Nobody knows for sure why Mystique turned evil in the comics. Although you can argue that she wasn’t really evil, but rather a strong character who simply wanted mutants like herself to have a better future.
However, if you look at what she has done throughout her comics history, you also can’t deny that her actions border on terrorism. Furthermore, she clearly has no qualms about taking other people’s lives to get what she wants or to gain an advantage.
In this explainer, let’s take a closer look at Mystique’s background, and perhaps gain a wider understanding of such a complex, multi-faceted, and multi-faced character in Marvel comics.
When Was Mystique Introduced?
When she’s not using her mutant moniker Mystique, she goes by the more normal-sounding name Raven Darkholme.
She made her first-ever appearance in a comic book through Ms. Marvel #16, which was published in 1978. Although this debut appearance is more of a cameo (she’s shown, in disguise, in only a couple of panels) than a major introduction, Mystique would later reveal her true appearance in a later Ms. Marvel issue published in the same year, and of course, go on to play a big role in several future X-Men or mutant-related stories in Marvel comics.
The character was co-created by illustrator Dave Cockrum. Hardcore X-Men fans may know this guy as the co-creator of other iconic mutant characters like Russian strongman Colossus, the teleporter Nightcrawler, and the weather controller Storm.
Also deserving of credit is legendary X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, who co-created the Mystique character with Cockrum. In his long tenure as a writer for the Uncanny X-Men comic books, Claremont would leave a legacy characterized by complex superhero stories with strong female characters, including the Raven Darkholme.
Although Mystique has existed in Marvel’s comics pages for more than four decades now, her past is still shrouded in mystery. You can say that her mysterious aura is one of the cool things that have contributed to her longevity.
What Are Mystique's Powers and Abilities?
Another awesome (but far less mysterious) thing that makes Mystique one of the most enduring mutant characters in the X-Men and Marvel comics universe is her well-known shape-shifting abilities.
There have been many amazing and fearsome shape-shifters in pop culture history. In Marvel comics alone, you have Loki (although he uses magic) and the Skrulls (an alien race of shape-shifters). DC comics’ counterparts include Martian Manhunter and Beast Boy, and of course, Batman foe Clayface. In the movies, you have the T-1000 (and newer poly mimetic alloy killer androids) from the Terminator film franchise and more recently, the shape-shifting boy Camilo from Encanto.
But Mystique is one of the most instantly recognizable because of her blue skin and red hair. Her killer looks notwithstanding, her shape-shifting abilities are truly one of a kind. Whereas others rely on mystical powers (like Loki), Mystique can copy another person down to the cellular level. That means she can also change the way her vocal cords are built to duplicate the voice of anybody he transforms into.
Her cells can also generate pieces of clothing and other objects like shoes, eyeglasses, purses, and even jewelry to aid her disguise. She was once admitted in the comics that she requires no clothes because her cells can simply create fake ones over her skin.
Inside, she can rearrange her internal organs and even make adjustments to her total body mass (or so she claims). She’s so good at changing her body’s makeup that in the Marvel universe, she’s one of the few characters that may be considered truly gender-fluid.
Her mastery of manipulating the cells of her body also makes her very hard to kill. Because she’s constantly changing her cellular structure, she’s always rejuvenating and even regenerating new cells. This allows her to heal quickly from injuries, counter various poisons and diseases, and even resist the effects of natural aging. In Marvel comics, nobody is ever sure how old Mystique is.
But it’s evident that Mystique has accumulated decades’ (perhaps even more than a century’s) worth of experience as a cunning operator and fighter. Years of mimicry make her an expert in detecting copycats like herself. She knows over a dozen languages and is incredibly skilled in espionage and infiltration. It helps that she can shift the cells on her brain to add a protective layer against telepathic scans and hypnosis (albeit she’s not totally invulnerable to psychic attacks, as Psylocke has proven).
Apart from her formidable mental strengths, she has proven to be an effective combatant and strategist. She is a highly-skilled martial artist and is quite proficient in using various weapons.
Can Mystique Turn Into Animals?
Yes, like Loki, Mystique can turn into non-humanoid animals. In the comics, she doesn’t always display this ability, presumably because it’s just easier to deceive other people when you’re a walking, talking person, as opposed to an animal who crawls on all fours.
But in the comics pages, she once transformed into a dog. In this scene, she is initially disguised as an African-American waitress, who heads to a restaurant’s back door and morphs into a dog that runs out to the alley.
On another occasion (as shown in X-Factor comics), she turns into a fearsome bipedal lizard-like monster taller than a regular human.
Is Mystique Good or Bad?
Mystique has been good and bad in Marvel comics, due in large part to Chris Claremont’s propensity for portraying her as a complex, multi-layered antagonist.
But Mystique is now widely considered by many Marvel comics fans as an anti-heroine as opposed to being an all-out supervillain.
Granted, the X-Men universe has always been home to anti-heroes, with plenty of mutant characters painted as misunderstood individuals rather than truly evil people (with some exceptions, of course – here’s looking at you, Mister Sinister).
When Did Mystique Turn Evil?
As we might have mentioned earlier in this post, Mystique played a supervillain role in her first appearances in the comic books.
It doesn’t help that the stuff she did in those late 1970s and early 1980s X-Men story arcs always seemed to involve some form of deception, trickery, and betrayal.
For instance, he revives the Brotherhood of Mutants group to aid in her less-than-legal activities, which included a plan to assassinate a United States Senator (albeit one who may not have mutants’ best interests in mind).
Because she sometimes resorts to non-peaceful means of furthering the welfare of mutant-kind, she often finds herself at odds with the X-Men, mutants who vow to protect both mutants and humans.
Of course, the subsequent years would see comics readers learn more about Mystique’s motivations and a bit about her backstory. The love of her life is Destiny (her real name is Irene Adler – yes, Sherlock Holmes fans, that same Irene Adler, but one who exists in the Marvel comics universe), who happens to be a mutant who can see into the future. And it’s a future that spells bad things for all mutants.
As it turns out, all Mystique was trying to do was prevent that future from happening. At all costs. Including hurting and even murdering the very people who might allow that future to become a reality.
When Did Mystique Turn Good?
There is an argument to be made that Mystique has always been good, but simply compelled to do very bad things to protect her own kind.
And there’s plenty of proof that for every seemingly horrific thing that she did, she had an altogether altruistic intention for doing it.
She once traveled back in time to kill her own son (the non-mutant Graydon Creed – her and Sabretooth’s child). She had good reason to do so – after all, Graydon is a two-faced politician who actually masterminds terrorist attacks against mutants.
After giving birth to Nightcrawler, she kills her human husband to protect her child, who was conceived through an extra-marital affair with another mutant.
And sure, she manipulated Rogue into absorbing Ms. Marvel’s powers. But she only did so because Destiny had foreseen that Rogue would play a future role in saving mutants’ lives, and Ms. Marvel’s existence was a detriment to that.
It's true – Mystique’s comics history is replete with contradictions. And it’s not only apparent when it comes to what she does but also in terms of who she is. She’s a multi-faceted character in every sense and there’s never a simple black-and-white logic to her intentions. And perhaps that’s why her character is so well-accepted and loved by comics fans. In a comics world where just about anything goes, she can be everything she needs to be, but still not be defined by any faction other than her own.