“It shouldn’t end like this” – Moira MacTaggert, Inferno #4 (Jonathan Hickman and Valerio Schiti)
Following her next absence from the X-books as Krakoa grew in strength and celebrated Charles Xavier and Magneto as its founding fathers, Moira MacTaggert made her much-anticipated return in the event miniseries Inferno, released between September 2021 and January 2022. Adding to the weight of the occasion, the miniseries had been revealed to be Jonathan Hickman’s departure from the X-line, bringing Moira full circle from her rebirth(s) in House of X.
This sense was reinforced by Hickman’s characteristic decision to reintroduce the character by returning to a scene from the pivotal House of X #2, showing a past Moira’s confrontation with Destiny and Mystique. The scene effectively reminds readers of the background and the stakes. Moira, once hating herself as a mutant aberration, had tried to create a cure for mutants only to be confronted and brutally murdered by the pair, who threatened her to ensure she would use her future lives to save mutantkind rather than wipe it out – explaining Moira’s fierce antipathy towards resurrecting Destiny in the present. It was also a reminder of several of the seeds Hickman had so expertly sowed from the beginning to hint at the character’s future; her gift of resurrection was not an eternal loop. She could be ended, Destiny tells her and the audience explicitly, by killing her as a youth before her power could manifest. Moreover, her current life, her tenth life, would be her last unless she made ‘the right choice at the end’ when she might get one more. As if this did not make the stakes high enough, the miniseries also opens with a reminder of the birth of Nimrod, the mutant-hating machine which HOXPOX had established as the beginning of the end for mutantkind, whose creation was the catalyst was for mutant Armageddon which had to be avoided at all costs. The stage was set for a grand return from the most intriguing character in X-Men comics.
All of which made it rather surprising that throughout the four issues of Inferno, Moira does very little at all.
This is not because she is absent; Moira has more page-time in Inferno than almost any other character. But she spends the vast majority of it either impotently complaining or being victimized by others. For the first two issues, she is an entirely reactive character, complaining about Charles and Magneto planting a tracker in her, complaining that she is not listened to enough, and complaining that they will not do as she says. After learning that her worst nightmare has been fulfilled and Destiny has returned, she briefly suggests killing her before backing down almost immediately in favour of accepting the idea that the conspirators should instead try to bring in Emma Frost, a decision driven by no logic other than the needs of the story. When Emma takes the news predictably poorly and storms off, Moira again opts to do nothing whatsoever. Indeed almost unbelievably given what has now been established about the character’s ruthlessness and survival instincts, despite knowing that her arch-enemy has returned and has the power to see her future, despite having clearly made an enemy of the White Queen, Moira opts to go out alone and unguarded into the open, and is immediately captured.
Throughout the final issue of Inferno, Moira is held as a prisoner by Destiny and Mystique, losing an arm. She is then injected with Forge’s mutant cure, a development presented as the ‘Death of Moira X’ which removes her ability to resurrect herself. Her captors then verbally needle her until she reveals her ‘truth’; her conviction that mutantkind always loses is such that her ultimate hope is still to cure them all, believing that they cannot possibly win in any other way. She is ultimately spared from death by the intervention of Doug Ramsey, who induces the pair to let her go free as a human.
These developments raise any number of issues. For Moira to lose her power to a mutant depowering gun is not inherently absurd, but it does call into question the earlier scene – originally in HOX 2 and then repeated in Inferno #1 – in which Destiny explicitly identified killing her as a child as the mechanism for stopping her. It’s not as if this was presented as just one of several hypotheticals; it is clearly presented by Destiny as the sole means of stopping her. The Moira of this scene herself seems stunned at the idea that her resurrection cycle could be ended in any way, which is peculiar given she had herself just developed a mutant cure, albeit one designed for children. This specific resolution thus has the cumulative effect of presenting Chekhov’s Gun in the first act, hanging it carefully on the wall, and then simply leaving it there to wrap up the finale with a knife fight instead. We will return to Destiny’s other clearly foreshadowing comment from this scene, about Moira’s Eleventh Life, which is likewise doomed to be unsatisfactorily discarded.
More troublesome than missed plot opportunities are the broader consequences of Inferno for Moira’s character and her role in the line. After her thrilling reclamation of agency in House of X, this miniseries presents a Moira who is entirely passive and reactive. This is a character who readers have seen live through repeated armageddons, being hardened and radicalized into committing obscene acts until even *Charles Xavier* questions her moral compass. Yet her response as her nightmares come true around her is simply to complain that others are not doing enough, reduced to literally shouting “You have to do something!” after Destiny’s rebirth. Even her survival in the final issue is due entirely to Cypher’s intervention, with Moira ending the miniseries fleeing for her life. For all the build-up to her return, Moira is the object of Inferno rather than its subject, enduring what other characters decide for her, given the spotlight only to perform a quick and underdeveloped heel turn; the bomb at the heart of Krakoa quietly defused with minimal drama.
