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Back Issues: The Curious Case of Monet St. Croix

Has there ever been an X-Man whose backstory was as convoluted as that of M? Well, maybe Xorn...

By / Posted on 25 March 2011

Monet St. CroixIt’s hard to deny the appeal of the X-Men. As mutants, the X-Men are an allegory for every minority, every special interest group, every person who has ever been bullied simply for being different, and everyone who has ever stood up for those people. The popularity of the X-Men brand has exploded over time, with countless pieces of mainstream ephemera throughout the 1990s and a constantly growing slate of big budget major motion pictures (X-Men: First Class opens this summer).  As the franchise has grown in popularity, more and more characters have been introduced — after all, there’s no need for in-depth origin stories, mutants are just born that way. The wonderful insanity about Marvel Comics, though, is that while these hundreds of B-to-C-list characters don’t need vast and complex backstories, most of them get one anyway, making them all the more interesting and personal.

For example…

M first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #316, part of a crossover event that saw the alien Phalanx (X-Men’s version of Star Trek’s Borg) attempt to assimilate all mutant life on Earth, starting with the capture of the next generation of teenage mutants. The day was saved, naturally, and the teen survivors (one of the prisoners, Clarice Ferguson aka Blink, died in combat) joined together as a new team of X-Men in training, Generation X. With supermodel good looks, flight, superstrength, invulnerability, and telepathy, M seemed like basically the perfect superheroine, and she was appropriately conceited and blasé about the whole thing. Like all stories worth telling, though, it doesn’t begin there…

Monet as PenanceMonet St. Croix was staying at her father’s beachside estate in Monaco with her younger twin sisters Claudette and Nicole when their older brother Marius came calling. Marius had travelled through time and space and become transformed. Knowing Monet had impressive mutant powers of her own, the deformed and monstrous Marius offered to share his new power with Monet so that they could rule all realities together. Self-involved as any teenager could be, Monet laughed at her brother’s hideous new form and his ludicrous offer. Outraged and jealous of his perfect sister, Marius used his new powers to transmute Monet into a razor-skinned beast of a girl, absent voice so she could no longer talk back to him. He called this form her “penance,” which she adopted as her name.

Claudette and Nicole, seeing their banished brother with the monstrosity Penance, opened a portal to another world and forced him through it (Penance, seeing her brother as the only one capable of reversing her curse, followed). Fearing that their father would be upset that Monet was missing, the twins merged together into the form of their teenage sister and posed as her for years. It was the twins as Monet that were captured by the Phalanx and formed Generation X alongside Jubilee, Skin, Husk and Synch.

Claudette and Nicole intrude on Emplate and Penance

(It’s worth noting at this point that we are never really told what Everett, Claudette and Nicole’s powers are, or even if they’re mutants. It’s not clear what powers Everett had before his travels and what he acquired along the way. The twins can open a dimensional portal and merge together into the form of their sister and mimic all of her powers. It’s entirely possible that the St. Croix family are just AMAZING.)

On Generation X’s very first mission, to pick up new recruit Jonothan Starsmore (Chamber) from the airport, the kids have their first encounter with Marius, who has now become a vampire-like creature, sucking the genetic marrow from mutants in order to survive. He has been using an imprisoned Penance as his own personal snack bar for years and grown misshapen and spikey because of her genetics. During the fight, Penance breaks free and is found by Generation X, who care for her as one of their own, pondering what atrocities she’s experienced as Emplate’s captive.

M in a treeThrough many adventures, M maintains a steadfast disposition as the high-and-mightiest of the bunch while Penance remains as the silent child, a combination pet and mascot for the children that modern society has chased away for fear of the different and unknown. Penance is often seen as uneasy and untrusting of M (as she knows that she is the real M and this body is just an imposter). It wasn’t until a Sentinel attack during Operation: Zero Tolerance that the stress of an explosion proved too much for M and she was split apart, back into the twins. Seeing her younger sisters injured, Penance immediately becomes protective of the twins, watching over them in silence, unable to express the familiarity. Things can never be simple and quiet in the world of the X-Men, though, and so nearly immediately after their separation, Nicole and Claudette were merged with their evil older brother into the three-minded menace M-Plate (yeah, they really thought hard on that name).

M and Penance switch bodiesThe twins learned the truth about Monet/Penance from Marius’s mind and, after being split again, the two of them merged with their mute, brooding sister, resulting in a full body-switch so that Monet is Monet again and the twins together are Penance. If the only item in your toolbox is super-glue… Having spent years alone in the diamond-hard prison of Penance’s body, Monet both sought freedom for her sisters and relished her own new opportunities. More than the M they knew before, Generation X watched as Monet flew, talked incessantly, and cozied up to boys who could finally touch her without slicing off their hands in the process. Yet another explosion separated Claudette and Nicole from the body of Penance, which now acted just like either of the St. Croix Penances without an actual St. Croix inhabiting the body. Generation X treated Penance just the same and never asked any questions about who she was or where she came from and neither did the writers.

M's diaryThis is exactly the type of convoluted story told over years of unconnected plots that seems like it was just thrown together at the last minute by a bunch of different writers, but hints were laid as early as her first appearance. During the Phalanx invasion and some early issues, M would space out and be entirely unreachable by conventional methods, taking on the attributes of the autistic Claudette. The first Generation X annual featured a backup story told through M’s diary, crayon drawings with crude handwriting and suggestive imagery of the missing twins. When M enters Emma Frost’s mind in Generation X #19, she is represented by young Nicole instead of the tall teenager everyone knew. Creator Scott Lobdell, who left the book shortly before the first separation of the twins, revealed in interviews that he had always intended for M to simply be the twins merged together and for Penance to be another character entirely, a deaf Yugoslavian named Yvette, and was sad that this character was never allowed to flourish. (Emplate actually did refer to Penance as Yvette once in Generation X #14, but, you know, details and retcons and whatnot.)

Multiple ManOf course, that’s just the story of how M came to be M. As is wont to happen in comics, her personal life just continued to get complicated from there. She once battled vampires in Switzerland by herself. She revealed that she’s been battling suicidal thoughts ever since being free of Penance. She once slept with a version of Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, while Siryn slept with another version of him in the same building. Comics, better than any soap opera, even Passions.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.