the origin of Marvel’s Limbo?

Limbo was originally St. Augustine’s solution to the thorny theological problem of where infants go who have been deprived of the sanctifying grace of baptism and yet have committed no personal sins. The dogmas of original sin and the necessity of baptism would seem to close the doors of heaven to them. Yet it seems inconsistent with everything we know about a loving and merciful God that these infants would suffer the usual punishments of hell, especially since they have committed no sins of their own. The only way medieval Catholic theologians could reconcile these truths was to posit the existence a third eternal destination for the unbaptised infants: Limbo.

Chris Claremont was the first writer at Marvel to acknowledge Limbo in this way, as an “edge” of Hell into which Colossus’s infant sister plunged…

scene of the infant Illyana Rasputin plunging through Limbo from New Mutants #73

…playing it like a demonic Wonderland with Illyana cast in the role of Alice.

Alice in Wonderland battling the demonic Jabberwocky

While plenty of heroes and villains experienced the existence of Hellish realms firsthand in the Marvel Universe, why would one of them NEED to bring about Limbo?

Recalling the theological reason for Limbo’s existence, I’d suggest it was brought about in direct response to concern for the fate of an unbaptised child. Any hero would have this concern if their faith told them this was where a babe would go after death.  That narrows it down to a hero who was also a devout Catholic.  The most notable practising Catholic in the Marvel Universe is Daredevil, who had a run in with Mephisto and his son Blackheart.

evidence of Matt Murdock's faith from Daredevil #282

However, nowhere during his run was he shown to have fathered a child, nor was he directly associated with parents who lost an infant child.  Plus his powers could not bring about another “dimension.”  It therefore seems reasonable to rule out Daredevil.

So who else?

Ever since Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), in which Reed and Sue are married by a clergyman of an unnamed denomination…

Fantastic Four Annual 3 Church Wedding

…sequences over the years have shown Susan Richards’ belief in God, including particularly for members of her team (i.e. her family)…

Sue praying from Fantastic Four #43

…or asking his forgiveness (such as in Fantastic Four #391).

Sue asking God's forgiveness and her belief in the sanctity of life from Fantastic Four #391

Mind you Reed was not exactly a shrinking violent when it came to acknowledging his own belief in a higher power either during the Lee & Kirby years (despite writers after that and before Waid assuming he was anything but religious).

Reed acknowledging a higher power from Fantastic Four #1 and #78 respectively

But I digress…

She tells her son Franklin that around Easter and Christmas she lights a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the premier church of the Archdiocese of New York.

Sue in St Patrick's Cathedral, New York, from Marvel Holiday Special 2004 #1

So her rarely spoken of faith is revealed here as Catholicism.

It is this to which Adam Warlock’s emissary alludes in the “Infinity Crusade”.Invisible Woman from Infinity CrusadeJohnny Storm acknowledging his sister as a religious person in Infinity Crusade

This establishes her knowledge of the theory of Limbo, but what would make her want to create such a realm?

The answer I’d suggest is two-fold.

In Fantastic Four #276, Mephisto captures Reed and Susan, enraged at having lost his increased power due to the intervention of their son Franklin Richards.

Susan and Reed being kidnapped to Mephisto's Hell from Fantastic Four #276

In #277 he torments them both, but for some reason seems to take extra delight in doing so to Susan?!

Susan being tortured by Mephisto from Fantastic Four #277

Reed is conscious and defiant against Mephisto throughout his torment in this issue…

Reed Richards defiant at Mephisto's torture from Fantastic Four #277

…while Sue is a quivering, screaming mess and depicted as being at the Hell-lord’s mercy (in a manner totally unbecoming of Sue when facing a villain).

Sue depicted as a quivering, screaming mess at Mephisto's mercy from Fantastic Four #277

I would therefore suggest Mephisto singles out Susan due to her Catholic faith.

Still…

Okay, so what about her faith is Mephisto tormenting Susan for exactly?

It is worth noting that only a few issues earlier, in Fantastic Four #267, Susan “lost the child she was carrying”.

