X-Men #6: The Feminine Mystique

X-Men #6: The Feminine Mystique

Sometimes a new comic book issue hits the stands and you immediately know what scene people are going to talk about. It could be something gigantic, like a cliffhanger or a shocking death, or it could be something as small as a single panel or, really, a single word. In X-Men #6, that moment comes

Sometimes a new comic book issue hits the stands and you immediately know what scene people are going to talk about. It could be something gigantic, like a cliffhanger or a shocking death, or it could be something as small as a single panel or, really, a single word. In X-Men #6, that moment comes on page 23. The very first panel is deceptively direct—a closeup of Mystique, eyes narrowed, her mouth open in a snarling scream: “I WANT MY WIFE BACK!” And those words are everything.

X-Men #6

Matteo Buffagni (artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design)
Marvel Comics
February 12, 2020

x-men #6 cover with mystique

But first. X-Men #6, by Jonathan Hickman and Matteo Buffagni, ends the first arc of Dawn of X’s flagship title—and while “arc” doesn’t seem quite fitting for six mostly stand-alone snapshots of the X-Men’s new life on Krakoa, it does take us back to where we began. We revisit the ominous ending of X-Men #1, but the pages also flip back to the beginning of Powers of X #1, revealing the full extent of Mystique’s cooperation with Xavier and Magneto. Hickman and Buffagni lift the veil and give us one of those rare surprises that’s all the more satisfying because deep down, we already suspected it. Naturally, appearances were deceiving. This is Mystique!

In my X-Men reviews, I’ve often circled back to House of X and Powers of X, drawing connections and building on previous issues like my own hastily-scribbled, crayons-on-an-IHOP-placemat version of Tom Muller’s data pages. X-Men #6’s extended flashbacks answer one of the question marks that has been hanging over my head since the series concluded. It was a bit strange, wasn’t it, that Hickman made a point of Mystique making demands of Xavier and joining the mission to destroy Mother Mold, only for her to be unceremoniously blasted out of an airlock by Dr. Gregor? Cyclops told her not to bring a Krakoan gateway flower on the mission, so of course she did, right? That couldn’t have been all there was to it…right?

The deception isn’t that Mystique did bring a gateway flower onto their enemies’ ship, but that she did so at the behest of Xavier and Magneto. Though they believe that Mystique planted the seed before she was killed and resurrected, they need proof, so they send her through a gateway back into the belly of the “motherless orphan” that is the Forge. There she discovers that instead of stopping the creation of Nimrod, the X-Men may have assured it—and if anyone knows that Destiny cannot be argued with, it’s Mystique. Her sole reason for helping Xavier was the promise that he would resurrect her wife Destiny, but that’s a promise he and Moira MacTaggert have no intention of fulfilling.

x-men #6

Now, back to that standout moment. This issue is the first confirmation that Mystique and her lifelong partner were married. Not that the act of marriage is needed to validate their relationship, but Mystique shouts it openly, proudly, and passionately, and that’s important because so much of their union existed in the shadow of the Comics Code. Written by Chris Claremont in the 1980s as a devoted pair raising a daughter together, Mystique and Destiny were Marvel’s first same-sex couple, though it remained in the margins as subtext. Words are important when we talk about these characters because it was a single word—“leman,” an archaic term meaning “lover”—that slipped past the Code in Uncanny X-Men #265 and immortalized their romance. There are thirty years between Destiny becoming a leman and becoming a wife; a long journey for many queer X-Men readers, but an important one.

Released in February, X-Men #6 is a blue valentine, aching with a lost love. Jonathan Hickman’s spiral staircase of a plot is realized beautifully by guest artist Matteo Buffagni. His Mystique is wonderfully mysterious—we see pain, sadness, and anger flicker over her face, and yet she remains dangerous and unknowable. There are moments of tenderness sprinkled throughout the issue, such as Mystique and Destiny holding hands in the glow of a sunset, but it also carries a moody, somber heaviness. (Just look at Mystique’s grimace as she emerges reborn from her pod—who would have thought birth would be painful for the one being born?) Another stunning scene shows us Mystique floating in space, dying, thinking only of Irene as her tears glitter like stars in the blackness. Mystique does have a heart, though she’d just as soon cut out ours.

That’s something we can’t forget: Mystique is a killer, and her future with Destiny is doomed by their past. For Krakoa to survive the existential threat of humanity, all of mutantkind needs to work together, but is it possible that some wounds, grievances, and crimes can’t be forgiven? Mystique hates Xavier (in her own words: “I have always hated you.”) and Xavier knows Mystique can never be trusted. The houses of Xavier and Darkholme have a tangled history: Xavier’s son killed Mystique’s wife, and Xavier saved the life of Mystique’s daughter, to say nothing of the fact that Xavier and Mystique were once married to each other and conceived a child before time travel Butterfly Effect-ed that inexplicable union out of existence. (Hey, if I have to remember that plotline, you do too.) The enmity between these two is underexplored, but fascinating—I love the imagery of Cerebro’s cold, metallic gaze reflecting Mystique’s visage back at her.

The why behind Xavier’s lie is, as we know, Moira. She’s forbidden the resurrection of any precog who could make her presence known, but considering that Destiny had Moira torched to death in a previous life, it seems a personal grudge is very likely here. (At the risk of sounding like a wiki page, it’s worth remembering that it was Mystique who seemingly murdered Moira years ago, though we now know that was her husk.) Like I said, this history is tangled: Moira once created a cure for mutation, and Destiny and Mystique killed her for it; now Moira refuses to resurrect Destiny, and Mystique may damn well kill everyone for it. It’s a vicious cycle of mutant betraying mutant; the challenge is seeing who, or what, will break it first, if Krakoa is to survive the humans and their little mutant murder machine factories on Mercury.

And what about Dr. Gregor, hammering away on the Forge? Consider that we see one panel featuring Mystique, Gregor, and a knife, and in the next panel we see Mystique, but neither Gregor nor the knife. What happened between those panels, and do we dare trust Mystique when she says she didn’t kill her? Mystique and Gregor are dark reflections of each other, both driven by the singular need to resurrect their dead loved ones. So alike are they that it would make sense if one woman replaced the other—will Orchis be the fire that Mystique brings down on Krakoa?

One more thought about Mystique and Destiny, inspired by Buffagni’s striking final image. How interesting that Mystique, the eternally malleable shapeshifter who can take on any face, fell in love with a woman who wore a mask made of gold: solid, permanent, and unchanging.

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  • Phil
    February 18, 2020, 12:47 pm

    Now, if only they can shadow retcon that Nightcrawler is the child of Mystique and Destiny. All that demon stuff is just super confusing (at least to read in summary via Wikipedia) and the original intent feels so much truer to the soap-opera that is X-Men at its core.

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  • DMaster
    February 17, 2020, 8:21 pm

    Just one thing from all of that deep, DEEP analysis:

    "Hey, if I have to remember that plotline, you do too."

    Um…when was this? Issue #s cited? I have ABSOLUTELY no idea when this was.

    REPLY
    • Nola Pfau@DMaster
      February 18, 2020, 6:03 am

      It was during Bendis’ X-Men run, right after AvX, when Xavier was dead and they were reading his last will and testament.

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