Cassandra Nova will be revised many times in the New X-Men runs; I set up my discussion of her by pretending I did not know about those changes in discussing the first three issues. Xorn, who premieres in the X-Men annual, needs to be evaluated in light of the twist that is coming. I think everyone in comicbookdom needs to calm down about spoilers, especially when a run has been collected, but Spoilers Ho.
Many issues down the line Xorn -- a sensitive, curious, Chinese mutant and healer with a star for a brain locked in an iron mask -- turns out to have been Magneto the whole time.
Let me digress to talk about twists for a moment. Any screenwriting guide will tell you that twists, to work right, should be, as the phrase goes, "inevitable yet surprising." While there are many little clues that Xorn is Magneto something seems off to me: there MAY be a LOGIC to it (though not always) but it never FEELS right to me, the first time, or on any of my re-reads. Many fans seem satisfied by "possible yet surprising," but I am not one of them. I admit it makes a kind of sense, but what was needed was not there. In my analysis, I will pick up all the moments that work and don't work to build this twist, and then we will see where we are by the time the mask comes off.
Magneto, apparently, escaped the destruction of Genosha and set up this charade to trick the X-Men. When the jailer explains to Mr. Sublime that Xorn has been locked here for half a century, and that his own curse has been to be the jailer for many years, and when Xorn's mask is lifted and two children are (apparently) destroyed, this is all some kind of trick: since the prison and the jailer seem real, perhaps the trick is psychic, but we never learn how it is pulled off. Emma gets a psychic read off of a key and learns Xorn's history: a child who develops a sun for a brain, who should have been a healer or a Buddha, but was locked up for his whole life out of fear. Its one thing to introduce a mysterious character, it is another to give him an elaborate fake history that can be psychically verified by a key. We are told he even escaped once in 1969 and they had to bring him back -- details like that seem unnecessary if you just want to pretend to be someone else. We never learn how Magneto pulled this absurdly elaborate hoax off, a hoax which included a psychic scan by Emma revealing "nothing where his thoughts should be." We just learn, 35 odd issues later, that Xorn is Magneto the whole time. At the end of the issue we see Xorn, finally free and talked out of some kind of black hole suicide by Scott; he stands alone in a huge vista and says to no one (there is no one to hear him) "How strange ... The world seems so much smaller than I remember." One can imagine reasons for this (he took over the life of an actual person, psychics are always watching so he better be in character the whole time, this character is both suicidal and prone to speaking out loud when alone, and details are convincing) -- on some level of course it is POSSIBLE that Xorn is Magneto, but it is the kind of "possible" defense lawyers hammer away at in a courtroom drama:
Witness: "The fingerprint evidence shows he was there."Morrison should make himself clear about how Magneto did this if he wants the twist to work. A twist should answer questions, not raise them, unless you are planning to deal with the new questions raised. It seems Morrison intended to break everyone's hearts by revealing Xorn to be a facade in the biggest twist of the series, which is a moving idea, but unjustified within his pages -- the Magneto who is revealed at the end is not emotionally manipulative, he is genocidal. A two part plan to (1) make the X-Men feel heartbroken for loving Xorn, and (2) to blow up Manhattan and kill all humans, is hard to swallow.
Lawyer: "Is it POSSIBLE the fingerprint evidence could be wrong."
Witness: "It's a one in a million chance the fingerprint evidence could be wrong."
Lawyer: "But it is POSSIBLE, isn't that right, doctor?!"
Witness: "(sigh), yes it is possible."
Lawyer: "no further questions, your honor."