When Polaris was introduced it was revealed that she was Magneto’s daughter, firstly by Mesmero in X-Men #50…
…and then by the master of magnetism himself in X-Men #51.
In X-Men #52 Iceman suggests that both villains had lied and that Lorna’s parents had actually died and she had been adopted by her father’s sister and brother-in-law…
… further supported by the revelation in X-Men #58 that the Magneto who partnered with Mesmero and claimed to be her father had actually been a robot.
And that was pretty much the state of affairs for the next thirty plus years, until a convoluted series of stories in recent years which have stupidly revealed Lorna’s mother apparently having had an affair with the self-styled master of magnetism, making her Magneto’s daughter after all.
But that’s not the end of the matter.
In Astonishing Tales #3, we were introduced to a character named Zaladane who was a priestess of the sun god, Garokk, and a member of his tribe of Savage Land followers.
After floating around in the background for over a decade, playing a small role as Garokk’s high priestess, Chris Claremont brought her forward into the spotlight, initially in Uncanny X-Men Annual #12 where the High Evolutionary introduced her to Havok as his assistant Zala…
…during his plot to restore the then barren Savage Land to its former state during the Evolutionary War.
She came face to face with the X-Man Havok during this time, who found her strangely familiar looking.
Zaladane remained out of most of the action fighting in this Annual, content with the power that had become hers as the High Evolutionary’s second-in-command. However it was at this point she began her association with the Savage Land Mutates.
Claremont then follows this story up with a two-part storyline in Uncanny X-Men #249-250 (“The Dane Curse”) with Zaladane as the main villain, having Lorna Dane captured…
…and brought to the Savage Land…
…where her real name is not only revealed as Zala Dane…
…but she addresses Lorna as her long-lost sister whom she has “searched the world for”.
In the following issue she uses the High Evolutionary’s Transmutator, a machine capable of transferring superpowers from one individual to a genetically compatible match, to steal Lorna’s magnetic powers and graft them onto herself.
It is also here that Havok can’t help but notice a family resemblance between the two.
But Polaris obviously had no clue about Zaladane being her sister since she showed as much surprise as readers at the suggestion.
However, a few issues later, in Uncanny X-Men #254, Lorna makes it to Muir Island where Moira MacTaggert checks her over carefully and asserts that Zaladane “must” have been some sort of close relative for the power transfer to have worked.
While we know from X-Men #52 that Lorna was actually adopted by her aunt, fans have used this to suggest that Zaladane was her aunt’s daughter and therefore Lorna’s cousin, who had acquired her aunt’s married surname.
However, in terms of genetics first cousins have 12.5% of each other’s genes (implying, inversely, that 87.5% of their genes are different), whereas siblings have 50% of their genes in common with one another.
So these hints Claremont adds, particularly Moira’s comments, would all seem to point to him intending Zaladane to be Lorna Dane’s sister, and not her cousin.
Claremont has Zaladane return eighteen months later, in Uncanny X-Men #274, trying to steal Magneto’s powers as well…
…though she was ultimately defeated and killed.
Again fans’ theories claim that if her power-stealing technique was workable at all with Magneto, this was meant to be a heavy hint on Claremont’s part that Zaladane, Polaris, and Magneto were in fact all closely related. In recent years this has led to the whole long-discredited assertion about Lorna being Magneto’s daughter being dusted off and not only waved in our faces by Chuck Austen, who is on record as having been the worst writer on any core X-title in history, but made established continuity by Peter David.
However, I would argue that Claremont did not mean to hint at this at all, and here’s why!
During his swan song, in X-Men #2, he had made a big deal that Moira MacTaggert had taken genetic samples from Magneto after he had been reverted to infancy in an attempt to cure the instability in his central nervous system caused by his manipulation of the Earth’s magnetic field which had been responsible for his becoming a villain.
