Warning: Spoilers for New Mutants #15 are ahead.
For Marvel villains such as Shadow King from X-Men, the age-old question of “what’s in a name?” can reveal hidden layers to their character. In this way, the names of villains are sometimes just as important as the villain’s deeds. Names have loaded significance in superhero comics, and the recent reveal of Shadow King’s hidden meaning in New Mutants #15 opens up a new avenue for discussing his character.
In a story written by Vita Ayala, with art by Rod Reis, letters by VC’s Travis Lanham, and design by Tom Muller, New Mutants #15 paints a foreboding picture of the internal fractures in Krakoan society. For the past few issues of New Mutants, Shadow King has been training a group of mutants away from their training from the New Mutants. Unbeknownst to them, Shadow King, also known as Amahl Farouk, is a powerful telepath with a knack for exhuming the darkest parts of a person’s psyche to use against them. He is possessed by an entity called the Shadow, which gives him greater control over his powers. In a journal entry enclosed in New Mutants #15, Farouk writes, “Our power grows, and with it, we will shape and rule this world from the shadows. We will be King.“
This journal entry exposes a more sinister aspect about Shadow King’s character. The name “Shadow King” has long been interpreted as meaning that he is the king of the shadows. But the distinction made in his journal implies a different meaning of the word “shadow” that he embodies. Rather than being King of the Shadows, just like T’Challa is the King of Wakanda, Farouk is more a king from the shadows.
While this may seem like it means the same thing, this distinction can be seen as roughly analogous to the Shadow Cabinet in British Parliament. The Shadow Cabinet is composed of members from the Opposition, or the second largest party, whose roles mirror that of the current Cabinet, hence the term, “shadow.” Still, it should be said that Shadow King’s interpretation of this concept is entirely for nefarious purposes, rather than diversity of thought.
This added layer of meaning to Shadow King’s name points to his methodology and goals as a villain. Unlike many villains in Marvel Comics, Shadow King is not preoccupied with grandiose displays of his power. His focus is more centered around acting as an unseen, and yet highly influential, agent of his own interests. This explains his strategy on Krakoa with luring some of the more vulnerable, younger mutants, such as Cosmar. Just as the Shadow Cabinet provides an alternate vision of the Cabinet, Shadow King has provided some of the mutants with an alternate training to the one they receive from the New Mutants.
This political angle makes sense for the current X-Men storyline, considering that Krakoa is in the process of its own election right now. But more than that, Krakoa has provided mutantkind with unprecedented political autonomy, one that the X-Men are struggling with. The emergence of Shadow King within an additional political meaning could point towards a concerning and fractured road ahead for the X-Men if he continues to influence the youngest of Krakoa’s population.
Ultimately, the events of Jonathan Hickman’s new vision of the X-Men have provided plenty of opportunity for older concepts and characters to reemerge with added layers of significance. In this way, the landscape of X-Men that fans have been accustomed to for decades has been quietly disrupted, leaving ample room for speculation on where the mutants’ stories could go next. If the secret of Shadow King’s name tells readers anything, it is that they should expect to continue to read between the lines of everything they know about X-Men.