…Black Widow’s unusually youthful lifespan?

A year after the Communists rejected Nixon’s Five-Point Peace Plan for Southeast Asia and Matt Damon’s birth, Brian C. Saunders was born to redress the balance. Regrettably, the infant failed to stop either the Vietnam conflict or Matt Damon’s career.  For his sins, he was punished with enrolment in US public education and, addled with lack of knowledge, went on to public university for good measure. During this time, he filled his hours with drugs, alcohol and sex with women comic books!, which filled his days with a warm and happy glow. Many careers later, he writes for the public good, using facts and avoiding social media for information or human interaction.  You who read this are welcome.

Natalia Alianovna “Natasha” Romanov, aka the Black Widow, was at a bit of a crossroads in 1990.  That’s when she unexpectedly appeared in one of the most popular issues of the Uncanny X-Men, #268, written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Jim Lee.

figure-01_uxm268At the time, for anyone who had been reading comics for over five years, it would have come as no surprise to see the late 20’s Black Widow turning out to have known Wolverine since her childhood since by that stage, the trope of Wolverine already knowing everyone who turned up in his path had become an entrenched part of the character.

figure-02a_mfan24_loganfuryfigure-02b_uxm228_gyrichWhat would have confused readers, though, is the fact that Uncanny #268 depicts Natasha as a young child in World War II, almost 50 years before the present of the issue’s main story.

figure-03a_uxm268So what sort of perspective might Chris Claremont have had to account for the Black Widow’s apparent lack of aging?

Readers would sadly never find out, since while the September 1990 dated issue of Uncanny X-Men #268 raises the question, it never provides an answer, and Claremont is booted off the title before having an opportunity to follow the story up at a later date.

“Madripoor Knights” is very much a Wolverine story.  It is early in Captain America’s career, in “Late-Summer 1941” that he engages ninjas (genin field agents) of the Hand on the streets of Madripoor to rescue Ivan Petrovich.

figure-03b_uxm268Both men are hard pressed to overcome the tide of battle against them, when Logan (the character we are to know as Wolverine) appears, turning the tide in Cap and Ivan’s favour.  After the fight, Logan takes the two men to a local establishment, Seraph’s Bar, where Logan and Cap are briefed by Ivan on his mission and Logan narrowly avoids causing a bar fight with Baron von Strucker and his Nazi aide.

Natasha Romanov has been captured by Strucker to be delivered to the Hand.  The Hand has identified her as gifted with extraordinary aptitude for the martial arts, and means to begin her indoctrination into their organisation.

figure-03c_uxm268The men rescue Natasha but lose Logan, and instead of returning to the bar they go to the local American Consul, who, turning out to be a fascist loyal to the Nazis, promptly delivers them back to Strucker and the Hand.  Only Logan’s return to the conflict halts the ritual death of Ivan and Cap by a blade wielded by the Hand-entranced Natasha.  Freed to act, together the three men defeat Strucker and the Hand, and Logan sees to the safe return of all involved to their respective countries.

In the present of the story, Natasha, as the Black Widow, is surveilling the sibling group Fenris: Andrea and Andreas von Strucker, mutant children of the abovementioned Baron.  She falls prey to Hand field agents under the command of the evil organisation’s new jonin, Matsuo Tsurayaba, but is rescued by Wolverine, Jubilee and Psylocke who are on the run and searching for the missing X-Men. Upon her recovery, Natasha hugs her “Little Uncle”, Logan, and expresses concern at his debilitated state.  After briefing them, Logan and Natasha draw comparisons with their previous encounter almost 50 years ago to a dismayed Jubilee’s shock.

figure-03d_uxm268Natasha and the X-Men find an informant who gives up a meet location for Fenris and Matsuo. The location turns out to be a sham with decoys, and the villains themselves drink a toast to their victory from a safe, alternative location.

To understand this curious story requires a little history of Marvel itself.  Established in 1961, the Marvel Universe was born piecemeal from characters created in the late 1930’s and 40’s such as Captain America.  Steve Rogers was created in fact early in the year of 1941, a year partially known for fighting in Europe and sabre-rattling from the Pacific.  Nazi political interference with Jews in Germany had by this point become rumors of Ghettos and disappearing of Jewish citizens under German political influence.  These rumors of later proven fact became the impetus that Captain America was created out of, and Marvel had a patriotic Nazi fighter all ready when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Captain America would go on to return again and again after the war in Marvel’s publishing history, but it was only in Avengers #4 in 1963 that Steve Rogers would return to ongoing publication.  Not long after, 1964 to be precise, the Black Widow was created.  She was a secret agent for the USSR who bedeviled Iron Man…

figure-04a_tos52…a Cold War femme fatale who seduces the unaware Hawkeye into supporting her missions against the USA.

