Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ruminations on Psylocke

For some reason, I started thinking about Psylocke today. It's very weird, because I tend not to think about the character. She doesn't appeal to me at all. At least now.

I actually find Betsy Braddock surprisingly appealing in her pre-Kwannonized appearances. When she was just a purple-haired telepathic supermodel who kind of sucked at fighting. I thought she was cute and I liked her personality. And that weird butterfly-aura she used with her powers was nifty-looking.

I'd really like to track down the comics where she temporarily replaced Captain Britain, because I find that very intriguing.

I guess the original Elizabeth Braddock wasn't interesting or appealing enough, because once they did that whole body-swap thing with Kwannon/Revanche, she might as well have become a different character entirely.

Oh and by the way, can someone explain to me why a ninja assassin who is (I assume) supposed to be Japanese is named "Kwannon". With a code name of "Revanche"? Those aren't anything resembling Japanese names/words. They're utter nonsense. Is it that hard to find a name that's remotely Japanese sounding?

And the fact that Betsy, brainwashed and in Kwannon's body, calls herself "Lady Mandarin" makes me twitch. And it's not like this was the 1940s, when some racism was pretty standard (though not excusable, of course). It doesn't take that much to do some research. Japan =/= China. (And if Kwannon is supposed to be Chinese, why the heck are they going around calling her a ninja? That's very nation-specific, you know...)

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, as much as I like Marvel comics usually, this is the company that keeps calling Wolverine a freakin' Samurai.

I know I've complained about the seeming arbitrariness of Cassandra Cain's Asian-ness, as it seemed more there simply because "Asian martial artist girls are hot" rather than a real attempt at an Asian-American portrayal (your mileage may vary, of course), but she will always be vastly preferable to me over the fact that they took a British-Caucasian character and shoved her into a new body and decided "Okay, she's a hot asian martial artist now".

I mean, if you're going to have a hot Asian martial artist, why not create a character to BE a hot Asian martial artist? It's not like new characters didn't float in and out of the X-teams all the time!

There is some very disturbing symbolism in the way a white girl is written to suddenly assume Asian identity, which Jenn from Reappropriate gets into here.

Really though, I just miss Captain Britain's perky, fun twin sister. I don't have any interest in the angry faux-ninja sexpot she became. It seems like such a loss.


  • At February 13, 2007 8:27 AM, Anonymous Flint Paper said…

    Well, the in-story reason she was calling herself "Lady Mandarin" was because when the Hand offered their services to the actual Mandarin, they used some of his leftover N'Dar technology (I think that's the alien race from whence he picked up the rings but someone with a reference can certainly correct me) and their mystic martial art techniques to reshape Betsy's body into something more suitable for their purposes while forcing her mind to bend to their needs as well.
    What were those needs? Why, killing Wolverine, of course. Never mind that in the same story where the Hand infiltrates the Mandarin's house, he decimates about two-thirds of them just to show that he doesn't need them. Then the Hand-liason guy namedrops Iron Man and the Mandarin agrees to listen to what he has to say, and is impressed with the idea. Apparently, the Chinese like nothing quite so much as upper-class British women that they can then dress up in one-piece bathing suit with ribbons for purposes of assassination. See? Marvel does carefully research culture!
    The version of Betsy where she takes on the role of Captain Britain can be found in the Captain Britain tpb -- the first one published but second one chronologically I believe. At least that's how I found them listed. Beware! Her in-costume hair is a worse choice than any other thing she has ever done up to hitting on Cyclops.

  • At February 13, 2007 9:40 AM, Blogger Mr. Allison Blaire said…

    I used to love Ninja Psylocke probably because she was hot and kicked ass and I was 11. That whole body switch and Revanche thing has to be some of the most convoluted mess ever in comics. It was practically the X-Clone Saga. I think comics will never be a close to accurate representation of pretty much anything .

  • At February 13, 2007 10:27 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    As Flint Paper says, She was being mind controlled by the Mandarin...which makes a tiny bit of sense. Jubilee was also in the story arc, and Mandarin dressed her up in traditional Chinese garb as well, but at least she WAS Chinese. Something that they seem to have completely forgotten in the meantime.

    But yeah, Psylocke does nothing for me.

  • At February 13, 2007 11:26 AM, Blogger Shane Rollins said…

    I missed the old Psylocke at first because we really began to see the character evolve as she convinced the team to go through the Siege Perilous and start their lives anew. You started to see a dark side to her and they completely dropped it in favor of a hot ninja that Jim Lee could draw.

  • At February 13, 2007 1:47 PM, Blogger Laura said…

    Kwannon is the Japanese goddess of mercy (also transliterated as Kannon), 観音. So I assume it is meant to be Irony. Same for Revanche, as it specifically referred to revenge by an oppressed (or at least, thinking themselves) ethnic group.

