I’ve written about super-powered siblings before, and how one may completely overshadow the other. Dazzler is more popular than Mortis, and obviously Hawkeye is more popular than Trickshot, but that doesn’t mean that the less popular sibling cannot be an interesting character on his or her own. Although Karma is a pretty popular mutant, it is unfortunate that her twin brother has almost never enjoyed the spotlight.
Tran Coy Manh has officially existed for nearly 4 decades but spent almost all of that time without any new appearances in continuity. Although his sister isn’t an A-list mutant like Wolverine or Magneto, Xi’an Coy Manh has grown as a character over the years and become a fan favorite. Tran has not had that luxury, but just from his first appearance, he had quite a deadly presence. This month, it’s not Karma that’s a bitch, as we welcome Tran Coy Manh to the D-List.
Tran Coy Manh first appeared in Marvel Team-Up vol. 1 #100 in 1980. Created by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, Tran appeared alongside his Uncle Nguyen and younger siblings, Leong and Nga, at a charity event. A shadowy figure had possessed Spider-Man and attacked them, but Tran, also with powers of possession, was stronger and returned Spider-Man to normal (Tran was feeling particularly charitable that day). The Fantastic Four, also in attendance, realized Spider-Man had not been in control of his actions. From there, the heroes tracked the mutant culprit to a nearby church.
A young Vietnamese woman, Xi’an Coy Manh, admitted she possessed Spider-Man but explained her actions to the heroes. Tran and Xi’an were twins with the same mutant power, but at a young age, Xi’an witnessed Tran murdering a soldier during the Vietnam War and enjoying it. By the time the twins, with their younger siblings, arrived in the United States, their parents were dead, and Tran had been molded into a criminal by Nguyen. When Xi’an refused to work for him as well, Nguyen forcibly took Leong and Nga from her. Xi’an saw a newspaper headline that led her to believe Spider-Man was a villain, which is why she possessed him, hoping to rescue Leong and Nga (all this because of fake news smh).
Xi’an, along with Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, found Nguyen with Tran, and the blossoming young villain was ordered to fight. Tran possessed the Fantastic Four all at once and forced them to battle Spider-Man. The young man was actually winning the fight and revealed to Spidey that he planned to forcibly take Nguyen’s criminal organization from him. It was fantastic watching Tran able to control 4 heroes and fight simultaneously offensively and defensively, but Xi’an intervened. She possessed her twin brother and, as he begged her to stop, Tran’s physical form completely disappeared and his essence was absorbed by his sister (…thought that kind of thing was illegal). Xi’an took the codename Karma and reappeared alongside the New Mutants shortly thereafter, but this was Tran’s only appearance in continuity for many years.
Tran wasn’t a very detailed character, but this one issue made quite an impact when I first read it. He immediately enjoyed the ability to possess others and wanted to usurp his uncle’s criminal organization. Clearly, Tran loved to control people. Those selfish desires perfectly fit with his mutant power, and it would’ve been interesting to see how Tran could have developed as villain. He would have made quite the formidable criminal considering he was able to possess 4 established heroes at once and fight as well as he did. Still, this issue was a great introduction for Karma, but it took away the possibility for a potentially powerful new villain.
Although he appeared occasionally in flashbacks, to my knowledge, only one story revealed new information about Tran. Apparently, he had forced Viper into subservience for a few weeks when he worked for his uncle (Tran sounds like a real snake). Viper attempted to remove Tran from Karma so the villain could have revenge, but Beast rescued Xi’an from Viper before Tran was removed.
Karma has been featured in so many X-Men stories over the years and I am surprised that Tran was never separated from her. I wonder if writers simply had no knowledge of the character’s existence, or perhaps stories featuring Tran were pitched but ultimately rejected. Finally, in 2018, Matthew Rosenberg decided to utilize Tran in a New Mutants miniseries.
Tran was revealed to have escaped his sister’s body and was going to cause a plane to crash when Magik and her team teleported aboard, but the villain created an elaborate illusion where Illyana believed the plane had crashed and Rictor died. Once Magik escaped Tran’s control, she stabbed him, which did nothing more than kill the pilot he had possessed (which is why they don’t let Soulswords through the TSA). Tran then led the team to Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum where they unwittingly helped the villain regain his physical form. As soon as his body reformed, however, Illyana teleported Tran to Limbo to contain him.
I cannot give enough praise to Adam Gorham’s artwork of Tran throughout this series, especially when he possessed others – his face was terrifying and looked like a rotting corpse’s head. Even more disturbing, Tran commented that he had been watching life happen from behind Karma’s eyes and saw Illyana grow up. This was something that I had never given much thought, and it is terrifying – Tran’s consciousness was locked away inside Karma for years but he was aware of everything that happened around her. In the final issue of the miniseries, even more was revealed about what Xi’an had been hiding from the team.
Karma knew that Tran’s psychic form escaped before the events of this miniseries, but she never told the New Mutants what they were really tracking before she sent them on missions (sounds like she wasn’t very TRANsparent). Magik confronted Karma, and during this tense meeting, Illyana pulled Tran from Limbo to talk. Xi’an claimed she put the team together to find new uses for magic, but that was really Tran’s influence. Apparently, the villain was able to exert some subconscious control over Karma’s thought processes, and was hoping to escape his sister’s body with the help of magic. Xi’an wanted him contained within her again because she felt that Tran was her responsibility. Karma possessed Magik and forced her to cut Tran with her Soulsword, seemingly destroying his body so she could absorb his essence again.
Tran had stated that he thought of his sister as his prison, so it was sad to watch him return there. Sure, he was already beginning a life of villainy when Xi’an initially absorbed him, but does that mean that Tran shouldn’t have had the chance to atone for his actions? Does that mean he should never have freedom? Sadly, it seems that Tran’s plight will continue this way. As happy as I was to see Tran featured in New Mutants: Dead Souls, I am ultimately not happy that he has been reabsorbed into Xi’an. In fact, that scene wasn’t even the miniseries’ conclusion, and the events currently happening in X-Men comics have completely overshadowed Karma’s deceit of her teammates. It’s possible that a resolution may simply be forgotten by writers and fans (but not by me).
To my knowledge, Tran Coy Manh has never appeared outside of comics or even the 616 Universe. Certainly not every D-list character is utilized elsewhere and that’s not exactly my problem, I just think Tran has the capacity to be an interesting villain. With the power to possess people, he could start his own criminal empire. This could bring him into conflict with more than just mutants, but factions of Avengers, or the Fantastic Four again. Maybe he could escape his sister and somehow absorb her for a period of time. Maybe he could join or take control of the Hellfire Club. I doubt he’ll ever have a big impact, but I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Tran. Even if he is never profoundly developed, he could absolutely TRANsform into an interesting character on his own. In my opinion, Tran Coy Manh is the type of bad karma that the Marvel Universe needs.