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The Invitation

It Takes a Mother's Touch

More than a few readers raised a chorus of approval and praise for Steve Seagle after UXM #350, which in my honest opinion had not really been fully merited (and, I rather suspect, to some extent been at least partly motivated by the widespread dislike for his predecessor, Scott Lobdell). In particular, I did not really feel comfortable with Steve Seagle's portrayal of Rogue, seeing that it did nothing to repair the previous damage and continued to show her as an insecure whiner.

Well, I guess Steve Seagle (and this issue's plotter Joe Kelly) worked on the rationale that things have to get worse before they get better: after nine months, things really are improving for Rogue, in fact dramatically so.

And whom does Rogue have to thank for this? Why, none other than her dear (adoptive) momma, Mystique. One of the recurring sub-plots in recent issues of UXM has been about Rogue consulting the mysterious Agee Institute with a view to having her genes changed from mutant to 'normal human'. Obsessed with the idea of not being able to touch people (in spite of the various avenues in fact open to her thanks to Shi'ar suits, the possibility of learning to control her absorption power etc.), she wanted to get rid of her powers in order to be able live a 'normal' life with lots of touchy-feely stuff, some sex and maybe even children. In her mind this took precedence over everything, including her responsibilities as an X-Man, even to the extent that she would not discuss the matter of the Agee Institute with her teammates.

Not surprisingly at all, the Agee Institute is more than it seems. Professor Agee turns out to be working for the government (in the familiar shape of Henry P. Gyrich) who want to use his machine to get rid of mutants once and for all. And Agee, who sees being a mutant as a disease, willingly cooperated and performed experiments on mutants (including his own sister) who were sufficiently ashamed of being mutants that they could be talked into attempting an untested 'cure'. This process under development had disastrous consequences for the human guinea pigs. (One of the weaknesses that prevents me from calling from calling the story more than merely 'okay' is the fact that the ethics of these experiments are not explored at all -- Professor Agee is really only portrayed as misguided, no one e.g. makes the obvious comparison Agee -- Mengele. Agee is in effect let off too easily).

Apparently Agee's machine now really works (though we actually have no proof for this in the story, just Agee's conviction which apparently was over-optimistic before), but before it can be used on the misguided Rogue, Mystique intervenes. Rogue prevents her from killing Agee, but the two then sit down and talk things out. And though she refuses to acknowledge it, the end result is that Rogue changes her position that comes quite close to Mystique's. The only difference is that Rogue wants nobody killed, so in the end she only destroys the machine (and, one hopes, the plans etc.) because it could (and most likely will) be used to 'cure' mutants against their will. However, even this 'no killing' decision comes with two caveats. To Mystique she says: "Ah'll destroy the machine. An' if ah can't, you can come after us both [= Agee and Rogue]." And to Agee she issues an additional death-threat: "And don't ever let me catch you doin' nothin' like this again or ah'll do to you what ah'm doin' to your machine." So Rogue, like Mystique, does think it can be necessary to kill to eliminate the threat of Agee's machine, her real disagreement is over when. (One can also only wonder that if that is what Rogue did when she believed the machine worked, what would she have done to Agee if it didn't?)

The strange thing is that in spite of all Rogue's protestations to the contrary, it is Raven who really emerges as the one who is ultimately right. Notably during the following exchange:

Mystique (slapping Rogue): "Can you hear yourself? Has the momentary promise of your forbidden fruit freed you of your faculties?! If someone had invented a ray in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement to turn black skin white, would you have championed its use as well?"

Rogue: "'s not the same thing..."

Mystique: "It is exactly the same thing. Don't let your desire for a 'normal' life wit' your beloved Gambit blind ya to da truth, chere."

