Growing up is hard. Growing up as a mutant is even worse. Not only do you have weird hormones and zits to worry about, you also have an evil sorcerer trying to steal your soul and convert you into one of his minions. Welcome to the world of Illyana Rasputin — better known as the mutant Magik.

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MAGIK: STORM AND ILLYANA #1 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Things have been less than easy for the mutant girl, but that’s not what makes her different from other female superheroes. Tons of heroes go through tough times, but for Magik, she suffered the most at a young age and came out of the experience clinging to hope. Unlike so many other female characters who taste the dark side and immediately become consumed (i.e. Madelyne Pryor) or reject the dark side entirely, Magik uses her traumatic experiences as a child to become a hero.

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The Birth of Darkchylde

Illyana Rasputin is first seen in GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1, alongside her mutant brother, Piotr Rasputin (aka Colossus). The X-Men recruit Colossus, and Illyana comes to live with him at the X-Mansion. Unfortunately, when Illyana is six the demonic Belasco captures her and takes her to Limbo in UNCANNY X-MEN #160. In the 1983 series, MAGIK: STORM AND ILLYANA, the ancient sorcerer plans to use the five pieces of Illyana’s soul to create powerful bloodstones. But before he can remove all of them, alternate versions of Storm and Kitty Pryde rescue Illyana. While in their care, Storm teaches Illyana magic.

Multiple years go by and, after a failed escape attempt, Illyana winds up back in Belasco’s clutches. She becomes his apprentice and learns how to use the dark magic that has infected her soul. She also learns how to use her mutant power of teleportation, which allows her to better understand Limbo. As her powers grow, so does Illyana’s determination to get back home to her family. In a raw show of her magical prowess, Illyana is able to harness the remains of her soul, creating her Soulsword.

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MAGIK: STORM AND ILLYANA #4 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

In the final battle with Belasco, Illyana is forced to kill her companions, Storm and Kitty, before exiling the evil sorcerer. After his death, Illyana becomes the ruler of Limbo. She also gains a new, more demonic persona called “Darkchylde” that the human part of herself must keep in check.

Over the years, Magik’s character has gone through other obstacles, from falling victim to the legacy virus, to unexpectedly losing her brother. However, I’ll be focusing on the pivotal few years Illyana spent in Limbo and how they’ve affected her character throughout other, more modern series.

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Half in Hell

At the end of comic series like MAGIK: STORM AND ILLYANA, we expect a positive ending. Something good has to happen at the end after such a traumatic story, right? The interesting thing about Magik’s past is that it never really goes away. After returning to her own world, Magik doesn’t get to relive her childhood or forget about her time in Limbo. She’s a permanently changed character after returning. Frequently in comics, characters are “permanently changed” and then revert back a series later (like Jean Grey coming back to life or Jubilee getting her powers back). But for Magik, her time in Limbo brought out an evil side of herself that would never go away entirely. Like in real life, traumatic events don’t disappear with every reboot or relaunch.

What is really interesting about Magik’s character is how she has reacted to losing her soul and growing up in Limbo. She very easily could’ve rejected portions of her life that she didn’t like. She could’ve stayed in Limbo and forgotten all about her brother and the X-Men. Or, alternatively, she could’ve ignored her responsibilities in Limbo (which she does, for a short time, before realizing how much she’s needed there). Instead of committing herself to one life, Magik learns to live in both the normal, human world and in Limbo.

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MAGIK: STORM AND ILLYANA #4 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Fighting an Everyday Battle

Living in two separate worlds isn’t easy for Magik. The internal fight between the two factions is constant and painful. Her Darkchylde persona is unruly and almost impossible to control, as seen in UNCANNY X-MEN (2013) #4-7. Even now, years after her childhood in Limbo, Magik struggles with her different identities.