Sue's miscarriage from Fantastic Four #267

I would therefore propose that Mephisto, exploiting Susan’s faith, torments her with the thought that since she lost her child before it was baptised it would not go to Heaven. And although Sue was likely taught about Limbo as a young child when her aunt took her to church, the old doctrine was dismissed in the reforms of Vatican II, something Mephisto would eagerly remind her of, reiterating that her wide-ranging travels with the Fantastic Four had not happened upon the version espoused by her faith, so her unborn child would reach no such supposed haven.

Once Susan is free of Mephisto’s realm and the immediate terror she experienced, now surrounded by her family, she prays with every fibre of her being for her unborn child…

Sue praying from Fantastic Four #43

…and unconsciously folds space to create a pocket universe where it has a chance to escape the fate Mephisto has in store for it.

But how could the Invisible Woman create a pocket universe when her ability is to render herself wholly or partially invisible, the result of her being able to bend lightwaves away from her?

However, with the revelation during Tom DeFalco’s run that her energy seems to originate from a higher dimension of hyperspace…

Sue's power is revealed to originate from hyperspace from Fantastic Four #400Sue's power is revealed to originate from hyperspace from Fantastic Four #408

…I’d alternatively suggest Sue’s ability is more complex and what she actually does is to take a piece of hyperspace and fold it onto itself like a pocket and use it as a hiding place (anything inside the pocket is apparently almost invisible to sensors and the naked eye).

This ability initially manifests as the ability to render herself wholly or partially invisible, but when the fear that her unborn child will fall into the hands of the demon-lord Mephisto for the first time it shows a hint of its potential when she unconsciously accesses hyperspace as later theorised by Reed’s father, Nathaniel, and takes a piece of it, folding it onto itself to create a “pocket universe” to hide her unborn child in… but leaving an infinite number of access points so she can one day reach them (which manifest as the “stepping discs” which are part of the Limbo dimension).

And so, for the first time Susan demonstrates powers later shown by her son, Franklin, when he creates the pocket universe of Counter-Earth shown in the Heroes Reborn event to relocate the Fantastic Four and Avengers there to prevent their deaths at the hands of Onslaught. While Franklin’s power there was previously explained as a result of reality-warping abilities…

Franklin's power previously explained as a result of reality-warping abilities from Heroes Reborn The Return #1

…I’d instead suggest that as a mutant his latent ability to take a piece of hyperspace and fold it onto itself like a pocket was inherited from his mother, Susan.

Post-script:

Does Susan then make a deal with the Watcher to relocate his base to Limbo to watch over the child to ensure Mephisto doesn’t get her (where he is operating out of, instead of the Moon, in Strange Tales #134)?

Watcher acknowledging his base in Limbo from Strange Tales 134

But why would Uatu agree to break his oath of non-interference over this particular matter?

Well firstly I’d direct readers back to a particular scene in Fantastic Four where Uatu the Watcher becomes the first character in the Marvel Universe to not only refer explicitly to the Christian version of God, but acknowledge him as the most all-powerful being in the Marvel Universe.

Uatu acknowledging the Christian God as the most powerful entity in the Marvel Universe from Fantastic Four #72

With Uatu declaring himself a clear-cut Christian monotheist in the above scene, he would understand the gravity of Mephisto’s threat to Susan. That is, he would immediately interpret it as a direct threat against his deity by the Marvel Universe’s version of the Christian Devil. And given Susan is among the group of humans he has watched over more than any other on Earth, this event more than any other is the one he’d be most likely break his oath of non-interference over.

As for Mephisto, could all the other versions of Limbo we’ve seen have been the result of him plotting to undermine its integrity so he can abduct the child!?

Could this also be what the Celestial Messiah plot was all about?

That is, did the Watcher cause a star to appear over the Avengers Mansion (at the end of Avengers #128 as revealed in Captain Marvel #39)…

The Watcher causes a star to appear over Avengers Mansion at the start of the Celestial Madonna Saga in Avengers #128

…to put Kang off the trail of who the Celestial Madonna really was? To put the Conqueror off the fact that she was the member of another team… his team… the Fantastic Four!