Moira was too thorough to have not cross-referenced Lorna’s DNA during her countless periods on Muir Isle with those she had of Magnus’s, particularly after claims during her introduction as his daughter.
Nevertheless, Claremont’s first run on Uncanny X-Men ended not long after this, so we never discovered his plans for the true familial connection between Polaris and Zaladane.
If Lorna is her long-lost sister, however, one can adduce that Zala’s father was similarly the sister of the couple that adopted Lorna.
But despite general fan consensus, this is not the only clue we have.
That is, there is one additional clue which has been RIGHT THERE since Zaladane’s introduction…
…the meaning of her name…
While it initially seemed to be an insignificant, arbitrary collection of syllables, upon further analysis one finds the last syllable “dane” means “valley dweller” which could suggest her and Lorna’s ancestors originate from a valley.
Where that valley could be is anyone’s guess until one looks to Zala’s first name which means “beautiful” in Slovene. So her full name would mean “beautiful valley dweller” (certainly NOT out of the realm of possibility for parents to name their daughter).
This leads to the question: Is there a “valley” in the Balkan region that has been the setting of any stories, or identified as the birthplace of any characters, within the Marvel Universe?
Well not necessarily, until one considers the valley that shared a western border with Yugoslavia which Slovene was considered to be part of at the time of both characters’ introductions.
This valley was below Wundagore Mountain, and was otherwise known as Transia!
So might this suggest that Transia was the birthplace of either siblings, or at least their parents?
And if their parents ARE from Transia, might they already be established characters in the Marvel Universe?
While there are perhaps a number of famous candidates for their father, it would seem unlikely that it is Phillip Masters, the Fantastic Four supervillain known as the Puppet Master, since after marrying Alicia’s mother, the couple went on to have NO children of their own.
One could argue the same for Django and Marya Maximoff as they were already accounted for as parents, having adopted the twins Wanda and Pietro, otherwise known as the Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver, from the High Evolutionary after the their mother Magda’s disappearance.
That leaves the High Evolutionary himself, Herbert Wyndham.
But while he knew who Zaladane was when he engaged her as his lab assistant during the Evolutionary War, he did NOT appear to show any paternal instinct toward her. It is interesting that he DID show paternal feelings at this time to Alex Summers though, the boyfriend of Lorna Dane. In addition, his surname is not “Dane”. However, given the fabrications Wanda and Pietro were told with regard to their own biological origins, he could very well have paid Lorna’s adopted parents to change their surname to “Dane” and take on the youngster.
But more on this later, since for now I wish to turn to their mother, a character for whom there was no mention made before the end of Claremont’s first run.
Since Lorna is blissfully unaware of her true origins, to investigate this question I feel we need to look more to Zaladane who was at least aware she had a sister, and for some time apparently given her claim in Uncanny X-Men #249 that she had been searching “the world for you, dear sister”.
Very little was known about the past of Zaladane by the end of Claremont first run. While not a native of the Savage Land, the circumstances and timing of her arrival in the prehistoric land hidden within Antarctica have yet to be revealed.
One thing is clear though, the dark-haired beauty was mad for power.
So is this a trait she inherited from one of her parents…
…her mother perhaps?!
It is interesting to note that Claremont penned another story closely similar in its attempt to resolve a familial connection back in 1982. I’m speaking about where he brings the Viper into the pages of Spider-Woman from issue #42, having Jessica interfering with her operations, during which time several characters note the remarkable similarity between the two women. In her private thoughts Claremont repeatedly has Viper lament over how much she loved Jessica, even while outwardly demanding her death.
The “truth” then comes in issue #44 that the terrorist, and all-around nihilist, had been possessed 50 years earlier on Mount Wundagore by Chthon who had planned to use her in an unexplained way to free him from his arcane prison within the mount. But for some reason the demon-spirit found some flaw within Viper that put an end to his being able to use her to end his extradimensional exile.
