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The future of Fox's X-Men franchise is as an ever-broadening cinematic universe, and the New Mutants are set to give us an X-Men film like none we've ever seen before. This is the first in a series of articles that will explore the superheroes who'll star in New Mutants, revealing the legendary comic book history behind these less-well-known X-Men. First up: Magik!
It's finally been confirmed that this Russian teleporter will be played by none other than Anya Taylor-Joy, who wowed the world with her phenomenal performance in The Witch! Check out the trailer for that supernatural horror film below to get a sense of just how skilled she is:
So who is Magik? What can she do, and would Anya Taylor-Joy be a good choice for the character?
The Origin of Magik
Although Illyana Rasputin's origins are humble — her family are Russian farmers — she's the heir to phenomenal power. She and her brother Piotr (better known as the X-Man Colossus) are descendants of the powerful sorcerer Rasputin, who held the Russian Tsars under his influence for years. Illyana was first introduced as Colossus's six-year-old sister, and remained a background character for some time.
This changed in 1982's Uncanny X-Men #160, which kicked off a dark and terrible plot in which Illyana was spirited away to a demonic dimension known as Limbo. Although the #XMen managed to rescue her, time passed differently in Limbo; she was rescued as a teenager. A mutant sorceress, Illyana was able to create teleportation portals (known as 'stepping discs'), and had been trained in sorcery by the demon lord Belasco.
Unfortunately for Belasco, Illyana had resisted his influence. She used a fragment of her own soul to create a mystic blade known as the Soulsword, which she used overthrow Belasco's rule of Limbo. Taking up the codename 'Magik', Illyana became a member of the New Mutants, a band of young students at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.
As a New Mutant, Illyana wrestled with the nature of her powers. She made frequent mistakes — she once sent herself and a fellow New Mutant through one of her stepping discs and back to ancient Egypt. Meanwhile, every time she used the Soulsword, a mysterious eldritch armor began to form across her body. She continued to grow as a sorceress, taking on some powerful mystical enemies, but Magik's story ended in the "Inferno" epic.
With the forces of Limbo invading Earth en masse, Magik was forced to make a difficult decision. She chose to embrace her demonic heritage, casting aside her very humanity in order to save the Earth! At the last second, her friend Wolfsbane persuaded her to abandon this choice, and instead Magik used her stepping discs to return the demons to Limbo. Rejecting the evil outright worked a powerful magic upon Illyana, and she was restored to the form of a child.
The Death of Illyana Rasputin
The six-year-old Illyana was returned to her family back in Russia — and there, tragedy struck. The Russian government sought to use Illyana's powers against a mutant known as the Soul-Skinner, and showed no hesitation in killing her parents. The X-Men dealt with the Soul-Skinner — and with the Russian agents — but Illyana was left in the care of her brother Colossus. She returned to America.
The story of Illyana Rasputin became even more tragic when she became one of the earliest victims of the Legacy Virus, a terrifying genetically-engineered virus that targeted mutants (it was designed as an HIV-analogue in comics). In Uncanny X-Men #303, possibly one of the most emotional comic books ever written, the child died of the Legacy Virus. The X-Men were left shattered by this innocent child's death, and Colossus even betrayed them to join Magneto's Acolytes for a time.
The Return of Magik
In 2005, the Scarlet Witch's powers warped reality, giving many superheroes the chance to live their dream life. For Colossus, this reality included his little sister being alive, but sadly this wasn't to last - when the Scarlet Witch's spell was broken, Illyana disappeared from existence.
That brief moment had been enough to draw the attention of Belasco, though. Believing Illyana to still be alive, he began an insane quest to restore the woman who had bested him. He took over Limbo once again, and found fragments of Illyana's soul scattered throughout the afterlife and the Hell Dimensions. He restored enough of these fragments to create a mystical construct known as the Darkchilde, a corrupted semi-demonic version of Magik. The Darkchilde overthrew Belasco, and almost fell to black magic; ultimately, though, the memory of love began a process of redemption. In her weakness, she fell to the mystic known as Witchfire, but was rescued by the X-Men. She chose to stay with the team.