figure-04d_tos57In a few years, she has defected to the West, gotten a makeover as a superhero and uses her Soviet training and “Widow Sting” equipment to fight for the Avengers…

figure-05_avengers-30_-1st-widows-sting…go on to work for the Western-based spy organization, SHIELD…

figure-06_avengers-38_-1st-mission-for-shield…and date Daredevil.

figure-07_daredevil-84_1st-dateAt this time, some background started to be established for the Black Widow.  She acquired a chauffeur who apparently had a long standing relationship with Natasha and he rescued her from her bombed house in Stalingrad during WWII.

figure-08b_daredevil-88_ivan-rescues-natThen, in Daredevil #102, Chris Claremont went on to establish two things about the Black Widow.  Her middle name was Alianovna.  Russian middle names are patronyms which means the name is a version of their father’s first name.  So Natasha’s father is named Alian Romanoff.

figure-09_daredevil-102_1st-alianovnaThe second thing was that in the omnipotent captions, she is referred to as a Tsarina, which means “Empress Queen”.

figure-10_daredevil-102_1st-tsarinaAs Natasha is called Princess throughout Uncanny #268…

figure-11_uxm268_tsarina…Claremont is clearly implying that Natasha is in fact the last surviving heir to the Russian monarchy and Empress and Autocrat of All the Russias!

figure-12_uxm268_last-surviving-heir-of-the-russian-monarchyBut by 1990, Madame Romanoff would have been well over 50 years the age that she was depicted in 1990.  In 1964, this would have not been a problem.  In 1990, though, she was still a clearly young woman and always had been.

figure-13_uxm268_over-50-years-oldAt this point, it is necessary to remember that the Marvel Universe has a compressed time line.  Though most of it has been depicted beginning from 1967, in fact, the compression means that working backward from the present (currently early 21st Century, the beginning of the modern Marvel Universe, Fantastic Four #1, takes place in the early 2000’s and not 1961.  However, characters tied into fixed events, such as the Cold War or World War II, require explanations to orient the reader into how they can exist in the endless present of the Marvel Universe.  For instance, Captain America, fell into suspension animation towards the end of WWII until he awoke in Avengers #4.  But the Black Widow, a WWII child survivor, had no ready reference for her youth.  How could this be?

Some real word history is called for at this point.  During the Russian Civil War, the ruling monarchy was killed.

figure-14a_-colour-restored-picture-of-romanov-familyAmong them was Grand Duchess (or Princess) Anastasia, about whom rumors persisted throughout the 20th Century to the extent that she had survived and escaped.

figure-14b_grand-duchess-princess-anastasiaSeveral women claimed to be the surviving Anastasia, but none were accepted as such in their lifetimes and have since been disproven upon the discovery of the real Anastasia’s grave and subsequent DNA testing.

However, we are talking about the Marvel Universe, which can diverge from ours in subtle ways.  Anastasia was born in 1901.  Natasha Romanoff would have been born in the mid-to-late 1930’s.  It is possible she could be the daughter of Anastasia, if her mother had survived and stayed in Stalingrad and married a man named Alian Romanoff.  This seems unlikely to me as the Secret Police would never have countenanced the existence of a Royal Heir surviving or furthering the line.  The real Anastasia and her family were executed to prevent any threat to the dominance of the Communist Party’s control on the new government.  Moreover, none of the women who claimed to be Anastasia did so within the USSR, but safely in foreign countries far away.  It’s therefore very unlikely the real Anastasia could have lived in open sight in Stalingrad until World War II.

So how could Chris Claremont have reasoned this?

Natasha survived the destruction of her own home during the Battle of Stalingrad which took place from August 23, 1942 to February, 2 1943.  We know this because she told this to Viper in Marvel Team-Up #85.

figure-15_marvel-team-up-85-p13She could only safely exist in her homeland if all the ruling Romanoffs were believed dead.  But, what if there was a heretofore unknown infant born just before the February Revolution?  Conceived and born in secret because of the impeding revolution, this boy would have been the last hope for Nicholas II to continue the Romanoff house and restore the monarchy.  He could not remain in St. Petersburg, but was removed by a trusted retainer to the city of Stalingrad, where he could be raised in safety.  Nicholas II gives his lastborn son Alian Romanoff to his trusted retainer, Ivan Petrovitch.  Petrovitch raises the young Alian in a house purchased with what would be his family inheritance and there, Alian would grow to manhood, being trained by Ivan and study, waiting for the opportunity to regain the throne. Alian marries and the union produces Natasha, who is naturally athletic.  As World War II commences, Alian and his wife allow Natasha to train in ballet.  Her ballet performances expose the child’s prowess to the local martial arts community, resulting in her abduction by the Hand.  Unwilling to alert the Russian authorities, Ivan is enlisted to undertake the mission to save Natasha.  Alian’s wealth has allowed him to make contacts with foreign governments such as the USA, who are very interested when the heir to Russia’s throne asks for help and send their top asset, Steve Rogers as Captain America to Madripoor to meet Ivan, thus setting the stage for a young Steve Rogers to meet Logan and rescue Natasha.

