Deadpool’s coming back in May and he’s bringing a lot of friends with him. Well… friends might be a bit of a loose term. The people he’s seemingly recruited for his X-Force team are a mishmashed, motley crew of mutants you’ve probably never heard of before. In fact, unless you were reading X-Force rather religiously through the ’90s and early 2000s, you might not have any clue who those jerks in the back of that plane are, aside perhaps from Domino.
That’s okay. You don’t need to know them all, but you should know one of them. Bad news. You’ve had a gap in your lives up until this very moment. A nearly seven-foot-tall, double blade wielding, mulleted gap.
Let’s talk about Shatterstar. Buckle up, the ride is… kind of bumpy.
A New Kind Of New Mutant
New Mutants #99 by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld arrived in March of 1991, signalling the end of the original New Mutants as everyone had known them. This was the tipping point. In the issues preceding #100, the majority of the original New Mutants had left the team either due to outside factors or because of the team’s new teacher, Cable, with his gruff demeanor and military-style leadership. To replace them came a number of new teammates, each more extreme than the last. T’was the era, after all. Warpath, Domino, Feral— and of course, Shatterstar.
Introduced as a extra-dimensional warrior from a different planet, in a different reality one hundred years in the future, Shatterstar is complicated. It’s kind of written into his DNA. Shatterstar (formerly designated Gaveedra-7) hails from Mojoworld, a dystopian planet of swamps, harsh deserts and futuristic cities. Its despotic leader and namesake, Mojo, is a particularly repulsive member of a race of aliens named the Spineless Ones. Obsessed with media and television, Mojo takes entertainment to the extreme, staging gladiatorial death matches between genetically modified humanoids for the amusement of himself and his loyal viewers.
In his first appearance, ‘Star tells us that he was genetically engineered on Mojoworld to be the perfect warrior. He also tells us and the team that will soon be known as X-Force, that he is a blood warrior of the Cadre (the revolutionary fighting force on Mojoworld set on overthrowing the planet’s evil and squishy-looking ruler.) Shatterstar has an impressive list of abilities, including a regenerative healing factor (although not one as powerful as Wolverine’s), enhanced senses, super-strength and agility, and the expert swordsmanship and martial skills which he honed during his years as a gladiator. Not to mention his mutant power: the ability to channel and project massive amounts of bio-electricity, which he focuses through his swords.
Shatterstar doesn’t start out as much more than the sum of his parts. His original design is more reminiscent of an 80s hair metal band member than of a superhero, but something about him always stuck out to me. A hyper-violent, devastatingly effective warrior from the future with no idea how to fit in and make friends on Earth? Sign me up.
X-Force Glory Days
In 1992, Rob Liefeld — Shatterstar’s co-creator — left Marvel Comics to found Image Comics with a handful of his contemporaries. Abandoning his comic progeny and a relatively newly launched X-Force, Shatterstar’s days as the poster boy for late 80s action movie obsession were numbered. Under the care of X-Force scribe Fabian Nicieza, ‘Star, as his teammates began to fondly refer to him, started to become the stoic, stern and serious but wonderfully weird character that I grew to love. Even as he began to change ‘Star remained an outcast, not only in society but also among his fellow mutants; his alien nature becoming more apparent as it contrasted with his teammates’ typical teenage personas. Even if he was one of them, he wasn’t really one of them.
Then he met Rictor.
Julio Esteban Richter, originally a New Mutant shortly before the series ended and previously part of the X-Terminators team alongside Boom Boom, initially appeared in X-Force as an antagonist. After a brief few issues in conflict with the team, Rictor rejoined his friends. Shatterstar, however, immediately clashed with him. Rictor’s disdain for authority — particularly that of the team’s leader, Cable — brought him into conflict with ‘Star, whose ideas about a warrior’s honor and the chain of command couldn’t have been more different. At first, it seemed like the only things Rictor had in common with Shatterstar were a hair-trigger temper and an aptitude for immense destruction.
But though their glaring differences had initially pushed them apart, it was their uncanny similarities which would eventually draw them together.
By the time X-Force passed its 25 issue mark, ‘Star and Rictor had clearly become close friends. With Rictor, ‘Star found an anchor to the world he had previously felt alien to; someone he could turn to when he had questions, someone who comforted him even when he didn’t have the answers. They found excuses to spend time with each other, running errands for the team and partnering on missions. During downtime, they were practically inseparable; they went out dancing together, bonded over a shared affinity for the Beastie Boys and Yo! MTV Raps, and even watched episodes of Love Connection together. ‘Star even learned Spanish from television so he and Ric could converse in Ric’s native language. Later, ‘Star taught Rictor the code of the Cadre Alliance on Mojoworld — ‘Star’s native language. At this point, it was clear that the two understood each other in ways far deeper than that.
With Rictor as his guide, ‘Star turned from the solemn, emotionally-stunted alien he had been when he arrived on Earth to a teenager awash in the complexities of human emotions that he knew he hadn’t been programmed for. They grew immeasurably close. It seemed like there was much more than just friendship between them.
Though Rictor briefly left X-Force (likely due to creative team changes), ‘Star still kept his deep connection with his friend. During that time, another wrench was thrown into Shatterstar’s continuity. During a mission with his X-Force teammate Syrin, where they infiltrated a mental institution, ‘Star found information about a comatose boy there named Benjamin Russell who looked mysteriously identical to him. Confused and alarmed at this development, ‘Star began to doubt the validity of his very existence. It was during this tumultuous time that Rictor returned to him and along with X-Force, facilitated unraveling the mystery of Benjamin Russell’s relationship with Shatterstar. This confusing story seemed to allude that Benjamin Russell was Earth 616’s version of Shatterstar while ‘Star originally hailed from the alternate reality of Mojoworld. The conclusion of this story saw Shatterstar die on Mojoworld, but with the help of usual antagonist Spiral, was brought back to earth where his soul merged with Benjamin Russell’s. This story has been retconned, but it does hold quite a few tender and emotional moments between Rictor and Shatterstar. While their romance was never made canon in the 90’s – at least not explicitly – the subtext is there, and seeing it is key to understanding why the relationship played such a significant part in shaping Shatterstar as he is now.
