When an image of a horned demonic girl in armor crossed my Twitter timeline in 2018, I felt drawn to her. Illyana Rasputin looks like an untamed demon and a battle hardened human. In the recent trailer for the New Mutants film, I feel like we see a glimpse of both demon and human in Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal. With Illyana Rasputin rising into theatres this year, I wanted to discuss how her comic book counterpart Magik shows the power of embracing your worst self.
A Russian mutant and the younger sister of fellow X-Man Colossus, Illyana Rasputin’s comic book storyline is convoluted. At the age of seven, she is kidnapped by the demon Belasco and taken to the hell dimension of Limbo. There, Belasco manipulates Illyana into becoming his apprentice. He slowly corrupts her innocent soul, teaching her black magic and creating three of five Bloodstones needed to summon the Elder Gods and unleash them on earth. In the limited series Magik, Illyana learns white magic by Limbo’s version of Storm as well as hand-to-hand combat and swordplay by Limbo’s version of Kitty Pryde. Her mutant powers also manifest and she gains the ability to create teleportation discs.
While plotting Belasco’s defeat, Illyana creates a weapon known as the Soulsword by manifesting what remains of her soul. Then, she banishes Belasco from Limbo and becomes its new ruler. Not long after, she returns to earth as a teenager, takes on the moniker Magik, and becomes a member of the New Mutants. Over time, her continued use of the Soulsword and magic results in an eldritch armor covering her body and the development of her demonic persona Darkchilde. One day, Illyana teleports her teammates home from Limbo and demons invade the earth. To save everyone, Illyana gives up her demonic powers to banish the demons. Due to some manipulation of Illyana’s past, her human self reappears as a child.
If not for the events that followed, Illyana Rasputin might’ve had a wholesome tale of pure goodness triumphing over evil. Sadly, seven year old Illyana eventually contracts the deadly Legacy Virus and dies. This is where Illyana Rasputin’s story supposedly ends until the events of M-Day. Belasco, believing he saw Illyana briefly revived during M-Day, decides to resurrect her. Instead of Illyana Rasputin, Belasco got Darkchilde with Illyana’s memories but not her soul. Repulsed by this, he spurns her.
Illyana’s Darkchilde persona was always more violent and cruel than her human self. Without her soul, Illyana notes that she is, “darkness and hurt given form”. Soulless Illyana does show some glimpses of humanity, but it’s buried deep underneath her need for vengeance. Hell (well, Limbo) literally has no fury greater than a half-demon sorceress with no soul. This drives Illyana to hurt Belasco by whatever means necessary, even if it means harming and manipulating others.
In New X-Men issues 38-41, the “Quest for Magik” arc , Belasco drags a group of younger mutants known as the New X-Men into Limbo to find the “real” Illyana. Illyana seizes the opportunity to craft a new weapon to replace her missing Soulsword and defeat Belasco. After helping some of the New X-men fight off Belasco’s demons, Illyana goads Pixie into giving up a portion of her innocent soul to fight Belasco and save her friends. During this time, her human memories are jogged after seeing the New X-Men protect each other. As a result, Illyana becomes determined to get her soul back so she can face her brother and former teammates as a whole person again.
From X-Infernus to the end of Zeb Wells’ run on New Mutants, Illyana Rasputin fights foes from within and without. The most crucial battles included Belasco’s daughter Witchfire, the mutant Legion, the demon N’Astirh (her own minion!), and the Elder Gods. Outside of battle, Magik is mistrusted by the younger mutants to the point where some of them (Pixie especially) don’t believe she deserves a second chance. Meanwhile, Illyana’s fellow New Mutants still believe in her because of her history with them and her untimely death.
Part of Illyana believes that she isn’t worth saving because she feels she has become just as bad as Belasco. However, the part of her that wants her soul back demonstrates otherwise. Even though Illyana’s actions have hurt others or put them in danger, she also manages to save her teammates and eventually get back not only her Bloodstones, but Pixie’s as well. She may not always do good things, but her fight to be whole again after enduring so much suffering is admirable. She is a rare wonderful female hero that embraces her evil side while fighting for the side of good. As a mutant, she has devoted herself to using her abilities to try and protect other mutants. For example, Extraordinary X-Men issues 1-16 has Illyana attempting to help Sapna, a younger mutant with magical abilities similar to her own.
At the end of Zeb Wells’ New Mutants in issue 21, Illyana says, “Even the worst of us wants to come home.” Illyana Rasputin shows that even though you may have traumatic experiences, you don’t have to deny them or let them define who you are. Of the fiery hells of Limbo and the goodness of Earth, Magik is neither a pure innocent hero nor a black-hearted evil villain. Her incredible abilities, willingness to stand for the downtrodden, and lifelong struggle with her inner demon makes Illyana Rasputin a hero worth rooting for.