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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #256

"The Key That Breaks the Locke"
Late December 1989

In a Nutshell 
Psylocke is transformed into an Asian ninja assassin by the Hand. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Taipan: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Having killed his guards, Matsuo Tsurayaba confronts the Mandarin in Hong Kong, offering him the services of the Hand. Elsewhere, Psylocke experiences a bizarre, shifting reality in which she's stalked by Mojo and Spiral as she relives moments from her past, growing older in the process: playing with her brother Brian, joy riding with her brother Jamie, and reconnecting with Dough Ramsey. Along the way, she picks up a series of rings. Eventually, she enters a salon called the Body Shoppe and is reunited with Storm before Mojo and Spiral transform her into an Asian woman. In reality, she is being held by the Hand. Her mind fractured by the Siege Perilous, one of the Hands' psychics works to reshape her mind as it heals, making her a loyal assassin, whom Matsuo offers to the Mandarin.


Back in her mind, Psylocke encounters the rest of her teammates, slaying them all in order to acquire one of the Mandarin's rings from each, before facing her old foe Slaymaster for the final ring. Slaymaster then transforms into the Mandarin, whom Psylocke defeats. When he orders her to acknowledge him as her lord and master, she refuses, and telepathically blasts him, much to Mojo and Spiral's delight. In the real world, however, the Hand psychic is now dead, and Psylocke kneels before the real Mandarin. She swears loyalty to him, but hides from her new master an insane smile. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is the first appearance of "Hot Asian Ninja Psylocke", as the post-Siege Perilous Betsy is transformed into an Asian assassin by the Hand in order to serve as the Mandarin's chief enforcer. Ninja Psylocke is up there on the X-Men Mount Rushmore of characters who signify the sensibilities of comics in the early 90s, both for the way the character is given a makeover to work more stereotypically "kewl" traits into her characterization, and for the way the already complicated process of transforming her into a ninja assassin is further complicated via later retcons (basically, Fabian Nicieza later establishes that Psylocke's body wasn't physically transformed; rather, her mind was placed in the body of an existing ninja assassin, while the assassin's mind went into Psylocke's original body).


Ninja Psylocke's signature bathing suit costume and random arm & leg straps/bandage/ribbon look also debuts this issue, and will, barring some subtle variations, remain her default look pretty much throughout the entirety of the 90s, putting her in the company of such other X-Men as Havok, Polaris and Archangel in continuing to wear a costume she initially received from a villain.


This issue kicks off Uncanny X-Men's contribution to "Acts of Vengeance" and to that end, features Iron Man villain (and one of the Prime Movers) the Mandarin, here depicted in a more restrained business suit as opposed to the shiny metal armor he wears in the Avengers tie-in issues, though allowing for the fluidity of time in comics, I don't think there's anything in either of his appearances that directly contradicts the other.


Jim Lee is back on art, filling in once again for Marc Silvestri. He'll pencil the entirety of this story, then hand the book back over to Silvestri, who will stick around for a few more issues before leaving the series to pencil Wolverine, after which we'll get a bunch of lackluster fill-in art on this title before Lee returns, this time as the series' new regular penciler. I'm not sure exactly when it was decided to make Lee the new regular artist, but it was probably after this story, though I wouldn't be surprised if he was given these three issues with the idea in mind of giving him the book full time, with this story serving as a tryout of sorts.

Lee is inked by his frequent collaborator Scott Williams, a partnership that will continue throughout most of both artists' careers, including this series, as Williams will become the new regular inker when Lee becomes penciler.
 
During Psylocke's hallucination/brainwashing/conditioning/whatever in this issue, she encounters the X-Men who entered the Siege Perilous one after the other, and each encounter foreshadows the state of the character when next we'll see them, post-Siege (possibly a nod to her earlier precognitive abilities): Colossus is living his hearts desire as an artist, Dazzler is a star in Hollywood, Havok is in Genosha, and Rogue has had the Ms. Marvel portion of her psyche excised.


Throughout this issue, representations of Mojo and Spiral are seen hanging out in Psylocke's mind, and by the end of the issue, Mojo is promising to provide Psylocke with new inner eyes. It's implied that Spiral and her Body Shoppe played a role in the physical transformation of Psylocke, but that idea and the presence of Mojo never really get followed up on in this story, and it's entirely possible to read their presence as existing only in Psylocke's mind (a la Slaymaster and the other X-Men), especially given Psylocke's history with them. However, Nicieza's later retcon does follow up on their presence, and officially makes Spiral a part of the process that transforms Psylocke, and both characters are considered to have actually appeared in this issue.


For whatever reason, back in the day, I was able to get a hold of a copy of this issue at a reasonable price, whereas the next two chapters of this story remained elusive for much longer thanks to my tied-to-an-allowance income and their higher price. As a result, I've read this issue countless times through the years, whereas I've probably only read the next two issues twice, at most.

A Work in Progress
Matsuo says the Hand slogan is "whatever the fate of one hand, a man may still rely on the other" a la Hydra's "cut one off one head and two will take its place" schtick, though I'm not sure if that is something Claremont made up for this issue or if it was lifted from somewhere else (like a Frank Miller Daredevil issue). Either way, it's much less ubiquitous than the Hydra slogan (and less menacing. I mean, ultimately, most people only have two hands so the slogan is only true for awhile). 


