level, it doesn’t really matter all that much. The idea that the Marvel Universe fits together seamlessly is a fiction; as long as it feels like it works, that’s probably good enough for most purposes. Which means it’s generally good enough to be consistent with the broad strokes, and with any details that the readers are likely to remember. It’s hardly a big problem if there’s an inconsistent line of dialogue in a long forgotten fill-in story.

Still – how does this retcon fit together with Moira’s established history? In this series of posts, I’m going to look back over every Moira MacTaggert appearance and see what emerges – both in terms of how it fits with Hickman, and in terms of whether it ever really fitted together in the first place. I’ve been working here mainly from the list of Moira MacTaggert appearances on the Marvel Chronology Project.

Basically, we’ll be running through Moira’s appearances in more-or-less chronological sequence, though I’ll skip her prior lives since they’re entirely documented in House of X and Powers of X, and I’ve written about that already. As it turns out, Moira’s back story is both quite detailed and full of enormous gaps, so it’s going to take us two posts just to get up to her first published appearance. This time round, we’ll follow her current life up to the formation of the X-Men. Since these are mostly appearances that were intended to flesh out her back story, there’s a lot to cover here; the pace will pick up in future chapters when we get to stories where she’s just hanging around in the supporting cast or explaining the plot. She does that a lot.

So we kick off with…

House of X #2 by Jonathan Hickman & Pepe Larraz (“The Uncanny Life of Moira X”, August 2019): A single page of Moira gestating.

Told you this was going to be comprehensive. But after that, we don’t get another appearance of Moira until she’s at university, and there’s remarkably little detail about anything she did before that. That’s helpful for Hickman, since he’s retconned her into an adult mind in a child’s body. The timeline in House of X #2 tells us that her powers emerge at age 13 (presumably with the same fever she had in earlier lives), and that she went to Oxford University at 16.

What else do we know? Well, her father Lord Kinross was a major landowner in the vicinity of Muir Isle (though Muir itself seems to have been an uninhabited rock until Moira set up her Research Centre there). He’s also a clan chieftain, a title that Moira inherits. There’s never any mention of her succeeding to a peerage, so presumably his title died with him – maybe it wasn’t a hereditary title, or maybe it only passed down the male line.

The stories aren’t consistent about where Muir Isle is, but they generally claim either that it’s near Stornoway, or that it’s near Cape Wrath (the furthest point northwest in Scotland). Claremont tries to square them in Classic X-Men #26, which, taken with X-Men vol 1 #122, shows Moira travelling from Edinburgh to Cape Wrath, then to Stornoway, and then by a private motor launch to Muir Isle. This doesn’t make much sense as a transport route, but he’s trying. At any rate, most of the evidence seems to point to Stornoway. (Excalibur vol 1 #93 claims that Kinross is the name of the nearest village to Muir Isle. In reality, Kinross is a real area of Scotland, but it’s at the wrong end of the country for Moira.)

Anyway… the only details we’re given about Moira’s childhood are quite convenient for Hickman’s “adult mind in a child’s body” retcon: young Moira really liked hanging out in the local pub, and when she was thirteen she got blitzed on dad’s whisky. That’s from Excalibur vol 1 #91, and yes, it is a Warren Ellis issue. This is also the issue that puts it beyond doubt that Moira’s childhood home is just across the water from Muir Isle, since they visit the pub.

With that, we join Moira at university.

Uncanny X-Men #389 by Chris Claremont & Salvador Larroca (“The Good Shepherd”, January 2001). This is the issue after Moira dies, and it contains an lengthy flashback in which Charles Xavier reminisces to himself about their time together at Oxford. The whole tone of this story poses big problems for the HoXPoX retcon, where Charles is supposed to be in on the scheme to fake her death – it’s an internal monologue, so he has no reason to lie. At any rate, he says here that he met Moira during a tutorial being given by a renowned geneticist, whose mind couldn’t be read. This doesn’t match the meeting shown in House of X #2, but you can square it on the basis that they meet here and have a proper conversation later.

Powers of X #1 and #6 and House of X #2. All of these issues feature versions of the same scene where Moira approaches Charles at a fair, and allows him to read her mind so that he can learn the truth about her history. According to House of X #2’s timeline, Moira is 17 when she meets him. That fits fine; according to Excalibur vol 3 #14, Charles is around the same age. X-Men vol 1 #117 says he’s working on his doctorate at this point. So, back to…

Uncanny X-Men #389 (continued). Autumn. Moira is already dating Joe MacTaggert, a lance corporal in the Marines. She invites Charles to join them for a motorbike trip to Devon. Joe dumps Charles and rides off with Moira. Joe crashes, Charles rescues them. At least according to Charles, this is the point where he and Moira fall in love, and she breaks up with Joe soon after. (Obviously, they get back together later on, since she goes on to marry him.)

