I’ve been reading X-Men Red since it started. I appreciate having a team lead by Jean Grey The Elder (particularly since, as of this writing, they’ve killed off Jean the Younger in X-Men Blue), along with having a team with Wolverine II/Laura Kenny (soon to be X-23 again) and Honey Badger/Gabby. However, I do have a problem with the opening villain, Cassandra Nova.
When Cassandra was introduced in Grant Morrison’s New X-0Men, she was set up as the evil fraternal twin of Charles Xavier, who Charles tried to psychically kill in the womb when he found out she was evil. Nova psychically reconstituted herself and made it her mission to destroy her brothers’ dream as an act of revenge.
Putting aside the issues with the whole “inherently evil twin thing” this is something of a standard revenge plot – get revenge on the person who destroyed you/harmed you by not only destroying them but also destroying the thing they love. In this case, since that thing is Xavier’s dream of human/mutant coexistence, that makes her a solid X-Men villain. The problem is her implementation in X-Men Red.
In X-Men Red, she’s back from the dead, using nanobot sentinels to enflame anti-mutant hatred, including infecting world leaders with them. Except Charles Xavier is dead, and while, going from the Marvel Wiki, a psychic simulation of Jean was part of her ultimate defeat, Jean wasn’t responsible – Emma Frost was. So, what’s her point here?
Cassandra Nova, when all is said and done, has no motivations beyond revenge. I don’t get a sense with her of what she’d do next. Now, there are plenty of other villains from works that I’ve enjoyed that also don’t have any idea of what they’d do once they catch the Roadrunner, but they also have character traits that explain this – and other characters supporting them who do have plans.
Take Xykon from Order of the Stick. He’s a Lich and a Sorcerer, and he’s out to dominate the world with an army of undead. Why? Because he was mocked in Wizard school because he was a Sorcerer and not a Wizard – he was born with it, he didn’t have to work at it. Mechanically, Intelligence is his Dump Stat, not Charisma. To a degree as well, he also has a problem with unexamined privilege – he hasn’t had to work at being powerful, he just is. Consequently – he doesn’t really plan that far ahead. He’s out to burn the world to show them, but he hasn’t thought about what happens after, because that’s not how he rolls. However, his sidekick/supporter/brains of the operation Redcloak has been planning ahead, because he has his own agenda. He has thought about what comes next, and consequently, I’m okay with Xykon’s lack of a plan because there’s someone behind him who has future plans, and who is steering Xykon in the directions they need to accomplish their goals.
The Marvel Universe (and the X-Men side of things in particular) actually has the perfect example of this with Mojo. Mojo is an impulsive fool, in a lot of respects, whose desire above ratings over all else means that Mojo is also perfectly okay with losing, so long as they look spectacular in the process. Consequently, the people with a vested interest in keeping Mojo in power (like Majordomo), are the ones who generally end up in a position of directing Mojo’s whims in a direction that sustains their power (in some fashion or another). Mojo schemes, but I always get the vibe from him that he doesn’t really care about winning.
In Serenity, The Operative has no intention of living in the better world that will be crafted by his terrible actions. However, he’s a fanatic believer in a cause greater than himself. He fully expects that when this better world is created, he’d be killed or imprisoned for his actions, and he’s perfectly okay with that. The Dragons of Earth in Clamp’s X are also fanatics, however, they do look forward to seeing that world – but if they fall in the attempt, they’re okay, so long as the world they seek comes to pass.
In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gendo Ikari is consumed by nihilistic despair – he engages in his plots because he intends to be reunited with Yui Ikari (in one form or another) through Third Impact, and then they’d live happily together. The fact that Yui voluntarily chose to have her soul subsumed into Eva Unit-01 doesn’t fall into his equation partly because he doesn’t know that (as one of the themes of Eva is Poor Communication Kills), and partly because he’s so consumed with despair that nothing else except seeing Yui matters.
However, with Cassandra Nova, I don’t have that sense. If she successfully causes the mutants to be wiped out, then what? World domination? There are still the non-mutant heroes like the Avengers and Fantastic Four to contend with (nevermind the S-Ranked supervillains like Doom, Ultron, and various cosmic threats like Galactus, Thanos, or Annihilus, or powerful psychic threats like the Shadow King). Retire to a tropical island? If she’s as consumed enough by evil as she’s supposed to be, that makes her actions disproportionate – especially considering that Xavier is dead, and she’s not fighting Emma Frost.
Cassandra Nova is not a nihilist. She’s not a fanatical believer in any cause above revenge. And she’s not an impulsive fool operating with the support of a chess master. So, while the writer can certainly decide that she no reason to plan ahead, it’s not internally consistent with how she is written – and that is my problem.
As far as how you’d fix it? Honestly, her goals and the scope of her evil are too large for how small her motivations are. To put it another way, Victor Von Doom’s motivation is similar to Cassandra Nova’s – he wants to prove that he is better than Reed Richards. He chooses to do this through World Domination, and through his control of Latveria, we get an idea of what the answer to the “Now What?” question. He’d rule – he’d govern. He has experience doing that.
So, in the case of Cassandra Nova, I would narrow the scope of her actions – she wants revenge against Charles Xavier, and she’s going to get it by destroying the X-Men. Not genocide of mutantkind, just destroying the X-Men. She’ll manipulate other X-Men villains while she hides in the shadows (and actually the destruction of Magneto’s Genosha works with this – because this is something that could drive Magneto back into full villainhood). However, she doesn’t go full genocidal lunatic, because that potentially puts her in a position that is untenable.
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