Illyana Rasputin: The History Of Magik and Why She’s One Of The Most Inspirational X-Men Ever
The New Mutants burst onto the scene in the late 1980s. The book was created by the now-legendary writer, Chris Claremont, and was illustrated by Bob McLeod. When the team was created, Claremont was in the first half of his epic seventeen-year run on the X-Men title.
Claremont’s effect on the X-Men cannot be understated. Through his brilliance and imaginative storytelling, he was able to take a franchise on the verge of cancellation and breathe new life into it. Claremont ushered in an age of comic books that haven’t been replicated since. He’s responsible for some of the greatest stories in both X-Men history and comic history.
- God Loves, Man Kills
- The Dark Phoenix Saga
- Mutant Massacre
- Brood Saga
- Days of Future Past
These stories helped shape the X-Men for that generation and every subsequent generation. More impressive than his story creation, however, is that he’s also responsible for the creation and co-creation of some of the most influential and important characters in the Marvel Universe.
- Kitty Pryde
- Alpha Flight
- Black Tom
- Emma Frost
- Moira MacTaggert
- Sebastian Shaw
- William Stryker
- Rachel Summers
What Chris Claremont did is unprecedented. To say that he’s the most influential writer a franchise or brand has ever seen isn’t a stretch.
During his run, Marvel had such faith in him that they continually tasked him with more and more X-titles. This meant that on top of his commitment to the most popular book (by his doing) at Marvel, he was to create and write numerous spin-off titles. Although this was an undertaking that no one person should have to do, Marvel‘s request is understandable. Chris Claremont and his X-Men book had become the company’s cash cow. Marvel was going to milk it for everything they could.
Under this directive, he created Excalibur, a solo title Wolverine book, and the aforementioned New Mutants.
The original New Mutants lineup consisted of Cannonball, Karma, Sunspot, Mirage, and Wolfsbane. Eventually, the team grew to include Cypher, Magma, Warlock, and Magik. The New Mutants were similar to the X-Men in the sense that they too, were mutants. Different from the X-Men, however, is that they were very young. Too young, in fact, to become chartered members of the main lineup. Although this could’ve been a detriment to the team, it wasn’t. Through Claremont, the New Mutants gave the reader a fresh look at the mutant genre.
The book was able to go to places that the main X-Men book couldn’t. Nowhere was this more evident than the “Demon Bear Saga”. If you’ve watched Fox’s New Mutants movie, you’ll recognize the story as it was adapted there. The “Demon Bear Saga” allowed Claremont to write a horror story of sorts.
I know I’m beating the metaphorical “dead horse” by continually praising his contribution to the X-Men franchise, but I do it to stress how important he was. Claremont was the X-Men.
If there was any character under the New Mutants title that was profoundly impacted by Claremont, it’s Magik. Before him, Magik was Illyana Rasputin and Illyana Rasputin was merely a footnote in her brother, Colossus’s history.
That simplified explanation doesn’t do the character any justice.
The history of Magik begins in Russia. Illyana, like her brother Piotr, are children to Russian farmers. The Rasputin’s are the descendants of a powerful soccer named Rasputin. Through his power, Rasputin was able to hold the Russian Tsars under his control and influence for many years. Like Piotr, Illyana made her debut in Giant-Sized X-Men #1 back in 1975. Unlike Piotr, at the time she wasn’t a mutant. Because she wasn’t a mutant, Illyana spent the first many years of existence in the shadow of her brother.
That changed in the 1980s.
The 1980s took the comic book industry to places it had never been. Gone were the superhero stories that pitted good against evil with good predictably coming out on top. Gone were the simple stories that the industry was built on. And gone was the idea that comic books were only for kids. In their place were books rooted in dark undertones and real-world issues.
I can’t say that the history of Magik is centered around real-world issues. I can, however, say with certainty that her transformation was rooted in dark undertones.
Let me explain.
X-Men #160 marked a pivotal point in the history of Magik. The issue, released in August of 1982, saw the X-Men travel to the Limbo Dimension to rescue a very young Illyana Rasputin. She needed rescue from the Limbo Dimension because while the X-Men were busy in a training session a voice called out to her. It said, “Tell no one, Illyana. Just follow my voice… to paradise.” As it turned out, the voice belonged to the Demon Belasco and he hoped to lure her to his Dimension so that he may use her to become more powerful.
