When the X-Men spinoff title Generation X introduced Monet St. Croix, readers weren’t meeting the true Monet St. Croix. Instead, they were seeing her two sisters, combined in one body in an attempt to please their father who liked Monet best. However, fans did meet the true Monet that issue. It just took them 40 issues to realize it.
M seemingly debuts in Generation X #1 (by Scott Lobdell, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Steve Buccellato from Electric Crayon, and Richard Starkings from Comicraft). Also in that issue, a humanoid covered in razor-sharp spikes appears on the school’s front lawn. This is Penance. In Generation X #40 (Larry Hama, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Felix Serrano, Richard Starkings from Comicraft, and Lynda Strunk), fans learn Penance is the true M and the one they’d be reading for over three years was actually just her younger sisters pretending to be her.
In many ways, Monet picked up where her sisters left off. For instance, Jubilee began teasing her about being perfect due partly to her incredible abilities, precisely as she had done with the younger St. Croix siblings. She also inherited her sisters’ relationship with Emma Frost.
Frost, of course, had taken on the role of headmaster alongside Banshee. Though many X-Men found Monet enigmatic when she first joined Generation X, Emma understood her need for independence and reluctance to trust others because she had often felt the same way when she was Monet’s age. She managed to connect with Monet in a way that her fellow teacher Banshee could not. Monet didn’t always trust Emma, primarily due to Emma’s history as an X-Men villain. However, they still grew to understand each other better, with Monet learning much as Frost’s student. As a result, the headmistress proved to be more than just an instructor to M. The once and former White Queen became a mentor and an aspirational figure as well.
Years later, they’d count another something else in common: Emma Frost’s secondary mutation. Like M before her, Frost developed a new ability in New X-Men #116 (by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Mark Morales, Dan Green, Hi-Fi Design, and Richard Starkings). In addition to her incredible psychic powers, she could now turn diamond hard. Upon analysis, it is easy to see Monet and Emma’s respective secondary mutations feel very similar in several ways.
Like Emma’s diamond form, Monet’s Penance form makes her skin sharp and practically invulnerable, allowing it to serve as a sort of body armor. Both forms are also handy for offensive purposes – Monet’s sharp, elongated claws as Penance help her slice up her enemies, while a punch from Emma’s diamond fist can be deadly. Both Monet and Emma were already extremely powerful mutants before developing their secondary mutations, but these additional abilities make them even more dangerous in a fight.
Emma’s changes created another kind of link between the two. The similarities between Monet and Emma’s alternate forms go beyond skin-deep. These forms are born out of a response to trauma for both characters. Emma first developed her diamond form when she witnessed the wreckage of Cassandra Nova’s attack on Genosha, which killed over 16 million mutants. So horrified by what she saw, she involuntarily willed her skin to turn to diamond, to shield herself from overwhelming guilt and grief.
Monet’s Penance form was initially created by her villainous brother Emplate as a prison for her so that he could feed on her mutant bone marrow. While trapped in the Penance form, Monet could not speak, and her sharp skin prevented her from touching anyone without hurting them.
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However, the teacher quickly outdid the student. While Emma’s first transformation was unconscious, she promptly became able to do it at will. M, on the other hand, had seemingly no ability to return to her Penance form or shift between them. That all changes in House of X #4 (by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and VC’s Clayton Cowles). For the first time since Generation X #40, Monet returns to the razor-sharp form known as Penance. And for the first time ever, she showed she could consciously move from one to the other and back again.
Monet’s development of her Penance form ultimately puts her ahead of her teacher on a psychological and emotional level. While the red, razor-sharp state was initially forced on her by an abusive brother, her return symbolizes new agency. It suggests, after being free from it for years, that Monet has processed that trauma and can utilize the benefits of the Penance form without retraumatizing herself.
Frost, in comparison, took on the diamond form to survive Genosha not just for physical well-being but for her emotional one as well. In some ways, she still uses it this way, an armor that protects her body and keeps a lid on her feelings. While Emma has no doubt allowed more vulnerability into her life over time, she still recedes behind the protection of her armor — literally and metaphorically. Perhaps, in time, she can turn to Monet and receive guidance on making the secondary mutation a tool in her arsenal, not a place to hide. Maybe M can become the support Frost needs all these years after Emma was the teacher Monet needed.
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