Betsy's memories gives us a glimpse of bookish young Captain Britain and tomboy Psylocke, as well as their older brother Jamie (who recently made his first appearance in Excalibur in the present day).


Psylocke's brief relationship with Doug Ramsey (from New Mutants Annual #2) is also referenced.


As is her brief time as Captain Britain, from that character's solo series. 


Finally, Psylocke encounters Slaymaster, the villain who blinded her (which allowed Mojo to replace her eyes with bionic ones), whose appearance in this issue represents the only time this reader has ever actually encountered the character.


Claremontisms
Young Betsy gives Claremont a chance to spout off about airplanes for a panel or two. Lots of "body and soul" going on in this issue, too, not surprisingly. 


For Sale
There's an ad for Castlevania II: Simon's Quest in this issue, one of my all time favorite NES games.


In fact, the vast majority of ads in this comic are for video games or video game products, a testament to the late 80s resurgence of the video game market following the '83 crash. One of the few non-video game ads is for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal, something else very much of its time.


Teebore's Take
The final issue of the series with a cover date in the eighties (it was technically on sale a few months earlier in 1989), this issue and the story it kicks off can be read as a sneak peek at the X-Men of the early 90s: Jim Lee, Ninja Psylocke, a big role for Wolverine & Jubilee. But for all that (and the generally accepted notion that Jim Lee just wanted a hot Asian woman to draw), it's also still very much a Chris Claremont comic, featuring as it does the physical transformation of a strong female pet character being mind controlled, and it's worth remembering that Psylocke craving to be more of a physical warrior has been a consistent part of her characterization for years, making the change somewhat less egregious than if it was, say, Dazzler. There's also some dicey racial things going on as well, as Psylocke is transformed under the auspices of the Mandarin (a character with his own troubling racial depictions over the years) into a completely different race, a transformation which never really gets properly explored, here or elsewhere. 

But putting all that (admittedly heavy) baggage aside, this issue on its own terms is actually really effective. It's much more surreal and metaphorical than one would expect from the Jim Lee-drawn introduction to one of comics' early 90s poster children, opening in media res and taking place mostly inside Psylocke's mind, resisting the urge to spell out for the readers exactly what's happening. For anyone who hadn't read Captain Britain's solo series, this also represents the most direct look at Psylocke's family and backstory the series will ever provide (it was, for many years, the only place I'd ever seen Jamie Braddock outside a trading card), something which helps reinforce the notion that there's more to Psylocke's transformation than a quick attempt to make an existing character more stereotypically kewl.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the plot finally moves ahead in New Mutants #84, followed on Friday by the penultimate issue of "Judgment War" in X-Factor #49. Next week, "Acts of Vengeance" continues in a bunch of different places.

Collected Editions

44 comments:

  1. it was, for many years, the only place I'd ever seen Jamie Braddock outside a trading card

    Let me guess. Was it this one?

    http://thumbs4.ebaystatic.com/d/l225/m/mnohYBcX9-SSqK4OVHi6JZw.jpg

    Because that's definitely the case for me, too. Good old X-Men Series II by Skybox.

    I like this issue a lot. The art is great and I honestly prefer "Hot Asian Ninja Psylocke" to regular British Betsy, probably because that's the one I grew up with.

    I'm glad I reread this again after reading your blog and few others so I was more filled in on the history of the Captain Britain Marvel UK series, because I used to think this issue was nearly impenetrable with the amount of back story (a lot of which is fake or altered) in it. Even without fully understanding everything I still got the stakes, though. And the art combined with the mood of the story is really great.

    This readthrough really hit home that Nicieza didn't do his homework when he follows up on this. Mojo and Spiral definitely don't seem to be working in concert with the Hand here, which they are in the retcon and I know he gets a lot of other little details wrong, too. Although if pressed, I guess the Hand switching Betsy's mind into another body is slightly less goofy than just magically just turning her Asian.

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  2. I'm always amazed that they didn't just have her come out of the Siege Perilous as an Asian and had the Hand transformer her into a Ninja Assassin. It would have just been a "transformation" by the Siege Perilous that found her like that and trainee her. Much easier an explanation overall.

    Those X-Men Set I/II and Fleer Ultra X-Men I/II were amazing.

    Marvel Universe Series II is what got me really heavy into comics.

    I wanted to own all the back issue fights and 1st appearances. It was a fight between my 5th grade class to get the full set first. No card shop in town had it, only a gas station and it got 1 box in a week and it was almost immediately sold out or had a hole punctured into it to see if there was a foil inside.

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  3. "This readthrough really hit home that Nicieza didn't do his homework when he follows up on this. Mojo and Spiral definitely don't seem to be working in concert with the Hand here, which they are in the retcon and I know he gets a lot of other little details wrong, too. Although if pressed, I guess the Hand switching Betsy's mind into another body is slightly less goofy than just magically just turning her Asian."
    When Nicieza started the storyline, he had missed the scene in issue 255 where British Betsy is in the Hand headquarters, and assumed Asian Betsy came out of nowhere:
    http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/04/20/comic-book-legends-revealed-363/
    To be fair, though, it's not clear WHAT Mojo and Spiral are doing in Betsy's dream sequence. And the same thing happened with Maddie 20 issue earlier- it's not clear what Gateway's doing in her dream sequence. In both cases, Claremont chose to throw in characters that made no sense into the transformation sequences.

