Karma

karma01Contributed by Ronald Byrd

Born in South Vietnam, Xi’an and her twin brother Tran discovered their shared power to take mental possession of others during childhood. Their uncle, General Nguyen Ngoc Coy, arranged for Tran to join him in the US to further his criminal efforts, but Xi’an and the rest of her family were left to escape Vietnam on their own. Set upon by Thai pirates, Xi’an’s father was slain and she and her mother were raped, her mother and died soon afterward. Xi’an survived her ordeal but was forced into General Coy’s service via threats to her younger siblings, Leong and Nga. After the children were rescued via the intervention of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Xi’an accepted Professor X’s invitation to join the group of students known as the New Mutants under the codename Karma, but her hardships were just beginning.

She was soon possessed by the telepathic Shadow King, who used her as a host body to direct his criminal empire. Eventually escaping this fate, Karma learned that her siblings had again been abducted, this time by the extradimensional madwoman Spiral, and she re-entered General Coy’s service as part of her efforts to find them. Finally managing to locate her siblings and entrust them to medical care, Karma began a new life which included a “butch” hairstyle, sharing a loft in Greenwich Village with documentary filmmakers Simone and Jessikah, a lesbian couple. Now far more carefree than her former responsibilities allowed her to be, she has apparently given up involvement in superhuman matters, but her current activities are unclear. It is not specifically stated that Karma shares the sexual orientation of her girlfriends, but it is known that Simone is aware that she is a mutant, suggesting that the two have been particularly close. Furthermore, she notes that her fellow New Mutant alumnus Sam Guthrie, a.k.a. Cannonball, is “definitely not my type.”

[The following information written by Joe Palmer.]

Xi’an appears in the Mechanix mini series. “Shan” is the spelling, based on the pronunciation, used throughout Mechanix At this point, Kitty Pryde has traded in being an X-Men for a student at the University of Chicago and is working as a bartender at the “Belles of Helle.” In the first issue Shan, a fellow student and university librarian, surprises Kitty when she shows up at the bar for a happy reunion. Dylan Maguire, the owner, gives Kitty an extended break, and the two begin to catch up. Dylan is quite a piece of eye candy himself, and Shan makes an admiring remark, to which Kitty says: “I thought you and guys –?” Shan replies: “What – a girl can’t admire the view?” Their body language becomes more intimate as the conversation continues. At one point Shan gazes at Kitty and strokes her hair. Shan invites Kitty home for dinner and to reconnect with younger siblings Leong and Nga, whom seem trapped in the same comics time warp as Franklin Richards. The children become very fond of Kitty and there are other scenes between the two women in which they could be interpreted as close friends or getting to know each other on an intimate, romantic basis.
karma02
Kitty, Shan, and a previously unseen mutant named Shola fight a mutant hating group of fellow students called Purity. Happening after the destruction of Genosha, the context of the fight is the recurring metaphor of outcasts and minorities struggling for acceptance, equality, and dignity. In the end, the trio wins. Kitty returns to being a superhero and Shan continues as student, librarian, and parent.

This isn’t the end of the Purity movement though. It and Shan next appear in New Mutants #4 (volume 2). Xavier sends Dani Moonstar to Chicago in search of a mutant Cerebra detected. The mission brings her into contact with Shan. It’s graduation day for Shan, who we find sitting her brother and sister in the audience. Her brother asks if “Aunt Kitty” is coming to the ceremony, and Shan replies that “she’s…out of town.” The implication in her answer is that Kitty in some way had continued to be a part of their lives. Instead of Kitty, Dani appears at the end of the ceremony with Shan’s siblings standing next to her. Shan invites Dani back to the family’s apartment, who asks how Shan can afford such a large place. Shan says a friend “set it up for [her] and a curious Dani asks if the friend is a “friend friend or girlfriend friend.” Shan then replies: “Let’s just say she’s a friend and there was a moment where it felt like she could be more. But when I tried to talk to her about it…she’s just not sure she…goes that way.”

The rest of the story introduces David, the young mutant that Dani has come to find who is a thin plot device to move Shan from Chicago back to Xavier’s Institute where she’ll become a teacher and adviser. In one scene Shan does state that “[she is] a lesbian immigrant raising [her] own brother and sister.”

Karma has rejoined her fellow New Mutants in a new series (2009). This bio does not reflect any developments that may have occurred in it.

Art by Juan Bobillo
Art by Juan Bobillo

On a related note there is another, minor gay character in the Mechanix story. A fellow tenant in issue #4 vandalizes Kitty’s apartment. Her landlord Dylan Maguire arrives to find Kitty, Shan, Shola, and another student named Tom cleaning up the apartment. As Kitty directs Dylan to the common hallway he says “Nice to meet you, Tom” as he eyes from behind the student taking off his shirt. A sucker in Dylan’s mouth is a not so subtle cue that he is bisexual or gay.

Karma has the ability to take mental possession of another person and direct his or her actions from afar. Initially only able to possess one person at a time, her power has grown to the extent that she can control dozens of people at once, although she cannot direct their actions to the extent that she can an individual.

Although the notion of rape as a cause of lesbianism is clichéd and disproven, in Karma’s case her past abuse at the hands of her Vietnamese tormentors and under the mental domination of the Shadow King might well have been a factor in the development of her own sexuality though certainly not its cause.

Karma (real name Xi’an Coy Manh) first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100 and is confirmed lesbian in Mechanix #1. She’s been affiliated with New Mutants, Alpha Squadron, Hellions, and The 198 Xi’an has been a student, superhero, executive secretary to Professor Charles Xavier, and operative of General Nguyen Ngoc Coy.

Please read the Wikipedia entry for further information.

Karma is one of the members featured in Astonishing X-Men starting with #48, written by Marjorie Liu.

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