I don’t know what to expect from Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool film, which opens today. Miller is normally a vfx director, graphics designer, and animator; this will be his first feature, written by Zombieland scribes, Rhett Rheese and Paul Wernick. If you’ve been keeping up with Idle Time’s ANAD Marvel project, you know that Deadpool is a big part of the Marvel Comics relaunch, probably in part to promote the film (it’s nice to see the two studios play nice). I hadn’t had a lot of experience with Deadpool prior to these comics, and I’m still on the fence about him. His never-ending retorts and meta-humor are genuinely funny in the comics, but I find Reynolds’s first-person voiceover and sarcastic delivery more obnoxious than charming since I stopped being sixteen. When I first heard news that Deadpool was getting a movie, I didn’t care, but then the trailer came out. Deadpool is sourced from the X-men universe, and that’s why 20th Century Fox can make a movie about him. And, in the preview, one of the all-time coolest X-men appears to have a role in the film: Colossus.
Though there are a lot of mundane details about Colossus, his family is shrouded in mysticism. To begin, C-Lo’s real name is Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin, and he was born in Lake Baikal, Siberia on the Ust-Ordynski Collective farm. That’s where he’s found by Professor Xavier, toiling in the fields: a giant, literal man of steel tossing bales of hay.
Xavier’s trying to recruit Piotr because all of the original X-Men, save Cyclops, have gone missing on the island of Krakoa, and Professor X is mounting a rescue. It is probably the most touching of any of the recruitments, as Piotr reluctantly leaves his family to see if his powers can better the world. But leaving his younger sister bothers him to his core, mostly because of his brother.
Even though we don’t hear about him until Colossus’s seventh appearance in X-Men #99, Piotr has an older brother, Mikhail Rasputin. As children, Mikhail was everything to Piotr, but one day Mikhail left the farm to become a Cosmonaut. Mikhail was also a mutant, but his powers are way more complicated than manifesting a solid, organic-steel exo-skeleton. Mikhail has the power to manipulate space, creating dimensional rifts, constructing objects from nothing. We’re talking Phoenix-god, Omega level powers. In fact, he’s so powerful that writers pretty much let him do just about anything that fits their story. It is a convenient power. Anyway, when the Soviets heard that Mikhail was manifesting these mutant abilities, they created a fake space program so they could surreptitiously track his power growth. He actually did end up going to space though, but this being an American book, and Mikhail being a Russian Cosmonaut, his shuttle exploded, leaving a broken-hearted Piotr without his beloved brother.
Of course, Mikhail is not dead. His powers trigger during the shuttle explosion and send him to another dimension. The rest of his backstory is filled with romance, genocide, and madness. Colossus and the X-Men first encounter Mikhail on friendly terms, but afterwards Mikhail goes totally bonkers. He fights the X-Men on a couple of occasions, and even appears as the Horseman War in the Age of Apocalypse miniseries, but Mikhail never really makes a big impact on the X-Universe. That’s why he doesn’t have a cool codename. However, family is really important to Colossus, and it extends from his blood to the X-men, so when Colossus leaves his home, he worries he will die like (he thinks) his brother did, and leave behind, all alone, his little sister, Ilyanna.
Ilyanna’s story is not a lot happier than Mikhail’s. She actually ends up as part of The New X-Men, which would kind of be like the young-adult fiction title in the X-Men universe. Ilyanna’s codename is Magik, and she has magic powers. Like Scarlet which, being a mutant who is born with inherent magical power is difficult. She, like Mikhail, can travel to the magical dimension of Limbo by conjuring these circular platforms. Literally, being “Magik,” means she can make a whole bunch of stuff possible, but her fluctuating power levels seem more clearly defined than her older brother’s. Plus, she carries a sweet anti-magic sword that eats souls.