  • At February 13, 2007 3:05 PM, Blogger Sleestak said…

    Looker = Psylocke?

  • At February 13, 2007 3:20 PM, Blogger Chris said…

    I confess I've always had a soft spot for Psylocke, due in no small part to a scene from (I think) X-Men #1 (you know, the Jim Lee eye-bleeder).

    I paraphrase here, but I seem to recall Magneto or someone throwing something at Psylocke, then Wolverine gets pee-yossed andsays "You just hurt Betsy. She's a British-born, Japanese-trained ninja master, and those don't grow on trees."

    That and she was awesome in videogames.

    I am such a nerd.

  • At February 13, 2007 4:25 PM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    Just out of curiosity, was the character's first name "Sin"?

  • At February 13, 2007 4:50 PM, Blogger Bill D. said…

    The "Besty as Captain Britain" issues were from the Alan Davis/Jamie Delano run on Captain Britain (just after the Alan Moore/Alan Davis stuff), and were reprinted in the CB trade paperback released in the late 80s about the time Excalibur first came out. Too bad, too - I just sold my copy on eBay a few weeks ago! I would've gladly sent it your way. Oh well. I'm pretty sure you can pick a copy pretty cheaply. I know mine didn't sell for a whole lot.

  • At February 13, 2007 5:15 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Thanks guys, I'd forgotten the Mandarin connection. That does make it a little more palatable.

    Flint: Thanks! I'll check it out.

    Mr. Allison Blaire: Heh, that's a decent reason for liking a character.

    sallyp: I'd like to see them remember Jubilee's ethnicity a little more often.

    shane: It always seemed like such a shame that so much of Betsy's character was lost during the switch.

    sleestak: ?

    chris: Heh. That is pretty funny.

    Evan: :-)

    Bill: Thanks! I'll keep my eye out!

    Laura: I have to admit I've never seen Kannon romanized as anything other than "Kannon". Japanese romanization's pretty basic. It seems very strange to pronounce it "Kwannon". I admit though, I'm not familiar with every dialect. (It'd be much more preferable to me if they'd just named her Kannon.)

  • At February 13, 2007 5:22 PM, Blogger LurkerWithout said…

    In re: Looker

    A character from The Outsiders Mike Barr run with a overly-convoluted backstory...

  • At February 13, 2007 7:41 PM, Blogger R.Nav said…

    It's funny. In the Ultimate universe of Marvel Comics, Psylocke was once again Caucasian, but for a while there the artist(s) couldn't be bothered to remember and her ethnicity bounced back and forth visually while always remaining Caucasian in the writing.

    Eventually they did bring her back to life as an Asian, she body-hopped into a suicide girl.

  • At February 13, 2007 7:46 PM, Blogger R.Nav said…

    P.S. I'm sad they haven't moved on from "Hot Asian Chick". They should rotate her "token hottie" ethnicity to whatever is currently popular.

    She could have a superhero team-up with the Swedish Bikini Team during their superhero debut!

  • At February 13, 2007 7:49 PM, Blogger The Dane said…

    Re: ninja being nation-specific.

    What planet are you from? Ninja are everywhere. British ninja. Mexican ninja. Kenyan ninja. White ninja.

    Heck. Me and you, we're probably ninja.

  • At February 13, 2007 7:56 PM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    r.nav- do you mean she body-hopped into a girl committing suicide, or was there some crossover I've not been informed of?

  • At February 13, 2007 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    And now for something completely different;she is now with Exiles...go figure...

  • At February 13, 2007 10:19 PM, Blogger Fortress Keeper said…

    Anonymous - Where Chris Claremont goes, Psylocke goes.

  • At February 14, 2007 2:59 AM, Anonymous heckblazer said…

    Laura: I have to admit I've never seen Kannon romanized as anything other than "Kannon". Japanese romanization's pretty basic. It seems very strange to pronounce it "Kwannon". I admit though, I'm not familiar with every dialect. (It'd be much more preferable to me if they'd just named her Kannon.)

    I bet they used an older reference work when coming up with it (Wikipedia confirms "Kwannon" as a occasionally seen variant). I happen to have have a reprint of Hepburn's 1867 Japanese-English dictionary, and even though it's the progenitor the current romanization system it has lots differences differences, such as "tsu" transliterated as "dz"

  • At February 15, 2007 2:18 AM, Blogger Jesse said…

    I really liked British Psylocke, and really hated Ninja Psylocke. (Basically, I agree with the "why" comment.)

    At the time, most of Marvel's "psychic" characters were women with pretty much the exact same powers, most of whom were written by Chris Claremont. So I thought the "ninjafication" of Psylocke was done in order to make her distinct from Jean Grey/Emma Frost/Rachel Summers/cast of thousands. I still thought it was effing dumb.