In 1990, it had been many years since Black Widow’s WWII history had been referenced and many political changes had befallen the relationship with East and West since.  It was a shock to see it thoroughly and somewhat definitely referenced.  The floating timeline of the Marvel Universe wherein all present day issues took place in a past circa some eight to nine years since Fantastic Four #1 meant that the Black Widow’s childhood, fixed in WWII made her older than her apparent age.  While her present day adventures could be compressed, her past expanded as her meeting Wolverine and Captain America, and presence at the battle of Stalingrad locked her origins much the same way as Captain America and the Sub-Mariner’s were.  Steve Rogers was in a state of suspended animation until Avengers #4, Namor is a hybrid with an enhanced lifespan.  How does the Black Widow, a human peak athlete remain so?

The answer, I posit, lies in Claremont’s Spider-Woman #42, “The Judas Man.”

figure-16a_spider-woman-42_the-judas-manMichael Kramer has disappeared and daughter Pamela hires Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman to find him.  Michael is on the run from Viper and Silver Samurai.  Viper has gotten the catalyst for a virus that’s 99% fatal to all human beings.  In 1944, Kramer and his fellow American servicemen went down behind enemy lines, only to end up implanted with the deadly virus by the Red Skull.  The virus, dubbed the Judas Plague, required genetic modification to create immune plague carriers for distribution of the agent.  The antidote for the plague is generated via human reproduction by the “Judas Men”: their children will be born with the mutated matrix that will provide the antidote.  However, Captain America and Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes destroyed the lab and all the research…

figure-16b_sw42_recap…except for the catalyst which was later found.  The sole survivor of the Judas Plague experiment, Michael escaped, and hid.  He also gained extended longevity…

figure-16c_sw42_michael-kramer-longevity…and his virus was discovered to have mutated into an inert form after Spider-Woman defeated Viper and Samurai’s plot.

figure-16d_sw43_michael-kramers-virus-discovered-to-be-inertIn 1945, we know victorious Russian forces in Germany took resources and assets from the conquered country as reparations for the War.  As part of this process, it is likely the Russians would have been instructed to collect any scientific research or seize sites of laboratories.  Although Fury and Captain America reported the Judas Plague research destroyed, the report was obviously not entirely accurate, given Michael Kramer’s status and the catalyst’s destruction given Viper’s later obtaining of it?

Jessica Drew recounts in Spider-Woman #43 that the Judas Plague was “required reading” for all Hydra agents.

figure-17a_sw43_jessica-recalls-judas-plague-knowledge-from-hydra-trainingViper, having likewise been a Hydra recruit, would have likely known about the site of the experiment and that Fury’s report was inaccurate.

figure-17b_sw42_viper-knew-furys-report-was-inaccurateIt stands to reason, then, that acquiring the Plague was an operational goal for Hydra, so at some point, Hydra got the catalyst from the Russians and Viper later stole it from Hydra.

But what were the Russians doing with it for so long?

By the late 40’s, early 50’s, Natasha Romanoff would have been identified as a prime candidate for espionage.  Instead Natasha was allowed to be a ballerina…

figure-18a_dd104_bolshoi-ballet…and marry Alexei Alanovich Shostakov, a top pilot for the Soviet military.

figure-18b_avengers-44_bw-married-soviet-military-pilot-alexei-shostakovAfter she was told he was killed (in reality, Shostakov was in training as the Red Guardian) she volunteered and trained for the KGB.

figure-18c_avengers-44-flashbackThe aptitude for martial arts that the Hand had seen in 1941 would have been manifest and she would have been trained in those arts and spy craft to serve the USSR.  As a Hand candidate for Master Assassin, she would have been top in her class and a prime asset.

figure-18d_dd88_bw-married-soviet-military-pilot-alexei-shostakovAs the Red Guardian, Alexei would have been a public figure, a role model to rally Soviet patriotism in the public and inspire fear of the strength of Russian might in the world.

figure-18d_avengers-44-red-guardian-projectThis did not happen because of his apparent death after Avengers #44 and the length of his experiment, which displayed considerable flaws such as his psychological volatility and his willingness to die to save the embodiment of Soviet Russia’s arch-rival.

figure-18d_avengers-44-flashbackHad that not happened, however, he would have been an individual of considerable influence according to Soviet planning.

