This week I want to cast my eyes to one of the most dangerous foes of the X-Men – created as a love-interest, transformed into a psychic powerhouse who threatens everything X… Madelyne Pryor!
Let me begin by taking you back to the classic Claremont era – Uncanny X-Men #168. Jean Grey has died, choosing to sacrifice herself so as to restrain the potential for the Dark Phoenix, and Scott Summers has retired from the X-Men. He makes his way to Anchorage, Alaska, home of his grandparents, and there encounters a beautiful redhead!
Madelyne is introduced as a pilot for North Star Airways, the company owned by Scott’s grandparents. This story resumes in UXM #170, with Scott and Madelyne on their first date, and the two are falling head-over-heels. It’s a tremendously well-scripted scene, with a still-grieving Scott struggling to deal with his emotions – not least because Madelyne looks so similar to Jean. The heart of their relationship was summed up in a brilliant bit of dialogue:
Scott: ‘S’okay, Madelyne… I like you. A lot.
Madelyne: Because of who I am, or who I look like?
Scott: I don’t know. I’d like to find out.
That issue ends when, the next morning, the two lovebirds awaken (and no, it doesn’t look as though there was anything sexual incidentally) – and Madelyne tries to borrow Scott’s shades! Scott tells her the truth about his being a mutant, and she recognises it as a risk and appreciates it. Frankly, the romance at this stage is the most natural I’ve ever read in an X-Men comic – they actually have things in common, such as being pilots.
But in #171, events took another twist. Madelyne, we learned, survived a plane-crash on the very day that Jean Grey died.
Finally, in #174, Scott confronted Madelyne about his suspicions. Her reaction?
Madelyne was plunged into the lives of the X-Men then – and remember, these were the days before everything was revealed in teasers! What followed were exciting, confusing pages in which Dark Phoenix, born out of Madelyne Pryor, appeared to go on the rampage; and in which Cyclops almost died. Madelyne, meanwhile, got a nasty introduction to the super-hero lifestyle.
Yes, the villain actually responsible was Mastermind, and all of this was illusionary. Mastermind was getting payback for the Dark Phoenix Saga! Still, with Mastermind defeated – due to a combination of Cyclops’ long-term strategy and Storm’s quick-thinking power – a monumental decision is made. #175 ended with a moment that should have made comic book history:
Chris Claremont’s plan was simple. He wanted Scott to grow up, to retire, still called in for special events but in truth be an X-Man no more. It was a message that life moves on, that people change and grow, and it frankly set a healthy precedent – someone actually leaves Xavier’s School as an adult. Claremont progressed with the plotline, with Madelyne pregnant (she gave birth while Scott was offworld during Marvel’s Secret Wars event).
And then came the fly in the ointment. Jean Grey was resurrected, and editorial mandate required Scott to leave Madelyne and his son – to become a member of the new X-Factor series, working side-by-side with his old flame Jean Grey once again. I’ve discussed this in a Behind the Scenes on Phoenix article, so won’t go into it here, except to spotlight the one heart-wrenching scene in X-Factor #1.
Let’s leave aside the brutal fact that Scott’s character is being twisted and torn apart, as he makes a decision that takes him out of ‘hero’ territory and into ‘douche-bag’ territory. The writers and editors were left with a single question: what to do about Madelyne? Well, Madelyne’s story continued in UXM #206, when she was left for near-dead. Cyclops returned to their home in the pages of X-Factor, to find all trace of Madelyne and Nathan erased. It was only in UXM #221 and #222 that we learned the ones who’d targeted Madelyne were the brutal Marauders, the ones responsible for slaughtering the Morlocks in the horrific Morlock Massacre plotline – and they worked for Sinister, who was most displeased that Madelyne had survived.
All record of Madelyne had disappeared, and she believed Scott had taken baby Nathan. Terrified, she turned to the X-Men for help, and soon became pretty much a part of the team. The X-Men were launched into the ‘Fall of the Mutants’ plotline, which left them both based in Australia and believed by the world to be dead – including by Cyclops, who believed he saw Madelyne’s death.
In UXM #232 it finally happened; the secrets began to unwind, with Madelyne seeing footage of an interview with X-Factor – and spotting some familiar faces.
