- Name: Xi’an Coy Mahn
- Code Names: Karma
- First Appearance: Marvel Team-Up #100 (Dec ’80)
- Powers: Mind Control
- Teams Affiliation: New Mutants, X-Men
My grandfather served in Vietnam. Like many people, he didn’t talk about it when he came back. Something about the horrific conflict stayed impressed on his soul throughout his entire life. It wasn’t until the year he passed away that he ever found something the resembled peace about it. He said he wanted to go back, just to see it. The conflict remains a dark spot in history, we try not to talk about it, keep it hidden, but the scars remain. If it is hard for our culture to think of what that war did to America soldiers, it’s impossible to consider how it decimated Vietnamese like Xi’an Coy Manh.
Regardless of sliding timelines and recons about age Xi’an Coy Mahn’s history is rooted firmly in the Vietnam War. Her father was a South Vietnamese colonel and her uncle was a corrupt general. Their family tried to survive the war and Xi’an took special care of her younger siblings Leong and Nga. Her older brother Tran was a different story. He was hot-headed and willing to partake in the bloodshed. Like Xi’an, Tran was a mutant with the ability to telepathically possess others, an ability her uncle, General Coy, was more than willing to exploit. Tran stayed under the care of General Coy but Xi’an fled the country with her family. Their small boat was captured by pirates who killed Xi’an’s mother and did unspeakable things to the refugees. They were eventually rescued by the US Navy and Xi’an, Leong, and Nga made their way to America. Despite all else, they survived.
Xi’an found help from a Catholic priest and enrolled her siblings in school, but the arms of General Coy reached long. He was no longer content to just have Tran working as a mutant soldier for him, he wanted Xi’an too and abducted Leong and Nga as leverage. She wanted to possess a criminal to infiltrate her uncle’s domestic organization and rescues her siblings and, after reading the Daily Bugle, went with Spider-Man. Spidey, alongside the Fantastic Four (who got roped into this because that’s just what happens in Marvel Team-Up) eventually found Xi’an and listened to her backstory. They agreed to help confront the General but Xi’an was shocked to discover that the General was willing to use Tran against her. Tran possessed the FF and nearly killed Spider-Man and Xi’an before facing a possession of his own. Xi’an used her abilities to possess her brother, taking his yang and combining it with her yin (I don’t know how accurate to Taoism this is, I’m just relaying what that comic is saying happened). She totally absorbed her brother, body and soul. Following this, she decided to take on a superhero name, Karma, and keep in touch with the FF while not doing much super heroics. She just took care of her brother and sister.
When Professor Xavier was recruiting his new team of mutants he approached Karma on Mr. Fantastic’ s recommendation. Xavier promised to help support Leong and Nga and Karma joined the team, however, she never really fit in. Xi’an was several years older than her peers, and much more mature. Her past came back to her when her teammate Dani was captured by agents of the criminal underworld and Xi’an knew only one way to help. She confronted her uncle, still running a large crime syndicate, and struck a deal. One year of service to him for information on Dani. The New Mutants were aghast at Karma’s choice but they didn’t have long to react. On the resulting rescue mission, Karma was seemingly killed in an explosion, ending her short tenure on the New Mutants.
Before the explosion a psionic entity reached out to Xi’an, the Shadow King was desperate for a new body to ravage, and ravage he did. He took over Karma’s mind outright, he used her to take over the underground Hollywood Gladiator arena and overindulge in food and wine. The New Mutants infiltrated the area and were shocked to find their old friend at the head. They were able to help break the Shadow King’s hold on Karma but the physical damage had already been done.
The New Mutants were soon whisked away to Asgard and Karma found herself in the Endless Desert of Nornheim. Though she was nearly ready to give up, she found the determination to survive and find her way back to her friends. This experience restored her to her previous appearance and Karma rejoined the New Mutants in earnest. It was only for a short time as Leong and Nga were captured (again) and Karma left to work for her Uncle in exchange for information (again).
Now, this plot point was originally supposed to get picked up by the canceled Fallen Angels II but instead, we get Karma working for General Coy in Madripoor. She helped Wolverine do some solo things for a little bit until years later we discovered that Shinobi Shaw had captured the children for reasons and they were rescued by a Beast/Karma team-up despite the two having literally never met before. Xi’an spent the rest of the 90’s dying her hair pink and hanging out with some gal pals paling around at Burning Man.
If that last sentence sounded out of left field, well it kind of was. Karma had spent the last few years taking care of her never-aging siblings and exploring her sexuality. She moved to Chicago and studied library science at UC where she reconnected with Kitty Pryde. Soon after she graduated the Xavier School came calling. The school had grown to levels unthinkable where Xi’an attended and they needed educated mutants to help train the next generation. Karma became a standout counselor and found her job incredibly fulfilling. Leong and Nga were taken care of, Xi’an was happy, life was good.
Karma followed the X-Men to San Francisco after M-Day and soon found herself in familiar company. Cannonball reformed the New Mutants as a sanctioned X-Men squad and Xi’an fought alongside her old friends once again. The team met Cameron Hodge in battle and Karma was gravely injured in the attack, leading to the amputation of her leg. Since this is superhero comics she got a fancy robot leg that worked just as well as her old one and went on her way. On a mission in the hell dimension Limbo, Karma met Face. Like her, he was a mutant who was disabled, his powers had destroyed his entire face. He needed someone to take care of him and Karma needed someone to take care of. When the Jean Grey School opened in Westchester she left the west coast to enroll him in the school.
At the school, Karma joined one of the X-Men squads and was attacked by a team of Marauders working for weapons developer Susan Hatchi. Hatchi specifically targeted Xi’an because of a dark secret. Susan was really Da’o Coy Manh, Xi’an’s illegitimate half-sister. Da’o wanted to use her newly developed nanotech weapons to destroy Karma but she was killed in the battle by their father, who revealed he had been alive this whole time and was promptly arrested. As a side benefit of being her only living relative, Xi’an gained control of Da’o’s company, making Xi’an a billionaire. This didn’t much matter to Xi’an, she fell into a depression after Charles Xavier’s death and wanted to find a place where mutants could be left alone. She joined other mutants on the remains of Utopia as an isolationist nation but joined Cyclops’ mutant school after their location was compromised. She hasn’t been seen recently, but since Face is still at the school, Karma can’t be far away.
Choosing a must read for this one is tough. Karma hasn’t been the focus of many arcs, much less good ones. Her tenure with the New Mutants is brief and filled with problematic things about body image and her later stuff just have never landed for me. What does work is X-Treme X-Men: Mekanix which grounds the character in the 21st century and establishes her new status quo. It isn’t a perfect story but it is a fun jaunt into the new era of the character.
Karma isn’t the least developed New Mutant but she doesn’t size up well compared to the rest of the team. It is pretty telling how she never stuck around in the book and continued to have new angles, like her sexual identity and her disability, added to use her effectively. These aren’t bad things to add to the character, however the speak to her general lack of development beforehand. When her only stories involve her uncle knowing something about her captured siblings, things get boring quickly. Cypher is another underdeveloped New Mutant but his lack of “good powers” informed more enjoyable stories than anything Karma did. I like her better than Northstar but I would rather read a Shatterstar story than another Karma one. I do think she is more developed than Wiz Kid but Spiral has the amazing design. That puts Karma in as the new number 77 in the Xavier Files.
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