X Post Facto
Shatterstar left X-Force alongside Rictor at the end of issue #70. The two would reappear as the central characters in the X-Force ‘99 Annual, but by the time X-Force was turned into X-Statix in the early 2000’s and the remaining X-Force members disappeared, it seemed as though Shatterstar had vanished with them. Like a lot of other ’90s mutants, he went into stasis, save for a handful of cameos. Rob Liefeld brought him back in 2005 for a Shatterstar and X-Force mini, but it seemed as though Rob held little regard for ‘Star’s character development in his absence. The result was a version of Shatterstar so close to his original characterization that it seemed as though he might lose relevance to the modern readership forever.
Though it seemed like ‘Star was back at square one, his next appearance would be the most impactful one yet. During a visit to his home planet of Mojoworld, ‘Star was attacked by an entity known only as Cortex, who would later be revealed to be a wayward duplicate of fellow mutant Jamie Madrox. Possessed and sent on a mission to kill, ‘Star was interrupted by his old friend Rictor who had, in the interim, taken up with Jamie Madrox’s mutant detective agency X-Factor.
After attempting to murder his friend while under Cortex’s control, ‘Star managed to shake off the possession just in time to stop himself. Then, upon seeing each other for the first time in years, Rictor and ‘Star shared a kiss. While not the first same-sex kiss in a Marvel comic (that honor goes, oddly enough, to a throwaway scene in X-Statix), it was certainly a heavily-publicized one, and one that many fans felt had been a long time in the making.
From there, Shatterstar went on to join Madrox’s dysfunctional band of misfit mutant PI’s with his now official more-than-just-friend Rictor. ‘Star remained a member of that team for years, battling not only the unnecessary drama of a love triangle that pit him and Rictor against their ex-New Mutants teammate Rahne, but also Hela and zombie asgardians in Las Vegas, an old enemy from Mojoworld, and even the likes of Mephisto as hell itself came to earth.
During a tense scene at the narrative climax of X-Factor’s Hell on Earth War, Shatterstar and Rictor were seemingly killed by the villain. Later, in a twist of fate, it was revealed that they were instead sent forward into Mojoworld’s future — ‘Star’s past.
After a failed rebellion attempt, ‘Star was mindwiped by Mojo and sent into the arena to fight none other than Rictor, who had in the meantime been imprisoned as a slave. Broken out of his brainwashed state by his partner, and saved in the nick of time by Mojoworld rebels, Shatterstar was brought back to the rebel base, with Rictor and his old teammate Longshot leading the way.
Once there, it’s explained that when Shatterstar showed up on Mojoworld, a being named Arize was so fascinated by him that he used ‘Star’s genetic material to create Longshot, his not-quite-clone. This explanation answered a long-standing question about just how fellow Mojoworld exile Longshot and Shatterstar were related, but brought with it several other questions. If Longshot was a clone, then where did Shatterstar come from?
In the conclusion to X-Factor #259 it is revealed that Shatterstar was never genetically manufactured at all, but was born to a very pregnant Dazzler during her time with the rebels on Mojoworld. Dazzler informs Ric that the father is Longshot, revealing that Shatterstar is, through the powers of time travel and incredibly complex comic book continuities, technically his own grandfather.
To complete the time loop, Rictor and ‘Star were then tasked with erasing Longshot and Dazzler’s memories of the baby, and then transporting baby Shatterstar to the people that would raise him to set his life as he knew it in motion.
Though X-Factor is the book that eventually publicized Shatterstar’s relationship with Rictor, there are moments in the story where it feels as though the narrative leaves both characters behind. Shatterstar’s time in X-Force is what really defines a lot of who he is to me, and to a lot of others as well. If you’re interested in learning more about Shatterstar, I urge you to pick up some of these comics.
The best Shatterstar stories in the ’90s are the ones that explore ‘Star’s relationship with others and the changing ways in which he views himself, his growing sense of unease at his newfound emotions, and just how much he cares about his friends. For this I recommend reading X-Force #19-25 by Fabian Nicieza and Greg Capullo, X-Force #33-34 by Fabian Nicieza and Tony Daniel, and X-Force #40 and 43 by Fabian Nicieza and Tony Daniel, as well as Cable #22 by Jeph Loeb and Ian Churchill and X-Force #56 by Jeph Loeb and Adam Pollina. If you can find it, the X-Force ‘99 Annual by Fabian Nicieza and Chris Renaud also fits the theme.
Peter David’s authorial turn on X-Factor Investigations strips ‘Star down for a new audience, but even though his bisexuality is represented in the book, his characterization can sometimes veer into harmful stereotypes and his relationship with Rictor loses some of its original significance in exchange for unnecessary drama. Take these stories with a grain of salt. Focus on the good parts.
Obviously, this is far too much backstory to fit into one movie appearance. In fact, even though ‘Star is confirmed to be an alien in Deadpool 2, it’s uncertain how much will be left on the cutting room floor. Either way, his new look falls somewhere between his X-Factor redesign and C. Viper, of Street Fighter fame.
As of next month, however, a character whose origins is of a time-traveling interdimensional alien who loves hip hop, daytime television, and bloody battles to the death will finally make it onto the big screen in real life. After years in relative comic-book obscurity, millions of people will now know Shatterstar’s name – no matter how brief his appearance in the film.
Deadpool 2 arrives in theaters May 18th. All those comics books are available right now.