I find it interesting which super powers tend to be “hero powers” and which tend to be “villain powers.” Most powers are pretty neutral, but you won’t see many villains with healing powers or embodying the patriotic strength of this great nation (unless its one of those 80s British deconstructionists taking the piss). On the flip side, powers like mind control or emotion manipulation tend not to be associated with heroes. The most famous hero with that kind of power is Starfox/Eros of the Avengers, who has “super seduction” and basically used that power to make women lust after him. Not exactly the kind of guy you’d root for.* Even “good” mind controllers like Professor X tend to end up doing something skeevy eventually. There’s just something about having that kind of control over someone, and violating their free will, that feels “unheroic.” What kind of hero robs people of free will? What kind of hero ignores consent? How do you make taking over someone’s body and mind and forcing them to do your job for you into something heroic?
Xi’an Coy Manh (codename: Karma) is a hero with this kind of power. Her ability is to project her consciousness into another person’s body and take over. However, unlike nearly every other mind/body controlling hero she doesn’t have a history of skeeviness. Why? Well, for one thing, she knows quite a bit about how her power could hurt others. She suffered a great deal of abuse in her life both before and after becoming a member of the New Mutants. She suffered abuse and lost her parents while fleeing war-torn Vietnam. Her body was taken over by the Shadow King (a mutant who is all mind after a battle with Professor X killed his body) who used it to indulge in everything he could no longer sense without a body. Her leg was destroyed by anti-mutant terrorists. Her best friend, Dani Moonstar, accidentally exposed all of her trauma to her teammates while using her own powers. In her first appearance, she was forced to use her powers to kill in order to save her siblings (and Spiderman). On top of all of that, she’s also possibly Marvel’s first openly lesbian hero. Xi’an is someone who knows how much it hurts to be used as well as what it feels like to have a person or a society force you to do act in a way you don’t want to. She is willing to use her mutant gifts to help others, but she is not willing to do so irresponsibly. Anytime she does veer into irresponsibility, it is a reflection of some inner struggle. Xi’an brings a pathos to mind control that very few other characters in comics have.
Xi’an has connections to all the major X-Men, as well as other corners of the Marvel universe like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, so she could conceivably turn up anywhere. She’s Asian, an immigrant, a refugee, gay and missing a limb, which means that in addition to the metaphorical oppression she faces as a mutant, she’s also dealt with a lot of real world oppression that a lot of potential readers can relate to. As a former New Mutant (the team of teenage mutants created in the 80s which FINALLY made Xavier’s school feel like an actual school) she tends to show up in a lot of supporting roles for her more well-known teammates or the larger X-Men community. She ran the library and taught French class at the original school, and was a mentor to newer new mutants. The X-Men are about 90% supporting cast though, so that isn’t a mark against her.
A few years back, her former New Mutants team was reformed and faced off against a group of mutants who ended up stranded in hell after the government did… well the kind of general crap that governments in the Marvel universe do. These poor kids were warped by hell into mad sadists, except for one named Face. Face’s mutant power turned his head into a plasma cannon, but this completely destroyed his ability to see, hear, speak or smell. He has no way to perceive the world around him, and his teammates basically just shoved him into position and smacked him until he let lose a blast. Because of his inability to communicate, no one thought of him as human at all. When X’ian used her powers to stop Face from attacking her friends, she found that there was still a human mind inside. An extremely frightened, lonely mind. A mind who couldn’t perceive the world around him other than physical pain. She befriended poor Face, and used her powers to help him once again see and hear the world, as well as finally communicate with others. Also, she can help him properly aim his face laser at whatever giant robots or evil mutants would excite the reader to see blown up. This is an interesting dynamic to explore. Xi’an has been given the chance to use her powers in a way that helps someone regain consent and control, rather than take or borrow it. It also implies that by using her powers she is able to communicate and connect with whoever she is possessing in interesting ways. Also, how often do we get a chance to see a friendship in the X-Men based around one character healing another that DOESN’T turn sexual? Pretty much never. Karma and Face’s relationship could be a welcome chance to see a man an a woman mutant being friends and connecting in a non-romantic, but just as powerful, way.
Recently she was promoted to the ranks of the Astonishing X-Men, a comic I haven’t had a chance to read yet (update: I got around to reading it. Its a very good run.) but based on the out-of-context preview pages appear to showcase another interesting use of her power. She apparently has a bird she uses to scout and spy for the team, and when she possesses it, her own body houses the mind of her bird friend. Another example of her power being something where she works WITH another mind, not forcing control over it. If future writers continue expanding on the co-operative uses of her powers and highlight how her use of them reflects on her character, Karma could easily be one of the more engaging mutants.
Also Marvel STILL hasn’t let her have a girlfriend yet and that is just rude. Being the only X-Men who doesn’t get laid is the meanest thing you can do to a fictional super hero. I mean, even Lockheed and DOOP get laid.
*true fact: the only good thing that ever happened in a comic with Starfox/Eros is that he tried to use his powers on the Hulk to calm him down, and Hulk just got super horny/angry and punched Starfox through a building in frustration.