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  4. "basically, Fabian Nicieza later establishes that Psylocke's body wasn't physically transformed"

    In all honesty, Psylocke wasn't that confusing a character before Nicieza got a hold of her. If anything, I blame most of her bad continuity mojo (no pun intended) on him.

    "Ninja Psylocke's signature bathing suit costume and random arm & leg straps/bandage/ribbon look also debuts this issue"

    It's like the Image sexy version of Elektra's costume!

    "and each encounter foreshadows the state of the character when next we'll see them, post-Siege (possibly a nod to her earlier precognitive abilities"

    She also "sees" what happened to Storm as well, in a way, even though that isn't really foreshadowing in Storm's case.

    "Lots of "body and soul" going on in this issue"

    I think this is the point where CC's writing tics really start to be much more prevalent in his writing, as we'll see more and more of them onward. I mean, a body can only take so much of it, chum...

    "the generally accepted notion that Jim Lee just wanted a hot Asian woman to draw"

    Was this really how it went down? I can't imagine Lee would have the clout to dictate a plot point this big without CC's approval, at this point in their relationship. Of course, CC has occasionally changed character's races and appearances for no real reason, so who knows what the real story is/was.

    Overall, as an issue of it's own, I do like it, and it's done really well. One could argue whether Psylocke needed to become Asian (even though the story tries to justify why she was with a comment or 2) just to become a ninja. Of course, this issue does begin to show us that, apart from Colossus, all the X-men who went through the SP ended up with a perverted granting of their fondest wish. Betsy wanted to be "as strong in body as in mind", and she does get that...except she ends up becoming a brainwashed villain.

    I always did find it funny that Betsy whined about being weak physically. She's a telepath, she could scan and download the fighting knowledge of just about anybody she wanted to.

    As for the Mojo and Spiral thing, I always saw them as being a part of Psylocke's subconscious. Tatsuo more or less explains it in the issue itself.

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  5. One-liner turned into a storyline, er: Matsuo really should be less liberal about whatever happens to one hand of his, remembering how it goes (post-Claremont) after xxxxx gets mightily aggravated over Matsuo's role in xxxxxx'x xxxxx.

    A week back I praised Claremont doing this story instead of Wolverine vs. Bullseye, which in my mind had potential of being but a Milleresque lift. I have since been pointed out that a story about red coat Hand ninjas, an assassin-trainee in blue Elektra outfit and a gruffy older hero with a teen girl sidekick wearing yellow, red and green might, in fact, be a... so, I stand before you humbly disciplined. I believe though that the two hands bit is all Claremont.

    The transformation: hate it ever happened, cherish the beautiful way they made it happen.

    I've seen it noted that Claremont's portrayal of the Mandarin here as a sort-of business mogul of the rising industrial China is an apt and up-to-date re-imagination for the unfortunate Fu Manchuesque villain he has been thus far. Not exactly a change but a nice massage nevertheless.

    Mojo and Spiral are naturally here only as a subconscious shade of their role in her introduction to the X-side of the Marvel Universe, very much like Slaymaster is one from her most traumatic encounter. No one's claiming he would have been there too? There's a nice and medium-appropriate ring to his comment about "Did you see the body? Ah-hah-hah-haa!!!".

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  6. "I always did find it funny that Betsy whined about being weak physically. She's a telepath, she could scan and download the fighting knowledge of just about anybody she wanted to."

    Yeah, I always found it odd. Maybe this is just my reading of it, but it seemed Betsy's "I wish I wasn't weak" talk really started after her attack from Slaymaster. It might just be due to her joining the X-Men & Claremont deciding to pursue that path, or it might be a bit of characterization about residual trauma that was never fully explored.

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  7. "Was this really how it went down? I can't imagine Lee would have the clout to dictate a plot point this big without CC's approval, at this point in their relationship. Of course, CC has occasionally changed character's races and appearances for no real reason, so who knows what the real story is/was."
    Supposedly, the race-changing was Claremont's idea, and it was supposed to be temporary, like Storm's transformation into a kid- but the fans liked it so much it became permanent.

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  8. Even at the time, and not knowing that Psylocke's transformation would be permanent, it seemed such a shame they decided to completely transform the character. I particularly enjoyed her previous depiction in her armor/cloak costume, which already played plenty with her desire to be a tougher member of the team, and even her own sexuality--flirting with Colossus (and probably everyone else). It always seemed to me that the "hot Asian ninja" character could easily have been newly introduced without needing to erase Psylocke's previous iteration. It's also hilariously apropos her new guise would be unveiled as literally the lead-in to the 90's. I'm hard-pressed to think of anything else the character does after this point until I started following them again in the 00's, other than simply be the "hot, Asian ninja" that Jim Lee was obviously (and understandably) fond of drawing. Betsy Braddock, we hardly knew ye.

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  9. Issue 256 represents a grand and fleeting moment in X-Men lore. Although the story is a bit jumbled and has little lasting influence on the book beyond Psylocke, this comic is the height of strange and exotic X-Men.

    The art is beautiful, with Lee's style fitting so well with an Asian backdrop. The splash page and opening sequence of Matsuo and Mandarin with Hong Kong in the background is amazing. The dialogue between the two also reinforces the foreign nature and intrigue of the book.