I would further posit, therefore, that the Soviet government could not allow either Natasha or Alexei such unchecked influence.  Thus, both of them married and were subsequently separated for training alone.  The KGB by this time would have found the surviving German scientists of the Judas Plague experiment site.  Natasha was then subjected to a KGB-run Judas Plague experiment as the agency’s scientists would have deemed her likely to survive and then used as a spy. Natasha would assume the code name of the project, “Black Widow,” although she would be likely be unaware of the actual project or her status as a vector of a plague that could virtually depopulate the planet.  At the time that Alexei completed his training, Natasha would have been reunited with him.

figure-18f_natasha-and-alexeiAnd with that reunion, Alexei would be exposed to the plague, it likely being a sexually transmitted disease, and thereafter he could be deployed in the field with full confidence, either under Natasha’s influence as a loyal wife and operative or blackmailed with his life should he turn against the motherland.  He would serve as public relations at home and at the forefront in the Rodina’s military defense.

However, it obviously took much longer for Alexei to complete his “training.”  The Marvel compressed timeline meant that when Natasha was told Alexei was “dead” in the flashback in Avengers #44…

figure-18c_avengers-44-flashback…she spent decades believing he was dead.  During this time, the Red Guardian project crawled on.  Obviously inspired by the West’s Super Soldier Project, the Soviets’ process was flawed, with Alexei being endowed with superior strength, but a volatile psyche.  These setbacks might have required lengthy periods of mental conditioning, revealing the Super Soldier longevity effect.  Being the first operational asset, any other subjects of the project were likely driven insane if they survived the physical and psychological trauma of the incomplete chemical and radiological procedure.  Alexei’s personality was so altered, Natasha perceived little of the man she loved.  It’s likely he was brainwashed repeatedly in an effort to restore his sanity and bring him to operational readiness.  By the time he was, Natasha’s Judas Plague infection, like Michael Kramer’s, would have been found inert.  Well before then, she would have noticed her own longevity via the Judas Plague process and found out about what happened to her.  She would have been about 40 some years old and although youthful, she would have also realized she was infertile from the Judas Plague treatment (designed for men, I have to assume it wouldn’t be good for a woman’s reproductive ability).  This would have been another factor leading to her eventual defection to the West.

Without either Natasha or the Judas Plague, the Red Guardian project would have needed another control, but it’s likely at this point the break-up of the USSR would have loosened the paranoia and the need for a counterpart to Captain America.  At any rate, the Red Guardian went into the field with an unstable mentality and apparently died, leaving Natasha an indefinitely young widow.  Considering Alexei’s mental instability, his mission would have been selected to cause the most damage and result in his death.  Ironically, he died a hero, saving his wife and Captain America, somewhere in Southeast Asia.

figure-18f_avengers-44-death-of-alexei-shostakovWhen Natasha defected and her infection was inert, the catalyst would have been of no use and the Russians would have been either glad to sell it, or warehouse it.  Through either of those opportunities, Hydra and Viper could have acquired it, not knowing that the lifespan of the active virus in Michael Kramer had already expired.  After Viper stole the project from Hydra, she acquired Michael Kramer before the virus’s efficacy was verified.  By the time Spider-Woman freed Kramer, Viper’s scientists had determined his infection was inert as well.  The project was a failure and was subsequently abandoned, leaving two survivors, Michael Kramer and the Black Widow, forever changed.

Among her friends, such as Ivan and Logan, Natasha is called Princess or Tsarina.  It seems like a nickname to those who overhear, but in truth, she is the last surviving member of the Romanoffs and the rightful heir to the long deposed Russian Monarchy. She will never claim that crown, because her calling is a higher one.  She claims the titles of S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Avenger, and most importantly the Black Widow as a remembrance of the insidious exploitation of female agents by the Rodina through projects like the one that created her.

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…Magneto’s resurrection after X-Men #3?

This fix, contributed by Paty Cockrum, ex-Marvel artist and colourist, and wife of the late Dave Cockrum, creator of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, takes place sometime after X-Men #3, Chris Claremont’s last issue on his first run which saw Magneto and the Acolytes sent on a fiery fall and proposes a more intellectually-satisfying way he could have been brought back as opposed to the one plotted for the execrable Fatal Attractions…

After realising his views and those of his friend Charles Xavier were incompatible, the mutant calling himself Magnus went on to became the infamous master of magnetism, Magneto. As he increased the usage of his mutant abilities, Magnus began to suffer brain seizures that would lead to debilitating pain wracking his whole body. His lover, Isabelle, before her death, theorised that manipulating the Earth’s planetary magnetic field through his body, specifically his central nervous system, could very well be affecting his brain via the seizures. During the time Magneto was regressed to infancy, Dr Moira MacTaggert attempted to modify his genetic matrix in an effort to eliminate the unstable overload of energy and prevent a progressive degradation that would affect the electrochemical balance in his brain. Some years following his restoration to adulthood and after he had broken his ties with humanity, Magneto finally discovered that Moira had performed said procedure on him in an attempt to save her own son. Believing his primacy of judgement had been compromised, and thus his reform period was not the result of free will, Magneto took Moira captive and forced her to perform her procedure on half of the X-Men, pitting them against their teammates. But the fight ended as the suborned X-Men regained their true natures. The revelation that Moira’s procedure was a failure because every use of a mutant’s power restored that person’s “default” state came too late for the master of magnetism. The toll of the recent battles he had waged left Magneto seemingly dying, his last act being to maintain Asteroid M’s structural integrity to enable the X-Men to escape, after which it exploded in space. As for Magneto… the self-styled master of magnetism is Missing-In-Action and presumed dead… unless you know him well…