She punched the screen, which exploded, and in her unconscious state was approached by a demonic being. S’ym tempted her with the simplest of questions: “Wouldn’t you rather shape your own destiny than play the perpetual victim?” He then offered her a chance to hurt Scott back; believing herself to only be in a dream, Madelyne fell for the temptation. She had bound herself to S’ym’s reality once and for all, and we saw her, unconscious, in a get-up that would become iconic for her.
The fall had begun. Madelyne filtered news about X-Factor away from the X-Men, encouraging them to see X-Factor as terrorists. When she was kidnapped by Genoshans, their attempt to torture her psychically backfired – as Madelyne somehow unleashed a psychic shockwave powerful enough to send nearby telepaths reeling. In close proximity, the effects were devastating.
The Genoshans’ recorded psi-footage showed Madelyne in the garb from that dream; powers had evidently been unlocked within her mind. While on Genosha, the descent continued; Madelyne seduced Alex, and truly seemed to feel a hint of regret at times – referring to herself as a ‘lost soul’. Still, she made a deal with S’ym to have baby Nathan retrieved from Sinister.
Finally, in the classic UXM #240, the ‘Inferno’ arc kicked off. Fury building against Cyclops, Madelyne began to perceive that she was not who she believed herself to be. She wound up facing Sinister, who told her the awful truth. Madelyne was a clone, created by Sinister purely to gain access to Jean Grey’s power.
Madelyne had then been planted in Scott’s way purely for the purpose of having him fall in love with her. Sinister’s goal all along had been to procure the child of Scott and Jean, but Jean’s resurrection had scrambled his plans – he’d felt that Jean would see through the deception in an instant of telepathic awareness with her ‘twin’.
It was an absolutely amazing retcon, and tremendously effective because – in traditional Claremont fashion – the build-up had been running for years. By the end of ‘Inferno’, Madelyne’s insanity had almost seen her baby die, and she herself passed away in Jean Grey’s arms. In a moment of power, Jean absorbed her memories into herself. And that was the most gut-wrenching part of it to me; the woman who had so tried to insist that she was her own woman, not just ‘another Jean Grey’, was in truth nothing more than a clone, and one whose spirit was absorbed into Jean’s own.
There the story of Madelyne Pryor seemed to end; a woman who could have been Scott Summers’ Happily Ever After, in reality just a catspaw who turned into a self-styled Goblin Queen. Until, in 2008, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker penned an arc telling the story of a new ‘Sisterhood’. The X-Men had relocated to San Francisco, and (from UXM #501 onwards) Madelyne was gathering a small group of influential women to herself as weapons against them. As ever with Madelyne, there was darkness; she made herself known to Cyclops, using telepathy to make him believe she was Emma. In essence, she psychically raped him. And, testimony to her power and subtlety, she apparently did this while Emma – the Omega-level telepath – was next to him.
Madelyne’s spirit was still active, it turned out; my own theory is that the death of Jean Grey had released her consciousness into the Astral Plane. She’d returned to San Francisco, and gathered the power to choose a new body. It could only be a sweet irony that she intended to possess the body of Jean Grey, and was gathering the tools she needed to perform a spell. But Cyclops beat her at her own game; he had Domino get to Jean’s grave first, and Domino switched the body for another. That body could never be host for the immensity of Madelyne’s spirit, and she was apparently destroyed.
And then, this year, Brian Wood ran his own ‘Sisterhood’ arc in the pages of X-Men. He’d crafted a powerful alien being known as Arkea, who gathered a group of women to battle the X-Men. And their numbers included a resurrected Madelyne Pryor (plus Selene, incidentally).
Madelyne chose to abandon Arkea, intending to “maintain a new Sisterhood”. And so the Goblin Queen – a woman whose mind is more than a little insane, a clone with all the powers of Jean Grey plus an unhealthy dose of darkness, and a sorceress tied to Limbo – is back in play.
Words can’t describe the potential. Through S’ym’s offer, Madelyne is bound forever to Limbo, bringing her into the orbit of Magik – a character Brian Bendis has used creatively. She has more reason than most to hate both Scott Summers and Jean Grey, and there’s no reason she couldn’t bring some heavy-duty angst for both the Uncanny and All-New teams. And as for the Jean Grey School… Well, the name alone would set her temper burning!
Brian Wood had big plans for the Sisterhood. Now he’s heading off after the current X-Men arc, we can only hope Madelyne isn’t forgotten!