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Illyana is one of the X-Men's most surprisingly popular characters. After spending many years off the table after dying in Uncanny X-Men #303 in 1993, she was resurrected and became a prominent member of the team. Currently appearing in The New Mutants, it has been a heck of a journey for Illyana, and there has been an inordinate amount of catastrophes along the way — even for the generally catastrophe-prone X-Men.
She also has the honor of being one of the tougher X-Men to track, going from early childhood to her teen years to back again, and from ghost to demon to X-Man, all pretty rapidly. As she makes a new home with her friends on Krakoa, we're here to look at the long and winding road that got Illyana to where she is today.
Journey to Magik
Illyana Rasputin saw her first appearance as a throwaway character in her brother Colossus' origin story. He turned to living steel in order to save her from being killed by a runaway tractor, thus spurring his departure from Russia in order to join Xavier's X-Men. Illyana later returned to the comics as a hostage of the villain Arcade. Though she was rescued, she was almost immediately sucked into the Limbo dimension by its Satan-esque ruler, Belasco.
In Limbo, Illyana underwent incredible tragedy. The dimension has the capacity to turn good people into demonic caricatures of their former selves. She watched the X-Men who came with her wither and die, while the ones who survived became ironic, twisted creatures. Most notably, Kitty Pryde trained Illyana but morphed to suit the evil atmosphere of Limbo by turning into a human-cat hybrid. Gone was her prior identity as the X-Men's plucky teen sidekick — in Limbo, she was cruel and often pathetic. Perhaps more than her brother's death, Kitty's transformation affected Illyana profoundly.
The only X-Man to survive relatively unscathed was Storm, who became dedicated to using sorcery to battle Belasco. After Storm fell, Illyana was forced to live with Belasco. He aimed to groom her to someday be his bride. Obviously, the level of abuse inherent in this is intensely uncomfortable, and Belasco's role in Illyana's life is nothing if not a long series of attempts to break down her spirit. Meanwhile, Illyana herself became intrigued by his ability to wield magic, so despite his abuse, she committed to learning everything she could from him before ultimately killing him with her Soulsword and returning to the X-Men.
The New Mutants
For the X-Men, no time had passed from when they last saw Illyana, so they were shocked to find her reemerging as an intensely powerful teenager. Illyana joined the New Mutants but stayed at the peripheral of the team — the powerful ace-in-the-hole that maintained an emotional distance and who didn't always make sense to her comparatively naive team members.
Illyana's inner struggle continued. She had the mutant power of teleportation but was forced to travel through Limbo every time she used it. This consistent contact with the dark dimension kept her from ever fully moving on from the terrible things she underwent there. She hid much of her story from the people closest to her, unable to open up to those she loved.
Throughout her time in the New Mutants, Illyana did great things for her teammates and developed bonds that exist to this day. However, consistent with many survivors of abuse, she felt inherently damaged and unable to reciprocate their love. While her teammates attempted to reconcile with being forced to be grownups before they were ready, Illyana kept the secret of how terribly she was treated, and how isolated she was, throughout her formative years. In the Inferno arc, Illyana ultimately sacrificed her life to put a stop to the demon invasion of Earth. She was returned to her childlike state.
Return to Innocence
Though Illyana was returned to her family in Russia, they were quickly murdered due to her affiliation. She went back to the Xavier Institute where she contracted and died from the Legacy Virus, spurring Jubilee to leave the team to train with Generation X while her brother became despondent and bitter, joining Magneto's Acolytes. Illyana appeared to her brother semi-regularly as a ghost, ultimately convincing him to sacrifice his life to stop the Legacy Virus.
The sorcerer Amanda Sefton gained control of the Soulsword and became the ruler of Limbo, but Belasco reemerged and took power once more. Illyana was temporarily resurrected through House of M, but when that reality crumbled, Belasco attempted to recreate her. As Belasco was incapable of understanding the deep emotional connections Illyana shared with the X-Men and New Mutants, his attempt was not fully Illyana. This version, known as Darkchilde, took on the demon invasion of Limbo once more, stealing a part of the New Mutant Pixie's soul to battle the usurper Witchfire. This caused an ongoing animosity between her and the New Mutants, though they eventually came to trust her as she returned to her former persona.
Magik joined the X-Men but continued to play the role of a wild card, sometimes endangering the team. Cyclops ultimately imprisoned her. She was occasionally let out to assist with missions, but remained generally untrustworthy. Her relationship with her brother was strained as he realized how genuinely corrupted she became over the years. They ultimately created a more honest friendship due to his new understanding of her darker impulses.
Today, Magik has returned to her original team, the New Mutants, where she has yet to be key in any major character arc. Instead, she appears to be getting back into the swing of things with her old friends on Krakoa — a refreshing change of tone for a character so often defined by tragedy.
Despite some obvious differences, Illyana's story does hold some comparison to that of fellow X-Person Jean Grey. Both women are focal points in arcs where they are overcome by dark forces, and their heel turns generally tell us more about the characters surrounding them than it does about them. How the New Mutants react to Illyana, and how the X-Men react to Jean, is more prominent in the story than how they themselves feel. However, while Jean is always returned to her prior state more or less intact, Illyana is a character whose years of trauma actually show on her. Even when we see her in a "state of innocence," she is, by design, doomed to undergo great suffering. Yet, Illyana's story also grants her more autonomy than Jean's struggle against the Phoenix. She uses every opportunity to increase her power and distance herself from her abuser.
Illyana's story often involves her teetering on the edge between good and evil. She is a character who has been forced to make no-win choices since her early childhood, and those decisions have gone on to define much of her arc. However, Illyana is also a brave, dynamic character whose hope was crushed out of her by a much older man when she was only a child. The trauma she underwent is extreme, even by X-Men standards.
Though she finds her ability to hope has been crushed, Illyana's saving grace is that she does everything in her power to keep her friends safe from harm. No longer trusting herself, she surrounds herself with good people and puts her faith in them, instead. For anyone who has been made to feel like a lesser person for the abuse they've undergone, Illyana is a surprisingly poignant character. Her continuous struggle against her evil impulses might not always work out to everyone's advantage, but the fact that she continues to try even when all hope seems to be lost is still inspirational.