DEEP PURPLE

by Paty Cockrum

The sea was a piece of red glass fading, on the eastern horizon, to a deep purple as night approached.

“His colors,” thought the scarlet clad woman in the small rowboat.

She maneuvered the boat towards the ancient and oddly carved jetty. The rocks were encrusted with old, dead deep sea detritus and had a weird, thrumming sensation under her gloved hand. After attaching the rope from the bow to a weathered ring, she clambored onto the large slab that led to the front gates of the citadel.

From her vantage point on the jetty, she surveyed the island. It wasn’t big, and most of it was taken up by an immense citadel of outrageous proportions and esoteric design. No human hand built this citadel.  Theory amongst the superheroes she interacted with was that it was a forgotten race of giants that constructed it. It had vanished under the waves long ago and had only been raised by her father a few years ago. He had made it one of his fortresses… his hidey holes. He had been missing for some time now, but if he were still alive, he might just be here.

She looked out to sea. Tonight it was like glass, with only a few shallow ripples to pick up the westering sun’s crimson and gold light.

“False calm…” she whispered to herself. She knew the sea was a bit more turbulent outside the electromagnetic shield that safeguarded the island… through which she had passed a short while ago. Even with a hurricane howling outside the shield, the waters herein would have only moderate waves and breezes. Her father’s doing. And obviously his devices were still active. No unsynchronized or unshielded mechanical device could operate within the shield. The Avenger’s yacht had cut out when it crossed the boundary… and had to be maneuvered back to the outside of it while they still had momentum. The Vision waited there for her, keeping the boat well clear of the shield interface.  She had had to row to the island… and would have to row back, she assumed… but this mission was too important to her to abandon it.

She looked up at the gold and crimson spangled walls. Something was different from the last visuals she had had of the island.

“Foliage!” she muttered to herself. “There’s plants all over the walls!” That was odd, for, even though the island was situated in the Bermuda Triangle and was tropical, it had gone for years without much, if any, foliage softening its exterior and lending a feeling of life and warmth to the eerie coldness of the stones. But the island, this night, was lush with tropical growth. Greens fading to blue in the shadows, reds deepening into the rich purple that reflected the sea’s deep swells. Golds that flitted like fireflies across the rich tropical growth that hung on the walls and dangled from overhead parapets and walkways.

She strode up to the towering and heavy gates and placed a scarlet gloved hand on the alien metal. It vibrated at her touch, and a darkly robed and cowled figure appeared just inside its ornamental grille.

“Who goes there?” A deep and vibrant challenge.

“The Scarlet Witch… Avenger…” a slight pause, and then she added “…Magneto’s daughter!”

The gate swung silently open a few inches… enough for her to slip in. “If you are truly our Lord’s daughter, then you are welcome here.”

She slid into the inner courtyard and heard the gate clang shut behind her.

A flash of white sparkled under the purple cowl of the imposing figure who had granted her admission.

“Father?”

A vibrant chuckle as the tall mutant rearranged his enveloping wings that had looked so much like robes and cowl. “No, Magnus daughter… if that is who you are…” the iridescent blue/purple veined and leathery wings fell back and she saw the shock of white hair that shimmered from a scaled head and tumbled in soft waves down the mutant’s back.

“Oh, sorry… the hair…”

“Often a side effect of mutation, I believe.” He turned from her to greet a diminutive figure approaching. “Greensleeves, this woman says she is Wanda, our Lord’s daughter. Speaks she truly?”

The diminutive figure, clad in purple and red samite, stretched out a hand that was opalescent in its beauty. Fire red and shimmering greens played across its surface like mother of pearl. “May I touch you, lady? It will not harm nor hurt you, but if you have our Lord’s gene structure, I will know it immediately… it is my power to know all living things… and to command some of them.”

“I thought my father had everyone else’s power turned off on this island.” Wanda removed one of her scarlet gauntlets and held out her hand to the faerie like creature.

A cool, almost icy touch, like a snowflake, and the tiny woman sank to her knees and bowed her head. “Mistress Wanda… I bid you welcome.”

The tall, dragon-like gatesman sank to one knee,  bowed his head and rumbled “I bid you welcome, Magnus daughter.”

