Saturday, June 21, 2014

Psylocke Psaturday is Back!: Okay, who ordered a ninja in a swimsuit?

We pretty much haven't seen hide nor purple hair of Psylocke for the past six months since she went through the Deux Ex Machina Siege Perilous, until she (literally) washes up on the shores of Uncanny X-Men #255 with that most conveeeeeeeenient of comic book maladies, amnesia.

Panels from Uncanny X-Men #255 (Mid-December 1989), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by Marc Silvestri, inks by Dan Green, colors by Glynis Oliver, letters by Michael Heisler

Luckily all that sea water hadn't washed the beautiful purple shade out of her hair, which, we should remind you here, is dyed. Anyway, say goodbye to that version of Psylocke forever, or at least as forever as you can get in a Claremont comic without her angsting about it for a page every other issue. Now and forever — she is Lady Mandarin! Which, actually, was really just a preemptive attempt by Marvel to keep CBS from capitalizing on their popular weekly tie-in TV series The Mandarin (starring Lee van Cleef) by creating a female-fronted spin-off. Eh, who am I kidding...Marvel would never use that cheesy an excuse to create a character.

Cover of Uncanny X-Men #256 (Late December 1989), pencils by Jim Lee, inks by Scott Williams

But first, it's flashback time, as we take a journey through Psylocke's memories of her past and remind ourselves that her natural haircolor is blonde. We see that Kid Betsy wanted to become a pilot in this foreshadowing. Hey, wait, can you still call it foreshadowing when it's in a flashback? is that the proper word? What's the right word? Would you call it backshadowing? Retroshadowing? Oh, wait, I know what you call it: Claremontization.

Panel from Uncanny X-Men #255 (Late December 1989), pencils by Jim Lee, inks by Scott Williams

Here's also a reminder that schoolgirl Betsy was, despite being a (born a few minutes earlier) twin, decidedly shrimpier than her Beef Wellington-cake brother Brian.

Also, that British physics textbooks are freakin' bloody huge. I mean, look at that upper-right panel...that thing is seriously a foot and a half tall. Not to mention that Betsy Braddock was, perhaps due to the ne'er-do-well influence of her older brother and eventual supervillain nemesis Jamie, a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

And apparently she was a member of S.H.I.E.L.D.*'s Zipperless Agents Division.

Anyway, back to the armored Lady Mandarin, who can speak her own logo aloud! Not to be confused with Marvel hero Lady Mandolin, who could strum bank robbers and terrorists into jail.

Splash page from Uncanny X-Men #257 (January 1990), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by Jim Lee, inks by Joe Rubinstein, colors by Glynis Oliver, letters by Tom Orzechowski

It all takes place during "Acts of Vengeance," a Marvel company-wide crossover including Alf, I hope which pitted heroes against villains they'd never fought before in some sort of Earth-616 square dance "change your partners" move. The villain of UXM that got picked out of a random bowl of paper slips is therefore Iron Man's perpetual nemesis the Mandarin, and he's turned Betsy into a ruthless killer, either by subtle and insidious brainwashing and psychic conditioning, or by flicking the switch on her back from "good" to "evil." Also, she kicks ass.

Okay, in all fairness and complete honesty, I'm gonna hand it to Chris Claremont and say this is a brilliant idea. Much as I like the psionic power of the pre-Siege Betsy, the concept of a psychic ninja is absolutely inspired, giving the character a dark and dangerous edge that's not only in keeping with her past-seen personality but turning her into one of those Dangerous and Scantily-Clad Heroines for the Nineties™ that were so popular for a while. How much can we claim that Psylocke defines this trope? Well, look at it this way: this nineties heroine debuted in a comic book cover-dated January 1990. You don't get much more nineties than that.

The nice thing about Betsy Braddock is she was always so charmingly modest about the whole thing.

Somewhat quickly brushed over here, and therefore I didn't realize it at the time for quite awhile: she's become Japanese.. Also debuting this issue: the infamous ninja swimsuit costume. Why? Well, considering that Jim Lee draws very sexy women, why not? I actually like the idea, mostly abandoned after this storyline, of Psylocke having two uniforms: big pointy battle armor for fighting ninja, and a be-thonged bathing suit plus strappy things for jus' hangin' around the house...also fighting ninjas. Say, how does anyone get any footing with those smooth-soled shoes? Don't they slip aroudn all the time? Couldn't you just defeat a ninja by keeping your floor well-polished?

Psylocke: she now has two cool new outfits, which is 100% more than most female heroes — if you're not counting the Wasp or Kitty Pryde. So of course in her next scene Jim Lee draws her buck nekkid. Eh...why not?

Wait, wasn't this book titled The Uncanny X-Men and not Naked Psylocke (which would certainly have increased sales and at least oughta bump up my Google referral hits). Enter...Wolverine! And, oh, yeah, Jubilee, who has more-or-less joined the X-Men by becoming Wolvie's annoying sidekick during the Siege Perilous era, and whom we're not going to do much backstory on in this feature. After all, this post is about Psylocke. Go getcher own feature, Jubilee! Go pitch "Jubilee July" to Sims or Campbell or somebody!

