They say the only three certain things in life are birth, death, and change. When it comes to comic books those things are also certain as they come in the form of retcons, reboots, and resurrections.
For our purposes retcons are elements that are retroactively added into a character’s history after the fact, reboots are either big full change revivals of a character/title or are extensive changes to their canon, and resurrections are characters making the return from death or character limbo.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
As the intro mentions, retcons and resurrections are as common in the comic book world as the sun rising. One can guarantee that they’ll happen at some point. Often these events can take a number of years, especially retcons, to happen. What makes this week’s entry unique is the speed at which these elements were put into play.
We’re talking about the ending of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men series in 2004 and how the giant revelation that Xorn was Magneto was quickly jettisoned by Marvel. How quickly you ask? Creator and naughties X-Men architect Grant Morrison had barely even left the building before Marvel had already published a big retcon of their work.
Let us dive into the enigma that is Xorn.
What Was It?
So all the way back in 2001 Marvel turned to Grant Morrison, who had done magic at DC Comics with Animal Man and Arkham Asylum and other books, to help revamp their X-Men books for a new millennium. Morrison took a different approach to the book and flipped many characters around while introducing new threats and kicking things off with a massive massacre of 16 million mutants on the island of Genosha, including the X-Men’s longtime frenemy Magneto.
In 2001’s New X-Men Annual Morrison introduced the character of Xorn. Imprisoned in China the character had a star for a head, was a healer (and ‘healed’ Xavier’s paralysis), and ended up joining the X-Men to teach a special class at the school. Except, he wasn’t the ally that he seemed to be. Eventually, and there were clues dropped along the way, Xorn was revealed to actually be Magneto in the ‘Planet X’ storyline.
Basically, Magneto had created this Xorn identity and got some Chinese supporters to help, using it as a way to infiltrate the school. Subsequently, he reparalyzed Xavier, destroyed the school, enslaved the humans of New York City, and went on a murderous rampage with his new Brotherhood of Mutants (made up of the students from his special class). This was spurred by his use of the power-boosting drug known as Kick, which later was revealed to be the aerosol form of the sentient evil bacteria known as Sublime. In the end, he found out his message resonated more when he was “dead” and when he was defeated he killed Jean Grey, which led to Wolverine decapitating him.
Seems like a pretty definitive way to go.
In fact, Morrison very much intended for it to be a permanent ending, as permanent as things can be in ongoing comics. In an interview, Morrison said, “In my opinion, there really shouldn’t have been an actual Xorn – he had to be fake, that was the cruel point of him – and it should have been the genuine Magneto, frayed to the bare, stupid nerve and schizoid-conflicted as he was in ‘Planet X’, not just some impostor.” Seems pretty definitive of a position.
Marvel had other ideas. Despite allowing the story to print, Marvel not only disagreed with Morrison having Magneto go on a murderous rampage (as it makes it harder to flip him between villain/antihero as they always do) but also liked Xorn and wanted more of him. Marvel tried to convince Morrison to change it all, but they kept to their plan.
As stated above, before Morrison could even really walk out the door (following their final story ‘Here Comes Tomorrow’), the publisher struck to begin the retcon process. X-Men legend Chris Claremont launched a new Excalibur series which saw the real Magneto show up on Genosha with Xavier to state that the Xorn figure was an imposter.
At the same time, Chuck Austen took over the New X-Men series, which was retitled to just X-Men again, and introduced Shen Xorn. A character with a black hole for a head who said the other Xorn, Kuan-Yin Xorn, was his twin brother who pretended to be Magneto because of the Sublime/Kick influence.
Very unnecessary and disrespectful to a just departed writer, but on the surface seemed simple enough.
Fans were still confused so editorial tried another route. They pointed fans to the 2005 ‘House of M’ series, where Doctor Strange seems to imply that Magneto’s return after the Xorn incident was caused by his then daughter Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch’s messing with reality. This is after Wanda uttered the infamous “No More Mutants” phrase that depowered all mutants except a few hundred, Magneto and Shen Xorn being some of the depowered.
This is where it gets even more needlessly confusing.
Rather than just settling for either of those reasons, Marvel decided to triple down and try to explain it all again. In an interview, Marvel editor Tom Brevoort said they made the change “Because nobody was satisfied with that offhanded non-explanation, and it didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense by itself even as a throwaway. Why would Wanda have done that?”
So in the New Avengers series, they revealed that a bunch of the taken mutant powers were a giant collective energy ball that crashed into Alaska to power up a mutant postal worker named Michael Pointer. Known as the Collective, the being killed Alpha Flight, fought the Avengers, and ended up on Genosha to repower Magneto. This is where it’s revealed that the controlling personality in the Collective is Kuan-Yin Xorn.
At this moment Xorn reveals that he pretended to be Magneto because mutants will follow Magneto, and now is here to repower Magneto because mutants need him again as someone to follow. The Collective/Xorn is defeated and thrown into the sun, which became a common way to defeat enemies by some of the Avengers in this era.
Marvel has never returned to any semblance of explanation about this retcon/resurrection. Shen Xorn returned in Uncanny X-Men in 2015 after Secret Wars as a healer and played a minor role in X-Men Blue (as a puppet leader of mutant homeland New Tian controlled by Emma Frost) during the Secret Empire event. Kuan-Yin Xorn returned off-panel during the new House of X/Powers of X Krakoa era of the X-Men (resurrected) and has been seen with his brother in backgrounds and recently in Way of X series.
Was It Good?
To keep it simple: no, no it was not.
Marvel’s view about Magneto and the killing has some weight to it, but the thrice-done confusing retcon was just a giant mess. Not only that, it showed a great lack of respect to a creator who had just spent a number of years writing one of your biggest titles by erasing much of what they did the second they left.
Not only did Morrison give them an out with Magneto with the Kick/Sublime reveal in ‘Here Comes Tomorrow‘, but there were also a million simpler ways to go about the retcon. Clones, shapeshifters, some other form of mind control/possession (Bishop got forgiven for a whole future genocide after a bout with possession/mind control), or so many other things.
The Collective was probably the worst way possible to even try to explain the retcon. Taking something that was slightly confusing and ratcheting up. All three characters are better off now that this messy retcon is nothing but a footnote in X-Men history.
Next Week: One character’s entire fate rested upon nothing but a simple phone call