Dark Mirror

Author: Marjorie M. Liu
Pocket Books
RRP 6.99
ISBN 1 4165 1129 6
Available 02 January 2006

On what looks to be a standard recognisance mission, to discover if mutants are being mistreated, the X-Men run into something unexpected. Waking up in a mental hospital would be a bad enough way to start your day, but when Jean Grey discovers that she is not even in her own body she realises that things have really taken a turn for the worse. With her powers gone and her friends in danger can Jean escape, or is she destined to remain in the body of a man for the rest of her life...

Dark Mirror is the new book from Marjorie M. Liu, a young writer better known for her paranormal stories and a big Jubilee fan. This young woman from the mid-west of America has done a stunning job at revitalising the superhero genre with this book.

For the most part, a book based on comic book characters tends to follow the pattern set down by their source material. You know the drill, a bit of back story, a confrontation with the villain and the inevitable fight scene, where the good guys always win. However Marvel seems to be requiring a lot more from their novelists at the moment, the recent Wolverine: Weapon X book was a surprise, with its unrelenting violence, and now we find Marjorie pulling another surprise rabbit out of the hat.

How do you produce a superhero book where the protagonists no longer have their powers? Well, the answer, with this book, is very well. The various characters react to their new position with differing degrees of success. Wolverine, understandably, is just as resourceful regardless of the loss of his body. His time as an espionage expert comes to be one of the greatest resources the X-Men have in their attempt to return to the mansion to discover just who has stolen their bodies.

Now, you would think that all this body swapping could lead to a great deal of confusion for the reader, this is not the case. Marjorie deftly keeps the characterisations spot on throughout the book. I don't think it's giving anything away to say that the X-Men are more successful at impersonating the personas of their host bodies than the mental patients that have taken up residence in the bodies of the X-Men. To balance what could have been a very dark book, the author, has taken it on herself to play with some of the characters. Cyclops is now in the body of a woman, whilst his wife Jean Grey finds herself in the body of a man. This allows character exploration on a number of levels.

Firstly, there is the problem of just how resourceful are the X-Men when they have been stripped of their powers and dumped in the bodies of mental patients far from home with no money? How much of the confidence that they normally exude comes from the fact that they are super humans? Indeed, can they make it as mere mortals? Secondly, whilst the gender reversals that they suffer could just become an object of cheap derision, Marjorie uses it to explore not only gender roles, but also the concept of love. As husband and wife, is Jeans and Cyclops's love stronger and deeper than the external artifice of their bodies. Not sure that I'd feel the same way about my wife if she looked like a twenty stone wrestler, so does that make me shallow, are we loving the person or the package?

So, a good thought provoking story. Ok, there is the inevitable showdown at the end but I'm not sure that there is anyway of getting around that one, not sure Marvel would have been too pleased if she had left the X-Men powerless in the wrong bodies.

Charles Packer

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