After learning that she was missing, the team immediately set out to find and rescue her. They successfully did this and Illyana returned to her own world. This, however, didn’t come without a cost. During her time there, Belasco presented her with the Beatrix Medallion. He told her that if she were to help him collect the five Bloodstones that sit inside it, she would be able to fulfill her true potential.
Once back in her own bed, she awakened to find that A) she had aged thirteen years and B) the Beatrix Medallion was still with her and in her hand. While the Medallion is a bizarre occurrence, it pales in comparison to the fact that when she was taken, she was no more than a young girl, and when she returned, she was 13-years-old. Both were explained in 1983s Magik (Storm and Illyana Limited Series).
First, Illyana rapidly aged because time moves quicker in the Limbo Dimension. Second…well the second part (Beatrix Medallion) is a little more complicated.
To understand why she was given the Beatrix Medallion is to know that Belasco planned to use Illyana to free the Elder Gods from the prison that held them hostage. The only way to free them was to fill the Beatrix Medallion with the five bloodstones and use its power. The only way to acquire the Bloodstones was to corrupt the body and mind of another. Because Illyana was so young and impressionable, Belasco figured that he could easily get what he wanted by using her.
This, however, wasn’t the case. Instead of doing as he wished and as the history of Magik shows, Illyana tried time and again to escape. Eventually, she was able to do this.
After freeing herself from his capture, Illyana befriended two familiar, yet not so familiar faces. Aside from Illyana, the Limbo Dimension was also home to a couple of X-Men. These X-Men, Storm and Kitty Pryde, sought out Illyana in hopes to train her to defeat Belasco.
No different than the Earth-616 version, Storm aimed to do good in the world. As such, when she had the opportunity to befriend, rescue, and teach Illyana how to do good with magic, she did. Different from Storm, Kitty Pryde believed in the power of hand-to-hand combat. Sensing that Illyana had maximum potential, she reached out and taught Illyana what she knew.
Eventually, Illyana returned to Belasco. While it may not make sense to return to someone as evil as Belasco, understand that Illyana knew in order to free herself from his control she would have to become more powerful than he was. To do that meant to confront and learn from him. So, that’s what she did. She returned to learn everything he knew.
For years, she studied his every word, instruction, and request. She watched as he cast spells, summoned demons, and conjured up the Dark Arts. Then, when he could teach her no more, she began plotting her escape.
Before she could escape, however, Belasco ordered her to sacrifice Storm to the Elder Gods. Unwilling to sacrifice her friend and mentor, she instead killed her as a way to save her soul. She then promptly sent her soul to Storm’s garden (in the form of an oak tree) where it could peacefully rest. For the next while, Illyana worked tirelessly to help the tree produce living acorns. Eventually, after countless failed attempts, the tree crumbled to dust and withered away. It was at this moment that she realized that she had been trying to create life as a means to bring about an end (Belasco’s life). Upon her realization, she channeled all her power into creating the ultimate weapon. That weapon, the Soulsword, gave her what she needed to confront Belasco.
The Soulsword, for context, is one of the most powerful weapons in the Marvel Universe. It’s what happens when Magik causes her own energy to physically form in front of her. That is, when she draws upon her own energy, that energy takes shape in the form of the Soulsword.
On its own, the sword is a formidable weapon. However, if used as only a weapon, it’s doing only half of what it’s capable of. The Soulsword is able to disrupt magical spells and beings, usually causing both to disappear. In addition, the more it is used, the more powerful it becomes.
Although Illyana now possessed the power to kill the demon lord, she understood that killing him would only lead to her own evil and thereby bind her to the Limbo Dimension. Next, we see her, she had used a teleportation disc (her innate mutant ability) and returned to Earth.
When Illyana returned, she wasn’t the young and impressionable girl that left. She was aged to thirteen and was now one of the most powerful mutants in the world. As we all know, power corrupts.
The events of Magik (Storm and Illyana Limited Series) did more than grant Illyana incredible power. By drawing the Soulsword, she inadvertently awoken the dark and demonic half of her being. This being was known as Darkchylde.