“Oh for God’s sake… get up!” Wanda shook her head. “Stop all this bowing and kowtowing… is my father here?”

“Sadly, no.” the giant flowed like purple water to his full height of well over seven feet. He stretched the iridescent bat like wings above him and the crimson light of the sun made them glow with jewelled color.

“Then what are YOU doing here?”

“We were not on the satellite when it fell. We heard about it… and decided that if Magneto survived, he would come to one of his other strongholds. We knew of this island, so we came to make it comfortable for him if he should choose to come here. Your father is a survivor, Mistress, we do not think he died in that fiery fall.”

“Nor do I… which is why I am here.” Wanda frowned, then looked around her. “You have done a good job… the place is lovely, what I have seen of it. It used to be so… stark. He’ll be pleased… he likes green things. There were so few living things in Auschwitz.”

“Thank you my Lady.” the crystal like voice of Greensleeves danced merrily. “I have fashioned the gardens specifically for him… although, until he comes, we enjoy them too. They provide color and food to sustain us here. Will you bide a while with us even though your father is not here? It would be our greatest pleasure to serve you.”

“I think not.” Wanda shook her head and smiled at the two. “But I thank you for the offer of hospitality. I guess you don’t get many visitors out this way, do you?”

“Not hardly…” Dragon rumbled. “I almost never get to say ‘who goes there?’ It was kinda fun…”

“I have to get back… the Vision is waiting for me in a boat outside the shield wall. Night is coming and it’s a long row out.”

“You do not wish to try it in the dark.. You can get lost on the sea at night… and it is dark of the moon. Bide here with us this night. and we will have one of the merfolk tow you to your boat.”

“If daddy dearest isn’t here, I should get back…Vision will worry.” Wanda smiled wistfully.  “But thank you anyway…”

“Dragon, go fetch Fishface while you can still find him… I will let her rest herself in the temple and see that she has some refreshment. Go on… hurry up… you haven’t much light left.”

The dragonesque creature with the flowing white hair sighed deeply. ” He’s going to be out to sea… you know how he is with a storm coming…”

“Try.”

“My Lady…” a bow to Wanda and the incredible wings spread and he lifted into the sultry air, shimmering iridescently as he rose into the stronger sunlight.

“Wow… couldn’t he have just towed me out?” Wanda watched the flying man disappear almost straight up.

“Nah… he hates flying over water. He will go straight up and look down for Fishface. Come, let me show you the gardens.”

Greensleves led down a pathway towards an interior area that, because it was sheltered by the walls, was beginning to go blue and mauve with the fading sunlight.

Lush greenery spread before Wanda in generous profusion. Shimmering walkways cut through the verdant green like multicolored brick roads. All paths led to a round, Grecian temple in the center of the gardens, where a small light flickered in the growing shadows.

“How lovely… did you do all this?”

“Only the plants… they grow at my command.  Granit did the stone…” the tiny lady sighed deeply… “Granit was one of us. He actually knew our Lord… for a short while. He worshipped him and built the temple for him. It contains a resting place for his body if we should find out that he has died.  Beside it is a tomb for the remains of his wife, Magda, which we brought here to rest beside him.  Granit died making the temple and we interred him there, to be near the master he so loved. We keep vigil there praying for the return of our Lord… one way or another.”

“Dear God! You do this for…Magneto?”

“You do not understand what he means to us, dear.  He is our guiding light, for he is right about many things when it comes to mutants and humans. We know you and your brother may not believe this.  It is, however, a truth that the prophet is never respected in his own house.” she chuckled.  “Familiarity breeds contempt… happens in every family, don’t you know?”

“Right… uh… who is that?” Wanda pointed to a monk like figure, clad also in deep purple robes, entering the temple.

“That is Regis. He came here one night and we allowed him to stay because he had the mark.”

“The mark?”

“The mark that identified him as a Holocaust survivor… the numbers tattooed on his arm. He said he knew Magnus in the camp. He doesn’t sleep well at night, so he takes the night-time vigil to tend the flame. He is a sad man.”

“Ah… is he a mutant, too?”

“Not that we can tell… He has an aversion to being touched, so I have never scanned him. The mark is his passage and instant acceptance here. He is a quiet man. I cannot imagine what he and our Lord went through in that horrible place when they were children!”

The diminutive woman led Wanda to the temple. ”  There are benches to sit and rest and meditate here.  The light is always burning, so please rest and I will fetch you some refreshments while we wait for Dragon and Fishface to come. Regis may or may not speak with you.  Don’t push him, he is frail and mostly silent… and I think he waits for death to release him from his body and his memories.”

“How tragic… I will not disturb him if he does not wish company. I’ll just sit here and rest. This whole building is Granit’s work? He was a genius and an artist.”

The faerie smiled sadly. “He was only twelve.”