Nor is the situation improved by her treatment in Inferno’s follow-up, Benjamin Percy’s X Deaths of Wolverine miniseries released between January and March 2022. The series completes Moira’s transformation from newly nuanced and complex character into two-dimensional cliché. Now on the run from Krakoa, she is suddenly given stage four cancer as the series begins, in a development that was nowhere presaged but serves as a cheap hack to try to introduce a sense of urgency into the narrative. Her tangled motivations and mix of self-hatred, intense pessimism and world-weariness are now simplified to make her a classic ‘jilted woman’, suddenly committed to mutant genocide out of personal spite at her perceived poor treatment by mutants. This is reinforced by cartoonishly evil behaviour like murdering her ex-lover Banshee off-page to wear his skin, dispensing with a reunion which fans had anticipated in favour of a quick one-page ‘kick the puppy’ moment to hammer home her now straightforward villainy. She even fleetingly meets Charles Xavier once again. The retcon of House of X #2 establishes that the pair have been collaborating for decades in secret and she has been at the heart of the entire plan; here however he quickly tries to brush her off while she rages, driving home the ‘jilted lover’ parallel still more clearly.
The series ends with Moira ‘dying’ only to return from the grave as a former ally turned seemingly immortal cybernetic hybrid dedicated to hating all mutants forever, an idea that was already hardly groundbreaking when Cameron Hodge executed it considerably more convincingly in the 1980s. Some fans interpreted this as a fulfillment of Destiny’s prophecy about a potential ‘eleventh’ life for Moira back in House of X #2 and reiterated in Inferno #1. Yet it is difficult to see how it is meant to correlate to Moira making ‘the right choice in the end’ by any definition – or what further dramatic potential there is to be had with the character, having been stripped of all of her most interesting features from her powers to her motivations. Perhaps at least there is tension to be mined from the idea that others will eventually find out about her, but then many of the characters most impacted by this found out off-page across these two series with virtually zero reaction or repercussions, so even this potential feels relatively limited.
Indeed, X Deaths of Wolverine as a whole ends up feeling, presumably accidentally, like a rebuttal of House of X itself. That book had appeared to be both about and named after other, male characters, only to unveil itself as the story of Moira X and the House she built all along. This series, despite its title, appeared to star Moira herself, only to shift her to being an antagonist and then a secondary one at that by the last issue, her place as both hero and villain taken by that most ‘masculine’ of heroes, Wolverine (James Howlett edition). Just as House and Powers presented what appeared to be yet another cliched dystopian ‘future we must avoid’ only to swerve by revealing this to be Moira’s past, so XDOW presents us with an entirely face-value dystopian to-be-avoided future, no subtleties or self-awareness in sight. In the final pages, this dynamic is made literal as characters discuss how Moira’s conviction, born of ten lifetimes, that ‘mutants always lose’ can in fact be beaten simply by Wolverine, because well, he’s just that great.
It is important to separate this critique of Moira’s recent handling from some potential misconceptions. This is not a complaint that she is ‘out of character’; a notion which means little given the inconsistency of most Big Two franchise characters and the number of hands they pass through over the years. It is also not a complaint about Jonathan Hickman’s ‘vision’ being denied or betrayed; he wrote Inferno, and it may be that this was the ending he envisioned from the beginning. Rather, the disappointment is at the extent of wasted potential. Moira X evoked such positive fan reactions precisely because, as House of X put it, she ‘broke all the rules’; a total reinvention of a familiar character that promised to change the past and future of the line. Her new history and her ambiguity made her an X-Factor, a sword of Damocles hanging over Krakoa and ready to fall at any moment.
Collectively, the decisions made by Inferno and X Deaths of Wolverine rip away this promise and potential from that version of Moira MacTaggert, leaving her entirely unambiguous, exposed and predictable. A woman permitted a rare agency and experience at the heart of the X-line is stripped of that agency, converted into a passive object and cast to its fringes; a complex character with her own inscrutable agenda is reduced a cliché of a ‘jilted woman’ and the twentieth variation on the evil cyborg who hates mutants. In the end, as usual in comics, the old order is reasserted and the nuances brushed aside. The idea that this time could be otherwise was a nice dream, but it wasn’t real after all. And that is the real tragedy of Moira X.