Longtime X-Men fans were excited to discover that the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix film will feature the Shi’ar Empire and, more specifically, their Empress, Lilandra Neramani. The most shocking aspect of Lilandra and the Shi’ar being in the film is that it appears as though they will be the villains of the film! While the X-Men and LIlandra have had their fair share of fights over the years, it would be a significant stretch to call her an enemy of the X-Men in the comics. Read on, and learn the comic book history of Lilandra and the Shi’ar!
Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum first planted the seeds for both Lilandra and the Shi’ar in X-Men #97 (inks by Sam Grainger) when Professor X began to have terrible nightmares of a spaceship being chased by another spaceship.
As it turned out, all members of the bird/humanoid alien race known as the Shi’ar have some degree of telepathy and Lilandra was using hers to contact Charles Xavier to have him help her. That same issue, though, introduced Eric the Red, a villain from her empire who was sent to Earth to stop Lilandra in case she got to Earth.
Lilandra finally arrived in X-Men #105, when she teleported to Earth and met the man whose mind she had been linked to her entire trip to Earth, giving them a bond that few people have ever shared, and all of this before ever actually meeting!
Eric the Red showed up, though, and captured her and brought her back to the Shi’ar Empire through a Star-Gate, and the X-Men had to decide if they wanted to follow suit. With Xavier explaining the stakes to them, they ultimately agreed to go on the dangerous mission. The Shi’ar Empire, you see, was a vast alien empire that routinely expanded by taking over other planets, but they often do so with negotiations and absorbtion rather than constantly going to war.
Things changed when Cal’syee, the second-in-line to the Shi’ar throne, decided to speed things up by killing off her mother and older sister. Her actions were discovered and rather than be rewarded, she was arrested and her younger brother, D’ken, rose to be the new Emperor of the Shi’ar Empire (Cal’syee then escaped and became the villain known as Deathbird, first fighting Ms. Marvel, whose title was also written by Chris Claremont). The problem there was that D’ken was even more unhinged than his old sister! So the youngest of the family, Lilandra, had to go on the run (through the help of the intergalactic space pirates known as the Starjammers) to find help to stop her brother. Xavier ended up being her choice.
D’ken had a plan involving the M’Kraan Crystal, the powerful gem that affected all of reality (the Shi’ar had long been responsible for protecting it). He was so power mad that he wanted to control the energy of the crystal all to himself, which Lilandra explained to the X-Men in X-Men #107 (after the X-Men had freed her from the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, the band of heroes who defend the Shi’ar Empire, led by the Superman-like being who rocks a mohawk like no one olse known as Gladiator).
After D’Ken was defeated (the power of the crystal drove him mad), Lilandra took over as the new Empress of the Shi’ar Empire, a role that was made official in X-Men #122. Xavier became her official consort, and for a time (during a point where he thought that most of the X-Men had died in battle with Magneto), Xavier actually traveled to outer space to be her consort in person…
Eventually, Xavier returned to Earth, but their relationship continued in one of the most elaborate “long distance relationships” that you can imagine. Their relationship was strained when the Phoenix became corrupted and transformed into Dark Phoenix and destroyed not only a Shi’ar warship but an entire planet of a neighboring alien race.
Lilandra took it upon herself as the head of the Shi’ar Empire to capture, and kill, the Phoenix!
Xavier, though, had a connection to her mind, so he knew of an obscure Shi’ar tradition where the X-Men could save Phoenix’s life if they won a duel, of sorts, with the Imperial Guard, and Xavier invoked this ancient rite. Despite feeling that she needed to do this as part of her duty, she and Xavier continued their relationship. Phoenix solved the problem herself by killing herself before letting the Shi’ar be forced to make the decision for her.
