February 18, 2014 by NowhereButPop
It’s been said that a hero is only as good as their villains, and it’s absolutely true. It’s one of the biggest complaints about Superman, and it’s one of the reasons why nobody gives a shit about Aquaman. The adversity and antagonism that a protagonist has to endure while trying to achieve their goal is where the majority of the intrigue of a story comes from. Better understanding those who would oppose a character sheds further insight as to who the character truly is and what they stand for. It’s a simple, yet crucial component to storytelling that can attribute itself to the unparalleled success of the X-Men franchise.
Unlike Thor, or the Flash, or even Daredevil, the X-Men have one of the best, most well known, and fully fleshed out rogues gallery. Few villains are as dreadful as Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister, and even fewer villains are as sympathetic and fully formed as is Magneto. The key to these villains and others within X-Men lore is that they all aspire to a specific goal; they all have a quest that they embark on, a belief that they adhere to that then dictates how deviously they act. For Magneto, his belief in mutant supremacy is borne from his experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust; Apocalypse believes in an extremely exaggerated bastardization of the survival of the fittest, and Mr. Sinister wants to lord over a race of genetically perfected uber-mensch. However twisted it may be, they all have purpose and it is through that purpose that we readers can fully understand and appreciate the sheer scope of their villainy.
One of the biggest rogues within the franchise who I can’t help but withhold my intrigue from is Mystique, a villain with no real beliefs or goals that govern her action. And yet, despite Apocalypse trying to turn a baby Nathan Summers into something that could be sold at PC Richards and Sons, or Sinister sending a small army to assassinate a bunch of homeless people, it’s Mystique who becomes the most morally devoid and therefore ethically misguided villain the X-Men have ever faced. This is due to the fact that Mystique has no creed to adhere to, or some belief system that governs her actions; she is simply a force of evil that seems to do so for wanton destruction.
During Chris Claremont’s initial run in Uncanny X-Men, Mystique was a terrorist with a very vague and loose goal of mutant supremacy. All this really entailed though, was stealing secrets from the government that her brotherhood never seemed to capitalized on. The only time she ever did anything for any reason beyond self-preservation was when she tried to assassinate Senator Robert Kelly for his anti-mutant stance. Her success in achieving this goal however led to the creation of the Days of Future past timeline. Since Claremont’s first (and really only noteworthy) departure, whatever semblance of creed or belief system that Mystique had ascribed to has become virtually nonexistent.
Subsequent writers have treated Mystique as being a treacherous and cunning force of evil with no regard for anyone or anything else. While the blame can be lain at the feet of later writers, I think the devolvement of what little substance there was to Mystique is indicative of an inherent void and lack of personality within the character. What else can writers do with a shape shifter who has no doctrine of adherence? Mike Carey portrayed her as a twisted matron, whose ultimate goal is still self-serving in nature. Jason Aaron portrays the character as someone who treats everybody as expendable and will stab someone on the back simply for the pleasure of it. More recently, Rick Remender treats Mystique as a force of sinister vindication; someone who solely exists to try and thwart the heroes. Behind all of her schemes and concoctions is pure evil and malintent that’s baseless and without justification.
When you look at Sabretooth, another character who is as equally remorseless as, and even more vicious than Mystique, even he has a reason to act how he does. He is someone who has given in to bestial urges that govern him; even though we can never sympathize with him, at least we know why he does what he does. He’s a vicious animal who isn’t strong enough to civilize himself. For all her cunning and villainy, Mystique exists in a vacuum where her actions can’t be attributed to anything other than what they are at face value. Unlike Magneto, she doesn’t kill to save lives, and unlike Apocalypse, she doesn’t kill to prove a point; instead, she becomes the worst and most deplorable kind of evil-a purposeless evil.
Anytime writers try to humanize Mystique by showing how caring and maternal she is to Rogue actually reveals just how devious and evil she is. Mystique has a biological child, and it’s not Rogue, it’s Nightcrawler. As a baby, she flung him off a bridge to his doom so as to escape angry villagers, because you know, the baby was slowing her down and all. Among actively trying to commit filicide, and never showing Nightcrawler the love and affection that any child deserves, she didn’t even seem bothered about his death. All of these acts of violence towards her actual child can’t be undone just because she took Rogue in and cared for her. It actually makes her even wickeder because readers know that the potential for love and care is certainly within Mystique, she just withheld it from her biological child for whatever reason. Taking in Rogue doesn’t absolve her of what she did to Kurt Wagner, it accentuates her crimes because it proves the point that with Mystique there is no rhyme or reason, she just does whatever suits her at the moment. If that includes almost drowning her baby, so be it.
Her treatment of Rogue is almost equally as heinous, especially during Messiah Complex. Keep in mind that everything Mystique did, she did so in order to make Rogue love her again. First she shoots Rogue in the chest, then she kidnaps a baby, tries to get Rogues boyfriend to commit suicide, then tries to kill said baby in order to resuscitate Rogue. It’s not for Rogue’s wellbeing that she did all this, it was to make herself feel loved again. Likewise, she didn’t love Iceman, she was just trying to weaken him with biological power dampeners (so that’s what you call it). As her namesake implies, everything about Mystique is a ploy, or a scheme, or a ruse, there is nothing sincere or whole about her at all.
Mystique is a bad guy; she does bad things, but unlike other people who do bad things such as Apocalypse or Bob Harras, there is no sense of purpose with Mystique. She’s presented as a mere foil for the X-Men to stop them from achieving their goals (whatever the hell they may be by this point). She is not on a quest of her own, because her character has no center, that’s why she is always the antagonist. What William Stryker, Magneto, Apocalypse, the Hellfire Club, and even Mojo all have in common is that they see themselves as the protagonist, someone who is thwarted by the X-Men; to them the X-Men are the antagonists. This is because all of these characters have a purpose, they have a mission. Whether it be genocide or a spike in TV ratings, all of these dastard bastards have a goal and belief system that motivates them to act in a certain manner. Mystique has no such aspirations or dogmas, and because of that she’s more sinister than Mr. Sinister, more brooding than the Brood and eviler than Bob Harras. Well maybe not that evil.