Eileen Harsaw, also known as Phantazia, was a character introduced as a member of Toad’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the 1990s. An extremely powerful mutant, she could sense and disrupt electromagnetic fields, meaning that she had a degree of control over machinery, could hinder mutants’ powers, and affect the human nervous system to render targets unconscious. Phantazia has never been featured prominently in a series, nor has she appeared much at all in the past 20 years. A character with such a small role and a history shrouded in secrecy makes Phantazia a Phantaz-tic addition to the D-list.
Created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld, Phantazia first appeared on the cover of X-Force #5, dated December 1991. Normally, appearing on a cover wouldn’t constitute a “first appearance,” but Phantazia wasn’t featured inside of the comic (evil, sleazy, beautiful, cover-girl!). This issue focused on Toad forming his own incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, with him and the Blob forcing Sauron into their ranks. In X-Force #6, Pyro was also shown as a member of the team. Pyro and Blob’s recruitment can be explained easily enough. Toad broke them out of prison after a mission with Freedom Force had gone wrong. Phantazia, on the other hand, appeared alongside the new team of villains without explanation, wearing a purple, pointed mask, a large purple cloak, and long, white hair.
Toad attempted to form a partnership between his Brotherhood and the sewer-dwelling mutants, the Morlocks, citing a mutual hatred of humanity. The Morlock, Thornn, had learned that her sister, Feral, had joined the heroic team X-Force, and wanted her killed for her betrayal. Masque, acting as leader of the Morlocks, was recently threatened by the heroes, and knew where X-Force’s base was located. To celebrate the villainous teams’ union, the Brotherhood pledged to destroy X-Force.
When the two teams arrived at X-Force’s location, some of the Brotherhood conducted a surprise attack on the heroes, but Phantazia looked for a way inside of their base. She used her power to “harmonize” with nearby machinery, not only to sense where the electronics were, but to shut them down and allow the villains entry inside of X-Force’s hangar. They were caught by Cable and Cannonball, but Phantazia disrupted the guidance systems in Cable’s gun before he was able to fire. Thornn decided to turn off the lights in the hangar to give her an advantage, which unfortunately broke Phantazia’s concentration and Cable managed to shoot at her. Though never a power that was further explored, Phantazia was shown floating out of the way of the shots (is being light on your feet a mutant power?). Phantazia then disrupted Cannonball’s mutant power, which was the protective blast-field that propelled him through the air. Disoriented, the hero was caught off guard by Sauron and stabbed (don’t worry, he lived via the medical wonder of plot-holes). The rest of X-Force overpowered the villainous teams and they fled.
Toad’s Brotherhood next appeared in conflict with X-Factor after the villains attacked military officers guarding a ship holding mutant refugees. Phantazia zapped Quicksilver’s powers, rendering him immobile before Havok blasted her with an energy beam. Though stunned, Phantazia didn’t relinquish control of Quicksilver and spent most of the battle keeping the speedster out of it. Eventually, Polaris knocked Phantazia unconscious and X-Factor made short work of the Brotherhood. After the villains retreated, they argued amongst each other, angry about the defeats dealt by two X-teams. In a fit of anger, Pyro tried to burn the Blob. Phantazia disrupted the fiery-mad mutant’s abilities and convinced the men to listen to Toad’s new plan.
The villains decided to steal a suit of alien armor held at a research lab in order to use it for its teleportation capabilities. According to Toad, it would allow the Brotherhood to conduct surprise-attacks on their enemies and gain access to large weapons caches. This brought the Brotherhood into conflict with Darkhawk, Spider-Man, and Sleepwalker in one of the most 90s battles ever (all that was missing was a backwards baseball hat. Ugh, where’s Adam-X when you need him?). Needless to say, the villains were overwhelmed and forced to retreat.
Until this point, Phantazia was not given much characterization. No special origin tale, no history of being bullied, no murdered parents, no hints at her being a crazy cat-lady, and no dialogue to give her any individuality other than a misguided sense of obedience to Toad. Though clearly not an intelligent or effective leader, Phantazia seemed content to take orders from the glorified lackey. While the rest of the Brotherhood have actively fought the above-mentioned heroes, Phantazia stayed on the sidelines of battle, opting out of any sort of physical combat. However, with X-Men Unlimited #2 released in August of 1993, more was revealed about Phantazia immediately before raising more questions.
The Brotherhood, minus Sauron, were next seen on a boat near Key West enjoying time in the sun (getting beaten by heroes often gets you tons of frequent-flyer miles). This was the first time Phantazia appeared without her normal costume, though in keeping with her purple theme, she wore a purple bikini. When she took off her sunglasses, a misty, purple energy leaked out of her black eyes, so it was understandable that she wore a mask. Her hair was long and blonde, so the white hair was likely a wig as a part of her costume. She was shown lounging while reading a book about astrophysics, inferring that Phantazia was exceptionally smart. She felt a disruption in the electromagnetic field as someone approached. Exodus, an acolyte of Magneto, announced his intention to take mutantkind to a better place. He was speaking of Asteroid M, which was Magneto’s newly-built safe haven for mutants away from the hatred of humanity. The Brotherhood assumed that Magneto wanted all of them to come, but Exodus made it clear that neither Blob nor Toad were invited (much to Toad’s chagrin, as he used to be a sniveling henchman for the master of magnetism). Pyro would have been invited were he not “tainted” (my foreshadowing-sense is tingling). Exodus stated that there was no place in Avalon for mutants like Blob and Toad that lacked vision and potential, so Exodus extended the invitation only to Phantazia. Eileen, surprised, hesitated before denying the offer. To calm the angry Blob and Toad, Pyro decided to take the ship to shore, reassuring the villains that they had great things going for them. The final panel of the story showed Phantazia seemingly saddened, staring longingly at the ocean.