Has the Celestial Madonna been Susan Richards all along?

And was the Celestial Messiah not of the human- and plant-world, but two other realms?

Now recall the revelation that Susan’s second child was a girl did not occur until years later in Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #22 (during Claremont’s run when we see the birth certificate which says the child was stillborn).

Susan's second child was a girl from Fantastic Four v3 22Susan's second child was a girl from Fantastic Four v3 22

However, in Fantastic Four #267 they’re still referring to it as “the unborn child” with no gender being stated for the remainder of Byrne’s run.

So what if it’s not Valeria Meghan Richards who was the second, child of Sue whom she had lost years before in Fantastic Four #267?

Then who else could she be?

Well I think to figure that out we need to consider what her powers were upon being first introduced, “neutralizing Franklin’s” as revealed in Fantastic Four volume 3 #29.

The purpose of Valeria's powers were to neutralise Franklin's

What purposes could these powers serve? Who more than Franklin, and more than his parents, is afraid of his power? Why Mephisto of course! Haven’t you been reading;)

Mephisto fears Franklin's power from Fantastic Four Annual #20

So what if Mephisto had made a bargain with Doctor Doom to create a clone derived of Sue’s DNA which he promised to release the soul of Victor’s lost love Valeria into? Having a being in Franklin’s constant vicinity, and what better way than through a “big sister”, that could negate his powers so he could finally obtain the boy’s long-sought-after soul!

Mephisto demonstrating his willingness to make a bargain with Doom in order to corrupt the soul of Franklin Richards from Fantastic Four Annaul #20

If so, what then of the spirit of Sue’s unborn child?!

Have we perhaps seen this “child” before?

Well let’s think about it for a moment. That is, recall my positing above that the spirit of Sue’s unborn child was transported to Limbo for its own protection! If so, “the child” is likely still there.

So which characters inhabiting Limbo could be likely candidates for this child?

Well we can rule out Magik, Illyana Rasputin, given she is the sister of Colossus of the X-Men.

Illyana Rasputin as then Sorceress Supreme of Limbo from Uncanny X-Men #231

It would seem similarly safe to rule out her previous master, demon-lord of Limbo, Belasco who allegedly started out as a sorcerer in 13th Century Florence, Italy.

Belasco started out as a sorcerer in 13th Century from Ka-Zar the Savage #12

Then there’s of course the self-proclaimed lord of Limbo, Immortus, who while revealed as a Richards, originates from the Fantastic Four’s future, not their present (or recent past).

Immortus, proclaiming himself lord of Limbo in Avengers 131

Then of course there’s the Watcher who I noted above as also operating from Limbo in Strange Tales #134 (and earlier threatening to transport the Red Ghost there in Fantastic Four #13).

Watcher also has base of operations in Limbo from Fantastic Four 13

But Uatu can be ruled out as he wasn’t ever trapped there, given he also had as his home the Blue Area of the Moon.

So who does that leave us with? Well a character first introduced in Avengers #2 who in fact was the first character to make reference to Limbo in the modern Marvel Universe, Space Phantom!

Modern Marvel's first character to make reference to Limbo from Avengers #2

While the character was later revealed, in Thor #281, as being from the planet Phantus and from a species that had mastered the intricacies of time travel long before they had attempted space travel (cf. Thor #281)…

The planet Phantus from Thor 281

…then later again had this retconned to reveal in Avengers Forever #8 that beings who get trapped in Limbo slowly forget their previous existence and turn into Space Phantoms.

Retcon that Space Phantoms are beings who get trapped in Limbo and forget their previous existence from Avengers Forever 8

However, given the story in Thor #281 was revealed to be an illusion generated by Immortus, and the whole conceit of Avengers Forever miniseries being a plot generated by the self-same villain, it’s totally conceivable that the more recent Space Phantom revelation is just another of his manipulated schemes.