Less than a year later J.M. Dematteis retcons Viper being Spider-Woman’s mother in Captain America #281, revealing that Morgan Le Fay had actually implanted her with false memories that she had mothered Jessica on behalf of Chthon.
With his plot nixed, did Claremont then decide to carry it on through the mystery of Lorna and Zaladane’s unrevealed origins?
If so, I’d suggest he would reveal that Viper’s memories weren’t entirely false and Chthon had not implanted the memory of her being a mother but instead the identity of whom she and her daughter had been.
But why the Drews…
To answer this, we perhaps need to go back to why Viper was on Mount Wundagore in the first place, and what of her background up to Claremont leaving had been.
Throughout Viper’s career as a terrorist, in her Marvel comic appearances, she had consistently been shown to use neurotoxins and haemotoxins derived from reptiles.
But she had never been shown to employ anyone to produce these on her behalf.
This would seem to suggest she had an innate understanding of toxins which may suggest she was secretly an accomplished biochemist herself.
So I’d suggest it works something like this…
After surviving her family’s murder during an unnamed revolution in Europe, the woman who would become Viper came to settle in the valley below Mount Wundagore, Transia. But while she had escaped with her life, I would posit that the scarring she sustained on the right side of her face was a result of being raped while crossing the border which resulted in her becoming pregnant.
As for when, I’d suggest that it coincided with Jonathon Drew’s departure from Mount Wundagore after the 6th century sorcerer, Magnus, relinquished control of his body after successfully re-binding Chthon within the mountain once again.
This was in 1958.
But Spider-Woman #44 revealed Viper had been possessed fifty years earlier by Chthon which, since the issue was set in 1982, would mean she arrived on Mount Wundagore as far back as 1932. However, no revolutions in Europe occurred just prior to this time, the closest being the Klaipėda Revolt which took place in 1923 in Prussia and approximately 1,200kms from Transia.
I’d instead argue that Chthon had lied about how long he’d controlled Viper for and she had in fact arrived in Transia toward the end of Magnus and the High Evolutionary’s Knights of Wundagore’s campaign against the demon-spirit.
If so, the most likely revolution Viper had escaped with her life from is the Hungarian Revolution.
So she arrives in Transia with a young daughter, and is perhaps even witness to the battle.
She struggles to make ends meet after escaping her home and, with an additional mouth to feed in the form of her young daughter, she takes to a life of petty crime such as stealing which continues when she arrives in the valley of Transia.
After settling in the village, she hears rumours of a tower of marvels and thinks she’s hit the payload. And so it is not long before she makes her way up the mount to break into the High Evolutionary’s “Tower”.
However, she is discovered by his New Men, who bring her before their master.
But instead of turning her over to the village’s authorities, he is struck by her appearance and so begins further conversation with her. Discovering she has an innate flair for biochemistry he encourages her to move into the citadel with her daughter, Zala, and takes her under his wing, having her eventually fill Jonathon’s role as his laboratory assistant.
Having not previously used his Genetic Accelerator on reptiles due to his concern about how aggressive a fully grown Serpent-Man might become, he entrusts her to begin researching how this issue might be overcome.
During their time working together the two fall in love, get married in the citadel and Viper goes on to become pregnant with their daughter.
Unbeknownst to Herbert though, she co-opts the study she has been tasked with to develop a serum derived from reptilian cells to heal the scarring on the right side of her face. Since the mountain is abundant with vipers (specifically vipera ammodytes which are native to the Balkan region), they become the specimens she exploits for her experiments. But after countless efforts she is unable to fully ameliorate her facial disfigurement. However, she does develop a deep affinity for the viper (her studies of
them leading to her becoming an expert in neurotoxins and haemotoxins).
Still tormented by her facial scarring though…
…she becomes distant from Herbert, obsessed with resolving it. Due to scientific efforts
being unable to resolve it for her, she recalls her arrival in the village and the battle with Chthon and Herbert recounting how young Jessica’s father, Jonathon, had used the Darkhold to rebind the demon-spirit after Baron Russoff, their neighbour, had used it to attempt to release him.