“Dear God… and he did THIS? For my FATHER?”

“Yes…” and she was gone, disappearing into the twilight like the magickal creature she so closely resembled.

Wanda sat and looked at the glistening sheen of polished marble. Pearly white and shimmering black and green marble. Cascades of sparkling amethyst crystals clustered and grew around the foot of a greater than life-sized figure of her father.  What love created this beauty? What effort from a child, done to please someone that she, his daughter, considered arrogant and overbearing and sometimes crazy!

“What did you see in him, I wonder…” she murmured to herself as she contemplated the artistry before her. She looked around and saw the old monk seated in the shadows. Maybe he could explain the dedication these people showed the very memory of her father. She didn’t want to bother him… but… he would have an outsiders view of everything. She had to ask… to try to understand.

“Excuse me, sir… I don’t want to intrude on your meditations… or prayers… but … um… you knew my father?”

“As well as anyone…” the voice was almost a whisper but had once been a pleasant one, Wanda thought.

“You were in Auschwitz…?” She didn’t know quite how to proceed.

“Yes… a hateful place. You do not want to hear of it… even if I could bring myself to talk about it.”

“Ah… no… I have studied the history books and photographs. It is better left to the dead…”

“But not forgotten… If it is forgotten, it will happen again… to people like you.. and your brother… and the children who keep this island .”

Wanda gulped… might as well ask… “What was he like… my father? What do you remember of him? You sit here every night and look at that statue and it must mean something to you… what?”

The man gathered his robes around him and shrank deeper into the shadows and Wanda thought she had gone too far… pressed too hard…

“They think of him as a God. He never wanted to be thought of as a god… only as a man. He… wanted to die so many times… but he knew it would happen again… and he had to survive to keep it from happening again. He never wanted to rule the world… his power just ran away with him. Do you understand?  He couldn’t control it when he needed to in Auschwitz… and later, it grew so big that it nearly killed him every time he used it. But he still had to use it because he feared it would happen again.” The old man drew in on himself. “All he tried to do was to save his people.”

“He did it the wrong way. He was arrogant and treated those beneath him as things to use and throw away. My brother and I…”

“He did not know who you were, did he? Your mother saw to that. He did not know you existed. Family was the most important thing in his life… because he had none. He lived only to help his people. And his vaunted power ate him alive.” The man’s whispery voice was almost a sob in the darkness. “He didn’t know you were his children. When he found out, he wept… both for joy, at the miracle of your existence… and for sorrow, at his treatment of you in the days of his madness.”

Wanda was silent for a moment. “His madness… the backup of power that made him act insane. Moira MacTaggert corrected his gene anomaly and opened the floodgates of his power. Why did he hate her?”

“It was not what she did… it was how and why she did it. She experimented on him to see if she could help her child. It wasn’t done for him… the benefit to him was a by-product of her experiments.  Do you know how much that smacks of Mengele? Of experiments performed on him before he was a sonderkommando? Before he had the relative safety of that hated position?” the voice was stronger now… low and growling… a voice with outrage and pain in it.

“I can’t even imagine what you… and he… went through in Auschwitz.  I do know it warped him terribly.”

A low chuckle. “Warped? Yes, maybe you are right. But the same fires that destroy can temper, too. So many died. Weaker willed men bent and were not as… warped… as the strong ones. But the weaker ones are all dead, now… some of them from suicide… some from the infirmities that broke them. Not your father. He may have been warped, but he knew he had to survive… to fight…”

“You think he is alive?”

Silence.

“Look, if you know him so well, and you think he is alive, can you tell me where he is or might be?”

“Why would you want to know? You and your brother have written him off as a mindless terrorist…”

“I just… need… to talk to him… to see if there is any glimmer of intellect there that I could reach… because I think we have found out what may be driving him crazy these days.”

“And you would like to give him this information? A man you consider arrogant and insane? A terrorist? Why would you do that?”

It’s not that simple. I have to talk to him… to gauge if what I know could be used wrongly. It would give him so much more power… and if I  couldn’t be sure he would use the knowledge wisely…”

“More power? The power he has now drives him mad at times… even with MacTaggert’s tampering. What could possibly be the benefit of giving him more? Do you want him to go totally insane?”

“It’s not like that. The Vision and I have been doing some research… and if what we think is true, it would explain all the aberrations of his behavior.  It could let him control his power… and power he hasn’t even dreamed of. I just don’t know if I can trust him with the power that the knowledge would open up to him. I have got to know how he really IS. I have to know how he thinks and what he thinks… and what he really wants to do.

“He wants to save his people from another Holocaust… that is what he wants. He is not Emperor of the World material… it would bore him silly.”  The monk slumped back into the seat from which he had almost risen. “His people, his followers, know what he wants. That is what this island… this shrine… is all about. They may treat him like a god… but they know he is not one. They know your father better than you will ever know him… because your heart is hardened against him.”

