The son of Moira MacTaggert, the renowned mutant geneticist, and her abusive husband Joseph, Proteus is one of the most powerful mutants in the history of the Marvel Universe!
Chris Claremont has always been master of the slow-burn stories; he drops subtle hints, building up a picture until he’s ready to reveal everything that he’s planned. Sometimes, when editorial interferes, this leads to more loose ends than you can shake a Marvel Encyclopaedia at; but sometimes it results in a classic storyline. That was exactly what he managed when he penned the Proteus storyline.
It all began in Uncanny X-Men #119, when, at the end of a typical X-Men adventure (oddly enough, set on Christmas Day), we ended the issue with a flash to Muir Isle. An embittered local broke into the Island with the intention of wreaking havoc, and stumbled upon something quite horrific – something that, of course, we didn’t quite see.
The story picked up in Uncanny X-Men #122, as Jean Grey made her way around the Outer Hebrides; she’d recently become Phoenix, and was staying with Moira for tests. We learned that old Angus had mysteriously disappeared, and that his friends were considering calling the police (incidentally, in another slow-boil plot Jean bumped into one Jason Wyngarde, better known as Mastermind, who of course would be the man who triggered Dark Phoenix).
These threads were pulled together dramatically in Uncanny X-Men #125, as the shadowy figure of what had been a man watched Moira and Jean from the shadows.
Moira stumbled upon the fact that an inmate of Muir Isle – ‘Mutant X’ – had escaped; as she did so, the possessed form of Angus made an unsuccessful attack upon Jean. The X-Men realised something was wrong, and headed out to Muir Isle themselves.
In #126, the X-Men arrived at Muir Isle. They found the mummified body of Angus, now no longer possessed, and Muir Isle residents in a state of shock; if not for the sacrifice of one of Madrox’s duplicates, Polaris would have been killed. Cyclops, efficient as ever, insisted on a debriefing; Moira told him the shocking news.
Moira’s son, we learned, was a mutant whose powers made him unsafe – and we soon learned why, as he jumped from body to body, his energies burning each one out. He’d have made Wolverine his host, too, if not for the adamantium in Logan’s skeleton – Proteus and metal, we learned, don’t go together well.
When Wolverine and Nightcrawler confronted this mutant being, who called himself Proteus, they learned the true scale of the threat:
Cyclops managed to motivate the team ready for a rematch in #127, although Proteus’ power-levels just kept increasing – turns out he’s invisible to telepathic probes. Yeah, even to telepathic probes conducted by a Phoenix. Proteus, it seems, had gone hunting the father he hated; and when he killed once again, Jean sensed the psychic disruption, and realised that with each body he possessed he just became stronger. With that realisation, the X-Men determined to take Proteus on, even at the risk of a hostage Moira MacTaggert’s life.
Proteus went berserk in Edinburgh. Reality went wild, and the X-Men struggled to save civilians as walls became hungry for flesh, as people found themselves walking upside-down, and as storefronts turned into swarms of bees. The battle got fierce – Phoenix, yes, Phoenix was almost killed – but the real victory belonged to Colossus. As Cyclops deduced, metal in any form was lethal to Proteus, whose astral form was shattered by a single punch from the metallic mutant.
It was a superb plotline, a story full of drama and suspense, with some very human emotions running through the heart of it. Proteus was an enemy who could give Wolverine pause, a mutant who could overwhelm Phoenix with the warping of reality, but who could be mastered with a degree of careful logic. Well played, Cyclops. But as a being of energy, Proteus could never truly die.
Curiously enough for such a major villain, Proteus has only returned twice. The first was in a series of annuals – New Mutants, New Warriors and Uncanny X-Men. Here, the fragments of his psyche were drawn back together by A.I.M.; in truth, the resulting being was a combination of Proteus and another, known as Piecemeal.
But most recently, we saw Proteus as the powerhouse he was. Mike Carey, who always had an eye for reusing little-known or classic characters, brought him back in the pages of X-Men: Legacy as part of the Necrosha plotline. Running through #231-233, we learned that when Selene resurrected Destiny she got a hitchhiker – Proteus, who made his way to Muir Isle. Warned by Destiny, the X-Men arrived, but stumbled into Proteus’ trap.
Proteus grew in power, even learning to possess multiple hosts at the same time. But he’d neglected to factor in Magneto’s powers; the Master of Magnetism proved able to manipulate the lattice of Proteus’ energies, and successfully dispersed him. Magneto himself warned, however, that this was only a temporary strategy.
Muir Isle has a ghost now; or rather, is the nexus point for the ghost of all reality.