One night, telling Herbert she is after additional specimens for her studies, she instead makes her way to Russoff’s castle and, using her skills learned while on the run, breaks in and steals the Darkhold. She then performs the book’s Spell of Ascension but some flaw within her prevents Chthon from being able to break free from his Earthly prison.
As for what the flaw in Viper is, I’d suggest it is connected to the serpent serum she used on herself in her efforts to cure her facial scarring. That is, since the serum she injects herself with is derived from vipers living around Mount Wundagore, I would posit that the snakes have been irradiated by the same mineral that similarly binds Chthon within the mountain. However, while the large mineral stores in Wundagore were previously believed to be uranium, I’d posit they are in fact vibranium (in line with my Grand Unified Vibranium Theory and I’ll explain why further down).
But Viper does succeed in summoning the demon-spirit and begs him to cure her facial scarring. He agrees to only if she hands over the daughter she currently carries (i.e. Lorna) once born, which in desperation she agrees to. But as most deals with demons
go, and while her scarring vanishes, she doesn’t quite get what she bargained for.
The spell over, Viper returns to the “Tower” where she is supported by Herbert and Bova to give birth; but upon doing so the demon appears in the birthing chamber to claim baby Lorna as his own.
Sensing Chthon, the sorcerer Magnus returns from the spirit-world once more and this time enters the High Evolutionary, using Herbert’s armoured body to protect Lorna and bear her to a chamber in the citadel where he exposes the infant to a sample of vibranium from the Earth surrounding the mountain. This immediately protects the child from Chthon’s attempted possession, and it has the additional outcome of turning her hair momentarily green (which occurs again, but this time permanently, when her magnetic powers manifest).
The immediate threat of Chthon having passed, Magnus leaves Herbert’s body but not before explaining to him what has occurred and how vibranium deposits from the surrounds of Mount Wundagore, but not the core, act as a deterrent to the demon.
Since Chthon is unable to claim Lorna, the bargain defaults immediately to Viper who he goes on to possess and when Herbert goes to comfort her she suddenly becomes cold, aloof, distant and detached toward him. From now on she has no free will and her sole existence is that she will be employed as his puppet, the demon forcing her to carry out his bidding while still retaining a sliver of true humanity in the back of her mind.
As Chthon’s first act in possession of Viper’s body, he compels her to open a portal to his prison using the black orb he has replaced her right eye (similarly damaged when her face was scarred from her assault during the Hungarian Revolution) after Magnus has relinquished control of the High Evolutionary’s body so he can be sent to his domain.
But Herbert manages to overpower her once he dons his armour. Upset, but similarly enraged that his wife is now beyond his reach and the fact that she was willing to sacrifice their daughter to the demon, he banishes her from the citadel. While refusing to let her take Lorna he is unable to stop her from taking the older Zala with her.
And so it is Viper leaves Mount Wundagore and the village of Transia with daughter Zala, going on to become agent of Hydra and eventual international terrorist.
Worried that Viper will be compelled by Chthon to eventually return for young Lorna, the High Evolutionary decides it much safer if he adopts her out as he had done with the children of Magneto. But he decides much further away is necessary this time. He seeks the counsel of his dear friend Jonathon Drew who approaches his sister who lives in New Haven, Connecticut with her husband who were unable to have children of their own. Believing it is better to hide her in plain sight, Herbert and Jonathon decide it is best Lorna goes by the surname of her mother and sister, which is Dane, believing if Viper does decide to hunt Lorna down she is unlikely to look for a family with her own surname. Their plot hatched, Herbert organises the paperwork so Drew’s sister and her husband become “Dane’s” after which they to move from New Haven to prevent anyone drawing conclusions that she has been placed her relatives of Jonathon. And so it is that Jonathon’s sister and her husband move to southern California where they go on to raise young Lorna.