    Until Nicieza's terrible retcon years later, nobody really knew what was going on here. Were Mojo and Spiral involved physically or just part of Betsy's imagination? I tend to think the latter.

    Also, no X-Men or characters really appeared in the book that we had familiarity with. Psylocke is a totally new person, Mojo had never appeared in the main book and Spiral was a fringe character (both Mojo and Spiral were also dream figures in my "eyes").

    Furthermore, the X-Men that briefly appear in dream sequence are so different from what people would expect (especially if you haven't read 246-250, say coming back from the relaunch era or coming forward from 100's). They are also doing things rather un-X-Men like, singing, painting and the such.

    Altogether it "paints" a rather jarring picture of the X-Men, its themes and where the book is going. I don't think there is another issue you could pass to somebody that has only a commercial vision of the X-Men that would smash their ideas like this one.

    That is why it is great.

    Unfortunately, part of the reason it is great, Jim Lee, is also is one of the main reasons we got to taste so little of this strange and unexplored X-Men timeline. How ironic.

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  10. Ah, Doug. Nice of Claremont to remember that she had a sort-of thing for/with him.

    I'd be pretty upset if I were buying this as part of some Acts of Vengeance completist urge. Which I know is a ridiculous concept given that X-Men itself was hotter than the event at the time and that its key-issue status since then is due to Betsy's transformation or early Jim Lee art (or both). Unless there's a missing page where, after he learns that Tsurayaba has brought him Psylocke, Mandarin thinks to himself, "How nice! I didn't even know the X-Men were still alive. This will qualify as my Acts of Vengeance participation," well, there's nothing Acts of Vengeance about it beyond the corner-cover logo.

    // Psylocke kneels before the real Mandarin. She swears loyalty to him, but hides from her new master an insane smile.  //

    The last thing she says before zapping Slaymaster-turned-Mandarin is that while his mind controls her ring her powers of telepathy control his thoughts. A little confusing, maybe, but I took that — and the smile — to mean that she was turning the tables, unbeknownst to the actual Mandarin since he wasn't privy to the details of her mental narrative. Maybe this is a double-double-cross, i.e. letting her think she beat him is the final step in subduing her. I realize that the rest of you already know whether that's explained, but I'm not reading ahead.

    // Fabian Nicieza later establishes that Psylocke's body wasn't physically transformed; rather, her mind was placed in the body of an existing ninja assassin, while the assassin's mind went into Psylocke's original body //

    Whether or not that idea is any good, or leads to any good stories, or is preferred as a concept by any readers for whatever reasons, I have to say that coming to this cold I don't think it contradicts what's shown in this issue. The glimpses of what's actually being done to Betsy are few, versus Tsurabaya's discussion of it with Mandarin and Betsy's visionscape interpretation, so it could all be extraction of her psyche to a genetically engineered clone or host body.

    // Lee is inked by his frequent collaborator Scott Williams //

    There are some squiggles on Mandarin in the full-body shot on Pg. 3 that are just so Lee/Williams. I've never loved their work — my favorite Jim Lee art is probably the pencils-and-wash illos he did throughout Batman: Hush — but, I think, that's mostly due to the very stylistic flourishes others love about it; generally, the fundamentals are strong.

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  11. // Matsuo says the Hand slogan is ... //

    I didn't take that to be a slogan. Mandarin quotes Hydra's slogan and Tsurabaya replies with fact; no, if one limb is cut off more won't grow in its place, but there will still be another hand, and if you're resourceful enough that'll do the job. He's just saying that The Hand is practical and powerful. I guess?

    // Claremontisms //

    The way young Betsy sort-of carries on a monologue in response to getting the ring from Mojo and Spyral while play-fighting goes here too, in my mind: "It really is lovely. Take that! A lot nicer than anything I have at home. And that! Sometimes, I think Mummy and Daddy aren't even aware we're there. And that and that!"

    I thought this issue was pretty nicely done, in and of itself, bizarre (if not outright troubling) racial transformation aside. Unfortunately it more-or-less completely eradicated the Betsy Braddock that was, a character whom I liked just fine and thought had plenty of potential. There really is no reason that "hot Asian ninja" Psylocke couldn't be another character altogether, except — and this is everything really — that New Psylocke wouldn't have the impact of Established Psylocke's transformation as part of her origin, so how this impacts her and her friends, loved ones, and teammates is key to whether it was worthwhile. From a distance, knowing Betsy from pre-Excalibur Captain Britain tales and an X-Men Annual, keeping X-Men stuff mostly at arm's length over the years, I could barely associate Kewl New Psylocke with Psylocke Classic enough to get offended. I get the impression that in the long run, yeah, it was dumb, but it remains to be seen (for me) at what point one can look back and conclude that the maneuver was botched; one great plot turn or character payoff could make all the difference, the flip side of which is that lack of same leaves it as a random crazy turn.

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  12. "The last thing she says before zapping Slaymaster-turned-Mandarin is that while his mind controls her ring her powers of telepathy control his thoughts. A little confusing, maybe, but I took that — and the smile — to mean that she was turning the tables, unbeknownst to the actual Mandarin since he wasn't privy to the details of her mental narrative. Maybe this is a double-double-cross, i.e. letting her think she beat him is the final step in subduing her. I realize that the rest of you already know whether that's explained, but I'm not reading ahead."
    No, it's never explained and Betsy seems to be completely enslaved by the Hand until Wolverine frees her in issue 258. When I first read it,I assumed that the idea was that Mojo and Spiral twisted the spell so that Betsy would be loyal to them instead of the Hand. But Claremont forgets about this after this issue. I have a feeling that this tied in to how he was going to turn Betsy British again.

