This fix comes from Percival Constantine, award-nominated author of New Pulp novels including The Myth Hunter and Love & Bullets. When he’s not obsessing over comics or movies (and we don’t mind if he does if we keep getting posts like this), Percival – an American living in Japan – also contributes to GaijinPot and JapanTourist. While waiting for Marvel to call him up, feel free to visit PercivalConstantine.com for more information or follow him on Twitter, @perconstantine.
Grant Morrison’s run on the X-Men, spanning New X-Men #114-154, has been met with mixed reaction from X-Men fans. There are people who view it as definitive as the classic Claremont/ Byrne run, others who see it as a total bastardisation of the X-Men, and every single view between those two extremes. For what it’s worth, as a longtime reader of the X-Men, I personally found it to be a successful revitalisation of a book that had been suffering in stagnation for years.
One aspect of his run, however, was met with great acclaim – the introduction of a new X-Man named Xorn. In the New X-Men Annual 2001, Morrison introduced Xorn as a Chinese man whose mutant power manifested itself while he was young, in the form of his brain transforming into a star. He was captured by the Chinese government and kept imprisoned in a prison called Feng Tu for “over half a century,” so it seems evident that Xorn’s powers also granted him longevity. After being sold to John Sublime, new age guru and founder of the U-Men, a group of humans who wished to graft mutant organs into their bodies in order to gain their powers, Xorn’s powers were unleashed and he was prepared to commit suicide by turning his head into a black hole. The X-Men, specifically Cyclops, intervened. Xorn said, “I could have built Heaven on Earth, if only they’d let me. I could have laid the foundation stones of paradise here on Earth.” Cyclops told him there’s still time and invited him to join the X-Men.
Despite accepting the invitation, Xorn didn’t appear with the X-Men right away. Instead, he went to a Buddhist monastery for healing until Cyclops came to collect him right before Cassandra Nova manipulated the Shi’ar Empire into attacking the Earth (New X-Men #122). Following the defeat of Nova, Xorn remained with the X-Men and became the teacher of the Xavier Institute’s “special class” – mutants who were outcasts even in a school of mutants. For the most part, Xorn appeared to be a kind, spiritual man. But a dark side was hinted to as well, such as when he foiled an attack by the U-Men by killing them and telling Angel Salvadore, who witnessed it, that it would be their little secret (New X-Men #136).
And then, in New X-Men #146, Morrison shocked readers by revealing that Xorn was not really Xorn – he was Magneto, claiming he had created Xorn as a ruse in order to infiltrate the Institute: “A man in an iron prison. A star for a brain? I kept thinking it was too obvious, but still you missed it. There was no Feng Tu mutant prison in China, Charles – I assembled it especially for the occasion. Xorn. Have you any idea how much I’ve hated this pretense? His simpering homilies, his Zen diaries, his sickening New Age passivity? How long I’ve waited to do this?”
Many fans criticised this turn of events, claiming that Morrison had simply chosen on the fly to turn Xorn into Magneto and that his earlier stories contradicted the revelation. However, looking back, most of Xorn’s appearances did indeed contain hints and clues, as well as ambiguous uses of his powers. The only real healing abilities Xorn displayed were in the Imperial story-arc, when he got rid of the Nano-Sentinels that had been infecting the X-Men (but given Magneto’s powers, it’s hardly beyond his capability to disable metal nanomachines). And he stated that he used the Nano-Sentinels in Xavier’s body to repair his spine, enabling him to walk. Most other times, Xorn claimed he was unable to heal for whatever reason. New X-Men #138 actually provides more insight into the Xorn is really Magneto theory – Quentin Quire’s use of Kick triggered a secondary mutation and his powers were growing and Xorn was summoned to heal him. Quire’s words here prove insightful: “What if we were both wrong, Professor X…and it wasn’t humans to blame at all? What if the real enemy…was inside all along?” Xorn then uses his powers on Quentin, seemingly helping him to ascend to a higher plane of reality, but what he could have been doing was silencing the one man who had begun to see through his disguise. The real enemy being inside could have been seen as Sublime or Magneto, it works both ways.