This story was itself a retcon which massively brought forward the earliest meeting between Moira and Joe; previously, the implication was that either she met him after breaking up with Charles, or perhaps that he was the impetus for that break-up. This story inserts him much earlier and has him as the pre-existing boyfriend when Moira and Charles first meet. House of X implies that Moira marries Joe because she identifies him as a potential father of mutant children; that’s perhaps more understandable if she already knows him, and she’s dated him before. Though quite what Moira ever saw in Joe is never clear – in his handful of on-panel appearances, he’s depicted as an awful, overbearing boorish misogynist, and that’s on a good day. Claremont seems to think that she’s blown away by the dashing military man, but that doesn’t really work for Hickman given her centuries of life experience.

The flashback also mentions that Moira is already a clan chieftain – which implies that her father must have died by this point. That contradicts the earlier Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (also written by Claremont), which says that Moira is the heir and strongly implies that Lord Kinross is still around. Either way, we never see him.

Excalibur #79 by Scott Lobdell, Chris Cooper, Ken Lashley et al (“The Douglock Chronicles, Part II: Twisted Logic”, July 1994). This story includes a flashback to Moira and Charles visiting the French Riviera as students. It fits rather nicely with HoXPoX, since they’re discussing whether “humans and mutants face a common disaster”. On the other hand, it has Charles saying “I’m a mutant, you’re human”, when he’s supposed to know the truth, but let’s not get too worked up about stray lines of dialogue in stories by fill-in writers. (A bigger problem for Hickman is the whole storyline about Moira as the first human to be infected by the Legacy Virus, but we’ll get to that in a later post.) According to Excalibur #81, Moira and Charles also visit the Eiffel Tower during this holiday.

Powers of X #6 has a journal entry where Moira says that she recruited Charles to her cause months after first allowing him to read her mind, and that she didn’t allow him to read it again. That dovetails well enough with Uncanny #389, where Charles says that they “were the only ones who had a clue about the ultimate implications of genetic mutation, and we discussed them passionately.”

Moira and Charles become engaged, as mentioned for the first time in X-Men vol 1 #117, but never actually shown on panel. The back-up strip in Classic X-Men #36 has a photo of them as a couple.

First X-Men #1 by Neil Adams & Christos Gage (“Children of the Atom”, August 2012). This rather unnecessary continuity implant series features Logan forming a proto version of the X-Men years early. Logan visits Charles at Oxford University, and Moira has a brief cameo, discussing with Charles whether to invite Cain Marko to their wedding.

Excalibur vol 3 #14 by Chris Claremont, Aaron Lopresti et al (“The End of the World as we Know it!”, July 2005). The final issue of the Genoshan Excalibur series is ostensibly a House of M crossover, but actually consists of an extended sequence of Charles Xavier exploring his own memories with the aid of Dr Strange. The accuracy of the flashbacks is extremely debatable, partly because it’s all a bit surreal, and partly because the story tries to establish some extremely unlikely things, such as Charles serving in the military alongside Kitty Pryde’s father. But Claremont is undoubtedly trying to establish that the mystery telepath-proof lecturer from Uncanny #389 was Mr Sinister, who went on to be Moira’s thesis adviser. This subplot about Moira working with Sinister in her teens never went anywhere, but it could easily fit into Hickman’s mythos.

As for why Chris Claremont twice tried to get this new Moira MacTaggert subplot going, in stories published after she’d been killed off, and in books where he was on his way out of the door… your guess is as good as mine.

X-Men vol 1 #117 by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Terry Austin (“Psi War!”, January 1979). This is the issue where Charles Xavier reminisces about his first encounter with the Shadow King, but that flashback also has an opening montage that fills in some of the back story with him and Moira. Shortly before they were due to marry, Charles is drafted. (X-Men: Legacy #208 specifies that he fought in Korea, though thanks to sliding time it may now be the dreaded Sin-Cong Conflict, introduced in History of the Marvel Universe #2 as a general dumping ground for stories that were meant to take place in Korea or Vietnam. Even aside from the dubious use of a generic Asian nation, the whole idea is a continuity tail wagging the dog.) Around a month before he is due to be discharged anyway, Charles gets a letter from Moira breaking off their engagement without explanation, returning the ring that he gave her, and telling him not to come looking for her. Uncanny X-Men #389 (which expands on Charles’s reaction to the letter) mentions that Charles and Moira meet during several periods of shore leave, during which she nicknamed him the Good Shepherd for his search and rescue operations.

