Xi’an Coy Manh, the telepathic Vietnamese mutant known as Karma, is an underrated legend, and the perfect X-Men character to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month AND Pride month. This proud lesbian superhero first debuted in 1980, created by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, and has been the first leader of her team, the New Mutants, a refugee of war, a teacher at the Xavier School, a surrogate mother to her young siblings, and proud representation in comics for her sexuality, her nationality, and her status as a person with a disability.
Karma is finally taking center stage in Vita Ayala and Rod Reis (et al.)’s phenomenal run on New Mutants, finding herself with a girlfriend for the first time, tackling new and dynamic storylines for her, and finding community with her longtime friends and teammates. Hopefully in the future, we can see stories for Karma from Vietnamese comics creators, exploring the rich connection to her heritage we rarely get to see explored.
In the Redesigning X-Men series, we task fan-artists in the X-Twitter community with redesigning a mutant character as voted upon by the artists in the group. Our artists jumped at the chance to redesign Xi’an, a personal favorite for many of us, and an important figure in X-Comics who has rarely been given the spotlight. Follow these wonderful artists to see more of their incredible work!
[Ed: note: Wanted to give everyone a heads up that Josh Cornillon who organizes these has a Kickstarter going right now for Pool Boys: A Gay Demon Boy Romance with Josh Trujillo (Adventure Time, Hulkling & Wiccan) and Lucas Gattoni. It’s fully funded so make sure you check this out and support the great work he is doing.]
“I always liked how Karma embraced an X-uniform so I went for a casual spin, with a 2001-esque bomber jacket, noise-cancelling headphones, Tom Muller belt bag and yellow Doc Martens. Here she is walking around New York, perhaps using her powers to stop an off-panel car accident. Ethical mind control at its finest!”
“Karma’s look has always been a little bland. It’s time to add some flair based on her psychic signature as well as a cape and gold plating on her leg. Let’s get some of that Gala glam follow her into action!”
“I wanted Karma to have a cool haircut because the headband and bangs look was a bit too “Little girl/Alice in Wonderland” for me. Also wanted to take the opportunity to design some fun, cool new prosthetic and robotic legs for her. For her outfit I wanted to stick with the black and gold and I was inspired in the shoulders and collar by the traditional Vietnamese ao dai. I also liked the idea of panels that could be switched out for different colors or in one of these, even just left out to show skin.”
“Poor Karma hasn’t ever really had a distinct look, and even with her elevated position in Krakoa she’s still stuck in the basic training black and yellow. I drew my main inspiration from modern and traditional Vietnamese fashion as well as trendy lesbian looks. I wanted to stay away from yellow and the forest green she’s occasionally tried out, and put her in black and white (to reference a yin-yang) and pink (to reference her powers). Of course, her prosthetic leg takes center stage here.”
“Karma hasn’t had many costumes, but the yellow headband became such a feature I started with it, and continued the yellow into a mix of the New Mutant’s costume and a traditional Ao Dai dress. I liked the idea of the dress swaying and revealing her prosthetic leg as she walks. And of course, everyone should wear comfy shoes. Lastly, tie it together with an asymmetrical bob with pink highlights – nodding to our favorite X-Force #75.”
“I’m reusing a design I did last year for a commission, but I think I nailed my concept for Shan so here it is again. Firstly I wanted her in a personalized costume, so pulling in the historic green tones but with a modern flavor. The X shape on the jacket and the front of her costume evoke her distinctive power signature, of course. I’ve always loved that Dustin Weaver Astonishing X-Men cover where she’s working on her leg, so wanted to play up its mechanical nature. And look, X-Force #75 will always be important to me and the pink buzz is all I could ever want for her.”
“For Karma, I wanted to play with contrasting shapes, give her casual gen-z clothes that fit with the new mutants black and yellow color scheme, and have fun with her prosthetic. Her jewelry is themed after her power and goes with her pink buzzcut.”
“For my Karma design, I decided to play a lot on her power signature because I always really liked the shapes and design of it. I think it suits her rather personality well. I like the idea of a semi-transparent holographic fabric holding together the thicker elements that resemble her power. Also, I know she only had it because of the training uniform but I think yellow and black really suits her.”
“Karma’s dope and I thought she’d make a great War Captain in the Krakoan age – feat. the sword she used in her Crucible fight. My fashion reference for this round was contemporary Vietnamese designer, Nguyễn Minh Công.”
Jarrod K Chilton
“Anyone close to me knows I adore the New Mutants. For this design I was inspired by the Asgardian adventure where Karma was shepherded through a vast desert by the Norns who gifted her a white cord at the journey’s terminus.This dangling plot thread (har har) was never picked up again, but I use it to depict Karma in three designs: student, Asgardian wastrel, and current badass.”
“I based the suit design on áo dài! It’s been split up into pants for mobility and fighting, as well as a prosthetic for running/mobility. The original sketch for this had a carabiner hanging off of pants so I tried to keep that in, as well as the green seh tends towards.”
“Like many an X-Men creative team, I was stumped when it came to Xi’an. I kind of brainstormed as I went but I really liked the idea of echoing some mod designs and having those bold color blocks harken to her power signature. I think there’s a version of this design that goes harder on that idea but I was building the tracks as the train was coming.”
“I have updated and retouched the outfit I designed for her during my Pride series last year, this time I changed the collar and the fit, as a nod to traditional Vietnamese dresses.”
“For Karma, I went for a simple field day look but I definitely wanted to use her pink short hair look!”
“Karma is an underrated favorite of mine, so it was really fun to draw a new take on her! One of my main goals was to synthesize the elements I like about her graduation uniform (big sleeves and fun, unique-for-a-superhero colors) with something more modern and not reliant on broad stereotypes. Basically, a Karma for the Krakoa era–with that in mind, I also took some inspiration from her current, standardized New Mutants outfit! Also, I took some time to doodle in her iconic halo of pink blocks–one of the most fun power signatures in comics.”
“I wanted to give Karma a lesbian girl boss energy with some nods to her Vietnamese heritage. I’m not a fan of her bob so I had to throw it back to her long hair look with a touch of blue which signifies peace and calmness.”
“Instead of losing her leg in a fight with Cameron Hodge, Karma’s body is decimated in a final battle with Bastion. In a desperate attempt to keep her alive, the X-Men use Bastion’s mold/frame and configure it to recreate Karma.”
“Karma is my favorite new mutant but she never gets the spotlight she deserves! She’s never had a personalized costume (at least not a good one) so I wanted it to come across as a reflection of her personal style.”
“I wanted to do a simple pop of color! I love her iconic pink hair era, and feel she deserves a new look all her own. Karma’s a little bit punk and we deserve to see more of that!”