Over the years Chthon’s hold on Viper begins to weaken, and in the back of her mind she begins developing a desire to be reunited with her daughter/s.
Chthon is not happy about the idea, though, given his inability to possess the siblings due to their relative exposure to vibranium.
Also, in addition to realising he’ll be unable to convince Viper that she had never been on Wundagore due to their pact the demon recalls another child had lived at the citadel he could use to free himself from his mountain prison… young Jessica Drew. Given her father Jonathon’s own involvement in hiding Lorna, the demon-spirit feels a delicious irony at the prospect and so implants memories in Viper’s mind that she is in fact Merriem his wife and not the estranged wife of the High Evolutionary. He even goes so far as to mystically adjust Viper’s facial appearance to be more like the adult Jessica to make the memory real not only to Viper but others around both of them as well.
Does this not provide a much more intellectually-satisfying resolution to the 30 years plus mystery for how Viper came to believe she was Merriem Drew and Spider-Woman was her daughter than the retconned explanation we received from J.M. Dematteis in Captain America #281!?
As for Zala Dane, living under the influence of an agent of Chthon she cannot help but develop a similar nature to that of her sociopathic mother. Having two such personalities living in the same household causes problems however, leading to Zala leaving her mother who goes on to eventually join the terrorist hordes of Hydra.
Having learned of the mutative effects of the mineral of Mount Wundagore while herself taking an interest in geophysics while living in the High Evolutionary’s citadel, I would posit that Zala independently discovers it is vibranium and comes to understand that she has developed mild psionic abilities as a result of her exposure to the radiation it emits from the Mount.
And so, after leaving her mother, she develops similar plans for world domination and comes to believe the mineral will enable her to fully achieve these goals.
Realising she can never return to Transia due to the mountain being under the protection of the High Evolutionary’s Knights of Wundagore…
…and the vibranium mound in Wakanda being similarly protected by the Panther Cult…
…she comes to learn of the Antarctic variant (perhaps by meeting Parnival Plunder) and so travels to the hidden prehistoric land there.
While there she learns of the Sun-People’s god Garokk whom she comes to believe has the power to draw forth the land’s vibranium deposits. And so using her psionic abilities, which she convinces others are magical skills, she manipulates herself to become their high priestess.
However, upon Garokk returning to the Savage Land she found she couldn’t easily control him and so after his death…
…she had the tribe’s acolytes kidnap radiologist Kirk Marston (who previously helped Ka-Zar defeat the villain Klaw, another vibranium mutate), and exposes him to the liquid from the black pool beneath their city. Upon being transformed into the Sun God…
…she effectively exerts her control over him using her vibranium-induced psionic abilities and begins compelling him to take over the whole Savage Land. Despite her psionic abilities leading Garokk to make significant progress in unknowingly helping her achieve her long-term goals…
…Ka-Zar’s allies the X-Men manage to defeat Garokk not once, but twice.
Realising Garokk is not bringing her the success she so desperately craves Zaladane begins changing her game plan.
Taking control of her cult she next allies herself with Sauron…
…who she learns of Polaris from, and ends up deducting the mutant mistress of magnetism is her younger sister left behind on Wundagore.
She then attempts to track her down after her defeat at the hands of the X-Men once again, with the aim of exploiting Lorna’s magnetic powers so she can draw forth all of the Savage Land’s vibranium and use it to threaten the world’s governments if they do not hand control over to her…
…but the trail goes cold once Polaris is possessed by Malice and recruited to lead Mister Sinister’s Marauders, the psionic entity managing to block Zaladane’s psionic tracking.
Once Mister Sinister was seemingly killed during the crisis known as “Inferno” though, Malice’s hold over Polaris weakened, leading to Lorna gaining the upper hand and being able to contact the X-Men for help.