However, Xorn as a disguise is problematic, even without everything that happened later (and I’ll get to that in a moment). Many people point to New X-Men #127 as proof that Morrison didn’t intend for Xorn to be Magneto, because it involves Xorn meeting an old friend of his uncle’s. However, at the end of the issue, the narration states, “You wished to see my thoughts and were blinded by the sun beneath my mask, Professor Xavier…so I have tried to capture my feelings for you, in the form of symbols here on this book of paper leaves.” The entire issue was a journal entry Xorn wrote for Xavier, so it’s the very definition of unreliable narration. Instead, the most problematic issue is Xorn’s very first appearance. In it, Emma reads psychic imprints off the keys to Xorn’s helmet and sees his memories. Two, one of the U-Men present states that Xorn is opening a black hole, something that Magneto shouldn’t be able to do. Three, Magneto said he constructed Feng Tu with the help of his supporters in China. While it is possible Magneto could have had a telepath imprint the keys with false memories (he’s already shown to have supporters in China), the timing is suspect. After all, Magneto was shown in a wheelchair during the Sentinel attack in Genosha, which occurred right before Xorn’s first appearance. In fact, Xorn’s appearance in the Annual could “only” have occurred immediately following the destruction of Genosha – Beast is present in the issue, and he was incapacitated by Cassandra Nova following that story-arc. That’s not a lot of time for an injured Magneto to go from Genosha to China, construct a fake mutant prison, and arrange for Sublime to turn up.
Editorial was also not satisfied with the way Morrison left Magneto. Many at Marvel thought Xorn was a great character and wanted Magneto to be around to tell more stories with. And so, at the end of Excalibur (volume 3) #1, written by Chris Claremont, it was revealed that Magneto was alive and well, living in Genosha all this time. He had no knowledge of the events of Planet X and was angered at the thought that people could believe he was capable of such murderous acts. To add more confusion, in X-Men #157, written by Chuck Austen, a powerful mutant was detected in China and Polaris felt the magnetic fields tearing. When the X-Men arrived, they discovered someone who looked a lot like Xorn and possessed similar powers. Wolverine even noted that this Xorn was similar to the Xorn they knew, but different. In X-Men #162, he told Emma that it was his brother, Kuan-Yin Xorn, who had been among them. And he, Shen Xorn, was Kuan-Yin’s twin brother. Shen Xorn also added more confusion to the issue of who was responsible for the actions of Planet X: “You should know it was not Magneto who did the things you accuse him of. It was someone else…someone I still sense within your midst. I do not know the name of this individual… but I do know that they are fiercely hateful, and malevolent, have been hiding among you for some time – and even now seek to turn others against you… They intend to destroy everything Xavier has built.”
Chuck Austen’s run, which was also subject to profound criticism, was cut short with the conclusion of his Heroes and Villains story-arc, and his final issue, X-Men #164, ended on a cliffhanger that has (as of this writing) remained unresolved). Shen Xorn removed the Brotherhood through the use of his black hole (all later turned up alive) and chose to leave the X-Men. In the final pages, the X-Men’s nurse, Annie, was leaving the school with her mutant son, Carter. He was in the backseat talking with someone and Annie asked if he had an imaginary friend. Carter replied, “Her. It’s a she. And she’s not imaginary, Mom.” The final panel of this issue showed Carter with a sinister grin on his face and psionic eyes hovering next to him. Austen revealed in an interview that he planned to reveal this as Cassandra Nova.
It’s not hard to see that, given Austen’s original plan to bring back Nova, it seems that this hateful, malevolent individual Shen Xorn said controlled his brother was Nova herself. Of course, this causes numerous problems. For one, Morrison already revealed in New X-Men that Sublime was behind virtually everything, from the Weapon Plus Project to the Riot at Xavier’s to Magneto’s actions in Planet X. Furthermore, Nova was mind-wiped at the end of the Imperial arc, placed in the body of deceased Imperial Guardsman Stuff, programmed to learn. Shortly after Imperial, a new student, a young girl named Ernst, with facial features that resembled Cassandra’s, appeared at the Institute. Magneto commented on this, stating that he always suspected there was more to her. And in the future of Here Comes Tomorrow where Cassandra is redeemed and a member of the X-Men, she tells Martha, “Why of course you can still call me Ernst, dear.” Austen confused this in X-Men #155 when he showed Beast and Cyclops investigate Cassandra’s empty cell. However, as Magneto/ Xorn was unaware of Ernst’s origins, it’s quite possible that only Xavier and Jean knew of this.
