X-MEN: MAGIK (Mania.com)
Date: Thursday, October 05, 2000
One of the most overlooked aspects of writer Chris Claremont's original run on the Uncanny X-Men was his ability to create endless, completely believable worlds for his heroes to visit. Whether the X-Men visited the Japanese underworld, the Scottish coast or an alien colony living in the belly of a space whale, they encountered a cast of characters complete with histories, conflicts and troubles all their own. And sometimes, those troubles followed them home.
Such was the case with Limbo. An ill-fated one-issue venture into that mysterious inter-dimensional realm transformed Colossus' sister Illyana Rasputin into a teenager and the mystical part-demon princess known as Magik. In her new role, she served as a member of the New Mutants (a precursor to both Generation X and X-Force) and as Limbo's guardian. But in the end, it wasn't evil mutants or demon hordes who defeated Magik; it was the deadly mutant plague, the Legacy Virus.
Now, after almost a decade in limboso to speakMagik has returned to the Marvel Universe in the X-Men: Black Sun mini-series. Readers expecting Illyana's return were surprised, however, when Magik was actually revealed to be longtime X-Men supporting character Amanda Sefton. And to celebrate, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning will be fleshing out her new role in a limited series that literally spans infinity.
To begin, Abnett and Lanning gave Magik what all good superheroes needquality employment. 'Magik is the appointed guardian of Limbo, an other-dimensional realm that's the crossroads between all dimensions including Earth,' says Abnett. 'She's pretty much the border guard of the magical dimensions, and the series follows her in pursuit of that job.' Lanning puts it more succinctly: 'If any demon or demonic force starts to mess around on the earthly plane, Magik will become aware of it, go down to earth and drag its sorry ass back to wherever hell it belongs.'
A Choice of Hells
The fact that Magik has a choice of hells forms the crux of the series. Multiple dimensions within a single universe have always been a staple of comics, one which is now coming back in style with the recent 'creations' of DC's Hypertime and Planetary's Snowflake. In X-Men: Magik, Abnett and Lanning saw a way to sort out Marvel's own multiple dimensions.
'This is an opportunity to show how all the often contradictory other-dimensional realms and characters in the Marvel Universe actually live alongside each other,' says Abnett. 'In very simple terms, there was once one big 'Hell.' But it was broken up into other bitswhat we've termed 'the Splintered Realms'each bit ruled by a different person. I think Marvel readers have wondered through the years, does, say, the Norse [version of] Hell have anything to do with the Greek Hell? This series will answer that question.'
So how'd they come up with that idea? Simple old-fashioned research. 'We went through old Marvel Handbooks, and the same phrase kept cropping up,' says Lanning. 'The Dread Dormammu's realm is called 'an otherworldly dimension close to Earth.' We looked up Nightmare, and there he was in 'an otherworldly dimension close to Earth.' Same thing for Satannish and Mephisto. Now, all of these have got to be separate because these guys each exist in their own rightbut they're all surrounding Earth, too. These guys were deliberately put in charge of these realms by some higher force, because it was reckoned that they would never, ever team up. They're tin-pot despots in their own right, and that's to keep them at each other's throats fighting. That way they won't all team up and cohesively go after Earth.'
The problem in Magik, though, is that something is coming after them. 'The Splintered Realms are being attacked by some greater force, which is taking them down one by one,' says Lanning. 'That's forcing these realms and their nasty rulers to get together to put up a defensive barrier to save their own asses.' As result, one of Amanda's first tasks as Magik will be nothing less than preserving the Splintered Realms.
Magik's origins stem from a single issue buried deep in Claremont's first run on Uncanny X-Men. Way back in 1982's issue #160, the X-Men, along with eight-year-old Illyana, found themselves trapped in Limbo. There, they faced off againstand barely survivednot only Belasco, the demon lord of Limbo, but dark versions of themselves from another timeline. Making a last, desperate rush for a doorway back home, all of the X-Men made it through except Illyana. Kitty Pryde reached back through the doorway, found Illyana's hand, and pulled her through. But during the instant of 'our' time they'd been apart, Illyana had aged seven years and gained amazing mystical powers.
The first Magik mini-series revealed exactly what happened during that instant she was out of Kitty's grasp. Trained by the alternate versions of Storm and Kitty, Illyana eventually toppled Belasco's rein. Back in the Marvel Universe, Illyana took the codename of Magik and fought alongside the New Mutants for several years. However, she later devolved back to childhood and eventually succumbed to the Legacy Virus.
So when Magik showed up in the pages of Black Sun, readers and X-Men alike wondered if Illyana had returned from the deador, perhaps, hadn't yet died at all, since time moves unpredictably in Limbo. She burst from Limbo to throw down with Belasco and a rampaging horde of N'Garai demons bent on conquering Earth. Later events revealed that Magik was not a time-shifted Illyana, as many fans had hoped, but Amanda Sefton, foster sister (and on-again/off-again romantic interest) of Nightcrawler. And Amanda's no stranger to either magic or superheroing, having learned the mystic arts from her mother prior to joining Excalibur as Daytripper.