I’d therefore posit that perhaps there’s more to the Space Phantom’s name than we have previously ascribed. What if he is literally a phantom – the insubstantial remnant of a once-living being? And why a Space Phantom? As opposed to a Time Phantom (particularly when his power is to displace people to a temporal dimension such as Limbo and take their place)? A Relative Dimensions Phantom?

So if we establish the Phantom was a once-living being, the next question is why a “Space” Phantom?

Well if he is the child Susan was carrying that she lost, which I’m proposing here, I’d posit the “SPACE” part of his name derives from the fact that like his mother, he can generate and control a form of energy from hyperSPACE!

And the reason he has to swap places with others is because when Susan unconsciously created Limbo she did so that her child would be “bound” to it in order to protect them from Mephisto (and all the attempted demonic incursions have been about trying to weaken the protective barrier).

But over time he comes to learn that his inherited abilities to access hyperspace enable him to fold another’s physical projection around him (as Plok puts it, copying their “hyperspatial imprint”:), causing them to suddenly end up with his form, thereby tricking Limbo and thereby displacing them and enabling him to temporarily escape its protective “prison”.

Modern Marvel's first character to make reference to Limbo from Avengers #2

The logical corollary of this being that Limbo doesn’t cause those who get trapped to forget their previous existence and turn into Space Phantoms (as suggested in Avengers Forever #8), but rather Space Phantom’s folding of himself out of Limbo and folding of them there in his place!

But how can all this be when Space Phantom in Avengers #2 refers to his “people” invading Earth?

Space Phantom reveals his plans to enable his people to invade Earth from Avengers #2

Well, there’s nothing to say his “people” are necessarily of his original race! That is, if he is an unborn child that has not had the opportunity at a real life, and Limbo ends up becoming the place for other unborn children (to protect them from Mephisto), these other “ghosts” become his community. And not knowing the reason why they are in Limbo in the first place, they perceive it as a prison from which they most desperately want to escape from…

…and see Earth from Limbo…

…while at the same time realising Space Phantom has the ability to access hyperspace to temporarily escape…

…so task him with becoming the advance scout for their “race”, an invasion force from Limbo intent on conquering Earth.

Acknowledgements: Once again there are a series of thank yous I need to make whom without this post would not have been anything more than a pipe-dream: So without further ado, thanks to Richard Bensam of Estoreal for reviewing my initial draft, fnord12 of the Marvel Comics Chronology, Ancient One and thjan of Alvaro’s Comic Book Message Boards for tracking down some hard to obtain images, Chris Tolworthy of zak-site.com and world’s foremost authority on the Fantastic Four and Plok of A Trout in the Milk for their van Vogtian assistance in helping me explain the science fiction implications of theoretical physics:)

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…Penance and Monet’s origin?

This week’s guest post comes from Chris Arrant, a writer and designer who co-founded Project:Rooftop with Trippe in 2006 and serves as an editor on the site.  He writes extensively about comics for Marvel Entertainment, MTV, Newsarama.com, ComicBookResources.com and iFanboy.com.  He has also entered the comics writing fray with stories in the anthologies Tori Amos’ Comic Book Tattoo, 24Seven Vol. 2, Negative Burn and No Formula: Stories From The Chemistry Set.

Figure 1

When Marvel launched the series Generation X by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo back in 1994, it showed a long-overdue new generation of mutants coming of age in the Marvel Universe.  Guided under the twin tutelage of longtime X-Man Banshee and longtime X-Men villain Emma Frost, it featured a completely new cast of young mutants with one memorable name – Jubilee.  But with behind-the-scenes turmoil and editorial changes in the first few years of Generation X led to non-existent or misshapen origins for each of these new characters; chief amongst those was Penance and M.

Figure 2

Throwing out what later creators did with the characters both in Generation X and other subsequent series, let’s turn back the hands of time and re-imagine what could have been in terms of a convincing, conclusive and creatively deep origin for these two.