Nicieza, who wrote this story, was trying to characterize Phantazia as more than just a quiet background character. She must have been extremely intelligent if she was reading a book about astrophysics, but why did she refuse Exodus’ invitation? She obviously didn’t seem happy after she made her choice. Was it some sort of (sadly misplaced) loyalty to her team? Phantazia surely had more potential than acting as a lackey under ineffective leadership. While such questions and theories weren’t explicitly answered or confirmed, it could be assumed that her decision to stay with the team was out of concern for one member in particular.
In X-Men Annual #2, released October 1993, the reason for the Brotherhood’s vacation in the Keys was explained. They were paying a visit to Jonathan Chambers, an author who had been appearing on daytime talk shows and touting harmony between mutants and humans. Avalanche and Commando, two villains working for the government, attempted to inconspicuously enter Chambers’ mansion to spy on him. The two were greeted by the Brotherhood, as Phantazia could sense the villains’ presence. Pyro and Avalanche were good friends and teammates for years before Avalanche abandoned his former buddy, and the two were shown talking privately on a balcony. Phantazia asked Toad if he thought that Avalanche could really help Pyro; Toad stated that he hoped Avalanche could just give Pyro emotional support. Ever the sensitive guy, Blob asked if the two men were kissing yet. Phantazia asked Blob if he was jealous, to which Blob replied that he was sick of her “snide attitude, Ms. PhD!” (She has a Ph friggin D?! I assure you, I haven’t doctored this information!) The X-Men decided to pay Chambers a visit as they were curious about his stance on human-mutant relations. The heroes didn’t expect to find the Brotherhood there, however, and a battle ensued. Psylocke quickly took Phantazia out of the fight and before it could intensify, Chambers revealed that he was a mutant by draining the energy out of all the combatants. Once recovered, Pyro revealed to Cyclops that he had the legacy virus and Chambers’ powers actually eased his pain (…I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying). Jonathan assured the heroes that his intentions were not sinister, he was only trying to help those who were suffering. After some discussion, the X-Men left the Brotherhood behind at Jonathan’s mansion.
Though, to my knowledge, that event was the last time Phantazia appeared in mainstream 616 continuity, she appeared briefly in the “Age of Apocalypse” crossover as a guinea pig of Dark Beast’s experiments. She was also given a small role in the “House of M” event, where mutants dominated the world, as one of Magneto’s guards. Once the event ended and the 616 reverted back to normal (but with only 200 mutants left with their powers intact), Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tony Stark were shown having a discussion about the circumstances that led to the decimation of mutant-kind, as not many people remembered the events of the “House of M.” Maria commented that she had the now-depowered Eileen locked in a padded cell, as the “idiot” was constantly muttering “House of M” over and over again, meaning that Phantazia must have remembered everything that had taken place.
The plight of each member of Toad’s Brotherhood has been well documented over the last two decades, but what the hell happened to Phantazia? Did the situation with her sickly teammate sour her from terrorism? Did she put her PhD to use and enter into a career before “House of M?” Is she still locked away in a padded cell? Was it an editorial oversight, or was it actually a wig that she wore? Was she actually a crazy cat-lady? These are the hard-hitting questions that demand answers! So much more could’ve been written about Phantazia, so when an opportunity presented itself to ask what happened, I tried to take it.
I met Rob Liefeld at New York Comic Con 2014 and had him sign the cover of my copy of X-Force #5. I told him that I thought Phantazia was an awesome character and asked why she wasn’t used in a greater capacity. His reply was that it was likely the circumstances surrounding him leaving Marvel to co-found Image that soured the company from using her. While that isn’t the most plausible explanation, she wasn’t an immensely popular character to begin with, but what about Phantazia’s co-creator, Fabian Nicieza, former writer of many X-books? He was fired from the X-titles in the mid-1990s after a dispute with Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief. Since her co-creators no longer worked for the company, I suppose no other writers deemed Phantazia interesting enough to continue using in stories.
Toad’s incarnation of the Brotherhood consisted of powerful members, but unfortunately lacked in effective leadership. Though the majority of her career with the team rarely saw her active in battle, Phantazia was an asset nonetheless, always removing members of the opposition from the fight. When Exodus invited her to join the Acolytes, Phantazia had a wonderful opportunity to escape a failing team and elevate her status to elite villainy (which comes with amazing villainous medical insurance). I’ve assumed that the only reason Phantazia denied the offer was out of concern for Pyro, but that, and many other aspects of this character are only speculation.
Outside of Marvel comics, Phantazia appeared on collectible trading cards throughout the 1990s and a promotional X-Men comic book from the Hardee’s fast-food chain. I don’t know of any other instance where she’s been included either inside or outside of Marvel Comics. While it’s known that Eileen Harsaw lost her powers after “M-day,” the “Second Coming” story arc did revive the X-gene. It is certainly possible that Eileen Harsaw regained her powers, and I hope that one day she may bring her electromagnetism back to the Marvel Universe.