Monday, March 13, 2006

My Love for Psylocke

One of my initial fav comic book characters was Psylocke. Nowadays I might front like it was because she was the only popular Asian character in the Marvel Universe (Jubi-who?), but really, we all know it was because I was young and she was half naked.

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Looking back at those days in X-Men history, near the end of Claremont's first reign when Jim Lee was putting his boot in the profession, up until around the time where Fabian Nicieza was Brian Michael Bendis-ing the house of Marvel (and with much more compression at that), it's easier to get a clear picture of what the fuck happened to Psylocke. It's one of those cases where, like with Phoenix or Superman, a character's defining traits are also what makes them eventually boring.

So what was Betsy Braddock all about? Due to all the changes in body, mutant powers, boyfriends, and heck, even personality, Betsy represented all things identity crisis. As phoenix bird is to constant resurrection, weird butterfly thingie is to constant transformation. And for any young asian kid who experienced any cultural identity angst whatsoever, Betsy's (literally) white-person-in-an-asian-body dilemma was the ultimate expression of Banana.

Whereas Jubliee was just full of self-hatred, Psylocke's situation was more nuanced and, given the right writer, could have led to some great characterization and soft-handed exploration of the western/eastern cultural divide. Unfortunately, most writers didn't know what to do with ol' Betsy, leading to some horrible character arcs and a bunch of boring ninja stories (and ninjas, in my book, are very hard to make boring. Good job, Nicieza.)

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While Psylocke's sexuality is what made her interesting and memorable in the first place, it also allowed her to be easily dismissed as a masturbatory fantasy. It's a card that could have been played differently. As a stuffy British upperclass socialite/model, Betsy Braddock was all proper and boring. After walking through the Siege Perilous and emerging as a ninja-trained Japanese woman, Betsy's new skills and abilites brought with them a new appreciation for her body and what she could do with it. Claremont nailed this when he described Psylocke as an "action junkie", who preferred physical combat over using her telepathic powers even though it put her in danger.

So what happens when a stuffy Brit turns into a lithe bombshell newly in tune with her physicality? She lets loose. Unfortunately, for many of her less sophisticated writers, phsyical and sexual liberation meant turning Betsy into a one-dimensional slut. There were all the bathing suit scenes, the crotch-shot ninja kicks, etc. And then Betsy had her flirtation with Scott Summers and the character was forever marred.

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For sure, there's a double standard going on in the industry with female characters being called whores and whatnot (and I do wince at having such slurs being launched with such ease at an asian female), but for all the times Logan tried to lay the adamantium bone on Scott's girl Jean Grey, he never once up and licked her face. That shit's freaky. More importantly, Logan's love for Jean had been written believeably and touchingly. Psylocke just got down like that for no reason, and from there, nobody knew what to do with her.

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The whole horribly executed idea of Scott/Betsy/Jean's love triangle was quickly written away (Jean confronts Betsy, who stabs Jean with her psychic blade, thus explaining herself to Jean but not to the reader), and we were pushed right into the equally horrible Revanche/Kwannon story where we find out Betsy's old white body was out galavanting this whole time with a Japanese chick inside of it. The X books were always One Life to Live-ish, but the return of British Betsy, with its unbearably literal interpretation of Psylocke's duality, goes down as one of the worst X-Stories ever in my book.

By this point, both her sexuality and identity crises had gotten so bloated that Marvel had to tame her down. She was paired up with Angel (damn these rich white guys, stealing our women who have their women inside of their bodies!) - two characters who had become boring and stale and were thus left to grow irrelevant with each other. If the X-Men were Friends, Betsy and Warren were Monica and Chandler: together because nobody else wanted to deal with them. Her "action junkie" angle was reduced to lame danger room sessions where Betsy trained alone with monkish dedication. Yawn.

Over the years she underwent more transformations, developing the new (lame) power of travelling through shadows and a Harry Potter-ish lightning bolt on her face to go along with it, sacrificing her telepathy, gaining new telekinetic powers, getting gutted by Sabretooth, etc. There was more identity angst to come, Warren at one point exclaiming "you're not the same person I fell in love with!" She got dumped by Warren after taking up with Thunderbird III, again a relationship with little real emotional weight to it, thus leaving her open to more accusations of sluttish behaviour, and then was eventually killed off.