In broad strokes, M (Monet St. Croix) is the aristocratic, well-taken-care of daughter of a rich Monacan family whose mutant powers include strength, invulnerability and mild telekinetic powers.

Figure 3

Penance, on the other hand is a mute, withdrawn woman shell-shocked by years of imprisonment by M’s brother Emplate.

Figure 4

Her powers were ill-defined, but were generally understood to be that her body (and hair) had turned red and hardened to the density and invulnerableness of diamond. There were connections between M and Penance, but early on in Generation X it was left up to the imagination.

Figure 5

In my fictional scenario here, I would have picked up on Penance’s intended origin as Yugoslavian runaway named Yvette –with a twist.  She’s the daughter of Mephisto, stolen away and hidden from him.  Don’t see the family resemblance? Look at Mephisto’s other child, Blackheart.

Figure 6

Born in the former Yugoslavia, Yvette could have ended up in Monaco running from tensions building up to Bosnian war.  There in Monaco, Yvette could’ve come under the of the St. Croix family. The St. Croix would’ve at the same time been dealing with the son Marius (the future Emplate) first manifestations of his powers and his early attempts at using it for sadistic purposes.

Figure 7

The St. Croix family reaches out to Mephisto to make a Faustian bargain to “correct” Marius’ evil tendencies in exchange for the future servitude of his sister, Monet.

Figure 9

Yvette could be pulled into this by being forced to replace Monet by the St. Croix parents in a blood pact with; Yvette would’ve been caught in the middle of it and transported to Mephisto’s hellish realm and saved, surprisingly, by an earlier incarnation of Ghost Rider. Her powers, as it were, are bent when she gets an ill-timed dose of Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare, reacting badly with her powers and shocking her system into her familiar red form.

Figure 10

She ends up in the confines of Emplate’s realm when he strikes a side bargain with Mephisto.

Figure 11

For Penance, this would create a more simplistic origin that ties her into more general Marvel elements; namely, Mephisto and Ghost Rider. A storyarc later on in the Generation X series would begin to suss out layers of this, eventually leading to the full reveal that she’s Mephisto’s daughter and put a large onus on her as reformed but eternally dangerous due to her bloodline.

For both Penance and M, it would have them as metaphorical “blood” sisters; non-related people who are tied together through similar actions happening to them. Both are looking for redemption from the deeds of their parents, but each struggling with their own way to come to terms with it.

Figure 12

…the Darkforce’s origin?

darkforce dimens

While there are slight yet inconclusive hints that the Darkforce may be a corruptive influence of some kind, I think Blackheart’s demonstrated ability to use its power without limits is the hint we’ve been waiting for to explaining its true origins.

Recall that Blackheart has further demonstrated the power to control millions of minds at once while in Hell, and can steal souls without one’s approval, unlike his father, Mephisto (who, of all his powers, doesn’t appear to manipulate the Darkforce). Blackheart is also at his most omnipotent and omnipresent when he is in the Darkforce Dimension.

So why does Blackheart constantly need to control the millions of minds in Hell, etc. if he can instead use the Darkforce energy to fuel his power? I’d suggest that because the two are intimately interwoven, perhaps even being one-and-the-same!

That is, given the previous hints that it may be a corruptive influence of some kind (at least to Cloak, possibly Darkhawk as well), I’d fix the disparate stories behind the Darkforce by revealing it as the manifestation of tortured souls of Hell – it being the flipside of the cosmic light of the Quantum Bands, revealing pain and guilt and sorrow which it did for those victims of Cloak and the member of Psionex, Asylum.

A little known fact that might help reinforce this is how Dormammu once used the Darkforce to reconstitute himself and enter our dimension in Dr. Strange Sorcerer Supreme #1.

You know, that Guy Tantalus from the obscure Blackwulf series could easily be the Big Bad for a cosmic event centred round the Darkforce… his Black Legacy powers seemed to be a part of the Darkforce… which is further interesting when his powers were bestowed upon him by the “BLACK” Celestial. Perhaps there’s some connection to Spider-Man’s black costume too, i.e. the Venom symbiote.