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  13. @Jeff: Let me guess. Was it this one?

    It was indeed!

    I honestly prefer "Hot Asian Ninja Psylocke" to regular British Betsy, probably because that's the one I grew up with.

    What's weird for me is that Ninja Psylocke is absolutely the one I grew up with, yet I've come to favor the British version (though I didn't have the animosity towards the ninja version that some do).

    Although if pressed, I guess the Hand switching Betsy's mind into another body is slightly less goofy than just magically just turning her Asian.

    Nicieza gets a lot of flak for that retcon, but I honestly don't think it's that bad or confusing. Sure, he just muddies the water initially in XM2 #20-22, but when he revisits it in #32 & #33 it comes out much neater. He basically just turns it into a mind swap between two bodies which is, ultimately, less goofy than magic racial transformation. I mean, mind swaps are a pretty standard comic book trope and that's really all he brings to it.

    @Scott: It would have just been a "transformation" by the Siege Perilous that found her like that and trainee her. Much easier an explanation overall.

    Me too. I think one of the reasons people often think she came out of the Siege transformed is just because that's the simpler explanation.

    Marvel Universe Series II is what got me really heavy into comics.

    I wanted to own all the back issue fights and 1st appearances.


    I'm with you on both counts. Marvel Universe Series II is almost singlehandedly responsible for getting me into comics.

    I'm not sure when or how, exactly, yet, but at some point I'm going to do posts on the different series of cards.

    @wwk5d: I think this is the point where CC's writing tics really start to be much more prevalent in his writing, as we'll see more and more of them onward

    A lot of that comes from Psylocke's catchphrase (which is still a ways off). But there's still a part of me that wonders if the sudden uptick in tics is intentional on Claremont's part, him sort of turning up his nose at "traditional" stories because that's what Lee and Harras start pushing him to do (in that repeating phrases and stating everyone's powers every issue was the way it was done back in the day). But that's just a feeling I've always had.

    Was this really how it went down?

    I have no idea (and couldn't find a source for it), but I've heard that idea thrown around a lot.

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  14. @Teemu: Matsuo really should be less liberal about whatever happens to one hand of his, remembering how it goes (post-Claremont) after xxxxx gets mightily aggravated over Matsuo's role in xxxxxx'x xxxxx.

    Ha! Good point. I'd forgotten about that.

    @Anonymous: Supposedly, the race-changing was Claremont's idea, and it was supposed to be temporary, like Storm's transformation into a kid- but the fans liked it so much it became permanent.

    I've heard that too - at least the bit about the changing being temporary but then sticking because the fans liked it (and because Lee stuck around while Claremont left).

    @Johnny Feathers: I'm hard-pressed to think of anything else the character does after this point until I started following them again in the 00's, other than simply be the "hot, Asian ninja" that Jim Lee was obviously (and understandably) fond of drawing.

    I kind of have a soft spot for the Angel/Psylocke romance, partially because it seems so random yet also fitting (and Remender made good use of it in his X-Force series). And I appreciate that Lobdell recalled the Psylocke/Sabretooth feud when Sabretooth was living in the mansion (though that did lead to all that Crimson Dawn nonsense).

    @Zephyr: I don't think there is another issue you could pass to somebody that has only a commercial vision of the X-Men that would smash their ideas like this one.

    That is why it is great.


    That's a really good point.

    @Blam: well, there's nothing Acts of Vengeance about it beyond the corner-cover logo.

    Yeah, I rag on NM #84 for its weak tie-in, but I totally overlooked the fact that this issue is equally loosely connected to the larger storyline.

    He's just saying that The Hand is practical and powerful. I guess?

    Given that I don't think we ever hear that line again (or have it heard before) you're probably right.

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  15. @Scott Church Marvel Universe Series II is what got me really heavy into comics.

    Oh totally! I have great memories of trying to get a whole set. The comic shop I went to at the time sold them individually, but never had a full set. The owner was 100% Comic Book Guy and didn't like kids (like 10 year old me) touching the cards or comics. I'm pretty sure my parents were convinced he was a goofball.

    Anyway, a few years ago I bought a set of those and the Jim Lee X-Men cards. One night a week I read a few of the Marvel Universe II ones to my two year old and she absolutely loves them. I just now realized I need to get a set of the old Marvel GI Joe card set, too. Man, that was an awesome set.

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  16. Japanese Psylocke is the Psylocke I was introduced to first and the Psylocke I read about in then-current continuity for a decade. She is Psylocke to me. Pre-Siege Betsy was more of a curiosity than anything else when I was reading X-Men, and I found her kind of boring because she was so much less self-assured than the ninja version.

    Having since read the original Captain Britain stories, I appreciate the original iteration of the character more -- but ninja Psylocke will always be the best, definitive version of the character as far as I'm concerned.

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  17. Matt: Pre-Siege Betsy was more of a curiosity than anything else when I was reading X-Men, and I found her kind of boring because she was so much less self-assured than the ninja version.