“His own fault…”

“Possibly true… but you still see him as more than he ever wanted to be… and less than he is.”

“You like him, don’t you?”

“I respect what I know of him… what I understand of him…”

“OK… let me run this by you… but you have to promise that no matter what, you will never tell him. I have to be the one to do that…OK?”

“He will never hear a word of what passes between us from me in any way shape or form. Are you sure you wish to tell me this?”

“You might know how he would react… whether I SHOULD tell him what we found out… or not.” I just don’t know what to do with it… that’s why I wanted to talk with him.”

“I understand your quandary. If this information is as potent as you say…”

“You tell me.” She heaved a great sigh. “The Vision and I did a graph to find out what might possibly  influence Magneto’s rampages… social factors, laws against mutants, you name it, we looked and looked to no avail. I believe some wanted us to succeed so they could use the information to set a trap for him.  Long after others had written off our studies, we found it. Simple, really, if you consider his basic power. Wonder is that no one thought of it before…”

The man shuffled listlessly… striving for a comfortable seat on the cushioned granite. It seemed as if he didn’t really care if she told him or not.

“So simple… my father’s power is to channel and use the magnetic flux of the earth.”

“This is well known…”

“But every once in a while, he goes off the deep end… we thought at first it was emotional trauma from Auschwitz. Making him go nuts and trip himself up… put roadblocks on his own power…”

“That could well be… Auschwitz traumatized many beyond all measure…”

“No… it has everything to do with the nature of his power. If there is too much of it, it backs up and causes an overload… a short circuit of the mind, as it were.”

“Yes… and this causes him to lose control and act irrationally.”

“Exactly. Moira should have fixed that… the flow of the earth’s magnetosphere is steady and strong… no great surprises there…”

“So why does he still go crazy at times?”

Wanda smiled. “Sunspots! He’s drawing power from the sun and when the sun flares in those huge magnetic storms called sunspots, they overload him.  He doesn’t know he can draw power from the sun… y’see? If he did, he might be able to control how the sunspots affect him! He might be able to know when one of them is going to happen and adjust his ability to deal with it or channel it. But that’s a lot of power… and to let him know he could possibly do that… you see my problem?”

Silence.

“Yes… you DO see my problem. What do I do when and if I find him? How can I judge whether to clue him in to this potential solution to his problems? Or do we just let him run around like a nutball and never understand what he could DO … or control? Is it better for him to be less powerful with no control or more powerful with control of all that power?”

Silence.

Was the old guy even awake? “Uh… Mr. Regis…?”

“I am here…”

“So what do you think?”

“I think you have a very difficult choice to make when you find your father.”

“You think he’s alive?”

“Yes…”

Wanda slumped where she sat.  “I just don’t know what to do. I am almost glad he wasn’t here. I don’t know if I’m ready to face him with this… y’know? I am afraid he would roar out BWAHAHAHAHA and go dancing around like a demented loon! He’s done that, you know…”

A small chuckle from the shadows. “Yes… I know…”

“You know, sir, you have been a great help to me… even if you haven’t said much. Sometimes you just have to get things out on the table…and when you explain them to others, you see them a lot clearer yourself. Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For just being here and letting me sort this out in my own mind.”

“And when you find your father, what are you going to do? What will you tell him?”

“That will depend on him, won’t it?” She looked up to see Greensleeves hurrying towards the temple in the deepening dusk. Beside her was an even smaller figure. “I think my ride is here. It was nice talking to you, sir. I could wish my father was as gentle a person as you are. I wouldn’t have a problem then, would I?”

“Who knows… it was nice talking to you, too. You have brightened my evening.”

“Wanda, this is Fishface…”  Greensleves glided in as if she were walking on air… and a wet, very fishy appearing youngster sloshed beside her. “…he will pull your boat back to your yacht, so you don’t have to row. You’d best come along…it is already quite dark… but that won’t bother Fishface any… he already knows where your friend is waiting and watching for you. He will have you there in no time… and I have some fruit and something to drink for you to take with you.”

“Thank you Greensleeves…” she turned to the shadowed figure on the other end of the marble seat…” and thank you, Mr Regis for your help.”

“I did nothing…”

“You listened. Your promise…?”

“Not a word from my lips.”  She smiled and turned to leave with Greensleeves and Fishface. Soon they were all lost in the deep purple haze of evening.

The monk got up, stretched and walked to the front of the statue. He adjusted the brazier so that it would not go out in the middle of the night. He swept the concealing cowl back from his face and looked up at his own marble visage.

Magneto smiled to himself. “Bwahahahaha, indeed.”  He settled back on the cushioned slab… He WOULD sleep tonight… and tomorrow, he would greet his newfound compatriot… the sun.

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