Brian Michael Bendis did attempt to resolve this in House of M #7, when Doctor Strange says to Wanda: “Did you create your father as well? I’d heard rumors of his death last year, and his somewhat puzzling rebirth before all this became…what it became. I wonder, was that you as well? How long have you been playing with the world?” The suggestion here is that Wanda watched her father’s actions in Planet X with horror and perhaps subconsciously used her powers to recreate him in Genosha the way she wanted him to be. After all, despite fan objections to Magneto’s portrayal in Planet X, he had displayed genocidal tendencies prior to Morrison’s run, most-recently in Lobdell’s Eve of Destruction arc. Also in Magneto: Dark Seduction, he and Wanda had harsh words to exchange and this was (apparently) their final meeting before Planet X. Could Wanda have attempted to undo all this by re-creating Magneto as the more honourable man he was instead of the despot he had become? There is precedence for this in the Marvel Universe – when Franklin Richards resurrected the Avengers and the Fantastic Four in the wake of Onslaught, he did so in forms he recognised, thus the Wasp was restored to human form instead of her mutated insect form, Tony Stark was now middle-aged instead of a teenager, and even Hawkeye’s hearing was restored (all covered in Avengers Annual 2001). And Wanda has proven to have the ability to resurrect (or recreate) people, Hawkeye was restored to life in the wake of House of M as well.
On the surface, this seems to be a simple out, as it preserves Morrison’s story as intended – Xorn was a fiction created by Magneto, Magneto was manipulated by Sublime into his actions, and Wolverine did kill him. Then, Wanda subconsciously resurrected Magneto as the more honourable man he had been before he snapped. But there are still problems with this theory. For one, it strikes me as extremely lazy, given that it puts the “Wanda’s hex” explanation on a similar level as “Spidey’s deal with Mephisto” and DC’s “Superboy Prime’s punch” – it’s a “deus ex machina” used to provide a flimsy explanation for bad writing. Two, even Wanda’s reality manipulations don’t work given what happened afterwards – we still have Shen Xorn as canon and his cryptic explanation for his brother’s actions. And also, Bendis himself contradicted this in New
Avengers #20, when the energy of all the de-powered mutants, now called the Collective, was being guided by the consciousness of none other than Kuan-Yin Xorn (something that seems even more bizarre given that Kuan-Yin died long before House of M).
For argument’s sake, let’s say that Shen’s knowledge of his brother’s actions was due to them having a rapport, and perhaps Kuan-Yin’s consciousness survived inside Shen. Taking this further, Shen was one of the de-powered mutants of M-Day, so this explains how Kuan-Yin could have existed within the Collective.
Now what about Planet X? It could be said that this was all part of Sublime’s plan. In New X-Men #145, the “Boss” of the Weapon Plus orbital facility says, “Our informant within the Xavier Institute tells us of a build-up of arms and soldiers, and a major new mutant threat to human security. …In less than two weeks from today the sleepers will wake from their tanks and mutantkind will be exterminated, humanely.” Also in New X-Men #150, the Secretary of Defense tells the President while watching footage of Magneto, “do we need any more proof that mutants are our natural enemies? This is why they destroyed our Weapon Plus Super-Soldier Initiative. The human race must not go gently into the night, sir!” Sublime, in New X-Men #154, states, “These mutations, with their potential to breed strong, invulnerable offspring, were the first real threat to our eternal dominion. … We had to infect them with aggression, had to divert their great energies into mindless conflict. Locked in perpetual struggle, they could never breed, their population could never grow to threaten us with extinction. The supermen fight and die and return in a meaningless shadowplay because we make them do it.” It is clear that Sublime intended to keep mutants locked in war, and what better way to do that than by having the world’s most-feared mutant attempt global genocide?
But, neither Sublime nor Xorn ever appeared to possess the ability to change appearances. And while Xorn’s gravitational powers could have easily been used to mimic magnetism, it doesn’t account for how he was walking around with Magneto’s face, and how even without his helmet on, no one died from exposure to the unshielded star that was his head. There has to be another explanation.