The Darkest Times of Magik
Magik soon proved to be an essential resource for Cyclops's X-Men; she was used to transport his team from place to place, to respond to threats at speed, and to ensure the X-Men's field teams had all the support they needed. Unbeknownst to Cyclops, though, she had her own agenda.
Magik had become aware that her entire life had been manipulated by powerful mystic beings known as the Elder Gods. She manipulated the X-Men into conflict with these Elder Gods, and used an infinitely powerful mutant named Legion to destroy them. The X-Men were horrified — Illyana's actions had almost brought the Elder Gods to Earth, which would have destroyed all of reality. Magik was left under intense supervision, with explosives attached to her. Should she step out of line, she would be killed.
During the "Fear Itself" epic, one of the X-Men's classic foes , Juggernaut, was granted further power by an Asgardian god-killer known as the Serpent. The X-Men attempted to weaken Juggernaut by having Magik and her brother teleport into the realm of the demonic Cyttorak, who had provided Juggernaut with his original powers. Magik played to Cyttorak's ego, arguing that the glory of the Juggernaut's destruction was going to the Serpent and not to Cyttorak. Cyttorak chose to retract his power, and grant it to another; Colossus stepped forward, and soon proved more than a match for Juggernaut. Unfortunately, this left Colossus wrestling with a demonic influence of his own.
Colossus almost fell. Several times, he came within a hair's breadth of bringing devastation to the island the X-Men briefly called home. When the Phoenix Force returned to Earth during "Avengers Versus X-Men," both Magik and Colossus became hosts of the Phoenix; both were tempted beyond endurance, and they ultimately turned on one another. In the aftermath of all this, Magik revealed that she had the power to break Cyttorak's curse all along. She simply transported Colossus to Limbo, where her own power was supreme, and there struck him with the Soulsword. Colossus was furious that she had kept this from him for so long, and the two parted ways.
Magik as a Major X-Man
The X-Men had splintered, with one band led by Wolverine, and the other, more militant, faction led by Cyclops. Magik chose to side with Cyclops, and continued to support his goals with her power of teleportation. Unfortunately, the Dark Beast secretly meddled with Magik's powers; the mystic connection between Magik and Limbo meant that the whole realm was affected. She was forced to use sorcery to absorb the entire realm of Limbo into herself. In the aftermath of this, Magik used time-travel to visit a past version of Doctor Strange, and received training from him.
In the aftermath of "Secret Wars," the world was affected by the Terrigen Mists — the mists that transform an Inhuman, but are death to any mutant. The world's sorcerers (including Magik) worked together to transport the X-Men's school into Limbo, where it was briefly based. With that arc finally resolved, we're expecting Magik to make occasional guest-appearances in Christina Strain's Generation X. Meanwhile, she's now a regular background character in the wider mystical side of the Marvel Universe, playing a minor role in the last arc of Doctor Strange.
As you can see, Magik is easily one of Marvel's most complex characters! Reproducing the character on the big screen will be a challenge. Personally, I'm not expecting the 'ageing' plot to become part of New Mutants. Rather, I think Fox would be wise to portray Magik as a powerful mutant sorceress, and then (perhaps in sequels) gradually reveal her backstory and ties to Belasco, before turning this into the A-plot of a sequel. Meanwhile, I can understand the fan enthusiasm for Anya Taylor-Joy's potential casting - she's already proven she can pull off this kind of character, and Magik will be a big break for the top-quality new actress.
Over in the comics, Magik remains one of the most fantastic characters. Although the X-Men books aren't currently performing well, the mystical plot involving Magik and Sapna is rapidly coming to a head, and promises to be one of the best plots in Extraordinary X-Men to date. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next!