Raven Darkhölme, better known as the shaft-shifting mutant, Mystique, is a strange cornerstone in the X-Men Universe. Her connections to the team is tumultuous and mired in family strife. Being the biological mother of Nightcrawler and the adoptive guardian of Rogue puts Mystique in the bizarre position of the X-Men's most complicated mother hen. However, her impact in the comics as an often sinister (or at least, self-aggrandizing) force launches her into the upper echelon of villains, among the ranks of Magneto, Juggernaut and The Hellfire Club. This makes her starring in a one-shot under the X-Men: Black banner completely justifiable.
After Magneto and Mojo had their issues in the sun, Mystique steps up to the plate in a solo story that dives deeper into the mindset of a mutant who plays things close to the vest. In X-Men: Black - Mystique, we follow the titular villain as she utilizes her mutant power to manipulate people to further her goal (which we will not divulge here for the sake of avoiding spoilers). The internal narration is by writer Seanan McGuire keeps the issue moving at a fast clip and never gets bogged down by strenuous exposition. Being in Mystique's head for the majority of the issue is a wise decision and give the issue a noir vibe, which is fittings since it is basically a heist story.
We get a close up look at how vicious and strangely justified (to herself, at least) Mystique can be. Raven knows she is a killer; she's accepted this aspect of herself, and the reader is forced to do the same. While there isn't much in the way of internal conflict, just seeing how the character operates is compelling enough to carry this issue. Her view on talent will ring true with many readers, since it can only get you so far; practice is the only way to properly hone one's skills.
The biggest negative of this issue is the random character intro captions. Honestly, the narration and the art do a fine job of conveying what Mystique is doing from page to page, and whose form she’s taking on. It felt like a lot of unnecessary hand-holding. The captions eventually become a bit self-aware when they announce a character name and then undercut it with, “Not Really. (But you knew that).” But even then, it’s a bit too precious. This, of course, doesn't make the issue a wash. It's a grievance that is easy to forgive, since it's surrounded by otherwise great writing.
Other than that one quibble, from a narrative standpoint the issue is fun and gives a strong voice to Raven. Her inner monologue reads like a character screed written for new readers, telling you everything you need to know about Mystique while still keeping everyone at arm’s length, which plays to the character's strengths brilliantly. If Mystique were to get her own miniseries, or even an ongoing series, we would love to see McGuire take the reins. She has a wonderful understanding of the character, and conveys this fact in a single issue.
The artwork is solid as well. Marco Failla (Ms. Marvel) is a talent to watch. His panel layout and story beat transitions are smooth and easy to follow (which makes those pesky character tags even more frustrating), and his line work is crisp and reminds us of the works of Oscar Bazaldua. And while the coloring in this issue isn't exactly next level, Jesus Aburtov brings enough to the table to keep things aesthetically pleasing.
Next to the Mojo issue, this is the best offering from X-Men: Black so far. It's fast-paced and leaves you wanting more of Mystique, and reminds us that Raven is more than just Jennifer Lawrence in blue makeup. Mystique is a powerhouse of a character, one who, when in the right hands, can drive noir and espionage narratives with ease. Just like the previous entries in X-Men: Black this is one to add to your stack if you have even the slightest interest in the character.