On the final page, Wolverine reveals that he knew about Rogue trying to get a 'cure' all along, but that he had not tried to dissuade her because he "figured that was a lesson you had to learn by yourself". Considering Rogue's tenuous grip on reality at the time, this unfortunately means that Logan had probably acted irresponsibly, for without Mystique's intervention Rogue would certainly have been rendered "inert" (H.P.Gyrich) by Agee's machine. All the same, the experience served to return Rogue to something approaching her previous decisiveness. She overcomes the angst about using her powers (she uses it three times to gain information and check its veracity) and she faces up to the responsibility her great power imposes on her, even if it means sacrificing her private happiness (and -- if we look at her aforementioned caveat to Mystique -- to the extent of letting Mystique punish her should she fail).

In this story we do not get to read Raven's thoughts, but one can only assume that she must be pleased with what she achieved -- Rogue at last overcame her passivity and is ready to take charge fo her own destiny in a responsible fashion. And as long as she does that, Mystique will ultimately accept the choices her surrogate daughter makes. One gets the impression that Mystique was deliberately antagonistic to Rogue here in order to shake her out of her apathy. And that may explain some of the otherwise rather strange things she says. For instance: "But would you betray your race for something as ultimately meaningless as love? Whether it be from a man or a child? You disgust me." This from the same woman who once (UXM #185) seriously considered allowing Rogue to be hit by Forge's Neutralizer because without her powers she could return from the X-Men to Mystique and Destiny? Who only refrained from doing that out of respect for Rogue's right to choose for herself?

Rogue's words to Mystique are even more off-target. Whether this is because of her psychological problems or because Seagle got Rogue and Mystique's relationship wrong or wants to retcon it is hard to decide. One thing that immediately bothered me is that Rogue is strangely distant to the woman who raised her. In other stories she called her 'momma' as a matter of course, here it is only 'Mystique'. Some of Rogue's resentful statements are impossible to fathom: "Ah don't even know who that [the thing that makes Rogue who she is] is, anymore, Mystique! Ah had a name before you started callin' me Rogue, but ah ain't had one since! But that's what you're all about, ain't it? Camouflage. Disguised truths." Utter codswallop -- according to current canon (XMU #4) Rogue called herself Rogue before she met Mystique, she was known as Rogue to her schoolmates, and of course there was absolutely nothing to prevent her from reassuming her original name after she joined the X-Men, should she have wanted to, so it is simply idiotic to blame Mystique for that 'problem'. Another thing that does not really ring true: "You always wanted me to be a villain like you". Once Mystique was satisfied that Rogue had joined the X-Men of her own free will and not under Charles Xavier's telepathic compulsion, she accepted it, if not exactly gladly. One must distinguish between Mystique's fervent desire to have Rogue return to her as her surrogate daughter, and the plans she used to have about using Rogue for her own designs [before UXM #171]. Mystique never made any attempt to 'turn her over to the Dark Side' after Rogue left her. And not dissimilarly, Mystique here argues with Rogue about what is the right thing to do, but she does not insist on getting her way 100 percent.

The story makes sense if you interpret it this way: Mystique administers a sharp medicine to Rogue, returning her to a state where she can respect herself and is capable of making her own decisions. The medicine has to be bitter, because it won't work otherwise (but notice how 'meekly' Mystique accepts Rogue's final decision once she is sure that she is thinking with her brain and not with whatever body part she uses to think about Gambit). It is hard for Rogue to come to terms with having to give up her wishful fantasies, and maybe Mystique also wanted Rogue to feel better about herself by making her feel superior to Mystique? And who knows if Rogue had been able to overcome her fear of using her absorbing power if Raven had not goaded her on so much? Mystique had to arouse Rogue's anger to snap her out of her wimpytude. It also seems likely that Mystique manipulated the course of events to a degree with this aim in mind. E.g., Mystique was never afraid of being touched by Rogue (she touched Rogue in Marvel Super Heroes Special #2 to show her her feelings), she must have welcomed it because it saved her the lengthy explanations it would otherwise have taken to show her she was right.

7 out of 10
(Finished in August 1998)


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