While researching this, I stumbled upon an interesting line from Bishop in New X-Men #140. While investigating the murder of Emma Frost, Bishop tells Xavier, “there’s something else I have to bring into the equation, Professor…you’ve been possessed before. In a world of mind-readers, shape-changers and disembodied consciousnesses…crime takes on a whole new meaning.” My first thought went to the Shadow King, but it was a recent event in Marvel’s new Uncanny Avengers that brought the whole thing into focus.
In Uncanny Avengers #1, a clone of the Red Skull takes the deceased body of Charles Xavier and removes his brain so the Skull can appropriate his psychic powers for himself. And then, at the end of Uncanny Avengers #4, there’s a scene that takes place three months in the future. In this
future, Havok, the Scarlet Witch, and Sunfire are running from Sentinels and discover the remains of Immortus and beside him on a wall, a drawing of the Skull with psychic waves emanating from his head. Sunfire says, “that was it. The moment the anomaly began.” And then a fourth
voice says, “Yes, indeed, a historic time…the day the Onslaught began” and the last page is a splash of Onslaught with the face of the Red Skull.
This, to me, provides a solution to wrap everything up. Xorn nor Sublime would have the power to make people believe they were seeing Magneto in place of Xorn, but Onslaught, being birthed from the consciousnesses of both Magneto and Professor X and possessing near-godlike powers in the past, could reshape reality to make it look like Magneto. The events of Uncanny Avengers show that Onslaught does still exist in some form within Xavier.
Here is what I think happened. In New X-Men #125, to save Xavier from Cassandra’s dying body (which she imprisoned him in), Jean stored Charles’ entire consciousness into her brain. Parts were slipping away and she was having difficulty containing him, so in issue #126, she then used Cerebra to break apart Charles’ consciousness and spread it around to every mutant on Earth. Thus, when Cassandra (in Charles’ body) connected to Cerebra, she inadvertently gave Charles the means to return to his own consciousness and force out Cassandra and the Mummudrai. This was when Emma tricked Cassandra into putting her consciousness into the deceased form of Stuff, thus trapping herself.
But what if a part of the Mummudrai remained within Xavier? After the events of Imperial, he seemed a little different. In issue #128, he said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good. Or this…nervous. No more need to hide our mutant natures. No more human rules.” Jean even warned him that he sounded like Cassandra and he said, “She was right to reveal us to the world. … In trying to do evil – in trying to expose mutants to their enemies, she freed us from a self-imposed exile. I see her now as an agent of nature, testing its own boundaries, forcing change into stalemated systems.” And later, in issue #130, Xavier tells the authorities who arrive in the Eurotunnel, “We’re in no mood to play chimpanzee politics.” That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a man like Xavier would say, more like something Magneto might say.
Onslaught, or at least a part of him, had been reawakened within Xavier. Confused, disoriented, not knowing who he was. He’s not yet strong enough to pierce Xavier and the other X-Men are well-trained against an invasion of that sort. But Xorn, the newest and perhaps most naive of the team? Perhaps that’s a different story. Onslaught, disoriented believes himself to be Magneto, and so Xorn begins to think of himself as Magneto. Use of the Kick drug only enhances this feeling, as well as boosts Onslaught’s abilities, allowing him to affect the kind of manipulation to make himself physically become Magneto. And after Xorn is killed by Wolverine, Onslaught finds a way to survive, either back within Xavier or within another X-Man temporarily.
Ideally, I would like to honour Morrison’s original idea, but the events following his run have made that difficult, so in an effort to reconcile all these problematic plotlines and half-baked conclusions, this is how I’ve decided to fix this. And this solution manages a few things:
- The problematic first appearance of Xorn is clarified once and for all: it was really Xorn at Feng Tu;
- It addresses how Xorn could have made himself appear as Magneto;
- It explains the existence of Shen Xorn, as well as his statement that the force behind his brother’s rampage still exists among the X-Men;
- Carter’s imaginary friend could have easily been Onslaught. Since Carter and Annie were never heard of again, let’s just assume that Onslaught no longer saw them as useful and this conversation was them saying goodbye;
- Xorn’s reverence of Magneto in The Collective makes more sense in light of all this; and
- And finally, all of this connects to an ongoing story-arc and helps to explain the re-emergence of Onslaught.