    UNCANNY #213 is the best Psylocke story there is and nothing Focused Totality Betsy ever did can by far cry match British Betsy grinningly luring Sabretooth away from the wounded Morlocks in the X-Mansion infirmary in a nightgown, nearly sacrificing herself and immediately afterwards being totally open for sacrificing Wolverine also so she could pass Sabretooth's psychic defences and read his mind for intel on the Marauders.

    Stupid comic book 90's.

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  18. Teemu: Totally agree with you about Psylocke in that last comment.

    So if Betsy's transformation into Anglo-Asian Psylocke by Spiral's Body Shoppe is a vision in her subconscious just like Slaymaster and Co., does anyone have any theories as to how Claremont intended to explain how the Hand were capable of racially transforming her? I'll let the best theory take the reins for this fix on my blog:)

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  19. They used magic. It doesn't need any more explanation than that.

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  20. They speak of "the Hand's mystics" in the story. I'm pretty open with the mystics of a ninja clan doing anything, especially in the former Emile Vachon island base inherited from the Iron Fist side of the Marvel Universe.

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  21. Also, to continue, I'm a fan of the murderous instincts the Pre-Siege Betsy more often than not would show, first with Havok when they first met and later on with the Genoshan Magistrates, for example. It's difficult to think for any such personal trait attested in the Asian Ninja Betsy. Granted, she is a different person, to an extent. But also, who does need any personality traits when you can fly at the villains and readers alike with your bare thighs open?

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  22. Sorry to keep dripping it like this, but it's like this: just like Asian Ninja Betsy was their Betsy to many, the original UNCANNY British Betsy was mine. In more ways that I this far have accounted for, as I just realized, starting to read UNCANNY at #199, Psylocke was the first "new" X-Man to join the team for me.

    I had little conscious understanding for the art for the longest time, but she was introduced to me first in ANNUAL #10 drawn by A. Adams and then Davis-drawn UNCANNY #213. As far as actively thinking about it went, if the art didn't diverge too much from what could be called the house style of mid-80's Marvel, I was happy. And if it did, I wasn't. Early Silvestri was close enough that and looked better than the fill-in artists after JR jr. to go smoothly under my radar. But I guess the gorgeousness of the art in those early introductions of Psylocke, along with the awesomeness of her passing exam to the X-men, made a silent impression.

    Here on the threshold of the Jim Lee era, fittingly at the end of the 80's, my favored era of art is
    drawing to its end, alongside the known-to-me iteration of the character who, now that I think about it, really joined the X-Men at the same time and together with me. I feel like a fool standing here waving at her as she's going to the character limbo, and worst of all, escorted by Claremont himself like he's playing the role of some ersatz motherf*cking Marcus Immortus.

    The transformation, especially the early parts, reads a bit like an eulogy to MY Betsy.

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  23. I love reading when and how people became comic book fans. When the 2nd MU set came out, I was already a wily veteran comic geek at age 14 with almost 100 issues to my name.

    Anyway, Psylocke: never my favorite. She was like Jean Grey but less powerful. And sluttier. And dumber; why fight hand-to-hand when you can mind-zap bad guys from a distance. Oh yeah, she was an "action junkie" (insert derisive snort).

    Then I read Uncanny 214. Holy crap, she stood up to Sabretooth! And was more concerned with finding her role than screwing Cyclops. I liked this Psylocke. Still not a favorite but not as bad as, say, Gambit. Since then, I liked her role in the Psi-War story and Uncanny X-Force.

    I still don't understand why her switch to the Asian body wasn't just due to her dying and transferring her consciousness to the nearest brain-dead receptacle. The weird race stuff would still be there but at least the switch wouldn't be intentional in-story.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  24. "She was like Jean Grey but less powerful. And sluttier"

    We can thank Nicieza & Lee for that.

    "And dumber; why fight hand-to-hand when you can mind-zap bad guys from a distance. Oh yeah, she was an "action junkie""

    I actually liked that, bit, and it seemed like CC was going somewhere with that as far as her character was concerned. Sadly, once he left, she her character was defined by being a homewrecker and whining about how inadequate she was compared to Jean, which was nonsensical.

    "Nicieza gets a lot of flak for that retcon, but I honestly don't think it's that bad or confusing."

    It kind of was, and was definitely pointless. I mean, when you have to retcon your own retcon, then something isn't right. If anything, this seemed like big confusing way just to justify why Psylocke would come on to Scott in the first place.

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  25. The Revanche story got me to drop X-Men, returning only occasionally until the Kelly/Seagle runs. I hadn't been enjoying the books much since Jim Lee had left, and not being able to follow the story or get much entertainment out of it was the last straw.

    -Mike Loughlin

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  26. I call this the issue where Besty basically became a less interesting character and gave up a large degree of her true power & potential just to be able to flip around and hit things better.

    I was a kid during the '90s era, so this is the version I was introduced to, but I became a big fan of British Betsy as I became more familiar with the backstory.

    Here is the rub, at least for me: a large degree of Psylocke's character had to deal with her feelings of inadequacy which were understandable given some of the traumatic events that happened during her life. Nevertheless, she was the de facto third in command of the X-Men at that time, with Storm often turning to her or Logan for their opinions. There are quite a few instances, such as when they first meet Havok, how she handled herself during the fight with Sabretooth, and how the Siege Perilous Dissolution played out, that showed that she was astonishingly lethal, very prone to going for the jugular, and capable of high levels of strategy. The paradox was that it was relying on her telepathic powers that made her so effective - I still remember a fight scene (perhaps this was against Freedom Force), where she used telepathic illusions to misdirect opponents, communicated with the other X-Men to coordinate their attacks, and was more than holding her own. And as wwk5d pointed out, she could have always downloaded combat knowledge from Wolverine or another h2h master, and simply trained her body - Revanche showed that Betsy was certainly physically capable of getting to this level of conditioning.

