So X-Men Unlimited was born out of the madness that was the ’90s need to make as many different comic books as one possibly could over at the House of Ideas. Just about every property you can imagine got their own “Unlimited” spin-off: there was the standard norms of this and Spider-Man Unlimited, but also Midnight Sons Unlimited and Cosmic Powers Unlimited. Things that kind of make us scratch our heads looking back.
The premise behind all the “Unlimited” books, initially, was that they’d be published only once every 3 months (or quarterly, if you prefer to say it that way) and tell one big long 64-page complete story. This concept actually fell by the wayside pretty damn quickly: Spider-Man Unlimited started as part of a crossover to Maximum Carnage, and virtually all the Unlimited titles would very quickly stop being about one long story and being more about a collection of smaller stories. The latter marking a point when the books also stopped being really relevant to what was going on in the main books in any real way.
But to this point, X-Men Unlimited has been very relevant. It doesn’t come off as mere appendix, but a place to get character development and expansions on things from the main books. The first three issues introduced Sienna Blaze, ushered in the return of Magneto, and helped set up Sabretooth as a house-guest at the X-Mansion. These stories are so necessary to the main continuity that they’re included as parts of the Fatal Attractions and Wedding of Cyclops and Phoenix collections. And although this issues story, Theories of Relativity, isn’t reprinted anywhere (to my knowledge) it still tells an important part of X-lore.
This issue seeks to shed more light on the Sabretooth – Mystique family tree, first revealed in the Sabretooth mini-series by Larry Hama. Because one of the issues that Mystique and Sabretooth being Graydon Creed’s mother and father, as that mini-series explained, is this: how does Rouge fit into this? Because for anyone not in-the-know: Rouge is Mystique’s adoptive daughter. It also hints at how Nightcrawler fits into this dynamic, as it’s been long alluded to that he is also Mystique’s son.
And here’s where some of my issues with this story come into play. It’s almost retroactive continuity, but not really. See for many years, X-Scribe Chris Claremont was the main writer on the X-Men. There are many other writers who took their turns on the auxiliary books to be sure, but by and large he lead the franchise. But that’s not to say he had complete control, as some people like to think. Claremont butted heads with Marvel editorial on multiple occasions on his ideas, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. An example of when that was a good thing? Well, the reason you didn’t see Wolverine’s face for his first few appearances in Uncanny X-Men was that he was, originally, planned to be a mutant wolverine. As in, an animal that mutated to look like a man. And say what you want about that direction, I’m glad it didn’t go down that way.
An example of the editorial influence I don’t consider as ‘good’ for the X-franchise as a whole is that originally, Rouge was to be Mystique’s daughter. Not her adopted daughter as this story by Scott Lobdell explains and actually shows in flashbacks, but her literal, biological daughter. In fact, Mystique was to be her father.
Nope, that’s not a typo. Mystique had long been living with her fellow Freedom Force member Destiny at the time. Within the comic nothing is ever made of this. They speak of ‘love’ but it’s never shown to be a romantic or sexual love. Well, originally, it was intended to be. Claremont has wanted to make Mystique and Destiny an LGBT relationship, with the biggest twist being that these two women produced a viable offspring, Rouge. The story would have went that at some point in their relationship, they would have decided the they wanted a child and Mystique would have used her shape-changing abilities to change into a man (taking pains to make sure it wasn’t just a superficial change, but one that meant the plumbing all worked) and impregnated Destiny.
Marvel put the kibosh on this. Which I can kind of understand, it was the ’70s or ’80s (depending on when Claremont came up with this angle) and LGBT rights weren’t where they are today. It would be years before we’d see LGBT characters in comics, and decades before they were prominent. Hell, Marvel went out of their way to have one of their X-Men, Northstar, marry a person of the same sex, so you can’t say they haven’t learned.
But there you had it: Claremont had his version of the origin, but wasn’t allowed to use it. He could only allude to Mystique and Destiny’s relationship and bring up that Rouge was Mystique’s “daughter” and leave it from there. But rather than come up with an alternative origin, he just didn’t address it. Whether or not he realized that one day sensitivities would change to the point that he would have been allowed to tell his story lord only knows, but whatever reason he just decided not to contradict his version of the narrative.
And then, after a big dispute with Marvel just after the creation of the secondary X-Men title, Claremont left X-Men and Marvel, not returning for nearly a decade. And this is where things get messed up, because not only is control of these characters still in the hands of Marvel editorial, it’s now being written by different people. Most prominently Scott Lobdell, who is a very good writer, and wrote this issue. For whatever reason (whether it was just a story Lobdell wanted to tell, or if it was something assigned to him by editorial) this story features a flashback in which Mystique meets and takes in the young Rouge.
So this is no longer being simply alluded to or glossed over, we see it, and it’s something that clashes with Claremont’s original intention.
I’m usually all for this type of storytelling, and have long accepted that the serialized, monthly, non-creator-owned nature of Big-Two comics means that story-lines will change hands. And I’m usually not a fan of ret-conning, but this is one time when I think it should be done. LGBT rights are a big thing, it fits right in with the X-Men mythos, and LGBT couples having children and adopting children are especially a hot topic right now. I think Marvel should make a stance and correct this one. I think the most surprising thing is that Claremont didn’t take the opportunity to fix this in X-Men Forever along with all the other changes he instituted, but there still might be more of that so who knows?
So this was a fairly long aside dealing with an issue that had little to do with this comic itself, but more of a thought pattern that it provoked in me. And that’s fine. Reviews are allowed to do that. In fact a story that makes us think is, by nature, a good one.
Let’s make it clear though: Lobdell writes a very good story here. It addresses the X-Men family tree continuity without becoming bogged down by it, juggles the characters of Nightcrawler from Excalibur, Rouge, Mystique, and Creed all very well. Each is given their time to shine, and it acts as a great stepping-off point from the Sabretooth LS. All in all, it’s a fantastic issue and very indicative of the quality of Lobdell’s writing. My desire to have it retconned has nothing to do with the story itself, but only that it takes away a major boon for a minority community in fiction that they could really use.
Isn’t that what the X-Men are all about?
My rating: 4 of 5 stars