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Few female superheroes have lifelong struggles. Jean Grey had the Phoenix, but in PHOENIX RESURRECTION #5 she got rid of the fiery bird, supposedly for good. Rogue learns to control her powers, the Scarlet Witch is finally forgiven for the whole “no more mutants” thing, Kitty finally gets married, and She-Hulk is no longer gray. But Illyana isn’t so lucky. Her problems aren’t temporary and her past isn’t erasable. She struggles in a stereotypically “masculine” way. She is the Batman of female characters — her childhood plagues her every day. Female superheroes are supposed to be happy at the end of the day and it strangely feels unnatural to see a girl hero struggling so indefinitely.

But that’s partly what makes her unique as a female hero. As sad as it is, Magik’s life is a reality in comics that needs to be seen. Sometimes, there isn’t a knight who can bail you out of the castle. Sometimes, things like childhood trauma don’t get better at the end of the issue. Having heroes like Illyana show readers that it’s okay to struggle with things. It also shows readers that internal struggles can oftentimes make you a lot stronger.

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UNCANNY X-MEN (2013) #5 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Demons can be Helpful

As much as Illyana’s past haunts her, I still think it’s important to acknowledge how closely linked Limbo and Magik’s past are to her powers. Magik’s natural ability to create teleporting “stepping discs” is intrinsically linked to Limbo because she developed it there. Whenever she teleports somewhere, she has to go through Limbo first before going to her desired destination.

Limbo also granted her other powers, beyond her mutant ability. While in Limbo, Illyana learned magic and became the ruler of Limbo, giving her power over the demons who live there. Magik also first summoned her soul sword (which has saved the X-Men on many occasions) while in Limbo. While Magik probably would’ve been a formidable mutant if she hadn’t gone to Limbo, because of her experiences there she’s considered one of the most powerful current X-Men.

Vice and Virtue

Often in comics, female characters are strictly evil or strictly good. Antiheroes are usually male (Deadpool, Spawn, Venom, Punisher). Although female characters, like Emma Frost and Jean Grey, vacillate between good and evil, they rarely occupy both spaces at the same time. But Magik, in many ways, does. Magik isn’t necessarily a stereotypical antihero, but she possesses a lot of similar qualities. While she is normally on the “good” side, she has an array of demonic powers that keep her from being labeled as an entirely “good” character. Even though she’s the ruler of a hellish dimension, she’s also an X-Man.

As a female superhero, this is a big deal. Take Magik’s character and replace her with a male character. Suddenly, nothing about the character seems weird or different. A boy who becomes the ruler of Limbo but still struggles with human morals is more appropriate when considering societal norms. Since biblical times, men have wavered between good and evil, right and wrong. It is a presumably masculine struggle. According to Eve, women succumb instantly to temptation and don’t have the faculties to dither. They are one or the other — never both. In comics, female characters frequently either represent the rotten core of villainy (Hela) or the shining example of feminine innocence and morality (Supergirl).

Magik dismantles her expected role as a female superhero. She keeps one foot in Limbo and one on Earth. She is constantly struggling with her traumatic past but she adamantly refuses to succumb to it. For Magik, a female superhero (or a female in general) is not so simplistic as the terms good and evil. A female superhero can be a mixture of vice and virtue and still be a hero. To save the world, a pure, innocent soul isn’t needed.

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The Future of Magik

NEW MUTANTS: DEAD SOULS #1 features a new version of the classic Magik-led New Mutants team. Revivals of old titles love to change characterizations, but writer Matthew Rosenberg sticks with common themes. Magik’s Limbo powers are mysterious to everyone — even her teammates — and although she sticks to her morals, Magik uses less than pure methods. Although characters need to change, it’s good to see a writer acknowledging the parts of Magik that are permanent. No matter who is writing her, Magik will always have a connection to Limbo.

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NEW MUTANTS: DEAD SOULS #1 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The future of Magik’s character is in Rosenberg’s hands. Thankfully, he seems to understand the complexities and motivations behind her character. What’s important for Magik is that she doesn’t lose the connection to her past. With that in mind, I’d like to see some new takes on Magik as her character continues to be developed.  Her struggles with her Darkchylde persona have been mentioned, but I’d like to see a deeper, more internal exploration in the future. I’d also like to see writers push how special and unique Magik is within the world of comics. Maybe then other writers would be more inclined to develop female characters who redefine what it means to be a female superhero.

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