Like a lot of teenaged comic book fans in the nineteen-eighties, I was a helpless devotee of the uncanny X-Men, the group formally tagged as “Marvel’s Merry Mutants” but far more angsty and melodramatic in their iteration two decades in to their publishing history. (They weren’t really all that merry in the nineteen-sixties either, but Stan Lee loved alliteration.) They’d been shepherded from a group perpetually on the brink of publishing extinction to a true sensation by writer Chris Claremont, who became a star creator in the process. The X-Men had so clearly become the line’s prime commodity and Claremont the fan-recognized guardian of their stories that the scribe was basically allowed to do whatever he wanted, as long as it involved mutants. So if he wanted to write a four-issue limited series that plunged a pre-teen girl into a variant on Hell where she encounters alternate universe versions of the X-Men, battles a demonic king, learns dark arts magic, and generally struggles for years with a gothy, horror-fantasy existence before returning to her home dimension, the Marvel powers-that-be were just going to say, “Yes.”
To be accurate, I don’t know for certain that it was Claremont’s idea to create Magik as a stand-alone limited series. By 1983, Marvel was scrambling to get more and more students and alumni of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters into the spinner rack. They’d already given Wolverine his first stab at a solo title and launched The New Mutants. It’s very possible that Marvel came rushing up to Claremont and demanded that he come up with something new they could foist on the hungry masses, waving a copy of The Uncanny X-Men #160 in his face, urging him to take advantage of the storytelling opportunity contained in its pages. In the pulse-pounding tale, the X-Men battle Belasco, the ruler of Limbo who first appeared in, of all places, Ka-Zar the Savage #11. During the conflict, Belasco grabs ahold of Illyana Rasputin, seven year old sister of Piotr Rasputin, better known as Colossus. Moments later she reappears, but she is now six years older and clearly traumatized by whatever she’s been through. Around a year and half later, Magik tells the story of what she’s been through.
For one thing, she had to adjust to completely different versions of the X-Men she knew from visiting her brother at school, notably Ororo Munroe (a.k.a. Storm) and Kitty Pryde (a.k.a. a lot of terrible superhero names that never took so everyone pretty much sticks with “Kitty Pryde”).
Kitty has clearly gotten more intense since she started wearing throwing stars on the arm of her leather dominatrix outfit. That is a natural trajectory given the fashion choice.
Belasco is trying to groom Illyana for some role by his side in Limbo, or as his successor maybe. Or queen. I’m not entirely sure. Mostly the series seems to be in place for little reason beyond giving Claremont a chance to play with the sort of sword and sorcery mumbo jumbo that didn’t really fit in to the superhero comics he was writing (but he did constantly insert that sort of thing into them anyway). It also gave him a weird enough platform to continue tweaking Cerebus creator Dave Sim with a purple beastie who vaguely resembled a certain aardvark barbarian.
S’ym was also introduced in The Uncanny X-Men #160, reportedly as payback for Sim’s spoofing of Claremont in an issue of Cerebus. Interestingly, right before Magik was released, Sim spent three issues savagely mocking Wolverine, a move that made Marvel angry enough to sic their lawyers on him.
As I noted, I was helpless before this stuff, and I was riveted to the series even though I could barely make sense of it. I was also dopily enamored by alternative reality stories (I bought way too many issues of What If? as past and future installments of “My Misspent Youth” indicate) so seeing the gruesome end Colossus had come to in this different timeline was enough to keep me satisfied. And I did impose nonexistent profundity on Claremont’s florid writing.
Of course I did. I was a kid, and I had this misplaced notion that my comic habit represented maturity, probably because I’d graduated from Richie Rich to superficially dark tales wherein the tween heroine snaps ones of her friend’s necks. I mean, that’s like reading War and Peace or something, right? Magick looks cheesy and haphazard to me now. It feels like an afterthought, a sensation compounded by the fact that three different pencillers worked on the four-issue series. And I doubt any of them would have been inclined to hold these pages up as pinnacles of their work. Back then, these flaws didn’t bother me, as I suspect they didn’t bother most of the other enthralled folks who plunked down their sixty cents every month. I think that’s what Marvel and Claremont were counting on.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis