Ever since the X-Men changed the landscape of modern blockbusters in the summer of 2000, Mystique has become a household name. The sometimes good guy, sometimes bad guy (and usually somewhere in-between) shapeshifting mutant has gone from being a henchman of Magneto to a central character in the film franchise.
In the comics, she’s been an influential character since first appearing in Miss Marvel #16 in 1978 and then breaking out in the original Days of Future Past storyline in 1980. Her ties to several X-Men, her founding of the second Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and her occasional spells as both ally and enemy have kept her an engaging and significant character for decades.
As X-Men: Apocalypse dawns, Mystique is back on the big-screen and more central than ever. Given her enormous profile these days, here’s 12 Things You Need to Know About Mystique.
The movies portray her as a child when she first encounters a young Charles Xavier. The two grow up together and Xavier sees her as something of a little sister. However, the comic-book origin of the character is vastly different.
In issue #17 of her solo series, she says: "I wasn't born last night, or even last century, for that matter..." and has been seen as an adult at the dawn of the 20th century several times. This makes her one of the first mutants on Earth, much older than either Xavier or Magneto. In fact, there are only a handful that pre-date her, including Exodus, Selene, and Apocalypse.
Due to the nature of her shape-shifting cells, they are not inhibited by the Telomeres that are an essential part of how human cells age. Because of this, and the way her body constantly morphs and adapts, she can heal much faster than a regular human, too, albeit not as fast as Wolverine or Sabretooth. Therefore, she maintains the physical advantages of a woman in her prime, despite being well over a century old!
When Mystique was first introduced to the comic book universe, her powers had more or less the same limits as Marvel’s alien race of shapeshifters, The Skrulls. She could change shape at will, but her mass had to remain more or less constant. She could not shrink down to the size of a baby or grow to the size of a giant, or even the obese “Blob”. Also, she could not copy a power set and had to remain in the shape of a human being. There were a few exceptions to this, notably when she was a member of the third incarnation of X-Factor, where she began to use her powers more offensively to grow bone-like protrusions in the form of spikes. She also mimicked Angel’s wings in order to fly.
All that changed after the events of X-Men Forever, where she was exposed to a massive dose of radiation which boosted her powers. She could alter the density of her atoms to shrink down to the size of a bird and fly. She was also capable of shifting her internal organs around to survive an impalement that should have killed her. When she did finally die, she was quickly resurrected by the Ninja Assassins of The Hand. after this, she gained the ability to change her scent when she shapeshifted, becoming truly undetectable to the hyper-keen senses of Wolverine.
In addition to her powers, she is proficient with almost all forms of small-arms combat, both conventional and experimental. Her regular infiltration of the US government has given her access to devices such as force-fields and energy weapons. This, combined with her powers, makes her one of the X-Men’s most formidable and persistent foes.
Technically, she’s been portrayed by dozens of actors and actresses, as she has shapeshifted into lots of different people in the movies. Each one has therefore portrayed Mystique.
In the original X-Men trilogy, Mystique is primarily portrayed by former fashion model Rebecca Romijn (or Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, as she was known before 2005). Her appearance is radically different to her comic-book counterpart, who, at that time, was famous for having blue skin, but no scales, and usually wearing a white outfit with long-flowing elements as well as white boots. In the movie she is generally seen as being nude, only wearing clothing when mimicking others.
When the series changed focus with X-Men: First Class, the role was recast with then up-and-coming actress Jennifer Lawrence, and 9 year-old Morgan Lilly playing the child version of the character.
When Rebecca Romijn initially took the role, the make-up and prosthetics took over ten hours to apply to her entire body. She couldn’t afford to be modest either, as the prosthetics literally had to be glued on by hand.
By the time Jennifer Lawrence took the role for X-Men: First Class, the production team could apply the make-up in just under eight hours, with J-Law straddling a bicycle seat for hours at a time, wearing little to protect her modesty. Nevertheless, Lawrence reportedly hates the process, which might explain why her version of the characters spends much more time looking like Jennifer Lawrence than like Mystique.
When Mystique was first introduced in the comics, she was rarely seen without her companion, the elderly “Precog” Destiny. Destiny’s mutation allowed her to foresee events ahead of time, often years into the future. The two women used their powers to manipulate events in order to secure the most favorable future for both mutant-kind and themselves.
Writer Chris Claremont originally intended for the two women to be in a sexual relationship. With Mystique taking the form of a man to father a child with Destiny. Given the Comics Code Authority guidelines of the era, and Marvel editors dislike for the idea, it was scrapped.
In the comics, she has had several children, both in the regular timeline and in various alternate futures. Which brings us to…
When Mystique first crossed paths with the X-Men, the heroic Nightcrawler noted their similarities when he first saw her true form. Before he could question her, she made her escape and he was left wondering as to what their connection might be.
Eventually, he discovered that Mystique was his birth mother and had abandoned him as a small child. He initially believed himself to be the son of a wealthy aristocrat, Baron Christian Wagner, hence the use of his “father’s” last name “Wagner”. Later he discovered that his father was in fact the demon “Azazel” with whom he shares many characteristics, such as his tail and ability to teleport through an alternate dimension.
When Nightcrawler was a child, Mystique threw him into a river after an angry mob discovered his existence and his demonic appearance. Using her ability to shapeshift, she blended in and escaped, leaving young Kurt to die. It was later revealed that Azazel saved Kurt and arranged for him to be raised by Margali Szardos in the circus. The circus folk had no prejudices against mutants and Kurt had a happy childhood there. When he became a performer, people assumed he was in costume.
Eventually, he would be found by Charles Xavier, and joined the second incarnation of the X-Men, where he would encounter his mother once more and begin to slowly unravel the mysteries of his past.
Despite having several biological children, she appears to have the strongest feelings of loyalty and maternal love towards her adopted daughter, Rogue.
Shortly after abandoning Kurt to his fate, and consumed by a degree of guilt for not saving her child, Mystique comes across a four-year-old runaway girl. The child had been foreseen by Destiny as being important to their future, so the two women raised her for many years.
During this time, Mystique was using her Raven Darkholme identity to rise quickly through the ranks of the United States government. Her position eventually led her to a high ranking position within the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Using the advanced technology, she acquired there, she came into confrontation with S.H.I.E.L.D. for the first time.
Realizing she would need more powered individuals to aid her in her missions, she recruited the second incarnation of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. While she didn’t add Rogue to the initial roster, the young mutant soon joins and Mystique sends her on a collision course with Ms. Marvel and later, The Avengers. Rogue absorbs Ms. Marvel’s powers and memories, seemingly permanently, and her mind is shattered by the experience. Mystique is furious when Rogue leaves her and seeks out Professor Xavier’s help, but accepts that he can help her more than she can, so she relinquishes her guardianship of Rogue.
The two have a complicated relationship, but Mystique remains fiercely protective of Rogue.
Before either Nightcrawler or Rogue, Mystique had a child with the mutant supervillain Sabretooth (Victor Creed). Raven had adopted the identity of a dead East-German secret agent Leni Zauber. She and Creed were tasked with the assassination of a scientist. After the mission is successful, the two engage in a brief but passionate affair. Mystique abandons Sabretooth fairly quickly, unaware that she carried his child.
The child, Graydon Creed, is swiftly given up for adoption. Despite his parentage, he was born human, with no mutant genes whatsoever. Mystique keeps tabs on him, but is disappointed that he isn’t a mutant, and has no involvement with him until he is an adult.
Graydon, learning the identities of his parents, develops a strong hatred of all mutants. He forms the human anti-mutant group known as “The Friends of Humanity” and later runs for president on an anti-mutant platform. Despite being a frontrunner, he is assassinated before he can win. Mystique and Sabretooth, both working for the government at the time, are seen trying to thwart the assassination, but fail. It is later revealed through a time travel paradox that a version of Mystique is in fact responsible for the assassination after all.
Her relationship with Sabretooth has remained rocky over the years, with the two occasionally working together, but just as often seen at odds with each other.
Due to a retcon, most likely influenced by the on-screen closeness of Xavier and Mystique, writer Brian Michael Bendis changed the status-quo between the two characters in the pages of the comics as well. In a bizarre plot-twist, the last will and testament of Xavier leaves his estate to his wife, Mystique, in a marriage that none of them knew about.