Later, Lilandra showed that side of herself when she also captured Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four and placed him on trial for not killing Galactus, the planet devourer, when he had the chance. Ultimately, she was convinced that Galactus had a primal place in the universe and judged Richards not guilty (this was part of a little game of oneupsmanship between Chris Claremont and his former X-Men colleague, John Byrne. Claremont had Lilandra warn Reed Richards over his actions in the pages of Uncanny X-Men and Byrne was pissed that Claremont had Lilandra warn his character without telling him about it or asking for permission to use Reed, so Byrne then had Lilandra guest-star in Fantastic Four to put Reed on trial and then specifically tell him that she thought that he did the right thing).
Deathbird then returned and actually temporarily deposed Lilandra and took over control of the Shi’ar Empire after working out a deal with the horrific alien race known as the Brood. Lilandra went into exile with the Starjammers.
The next big step in the life of Lilandra and Xavier came in Uncanny X-Men #200 (by Claremont, John Romita Jr. and Dan Green), when Xavier suffered a massive heart attack and Lilandra showed up to take him into outer space with her and the Starjammers to use their superior medicine to keep him alive (it was meant to be a brief stay with her, but it instead turned out to last for over 70 issues).
Xavier remained with Lilandra and the Starjammers until they ended up successfully winning her back her throne. When the X-Men next met them, though, in Uncanny X-Men #275 (by Claremont, Jim Lee and Scott Williams), however, Xavier and a number of Lilandra’s other closest allies had secretly been replaced by Skrulls as part of a plot to secretly manipulate the Shi’ar Empire. The X-Men had to team up with Deathbird, of all people (who hated her sister, but preferred her sister to be in charge that some stinking Skrulls!) to help save Lilandra and the Shi’ar Empire, a plot that resolved in #277…
Xavier returned to Earth with his X-Men because of a plot by the Shadow King, but he remained on Earth even after the plot was resolved, as he felt he needed to help restore the X-Men to their former station (after the team had splintered in his absence). He and Lilandra continued their long distance relationship.
During this period, Lilandra also led the Shi’ar into war with the Kree in the Avengers storyline called “Operation: Galactic Storm.” The Shi’ar ended up winning and taking control of the Kree Empire (or rather, what was left of it).
The next major change in Lilandra’s life occurred when Cassandra Nova took over Charles Xavier’s body. “Xavier” then went to visit Lilandra and used “his” powers to brainwash Lilandra and the Shi’ar Empire into declaring war on Earth!
The X-Men ended up stopping Nova, but the damage to Xavier’s reputation with the Shi’ar people was too great and Lilandra had to end her relationship with Xavier (by this point, they had even technically married each other, although he still lived on Earth and she lived in outer space).
Lilandra was then ousted by a coup that involved re-instating her brother, D’Ken, to the throne (his insanity somewhat abated). That was all a plot, though, to kill D’Ken and install Deathbird’s new husband, the half-human/half-Shi’ar mutant known as Vulcan (half-brother to Cyclops and Havok) as the new Emperor of the Shi’ar Empire. Lilandra was rescued from certain death by the Starjammers and a small team of X-Men (including Havok) who became a new form of the Starjammers (after Vulcan killed the original leader of the Starjammers, Corsair, who also happened to be his father).
Lilandra and the Starjammers continued to fight against Vulcan’s forces in guerilla raids until Lilandra was captured during the “War of Kings” storyline, where the Kree Empire (who had become indepdent of the Shi’ar Empire in the years since “Operation: Galactic Storm”) was now led by Black Bolt of the Inhumans and they went to war with Vulcan and the Shi’ar.
While in captivity, though, Lilandra began to convince her people to side with her over the clearly insane Vulcan. She had managed to convince Gladiator, the head of the Imperial Guard, to help her. Tragically, though, Lilandra was then assassinated in that storyline in War of Kings #4 (by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar)…
At the end of that storyline, Black Bolt killed Vulcan and so Gladiator took over as the new head of the Shi’ar Empire. He has remained in charge ever since, proving to be a just ruler in the mold of his friend and former Empress, Lilandra.
As you can see, while Lilandra and the X-Men have clashed over the years, she was a very just ruler, so it will be interesting to see what changes are made to her character to make her the villain of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, if that is, in fact, what happens with that film.