As soon as this occurred, Lorna came back on Zaladane’s radar and her capture by the Savage Land Mutates was almost instantaneous.
And so there you have it, the mystery behind Zaladane and Polaris, and “The Dane Curse” finally resolved after some 25 years!
But I’m not done yet since as there’s still Malice!
It’s pretty obvious that Chris Claremont drew his inspiration for this character from science fiction author Piers Anthony’s first published novel, Chthon, which was nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novel in 1968.
In this story the main protagonist commits the crime of falling in love with a strange and extremely beautiful woman in the forest named Malice and is therefore condemned to death in the subterranean prison of Chthon. The protagonist comes to discover that Malice is a legendary and dangerous siren called a minionette, which are females all identical to each other and semi-telepathic, their beauty and youth maintained eternally by negative emotions, whereas positive emotions cause them pain and sufficiently intense love kills them.
I’d therefore posit that Malice is Lorna’s twin sister and she became a being of pure psionic energy while a foetus in her mother’s womb, as a result of Viper’s possession by Chthon, his evil energy making it so that she was able to merge with the negative emotional instincts of others, overriding their personalities and taking control of their bodies. Her being Lorna’s twin would finally explain why Malice’s energy matrix was so compatible with Polaris’s powers and, if we go by Moira’s theory in Uncanny X-Men #254 about Zaladane, how the two became so easily grafted together, effectively inseparable. This would further explain why, when Malice attempted to leave Lorna…
…Mister Sinister informed her that he was aware of the connection and that was why he had suggested their union in the first place, telling her that she is “the unchanging pole star”.
We have never previously understood quite what Sinister meant by this phrase, but now it becomes so damned obvious. Polaris, the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor, is a BINARY STAR, a system which consists of two stars orbiting around their common centre of mass. So when Davan Shakari (Eric the Red) gave Lorna the codename Polaris…
… he obviously knew she was a twin and that she would come to be psionically bonded to her. Sinister obviously also knew Lorna and Malice were twins, but as to how he discovered this and what destiny his bringing them together pointed to, don’t you think it’s time I was offered a break;)
This has been Nathan Summers, continuing to live up to the sobriquet of “He Who Can Explain Every Claremont Dangler Given Enough Time”!
Postscript: Incidentally, Wyndham means “village near the Winding Way”. Given Herbert Edgar Wyndham established his citadel of science on Mount Wundagore, above the village of Transia, might this finally suggest it was there that Chris Claremont intended Margali Szardos to have also been born!?
Filed under: Claremont's X-Men, Grand Unified Vibranium Theory, The House that Jack Kirby Built | Tagged: "green hair", "The Dane Curse", "The Other", "unchanging pole star", adopted, Alex Summers, Alicia, Anti-Metal, Astonishing Tales, Atlantis Attacks, Captain America, Chris Claremont, Chthon, Citadel of Science, D'Ken, Darkhold, Davan Shakari, Demi-Men, Django, Elder God, Eric the Red, Evolutionary War, Garokk, Genetic Accelerator, Havok, High Evolutionary, Hydra, Iceman, Jessica Drew, Jim Steranko, Jonathon Drew, Ka-Zar, Kirk Marston, Knights of Wundagore, Lorna Dane, Madame Hydra, Madeline Joyce, Magda, Magneto, Magnus the Magician, Malice, Marauders, Marc Silvestri, Margali Szardos, Marvel Fanfare, Maximoff, Mesmero, Miss America, Mister Sinister, Morgan Le Fay, Mount Wundagore, Parnival Plunder, Petrified Man, Phillip Masters, Pietro, Polaris, Puppet Master, Quicksilver, Robert Frank, Sauron, Savage Land, Savage Land Mutates, Scarlet Witch, Serpent Men, Shi'ar, Spider-Woman, Sun People, Transia, Vibranium, Viper, Wanda, Whizzer, Wundagore, X-Men, Zala Dane, Zaladane | 3 Comments »