When her mutant ability to teleport to Limbo first manifests, she is found by a demon lord named Belasco. Belasco can tell Illyana is special, and wants to harvest Soulstones (they’re like the Corn Pops of limbo) from her. To do that, Bellasco has to train her in the dark arts, so for seven years Illyana is in this crazy demon, and eventually she gets so powerful that she overthrows Belasco. However, with control of her powers, she leaves Limbo and arrives back where she first teleported. But in regular time, only seven seconds have passed, so now Illyana is fourteen. That’s old enough to be an X-Man, so she and the New Mutants have a bunch of adventures. The stories centered around Magik are dark, however. Pretty much her entire career is based on Marvel magic characters kidnapping her, being super mean to her in trying to harvest her Soulstone, and then end up getting their butts kicked by the X-Men, and Magik, who would develop slightly more evil and powerful. Once, it looked like things were going to work out for IIllyanna, who had hopefully purged herself of evil Soultsones, but shortly after returning to the X-Men from Limbo, she found she had contracted the terminal Legacy virus, a disease that only afflicts mutants. She was revived as part of Marvel House of M kerfluffle, and as of right now, I think her “good guy” status is ambiguous.
The whole Rasputin family origin is explored in the Colossus: Bloodlines miniseries. It turns out that the Rasputins are descended from that really famous Russian mystic, Grigori Rasputin, and a fraction of his power resides in each of his descendants. This story has Mr. Sinister, astral planes, and plenty of Colossus, but so far it hasn’t amounted to much. I recommend this for die hard C-Lovers, only.
Though his extended backstory is mired in the magical, Colossus is just a straight-up likable character. He’s a Soviet man of steel, with the heart of the working man and the mind of an artist. He paints, he’s contemplative, and, at one point, he’s a Raiders fan. Although he may not speak much, when he does, he speaks his mind freely. And in some cases, namely some of those early Claremont issues, he sounds like an adorable caricature of what 1960’s comic writers thought a nice guy from the USSR would sound like.
However, it’s a long while before Colossus becomes a real character. His early stories draw more attention to his strength than his character. In one issue, the X-Men have to make an emergency jump from a plane without parachutes. Colossus opts not to take help from one of the team’s fliers, instead, he takes his steel form and makes a crater while landing. In X-Men #100, Colossus throws Wolverine at an airborne foe, creating one of the most iconic comic book super maneuvers, the fastball special.
Also classic are Colossus’s encounters with other strong-guy characters, like The Juggernaut. These bouts are really fun for the imagination, but the older renderings don’t really do Colossus’s feats justice. In Ultimate X-Men, a retelling of the X-Story set in the 21st century, Colossus goes toe to toe with Magneto, resisting the master of magnetism’s hold over his steel body long enough to gut-punch him, and it looks awesome! With the spectacle of his strength, and his poetic soul, it’s hard not to like the Soviet man of steel.
We see the thoughtful, gentler side of C-Lo through his relationship with Ilyanna, but more so with his romantic interest, Kitty Pryde. From the moment Kitty officially joins the team at the end of X-Men Annual #4, Kitty is all about C-Lo. This is a little scandalous because Kitty is like fourteen (youngest X-Man ever at the time), and Colossus has to be pushing twenty, but whatever. One walks through walls, the other is solid steel, and age ain’t nothing but a number… in Silver Age comics, apparently.
However, their courtship survives the initial age gap creepiness, and develops into an endearing romance. After seventy-five issues of flirting and awkward innuendo, Kitty kisses “Pete” for the first time in X-Men #174. I sound really nerdy saying this, but their relationship is one of my favorite in the Marvel Universe, up there with Mr. and Mrs. Fantastic and Spider-Man and Mary Jane, and in a book with space travel, giant robots, and superpowers, it amazes me how there could be this sliver of a love story that feels so sincere. Not even Jean Grey and Cyclops’ romance, a cornerstone of the X-men series, feels as meaningful as Kitty-lossus (celebrity couple name? I’ll work on it.) In fact, it’s when this relationship falls apart that Colossus is killed off.
In the 90’s Colossus goes through some serious feels after Illyanna dies from the Legacy virus. He falls in love with another woman, he breaks up with Kitty Pride, the other woman dies, he starts hanging out with Magneto and the Acoloytes, then the Morlocks… it’s a mess. I feel like ending the Steel-Kat (better?) relationship was the “jumping-the-shark” for Colossus, something that was too implausible for his character in that world.