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Cleavage. Even when comatose.

Recently, Claremont resurrected her and has been taking a stab at redefining the character. Her telekinetic powers are stronger than ever, which leaves her pounding away at things instead of using the surgical precision that telekinetics are usually portrayed as having. And more importantly, with Alan Davis in tow, Claremont has been portraying Betsy as more British than ever. She drops English phrases here and there and has a much sharper tongue than before - ah those Brits and their British wit. These could all be promising developments, but I'd much rather see them written by Joss Whedon than by Claremont. Who wouldn't love to see Joss's Emma Frost pitted againt the new Betsy Braddock? Just imagine the one liners about her history with Scott.

For now though, my once favourite character will continue to languish in never-was, coulda-woulda-ville. As Brubaker takes over Uncanny, Claremont takes Psylocke with him to Exiles or New Excalibur or whatever it's called - both Claremont and Betsy effectively being removed from 616 continuity. I still got love for Psylocke, but in retrospect, I can't help but wonder. While Warren anguishes over whether she's the same woman he fell in love with, looking back, I'm wondering not only why I still love her character, but also why I ever did in the first place.


PlatonJK said...

explanation : british girls love to fuck.

wisdom passed down from my brother who went overseas to work in england for that reason alone.

phenompyrus said...

Psylocke is a cool character, but her character is not near what it used to be. Her coolest issues were when X-Men first hit(not including the AWFUL Revanche bullshit). I lost interest when they made her have those shadow powers, but the love story with her and Angel was interesting. Now, I am not terribly interested because of her unexplainable return and Claremont's attempts at making her the next Storm. Psylocke is the cool, sexy character who also is the Wolverine-type badass. I remember issues where she just did not give a fuck, and whupped some ass.

invisiblist said...


Also, the person that drew that bandaged-up-with-titties-out page should be banned from the industry.

invisiblist said...


Also, the person that drew that bandaged-up-with-titties-out page should be banned from the industry.

toothpick said...

i'm with you on the not giving a fuck and whupping ass thing. i never understood why gambit/bishop/cable were the inheritors of wolverine's ass-kicking image. psylocke was the truth.

lol, and sorry invisiblist, i believe jim lee was writing the book by himself at that point.

KangolLove said...

I still don't understand what the hell that whole Mandarin giving her a new body thing was about.

Worst Act of Vengeance Ever.

buckshot said...

Yo, I think those Mandarin issues were the first Uncanny's that I ever picked up. Confusing, yes, but I just had to get my dirty little prepubescent polybags on Jim Lee's Psylocke.

Never considered the cultural identity angle. Kind of interesting although I'm not sure how to really apply it, as I'm sure that's not what Claremont was going for.

Nice little synopsis of her decline. They lost me with that Revanche shit, so I appreciate you catching me up.

toothpick said...

yeah, definitely wasn't Claremont's intention. But given how prominantly the whole FOB/Banana/ABC dichotomy figures into young Asian American identity, Betsy's story is all too appropriate. The whole cultural identity angle doesn't really apply to anything except me as a reader.

Another interesting thing about Claremont's intention -- Psylocke was intended to be Chinese (hence the Mandarin thing), caught up in the Chinese underworld. Nicieza, however, never picked up on this and made Kwannon Japanese...further screwing up Betsy's identity issues.

Kangol: lame revenge, yes. "And now, our sweet revenge, as we make you...uh...hotter...and....way cooler! muhuahahha"

JRennoldz said...

Fucking great piece, homie.
Damn, you punks are killing the game! Prep Time Posse 4 LYFE.

neo said...

Psylocke was one of THEE sexiest Marvel heroines bar NONE!

LOOL @ all the clippings you put in there..Scott was just thrown the heck off e''re right tho..sad they never really expounded on the cultural divide btw eastern and western influences it would've made her even that much interesting and given her character just more depth.

MR. MAJOR said...

Damn thatwas a great piece. I love the parallel you made to Asian identity and conformity issues. Great job 'Pick. I think one of the compnents that make this blog great is its multicutural perspective. Again great job.