September 28, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Case File #86: Penance

Sometimes Marvel just reuses names.

Last week’s Case File was on the New Warrior Speedball.  Speedball had, for a time, taken on the name of Penance and walked around in a spiked suit being all moody in ways that, well, a character that bounces off stuff never should be.  However, reader Zombiephreak pointed out in the comments that Robbie Baldwin was not the first Marvel character to go by the name of Penance.

So, let’s tackle the other one this week.

penance-marvel-comics-generation-x
So, how does she breathe in that outfit? Scarlett O’Hara wore less-confining corsets.

But here’s the thing:  this Penance is a mess.  I usually do some research on characters (read:  I look ’em on Wikipedia) to make sure I get enough of the character’s stuff right, but the entry I read on Penance on Comic Vine is…well, it’s longer than I thought and a hell of a lot more confusing than I’d assumed.  This is a character that got retconned a couple times during a short existence when the original creator left the series she appeared in without divulging all her backstory or something along those lines.  As a result, I’m going to cover mostly the Penance I remember and then you can look the rest up on your own.

First appearing in Generation X #1, Penance was brought to the new team of younger-than-ever mutants at the Massachusetts branch of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters by Gateway.  Gateway was a mostly mute Australian aborigine mutant who had some advanced teleportation and portal powers, and probably some psionic powers and other stuff that maybe just make people assume he’s a wise old man.  Dropping off the young girl, Gateway uttered a single word (“Penance.”) and left it at that.  Since Gateway wasn’t one to, you know, talk, having him say much of anything is kind of a big deal.  Gateway then went right back to not talking.  Penance, whoever she was, had red, razor-sharp skin and hair, and something about her mind made reading it difficult for one of the school’s two headmasters, Emma “White Queen” Frost, this being back in the days where Emma was not a twentysomething in love with Cyclops but rather well past thirty and possibly being romantically paired with the other headmaster, Banshee.

And it wasn’t helped that Penance was actually less talkative than Gateway.  Emma got images of a war-torn land and a first name, Yvette, and that was about it.

See, what happened was, Penance was the creation of writer Scott Lobdell.  His plan was to eventually reveal that Penance was from the former Yugoslavia, and she’d seen the ethnic cleansing and such there, leaving her a mentally scarred person, and possibly also deaf.  Her mutant power of basically being able to cut through stuff thanks to a hard outer shell would have reflected her life in a weird sort of way.

You know, I learned a lot of that at the Comic Vine site.  They also listed among Penance’s powers “Attractive Female,” which I didn’t know was a superpower of any kind.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look.

But Lobdell didn’t stick around to get that far, so it fell to Larry Hama to eventually fill in the rest, and man…what he came up with really goes the extra mile to be incredibly screwy.

But, we need to backtrack a bit.

So, Penance was hanging with the kids of Generation X, and among that group was a character called “M”.  Yes, her codename was her first initial.  Her full name was Monet St. Croix.  She was the daughter of an ambassador from the microstate of Monaco.  M was, all told, something of a snob.  She was described, often by herself, as “perfect”.  Physically attractive, superstrength, flight, psionic abilities, hard to hurt, you know the drill.  Oh sure, once in a while she shut down into a weird fugue state, but she was still pretty up on her high horse.

And then there was the team’s regular villain, a guy called Emplate.  Emplate was a freaky-lookin’ mutant who had these sucker things in his hands.  In order to stay in sync with the real world and not fade into another dimension, Emplate had to use those suckers things to feed off the bone marrow of mutants, a process that would allow him to temporarily gain that mutants powers.  Two things need to be said right here and now.  1.  He had been holding Penance prisoner for a long time when Gateway rescued her, and 2. he was M’s older brother.

So, what changed?  Well, during a “final battle” type scenario with Emplate that is never a final battle, we learned that Penance was M and M was two people.

Say what?

Yes, it seems the Penance skin was some sort of holding cell or something that blocked out the prisoner’s ability to communicate with the outside world, no matter how hard she tried.

She's really trying here.
She’s really trying here.

Monet had been trapped in there.  The Yvette thing?  One of her many middle names.  The war-torn land?  Well, Monet’s dad was an ambassador posted there at the time.  So, when the two people posing as Monet let the real Monet out of Penance…

127935-89839-penance

…all those two really did was switch places.  Who were these two people?  M’s younger twin mutant sisters, Claudette and Nicole.  They were eight.  Add them together and you get one sixteen year old.  If I remember right, one of them might have been autistic, hence M’s occasional fugue states.  I do wonder what Larry Hama was smoking when he came up with that one.

The entire St. Croix family, including captured brother Emplate, would return home to Monaco for a period.

Now, as far as I knew until very recently, that was the end of the Penance mystery.  But then Penance came back.  And that’s where that Comic Vine entry confuses me.  Sometimes Penance can talk.  Sometimes she can’t.  She may have the intelligence of a tracking animal of some kind, or she’s smarter than that.  And no one knows who’s in control of the body anymore.  After running with a team called the Loners, or something to do with the Avengers Academy, she took the new name Hollow.

So, maybe it’s for the best if we leave it all at that.