    British Betsy, basically, was the other side of the Emma Frost character type - a telepath who played the long game, used strategy, and who had her own degree of ruthlessness. It's ironic to picture her that way, given that the '90s era Ninja Psylocke flirted with Scott and had a semi-rivalry with Jean, while Emma eventually came to take that role.

    But in this era, all of that potential was excised, leaving nothing but yet another martial marts master, which the Marvel Universe had more than enough of, while effective telepaths are less common despite how often that power is encountered.

    And her character has been languishing in KeWll33t-ville since - the weirdness of the Crimson Dawn story (where she randomly had that ugly tattoo on her face - and as we know from Mike Tyson, facial tattoos are never a good idea), losing TP to get TK, and vacillating between being reliable to unhinged.

    I think in the long run, it would have worked better to have British Betsy restored to her original body and take the name Psylocke, and have Kwannon take the Revanche and join the team. That way, you could have the bona fide Japanese ninja as a character in her own right, with the original Betsy able to claim that she no longer felt helpless as a telepath thus closing the circle on her Outback Era character arc. It would be fitting given that she already wore armor, to now bear a saber and marry that with her full telepathic potential.

    I think many writers just didn't know what to do with her, because her backstory went from being relatively simple to outright weird, stemming from Claremont's time to Nicieza's stories. No disrespect to either writer, but it resulted in a muddled character. Even during the Lee era, this lack of coherence was noticeable - one of the first things she says in the X-Men Genesis revamp (the one with the great artwork and double-paged Jim Lee cover) was thanking Beast for setting up robot opponents that "even her physical strength could take out.", which is just odd. Then they further undermine the value of those skills by having her getting defeated by Sabretooth, which is a step back for Psylocke considering their history.

    TL;DR - in sum, we lost an interesting character in exchange for someone who knows how to punch better.

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  27. I agree with Teemu and the sentiment here, British Betsy was a significantly more interesting character than Psychic Knife.

    I stopped reading regularly after Phalanx Covenant. From this issue to then, there are few memorable moments in Psylocke's character arc. Besides the focused totality of hotness and her awesome "as Juiblee would say, eat your heart out Bruce Willis" while crawling through an air duct to rescue everyone in X-Tinction Agenda, there is little to get excited about.

    Whereas, as mentioned, in the short run from her joining the team to her transformation, we had many. My personal favorites are the splash page of her reading the Genoshan magistrate's minds and her fight with Rogue in the Oz base's underground lake.

    RIP Betsy.

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  28. "one of the first things she says in the X-Men Genesis revamp (the one with the great artwork and double-paged Jim Lee cover) was thanking Beast for setting up robot opponents that "even her physical strength could take out.", which is just odd."
    I have a feeling the problem was Lee drew Betsy defeating Danger Room robots by punching them, so Claremont felt the need to explain it.

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  29. "TL;DR - in sum, we lost an interesting character in exchange for someone who knows how to punch better."

    Yeah, add me to the people who preferred the more nuanced pre-body-swap Betsy. Drew's statement actually sums up a lot of questionable changes/killings-off in comics in general that have bothered me, from Doug Ramsey on through to Ted Kord (not to slag on Jaime Reyes, but they could've co-existed). People in charge keep forgetting that "they need to punch things" is just part of the larger story in comics, not the totality of it, and it means nothing if the characters are interchangeable punch-throwers instead of a wider variety, both ability & personality wise.

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  30. Though Uncanny X-Men #255-6 is often listed as Matsu'o Tsurayaba's first appearance, there is actually a minor ninja named Matsu'o during the Kitty and Wolverine miniseries. That Matsu'o is notable for being the only ninja in the service of Ōgun to survive the miniseries. Was this an early appearance?

    If so the other question this raises is whether Matsu'o was there undercover for the Hand, or was Ōgun's Dojo a Hand training encampment and he had originally planned to turn Wolvie into their master assassin that long ago? Did Claremont's planned/ aborted Dark Wolverine Saga have its roots as far back as Logan's training under Ōgun?

    Re: Psylocke's racial transformation, Claremont had used this trope earlier with Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander who ended up with Native American physiognomy as a result of the Demon Bear. If the Hand were primarily responsible for Betsy's transformation, did they call on their Beast to do it and might this suggest a connection between it and the Demon Bear?

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  31. Apparently, the Demon Bear was supposed to be tied into the whole Adversary/FOTM story, but CC never got around to it. The revealed that Demon Bear was either the Adversary or some agent of his (I forgot which) in either the Uncanny or New Mutants letter column. So who knows what the reason was for Tom and Sharon's change in race.

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  32. Adversary, that poor ersatz for Mad Jim Jaspers and, ha, the adversary to Roma, both imports from the Captain Britain lore just like our purple-haired...?

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  33. @wwk5d: yep knew about the Adversary connection (the Earth Storm and Forge were on during FotM was the giveaway) but can anyone recall which issue #'s letter column?