X-Men #117, published in the seventies, was the earliest flashback to really fill in any of Moira’s back story, and it was a retcon even then – in Moira’s earliest appearances, Claremont was plainly setting up a subplot that Charles had done something awful to her when they split up. This flashback casually ignores all that and reverses it. Claremont never directly explains why Moira dumps Charles, though the simplest explanation would be that she meets Joe (again). Only one pre-Hickman story addresses the point directly – Excalibur vol 1 #81, which pretty much has her claiming that she broke off the engagement because she was intimidated by how awesome Charles and his dream were. Obviously, that was a terrible idea, and it comes from a fill-in issue so we can all quietly ignore it.

Powers of X #6 has a couple more diary entries that must take place before the break-up – either before Charles’ military service, or during a period of leave. Moira writes that she believes her romance with Charles is stopping him from becoming the person he needs to be; and together, they come up with the idea of using a group of mutants including a reality-warper, prompting her to look for possible mates with whom they could parent such a mutant. This is presumably meant to suggest that Moira is both trying to steer Charles in the desired direction, and leaving him in order to pursue Joe and have a child… all of which is at least as good an explanation for Moira dumping Charles as we had before.

One way or the other, Moira reconciles with Joe and marries him. Nothing of their married life has ever been shown on panel, unless you count their wedding photo, which can be seen in the back-up strip in Classic X-Men #36. But we’ve been told quite a bit about it, none of it very pleasant.

According to House of X #2, Moira is 25 at the time of the marriage, which is presumably a few years after she split up with Charles. X-Men vol 1 #127 says that Moira and Joe split up around 20 years before that story, following an incident in New York where Joe puts Moira in hospital for a week, and also leaves her pregnant with the child who becomes Proteus. When that story was published, the Comics Code prohibited any suggestions of sexual violence, which explains why Claremont dances slightly around the topic, but the implication is perfectly obvious. Later stories, published after the Code was out of the way, are more direct on the point – again, the Classic X-Men #36 back-up is unambiguous. None of this is inconsistent with Hickman’s retcon, but it does make the conception of Proteus into an area where sensible writers will tread carefully.

Moira and Joe don’t divorce, but are separated from this point on. (Supposedly Joe refuses her a divorce, though that’s not how Scots divorce law actually worked, even when these stories came out. Let’s assume that it works differently in the Marvel Universe.)

Across several late-seventies stories, Chris Claremont also gives a time frame of roughly 20 years ago for Moira to move to Muir Isle and set up the Mutant Research Centre there (see in particular Marvel Team-Up vol 1 #69, X-Men vol 1 #133 and Fantastic Four vs X-Men #1), and for her to give birth to Kevin (see X-Men vol 1 #127-128). He never spells this out clearly in a single story, but he’s so consistent about the 20-year time frame that he clearly intends these things to fit together. So, after splitting from Joe, Moira moves to Muir Isle, and she and Kevin live alone there for at least several years. Fantastic Four vs X-Men is explicit that she comes to Muir Isle for the first time in order to establish the Centre. House of X #2 is broadly consistent with all this and says that the Centre was set up two years after she married Joe (making their married life pretty short).

Unfortunately, House of X #2’s timeline also has Proteus being born four years after Moira sets up the Muir Research Centre, which really doesn’t fit with the established timeline. That’s either a retcon or a continuity error, and for the moment I’m assuming the latter.

X-Men: Legacy #208 by Mike Carey, John Romita, Klaus Janson & others (“From Genesis to Revelations”, February 2008). This story has a brief flashback to Moira meeting Charles at a Scottish cafĂ©, in what seems to be their first meeting since their break-up. (New Mutants vol 1 #27 says they don’t see each other for around 10 years after the break-up.) Charles is investigating mutants and asks Moira to share data; Moira says she has to keep her files confidential, and queries whether the godlike mutants will need his guidance anyway. This is the “Moira as sympathetic sceptic” interpretation which often comes up when writers want somebody to suggest that Charles is being a bit evangelical about his own role.

The flashback has to fit in here so that Charles can reunite with Moira while the Muir Isle Centre is still under construction. That helps to square New Mutants vol 1 #44, which claims that Muir Isle was “established as a companion facility to Xavier’s school” (something that works rather better under Hickman). But it’s also needed for Excalibur vol 1 #100, which reveals that Charles asked Moira to lay a “crypt room” in the foundations; this is the room where he ends up keeping hidden things like the Xavier Protocols that play a minor role in the Onslaught crossover. Presumably, post Hickman, it could feature all sorts of other dodgy hidden agenda stuff as well.

