The many, many faces of Mystique, Marvel’s mutant shapeshifter


  • Books
  • Friday, 01 Jun 2018

Throughout the years, Mystique has played the role of both hero and villain, but always on her own terms. Photo: Marvel Comics

If you thought Cable’s origin was confusing, Mystique's past is 10 times shadier... and with a few layers of grey. Then again, she is a shapeshifter, so it stands to reason that her history and character would shift accordingly.

Mystique is the ultimate protagonist-cum-antagonist hybrid. Her shapeshifting abilities boosts her versatility as a character, and she has been heavily involved in shaping the course of mutant history.

From mentoring Rogue and mothering Nightcrawler, beating Wolverine to bedding Sabretooth, Raven Darkholme has been a tough act to beat in the past 40 years since her creation.

Since she has taken on so many roles and personas throughout these four decades, we’ve decided to pick some of her most memorable ones here.

Mystique made her first appearance in the Ms Marvel title back in 1978.
Mystique made her first appearance in the Ms Marvel title back in 1978.

Raven Darkholme

While she is better known for her ties to the X-Men, Mystique actually made her debut in a cameo on 1978’s Ms Marvel #16, with her first full appearance coming in the subsequent issue. Here, she made her presence felt by plotting against Carol Danvers, who was known as Ms Marvel at the time.

Mystique was created by famed X-Men artist David Cockrum, whose permission then-Ms Marvel scribe Chris Claremont (another legendary X-Men writer) sought in order to cast Mystique as one of Ms. Marvel’s rogues.

As Raven Darkholme, Mystique had high level access to the Pentagon’s top secrets, via her role as the Assistant Secretary at the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Inevitably this high profile role led to future encounters with the X-Men.

In the comics, Mystique’s Darkholme persona actually goes back more than a century, making her even older than Wolverine! There have been historical records of her past escapades with Irene Adler aka Destiny (circa dawn of the 20th century) and Wolverine (circa 1920s).

Her seemingly eternally youthful looks stems from her shapeshifting ability, which supposedly drastically reduces the effects of ageing.

X-Men: True Friends #3
As German secret agent Leni Zauber, Mystique teamed-up with Sabretooth in more ways than one.

Leni Zauber

While the Raven persona is probably Mystique’s favourite alter-ego, another often-used one (during the 90s) was German secret agent Leni Zauber, who tag-teamed with Victor Creed, a.k.a. Sabretooth on an assassination assignment.

Upon completing their mission in East Berlin, Leni and Creed opted for a, er, quickie celebration that resulted in the birth of Graydon Creed, who surprisingly wasn’t a mutant, and even grew up to be a key anti-Mutant leader with the Friends of Humanity.

Initially, Creed was unaware that Leni was Mystique (as he had earlier thought that she died) nor of Grayson’s existence. He only found out in the 1993 Sabretooth four-part miniseries, which explained their convoluted family ties.

To add to the confusion, Graydon died at he hands of his own mother, or rather, a time travelling version of her.

The first encounter between Nightcrawler and Mystique, where she offered him a hint of his origins.
The first encounter between Nightcrawler and Mystique, where she offered him a hint of his origins.

Nightcrawler’s mother

Attempts to spice up Mystique’s origins started as early as the 80s (Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142) when she led a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants against the X-Men.

While these two issues are synonymous with the iconic Days Of Future Past storyline, one fact that is often overlooked is the first encounter between Nightcrawler and Mystique, where she offered a hint of their similarities.

This minor encounter was only expanded upon two decades later in X-Men Unlimited #4 and Uncanny X-Men #428, where it was revealed that Nightcrawler is actually the child of Mystique and a demon named Azazel!

While in her Raven persona, Mystique was once married to a wealthy aristocrat, Baron Christian Wagner (Nightcrawler’s name is Kurt Wagner).

Due to the Baron’s infertility, Raven’s promiscuous ways made her an easy target for Azazel and when her pregnancy was questioned by the Baron’s father, she had no choice but to kill her husband.

Her true identity was later exposed when she gave birth to Nightcrawler, and to save herself from an angry mob, Raven threw her baby off a cliff, while she used her shapeshifting abilities to blend into the crowd.

Fortunately, Nightcrawler was saved by Azazel, who arranged for him to be raised by Margali Szardos in a circus.

Mystique displays her maternal affection most for Rogue, her foster daughter.
Mystique displays her maternal affection most for Rogue, her foster daughter.

Rogue’s foster mother

Mystique’s strongest display of maternal love, however, is towards her adopted daughter, Anna Marie aka Rogue. Presumably consumed by guilt for not saving Nightcrawler, Mystique (together with her lover, Destiny) saw solace and a future in Rogue, who was a runaway.

Together, the trio experienced various highs (Avengers Annual #10, where they thrashed the Avengers and Rogue permanently absorbed Ms Marvel’s powers) and lows (Uncanny X-Men #171, #178 and #179, where Rogue betrays Mystique by joining the X-Men).

I wonder how Mystique feels about being the ex of Professor X?
I wonder how Mystique feels about being the ex of Professor X?

Mrs Charles Xavier

Inspired by the movie-relationship between Charles and Raven, writer Brian Michael Bendis took the opportunity to actually making them a couple in Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 3) #24.

The X-Men are no strangers to bizarre plot-twists, but the last will and testament of Xavier (revealed after his death in Avengers Vs X-Men) blew things to a new level when Xavier leaves his estate to his wife... Mystique, in a marriage that no one (including the “couple” themselves) knew about!

Once again, time-travelling was blamed for this unorthodox union. A time-traveller named Tempus had caused significant time ripples when she averted the birth of a powerful mutant, Matthew Malloy, and the Charles-Raven union was one of the most significant butterfly effects. This, however, may have already been subsequently rectified by the countless revamps in the X-universe.

Some remnants of this blasphemous union still remain though, in an alternate future ala the Battle Of The Atom timeline, where there exists a “Kid Xavier”, the child of Xavier and Mystique.

Mystique is also a highly skilled mercenary who used to conduct missions for Professor X.
Mystique is also a highly skilled mercenary who used to conduct missions for Professor X.

Agent X

Speaking of Professor X, Mystique regularly conducted covert missions for the man (see Mystique 2003 series). Together with Forge and Shortpack, they completed several missions for the betterment of Mutantkind and without the knowledge of the X-Men.

This two-dozen worth of issues by Brian K. Vaughn and Sean McKeever elevated Mystique’s individual profile, especially after so many years of seeing her in a team role (in the Brotherhood/Sisterhood of Evil Mutants, Freedom Force, X-Factor and X-Men).

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