In battling Wolverine, Psylocke immediately goes for the jugular: by casting the illusions of all his old prom dates! Notably missing from Wolverine's memory: Silver Fox. Because she'd only been invented the previous year and hadn't gotten her entry in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe yet.

Panels from Uncanny X-Men #258 (February 1990), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by Jim Lee, inks by Scott Williams and Joe Rubinstein, colors by Glynis Oliver, letters by Tom Orzechowski

Also missing from Wolverine's memory: Charlie "The Silver Fox" Rich.

(Yes, with that cutaway, Comics Oughta Be Fun has officially turned into Family Guy.)

To demonstrate without doubt that Betsy has become a truly kick-ass warrior, we're treated to a full page of her kicking the crap out of Wolverine.

Which he totally deserves for using the word "masque" to mean "mask." You keep using that word, Wolverine! I do not think it means what you think it means! (For that joke to work, please ignore meaning #2 at that link.)

Of course, in the tried-and-true tradition of "let's beat each other up before we team up against the bad guy," Psylocke and Wolverine beat each other up before they team up against the Mandarin. Also present in this scene: Jubilee, wearing some kind of homemade Wonder Woman cosplay costume, I dunno. It's Jubilee.

The story wraps up, I don't know, Jubilee pickpocketing one of the Mandarin's rings and turning him in for political correctness training. The important part is it ends not unlike a James Clavell novel, with them sailing sail into the sunset on a junk, in search of more adventure and excitement on the high seas. Now that series I woulda bought 100 issues of, you betcha. At least Jubilee is beginning to finally understand how Claremont's story twists work.

But we never learn the answer to the story's real mystery: how does Wolverine keep his hair like that in such humid weather?

So we leave our intrepid heroes, who, considering shirtless Wolverine (a little something for the ladies!), tally up at two-thirds of an outfit per person. Get used to that average: Betsy's going to ruin that curve for everybody until about 2011.

*She Has Indecent Exposure Low Down


Blam said...

I've been following this pseries with particular interest due to always having wondered about the deal with Psylocke becoming an Asian ninja. My last regular issue of X-Men after years of rapt reading was Uncanny #205 in 1986. I dipped back in for a few issues on occasion since then out of curiosity or for research, but that's it, and not at all for nearly 15 years now. You can imagine how learning that Betsy Braddock — who I think I'd last seen in X-Men Annual #11 (picked up for the love of Alan Davis; I also got aboard the first year or so of Excalibur since it was free of X-Men entanglements) — had turned into this weird "kewl" orange-skinned femme fatale threw me for a loop. And nobody has ever given me a good explanation, largely because they said there was no good explanation.

One of my online pals has been doing a methodical read-and-recap of all things X-Men from the very first issue. It's been fun revisiting stuff I loved back in the day, but I've also looked forward (with some trepidation) to finally picking up from where I cut ties and reading for realz all the stuff I only heard about in passing or saw boiled down into wiki entries over the years. When you began Psylocke Psaturdays, I wasn't sure who'd get to this point in Elizabeth's history first; you did, barely, as my friend's series is about a dozen issues into the Outback era. I almost didn't read this post, because I'll get to Uncanny #256 contextualized in the larger narrative early next year, but I couldn't help myself. It appears that Psylocke's transformation into a ninja is fairly straightforward, at least if you're used to taking superhero comics in stride, which makes me wonder why I don't recall hearing about the Lady Mandarin deal before. Perhaps the friends I asked got hung up on the Asian part, which if I'm reading right is not explained (and may be Japanese, which ninjas are by heritage, or Chinese, which Mandarin is). Discovering that the whole thing is actually part of a story and not just a sudden artistic choice is perhaps more bizarre than such an unexplained switcher could ever be.

None of which has anything to do with the most pressing question at hand: What the heck is Betsy's silhouette doing in that first panel?

Blam said...

"switcher" = "switcheroo"…
I don't always catch all of the immediate spellcheck fixes-that-aren't-really-fixes.

Bully said...

Well, it's not all THAT straightforward. I haven't even gotten to Kwannon yet, but I'll cover her when the book reaches that point chronologically. Which, judging by how frequently I've been doing this feature, ought to be around 2019. I'll be six then.

Tazirai said...

Hey Blam Bully will get to the part that makes Psylocke make no sense soon enough. But the actual origin of Psylockes nuasian appearance is REALLY simple.
When the Hand captured her, she was Brainwashed, and ONLY Cosmetically altered to look CHINESE. That's why Wolverine is able to recognize her. Because she never swapped bodies with anyone. It was still her 5' 11" 155lb body.
But it was a certain idiot writer, who didn't do his research who came up with the switcheroo.
I can't lie I did like the asian transformation at first, primarily because of the lush art, and Claremont's story But I'd grown to despise the asian Psylocke, simply because she only looked cool, and never really did anything beyodn a couple arcs for much of the 90's. Then she went and got gutted by Sabretooth, where previously she beat him in like 2 seconds flat.
I actually stopped reading books with her in for a long time, since no one knew what to do with the asian version, I came back to her in the mid 2000's. Now the way she's written makes up for much of the crap she's been through.
I do hope to see her returned to her original body one day. Getttign rid of all the tropes and stereotypes of Claremont's asian ninja woman fetish.
I mean he turned Kitty into a Ninja, and didn't make her asian.