  • At February 15, 2007 4:25 AM, Anonymous F_State said…

    Effing dumb indeed - even my teenage brain thought so. I couldn't figure out why they'd take a sweet, tough, gorgeous-Alan-Davis-pencilled character and turn her into some no-dimensional pinup. Was she punishing herself for her ninja-indiscretions by wearing that godawful perma-wedgie thong?

    I guess if anything good came out of it, it was that Jim Lee and the Image stable realized this would sell like craaazy. Just think: if Claremont hadn't lost his mind so completely, the world might never have known 90s-era Image comics.


  • At February 15, 2007 7:43 AM, Blogger Nimbus said…

    Where Chris Claremont goes, Psylocke goes.

    Well, Chris Claremont did create the character so I guess he rather likes his creation.

    I liked the armoured version of Psylocke best. It made a certain amount of sense. And, IIRC, she was completely covered.

    And Betsy, in her English body, was blonde. She just dyed her hair purple because it was supposed to be the latest fashion. Pity it never changed with the times.

  • At February 18, 2007 9:55 AM, Anonymous frank said…

    On the whole Kwannon/Kannon thing, is the name Kwannon used in James Clavell's Shogun? I always thought that it was the main inspiration for Claremont's fascination with Japan. And I just want to say that I love the "Wolverine isn't a samurai" post.

  • At January 23, 2008 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with a lot of what's being said here. I'm in my late twenties and followed the X-Men heavily from about 1989 to 1992 or so...then kind of became sick of them when they hit the mainstream and started to become overly glamorized (right around the Jim Lee era). As the main writer here (kalinara, I believe) writes, I too miss the old school Psylocke. My analogy is this: I don't swear by Quentin Tarantino at all (in fact, I kind of hate his films, and haven't seen any of the recent ones), Reservoir Dogs, one of the "Mr."'s was Mr. Blue: a character in the background who barely appeared in the film and was only passingly mentioned by the other characters. That's how I feel the old Psylocke was: she was sort of the "Mr. Blue" (Ms. Purple?) of the 1980s X-Men, shy and in the background, likeable because she wasn't obnoxiously overexposed. All that went out the window when she transformed. I'm not sure, but is the Revanche clone still alive? (I think something happened with her regarding the Legacy Virus). If so, that really sucks. Ah well. But my main point is, I think one of the reasons Psylocke was so likeable back in the day was because she wasn't so in-your-face, and since the early 1990s (Uncanny X-Men #256 was THE issue, I believe, in which the change happened) that innocent Psylocke was lost forever.

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  • At October 01, 2014 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm surprised Marvel's kept Betsy in that Japanese body all these years. You'd think somebody would've realized this was in bad taste.

  • At May 12, 2015 5:12 PM, Blogger percy blakeney said…

    Yeah, the whole body swap thing is completely abhorrent in terms not only of gender issues and racismm, but on a basic storytelling level. It's completely nuts and detracted hugely from the X-men's credibility. It's embarrassing to the franchise (there's plenty more that is these days but this is a red button issue from the dawn of its decline). The sheer sleaziness of the storyline, and the character ever since, is hard to credit. It is beyond me why this wasn't fixed and fixed quickly. Honestly I could have lived with it if it had been a one off story and the situation was rapidly reversed, but no we've had 25 years of this insanity and people actually argue that because they've always been used to her that way that makes it okay and it would be unfair to them to change her back! If you want a sexy ninja telepath character then just make one and introduce her into the team -don't lobotomize an existing character to fulfil some repellent fantasy.
    I've no doubt that had Shooter still been in charge Claremont wouldn't have lost the plot, the Siege Perilous nonsense would never have happened, the body swap madness would've been vetoed, and if we'd been really lucky Gambit might have been aborted pre-natally. Unfortunately without someone to stop him going mad Claremont's worst pulp sci-fi instincts came to the fore.
    As has been noted it was an early taste of what we'd get from Jim Lee and his ilk who would soon bless the world with oodles of this vacuous drivel and even dedicate their own comics company to it. It was like a trailer -90s comics here we come!
    To be honest the state of Psylocke is an indictment of the comics industry and the comics market as a whole. The fact that the audience (tiny compared to what it was in the 80's), now primarily targeted at kids and middle aged men, put up with this, accept it as normal, and have not demanded change, tells you why so much filth is published under the guise of 'mature themes' (anyone who thinks much of the crap that's been published under that pretense is mature is an emotional cripple), and the industry is failing catastrophically.

    I love Claremont's run on the X-Men (but it does start to go off the rails after the Siege Perilous folly). However, he should hang his head in shame over the Psylocke matter.


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