Taking Center Stage
Enter Abnett and Lanning. The writing duo, currently famed for their work on DC Comics' Legion Lost, had worked with X-editor Mike Marts on the X-Men movie Rogue one-shot, and Marts pitched them on breathing new life onto an old X-favorite.
'Marvel basically said, 'Here's the character of Magik. Here's what she has been. Here's where she'll be [at the end of Black Sun]what can you do with that?'' says Abnett. 'It didn't take us long to come up with an idea. The story is pretty simplewhat you pay your money for in this series is the fun, the scope of the imagination in the telling of it. If you want to go on an amazing fantasy trip, come along.'
'The series picks up a few months after the end of Black Sun, with Magik having had time to get accustomed to her new role,' says Marts. 'And anything big enough to have Dormammu and Mephisto worried makes for a great story.'
X-fans accustomed to the standard mutant hijinks in character-based limited series will get a bit of a surprise from Magik. 'This is not going to read at all like a superhero book,' says Lanning. 'It's more like a fantasy series, like Conan, full of vast battles with sword-wielding people and magic, rather than people in spandex kicking the whatever out of each other. If you look at it both in terms of content and art style, you're going to go, 'This is an X-book?''
That's not to say the series will be an unrecognizable mishmash of swords and sorcery. Guest stars aplenty will show up throughout the series, including most of Marvel's heaviest other-dimensional hitters. 'Amanda's always been a very capable, magic-based character,' says Lanning. 'She's dealt with these kinds of things since she was a little kid. Nightcrawler will be playing a significant part in the story, but the focus will be on how Amanda handles her new role.'
As for the series' locale, Magik will start in familiar territory, but light out for parts unknown in a hurry. 'Marvel Earth has a key part in the series, particularly in the first issue,' says Abnett, 'but the bulk of the story is in an incredible series of fantasy environments. That's one of reasons [penciler] Liam Sharp got this job, because he did a truly amazing job with these alien worlds.'
'Our dream gig has been to write Doctor Strange in a Ditko style, and I think Magik's not that far removed,' says Lanning. 'We really go into bizarre visuals, arcane bits, mystical spellcasting and stuff like that, which Liam does particularly well. When you're saying, 'Draw an endless wall, and on one side is Limbo and the other side is Infinity,' and he rises to the challenge, that's great fun.'
'They let me cut loose,' agrees Sharp. 'Basically, I respond much better to a wide-open [plot]. It gives you the opportunity to explore the possibilities and sometimes you end up with more startling and original concepts than you would if it was all pinned down. On the penciling/inking front, I've had a ball because I've been allowed to do it in the style I most enjoy working in. I always love doing paintedor, in this case, digitalcovers, so that's been another plus. Also, there are various CGI and Photoshop pages within the series that I think Mike has been very creative as editor to allow me to do on an X-Men-related title. It's very rare that anything truly new comes out of the medium, but given that it is an X-Men-related project, I think we've all done some pretty progressive work on the book.'
Similarly, Abnett and Lanning's unconventionalfor comics, anywaytwo-man writing style brings to mind Stephen King's old adage about how two people trying to write a book is like three people trying to make a baby. But for Abnett, at least, the creative process is an easy one. 'I sit in a huge leather armchair and whip him repeatedly,' jokes Abnett about Lanning. 'Actually, Andy is a wonderful idea factory in addition to being an amazing inker. So once every couple weeks, we sit down and come up with pitches, and work them to the point that I can go to the keyboard and type them up. It's great to take someone who wouldn't otherwise be writing and milk them for all these wonderful ideas! Team writing works so well on American sitcoms. It's a shame it doesn't appear more in comics.'
Abnett and Lanning share a remarkably consistent view not only of Magik's present, but her future potential as well. 'It's always good if your main character has got a specific role that no one else can fill, and that's what we've tried to do with Magik in the series,' says Lanning. 'If anything, we've set the character up so that if anyone else wants to use her as a guest star in one of their own books, there's a clear-cut take on the character. We've dusted her off and given her her own specific mission.' Along those lines, Marts says Magik may factor into the X-Men's plans for 2001, and would naturally play a significant role in a Nightcrawler limited series planned for next year.
As for Abnett and Lanning, they'd like to do more with Magik, but acknowledge that she needs more than just a kick-ass sword and a good job to warrant a second series. 'It would be fun to do more with her, but we'd have to widen her scope to make her more interactive,' says Abnett. 'We'd have to widen her as a character. She'd need other things going on with her personality to make her interesting and sustainable. We'll see how people like this series. I have a feeling people are going to like it, so I'll go back to whipping Andy for more ideas.'
'We've set the stage,' adds Lanning, 'and it would be nice to start populating it with supporting characters' stories. We've done the biggest thing we could, so I'd love to go into some smaller stories, seeing her do her day-to-day stuffyou know, kicking demon butt and taking numbers.'