When the opportunity arose in Uncanny X-Men #390, they killed off Colossus. With a new wave of the Legacy virus threatening mutants, Beast is able to concoct an antidote, but there’s a catch: whoever hosts the cure will die from it. Remembering how his sister suffered, and basically admitting he didn’t have much going on for himself, Colossus injects himself with the cure, sacrificing himself for the good of all mutants. The panel shows Colossus dead on the ground, surrounded by X-Men and dialogue captions recalling the conversation that happened between Colossus and Xavier back in Giant X-Men #1. This issue also features a nice scene where the X-Men, including a wheelchair-bound Xavier, play basketball while philosophizing over the meaning of life. Even though it’s maudlin and manipulative, this issue has some serious feels. At the time, it must have been amazing to see such a prominent X-Man, who was not Jean Grey, die. But the tradition with comics is, if you kill them, you can bring them back.
Colossus was resurrected in 2004, by Joss Whedon and John Cassady, in what I consider the best Colossus story, at least that I’ve read. A lot can be said about how great the Whedon/Cassaday run is, because it is one of the best X-men stories ever told, but one of the many wonderful things about their story is how well they nail the Kitty Pryde/Colossus relationship.
The story is built around Kitty Pryde and the resurrection of Colossus. With comics, there isn’t a subtlety of body language, the acting of the drawing is limited, so we learn about how the characters feel through their dialogue with each other, but Whedon employs another tried and true method, giving us Kitty’s inner monologue. Her trajectory becomes the most investing, the best perspective. From the moment she enters the book, she has a sense of purpose and a sense of fate. That’s why she’s not surprised, after following a new alien threat, Ord of Breakworld, into an underground laboratory, to find Colossus, alive, resurrected and experimented on by Ord. There’s awkwardness between them at first, but eventually they give in to the relief of being together again, and with all the bat-shit crazy things going on with the Danger Room becoming sentient, and Cassandra Nova trying to resurrect herself with the Hellfire Club, the tender scenes between Kitty and Colossus become the connective tissue, the good, human stuff that gets you to buy into the whole, damn crazy X-Men world. Which you need, particularly when the story is taking you beyond earth and superheroes and into outer space, where Kitty’s notions of fate are put to the test by an ancient prophecy that says Colossus will destroy all of Breakworld.
If you’re a casual reader with interest in the X-Men, this is the one thing you should check out. It’s got not only the great Whedon character arcs and thoroughly explored themes, but also his amazing sense of humor. The X-Men are an incredibly enjoyable read when Cyclops’s love life is public knowledge and Wolverine has an insatiable craving for beer. Of course, Cassaday’s illustrations are maybe my favorite of any X-book, bringing not only epic action and new worlds to life, but instilling emotionally moving expressions on the characters.
Colossus lives on, actively participating in the New Marvel Universe, and of course, he’ll be a player in the new Deadpool movie. This isn’t the first time Colossus has made it on the screen. Daniel Cudmore played Colossus in Bryan Singer’s X2:X-Men United. When General Stryker’s black-ops moved in on the X-Mansion, a barrel-chested teenager instantly covers himself in steel, and starts to protect the other students. Cudmore again reprises his role in X3:The Last Stand, where the fastball special is performed on Hugh Jackman, and again in X-Men: Days of Future Past. In Deadpool, he will be a computer animated character, voiced by Stefan Kapicic.
Colossus has been on many incarnations of the X-Men. He followed Kitty Pride when she joined Excalibur, and like I mentioned, he was one of Magneto’s Acolytes, all of which are pretty different from the circles Deadpool runs in. It will be fun to watch these characters work together, but I’m not counting on Colossus having much of a character in this story. Still, as an X-Men fan, it is really cool to see one of your favorite characters brought to life in a movie, and I’m definitely more stoked now that I’ve done a week’s worth of research and written nearly 2,500 words on this cartoon.
If nothing else, when you’re sitting in the theater and you hear people gasp and cheer when Colossus comes on, or someone laughs a little too enthusiastically at a Colossus line, you’ll have an idea why they’re so excited. I will be one of them.