The X-Men are shocked, as this had seemingly been kept from them. It turned out that the time-traveller Tempus had caused significant ripples through time when she averted the birth of a powerful mutant, Matthew Malloy. A temporal-side-effect of this was the marriage of Xavier and Mystique in the past.
With Xavier dead, and the timeline in flux, it is uncertain as to whether this marriage will remain part of the canon. Indeed, it may have already been erased. While the two have worked together in the past, indeed at one-time Mystique worked as a secret agent doing black ops for Xavier with Forge supplying tech support, the two had never been seen as a couple before this.
It is worth noting that the future timeline seen in Battle of the Atom revealed a new character, “Kid Xavier,” who is the child of Xavier and Mystique from an alternate future. He inherited the appearance and powers of his father, with his mother’s tendencies towards evil.
Despite being one of the X-Men’s most famous enemies, Mystique actually first appeared as an enemy of Carol Danvers, then known as Miss Marvel. The two had an intense rivalry from the outset, although it was unclear as to why Mystique hated her so much to begin with.
The series was cancelled before the story was resolved, but writer Chris Claremont had intended it to be linked to Destiny’s predictions about the future. It would appear that Destiny foretold that Miss Marvel was to cause great harm to Rogue. Mystique then sought to destroy Miss Marvel to prevent this from coming to pass.
Ironically, this led to Rogue absorbing Miss Marvel’s psyche and causing the harm that Destiny had predicted. The prophecy became self-fulfilling as Rogue would suffer for years, and later leave Mystique, costing her the one thing she treasured above all else.
Mystique hasn’t always been wholly seen as a villain, or even an anti-hero. Sometimes she’s been seen to try to go straight and act as an outright hero. During the 1980s, she reformed The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants into the US-sanctioned federal super-team known as Freedom Force. The team gave their services in exchange for pardons and recruited several more members, becoming well-respected by the media. One of their most high-profile successes came when they arrested Magneto and brought him before the world court for his crimes against humanity. They were also present during the “Fall of the Mutants” storyline, aiding the X-Men against the other-worldly “Adversary” in Dallas. In helping to save the world, Mystique became, for a time, a true hero.
This time in Mystique’s life would be tragically short. Freedom Force would disband, Rogue was seemingly killed, and perhaps most tragically, Destiny died due to the machinations of The Shadow King on Muir Island. Using the mutant Legion as a pawn, he murdered Destiny, causing Mystique to later try to kill Legion. Her assassination attempt on him led to a series of events that caused the so-called “Age of Apocalypse”.
It was during this time that Mystique had grown close to the inventor, known as Forge. When he joined X-Factor, the team that followed Freedom Force as a government sanctioned team of mutants, she tagged along also. This brought her back to her former lover, Sabretooth, as he would later join the team too. This team would fall apart with both Sabretooth and Mystique revealing themselves as traitors.
While Mystique has become ever more central to the storylines, it is rumored that Jennifer Lawrence has grown tired of the make-up and prosthetics involved with Mystique. The long hours near-naked straddling a bicycle seat, having blue paint applied everywhere, still takes a minimum of six hours each day. This is perhaps the reason she is spending ever-more screen time in her “human” form. Also, it is believed that her contract may expire with Apocalypse. Given her massive profile now, she may choose to break free of the franchise and perhaps join a new one.
There is also a strong rumour that the character may be killed off in X-Men: Apocalypse. In story, this could make sense as it could serve as a catalyst for Xavier and Magneto to become more bitter towards each other than ever, if each blames the other for her death.
It is worth noting that, should Jennifer Lawrence leave the role, she could easily be re-cast. Mystique can appear as anyone, therefore another actress could take the role. Given the massive story potential of the character, there is still a lot that Fox could do with the character.
Mystique is a long-standing major character in both the comics and movie universes. Her history is convoluted, yet engaging. Her character is ageless and has the potential for so much more in both universes. It remains to be seen where each will go next.
Do you have a favorite Mystique story we haven’t touched upon here? Let us know in the comments!