Having set up Muir Isle, Moira goes on to win a Nobel Prize, first mentioned in X-Men vol 1 #128. There’s a photo of her accepting it in Classic X-Men #36’s backup. House of X #2 says she won it a year after setting up Muir Isle, presumably for work she had done already.

New Mutants #11 by Nunzio Defilippis, Christina Weir, Carlo Barberi and Avalon Studios (“The Ties That Bind, Part 5 of 6”, February 2004). Fourteen years before the New Mutants are formed, Moira delivers Rahne Sinclair, whose mother dies in childbirth. Moira hands little Rahne over to Reverend Craig to raise (which is a very strange decision unless she knows that Craig is Rahne’s biological father). This is a very brief flashback which expands on a reference in Marvel Graphic Novel #4; we’ll get back to Moira and Rahne in a future post.

If you’re wondering about Moira’s maternal relationship with little Kevin… well, X-Men vol 1 #128 establishes that he gets shoved into a holding cell at age ten because his powers are so dangerous. His life before that is something of a blank; the only details are in an anecdote in Excalibur vol 1 #106 (from the start of the Ben Raab run) which talks about Moira and Kevin watching supply boats together from the balcony. That’s literally it. It’s another retcon-friendly blank slate. Keep this in mind, though, because we’ll see in future parts that Moira’s professed relationships with both Kevin and Rahne aren’t exactly backed up by as much on-panel evidence as you might expect.

Cable #-1 by James Robinson, Ladronn & Juan Vlasco (“The Devil’s Herald”, July 1997). This is the Flashback Month issue of Cable. Cable travels to the present day for the first time (from his point of view) and appears in Stornoway. Moira brings him to Muir Isle, and he learns English from her mind. Moira carries out some tests and learns about his techno-organics; then she puts him in touch with Charles Xavier.

This story is supposed to tie up a loose end about how Cable and Moira knew each other (which we’ll get to during the Muir Island Saga period). Regrettably, Cable #-1 is a bit of a train wreck. Moira’s claim she hasn’t spoken to Charles in several years is a bit weird but just about plausible, and besides, maybe she’s lying. Stornoway is depicted as a superstitious village (it actually has a population of several thousand). Moira discovers Cable’s techno-organics, which contradicts Cable #9, where she discovers them again (but maybe he wipes her memory). And the big one, Rahne is shown as Moira’s adoptive daughter as a young child (which is just nonsense). Fortunately she does nothing essential to the plot, so we can choose to just ignore her.

Next time, more prehistory, covering the formation of the X-Men through to Moira’s actual debut at the start of Chris Claremont’s run.

Bring on the comments

  1. Dazzler says:

    I agree that the Holocaust is crucial to Magneto’s backstory, but with all the things that have been sacrificed for the sake of this Krakoa stuff it seems odd for you guys to be so sure Marvel could never toss it.

    And I’m Jewish, guys. The Holocaust stuff has always resonated with me. But (and I mean this) virtually everything that ever resonated with me about the X-Men was erased with House of X, so why couldn’t this too?

  2. Moo says:

    @Col_Fury
    “Ah, but Magda has to be a concentration camp survivor. Check out Classic X-Men #12 and X-Factor Annual #4.”

    No because I wasn’t pitching that idea as a continuity implant story like Deadly Genesis or Wolverine’s “first X-Men”.

    I was proposing a continuity rewrite. It would have to be a rewrite, not an implant. Can’t have Magneto just out of the blue reveal he time-jumped several decades. It wouldn’t make sense that we only just found out about it. So, I’m talking about rewriting his backstory.

  3. Col_Fury says:

    re: Moo
    Ah, gotcha. I see what you’re saying now. Cool. 🙂

    As for removing the Holocaust from Magneto’s history, I just don’t see it happening. It was included in the recent History of the Marvel Universe mini, after all. But hey, I’ve been wrong plenty of times before, I could be wrong about this. *shrug*

  4. Deworde says:

    Oh yeah, this is the content I come to HoA for.

  5. The original Matt says:

    Regarding all the time line stuff, I honestly thought the “time is broken” thing from a few years ago was being set up to address this.

    Time moved normally until 1980 or so, then with all the time travel that happens in the marvel universe things got all elasticy and weird and time just moves oddly now.

    No more rewrites needed.

    What IS going to be interesting is how the address Magneto in the MCU.

  6. […] Last time we covered Moira’s history before the recruitment of the X-Men. This time, I’m going to go through her appearances from there through to her first published appearance, near the start of the Claremont run. This is, if anything, even more piecemeal than part 1 – that’s largely because these are mostly one-off stories published in no particular order. It settles down once we get to her debut. […]

  7. […] posts into the series, we finally reach Moira’s first published appearance! (For part 1, see here; for part 2, see […]

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