But before we get to that…
At her core, she’s a mutant. As a mutant, she has the ability to create warping discs. While the discs are typically used to transport her and/or others to and from various locations, they have been used as a weapon in battle. When she draws the Soulsword, not only does the weapon appear, but so too does a suit of armor that protects her against all attacks… even the most powerful of magical attacks.
Different from most mutants, Illyana is so proficient with magic that it can be difficult to remember that she was a mutant first. As the on and off again ruler of Limbo, she’s also its version of the Sorcerer Supreme. Even the Eye is Agamotto recognizes this. Should Steven Strange die, she’s one of a few considered to replace him.
The demonic part of Magik’s being, Darkchylde, comes to be as Magik uses her magical abilities more and more. As this happens, she’s consumed by evil and begins to transform. If she’s not careful, she will eventually lose control. When this happens, she grows horns, turns a slight shade of red, and grows hooves. As Darkchylde, her power is considerably heightened. Although this makes her extremely formidable, she’s not unbeatable. Time and again, her enemies have found a way to use that her power against her.
Her on and off again time as Darkchylde has caused those closest to her to experience a level of mistrust in her. Magik is, for lack of a better description, the “it factor” in determining whether or not the X-Men win or lose. Her unpredictability has both cost and won an uncountable amount of battles for her team. Even Cyclops, who has caused his share of trust issues, has had to imprison her when she couldn’t be trusted. As I said, power corrupts and the history of Magik illustrates no shortage of it.
It would be easy for writers to typecast Magik into an “all-powerful, but confused damsel in distress” role. After all, she and the X-Men, have been a breeding ground for damsels in distress since they came to be. Think no further than the way Jean Grey has been used over the years.
I won’t get into Jean Grey too much mainly because I wrote an article about her over here. I will, however, say that her history is mired with events that either A) cause her to need saving from a predominantly male team, or B) see her struggle to cope with the amount of power she’s gained. Magik doesn’t replicate Jean’s constant need for rescue but she does replicate her inability to handle her power.
Just as Jean Grey is unable to hold back the power of the Phoenix, when Magik becomes Darkchylde, she too struggles. While Jean becomes a destroyer of worlds and galaxies, Magik unleashes literal Hell on those around her. What makes the history of Magik unique is that when it comes to secondary characters (Magik is one), she and her backstory are very fleshed out. Almost surprisingly, this doesn’t prevent some writers from using her as a mechanism to push a story along.
Where Illyana triumphs over Jean is that, unlike Jean, she often lets a terrible situation push her into being better and more powerful. More importantly, she allows it to give her the strength to stand up to whatever evil force (bully) that has entrapped her.
And isn’t that what life is about? Standing up to adversity, torment, and tragedy and telling it that you won’t be pushed around by it.
This doesn’t mean that Illyana has overcome her inner demons. It’s quite the opposite. She’s in a constant state of struggle. Her mutation allows her to teleport to practically anywhere. However, to do so means that she must travel through the Limbo Dimension. Because the Limbo Dimension has caused her great pain, each time she uses her mutation she’s reminded of that pain. This constant reminder is enough to cause grief to a fully mature adult, let alone a little girl trapped in a teenager’s body. As a result, Illyana forces herself to hide her true self from those closest to her. Worse yet, as is the case for many victims of abuse, Illyana struggles to make deep and meaningful connections with those who wish to pursue them with her.
None of this means that she isn’t trying.
Over the years, she has learned to trust those who have her best intentions at heart. Although she does this because she doesn’t trust herself, it’s personal growth where there was once none.
Magik is by no means perfect. She’s just as flawed as any character in comic books. She is, however, both captivating and inspirational. She has overcome and continues to overcome the direst of situations. She’s the most powerful of the Rasputin family not because of her mutation or her knowledge of dark magic. Instead, she’s the most powerful of the Rasputin family because she works very hard to not let her terrible past dictate her present and future.
This is a lesson that we can all learn from.
As I do with all of these in-depth articles, I’m going to leave you with this. Comic books are the gateway to understanding the world just a little bit better. So, may they be around forever.
What do you think? Is the history of Magik a fair one? Do you believe that the history of Magik is equal to, let’s say, the history of Scarlet Witch?