    @Teemu: come on, spin that theory re: Psylocke's transformation;)

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  34. @teemu

    It's actually hard to say what CC's original plans for The Adversary, Jaspers, Roma, and FOTM were supposed to be. He definitely had plans for both, as the Adversary was introduced in the late 180s of Uncanny, and Jaspers was supposed to be part of The Mutant Massacre (which was supposed to happen in #200). It's possible FOTM with the Adversary was supposed to happen as it played out, just earlier.

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  35. @Mike: I still don't understand why her switch to the Asian body wasn't just due to her dying and transferring her consciousness to the nearest brain-dead receptacle.

    That would also be a much neater way to facilitate the change.

    @wwk5d: I mean, when you have to retcon your own retcon, then something isn't right. If anything, this seemed like big confusing way just to justify why Psylocke would come on to Scott in the first place.

    I could very easily be forgetting some details (it's been awhile since I read it), and I totally agree that Nicieza's first stab at the retcon in issues 20-22 was a complete mess, but I feel like the end result after he cleaned it up in 32 & 33 was just that Psylocke and Kwannon swapped bodies, with each getting a bit of the other's personality mixed in as well (hence Betsy knowing how to fight and being more ruthless as a ninja, and Revanche being able to actually use the telepathic power of her new body).

    At the end of the day, that doesn't seem all that convoluted or confusing, even if getting there was a bit of a mess. I guess, ultimately, it was pointless (as Revanche never really did much but become a named victim of the Legacy Virus), but as explanations go, I don't think it's any worse than "vague Hand magic" for an explanation of how Psylocke ended up with an Asian body.

    @Anonymous: I have a feeling the problem was Lee drew Betsy defeating Danger Room robots by punching them, so Claremont felt the need to explain it.

    That's always been my take on it as well, especially since they were well past the point where Lee was just drawing whatever the hell he wanted and leaving it to Claremont, often at the last minute, to script it and/or help make sense of the art.

    @Mela: People in charge keep forgetting that "they need to punch things" is just part of the larger story in comics, not the totality of it, and it means nothing if the characters are interchangeable punch-throwers instead of a wider variety, both ability & personality wise.

    Hear hear! Any writer who can't make a power that isn't purely physical work is just a bad (or lazy) writer.

    @Nathan: can anyone recall which issue #'s letter column?

    It was the letter column in New Mutants #24, which said that the being who turned Dani's parents into the Demon Bear is the same being as appeared in Uncanny X-Men #188 and stole Naze's form, which turns out to be the Adversary.

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  36. "I still don't understand why her switch to the Asian body wasn't just due to her dying and transferring her consciousness to the nearest brain-dead receptacle."

    Come to think of it, isn't that what they did for Ultimate Psylocke?

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  37. Nathan Adler: @Teemu: come on, spin that theory re: Psylocke's transformation;)

    I'll assume no part in this one. MY Betsy!

    wwk5d: It's actually hard to say what CC's original plans for The Adversary, Jaspers, Roma, and FOTM were supposed to be. He definitely had plans for both, as the Adversary was introduced in the late 180s of Uncanny, and Jaspers was supposed to be part of The Mutant Massacre (which was supposed to happen in #200). It's possible FOTM with the Adversary was supposed to happen as it played out, just earlier.

    Ah, right. It was Mr Sinister who took the Massacre portion on his name.

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  38. Damn it, Drew you said just about everything I was going to say! Oh well.

    I find it amusing that as this site is heading into the 90's, the first thing we get is a ninja practicing the ancient art of "thong-fu." Boy is THAT a harbinger of things to come, eh? I also remembered being surprised hearing that Asian Psylocke was Claremont's idea and not Lee's like I originally thought (since the character is more aligned with Lee's usual sense of aesthetics.) Especially since Betsy becomes the primary X-offender of "posing" (I mean how many rooftops can a gal squat over?)

    I do like that, as a swan song, we get more of the history of Brit Psylocke that non-Uk fans may not have known about. I also enjoyed that tiny bit of memory of Betsy with her brothers Jamie and Brian, and how we got a contrast of how Betsy with her rather bookish brother. It IS a bit disconcerting though to see Betsy with blond hair.

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  39. While Claremont might've intended Pyslocke's change to echo an Elektra-vibe, it is fairly obvious Lee had given her a more than passing resemblance to Ichikun Ichinohei from Ninja High School.

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  40. Learning of such character's existence only now, Nathan, it's very likely indeed that there must have been any amount of Itchy Kun jokes at the X-Mansion post-Claremont by Jean and her gals.

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  41. @Teemu: Absolutely. I made this connection back in 1991 and have always wondered why others didn't at the time.

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  42. Looking at some of the covers of the Ninja High School, with partially shown super-sized folks on the side kind of framing fully shown folks in very posing poses, Betsy's looks is not the only think Jim Lee brought over from there to the X-world.

    I wonder how much there has been creators not completely happy about how all kinds of stuff has found its way to Claremont's UNCANNY, the highest-selling comics title of the era?

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  43. If anyone should btw. protest about my suggestion of Jean making a nasty pun like that, I'll have a challenge for you: think any random panel of post-Claremont Asian Betsy that comes to your mind.

    And, now that you all have a mental image of her rising from the water in her bathing suite, move your eyes to the right to the following panels where Scott has lost the way with his thoughts and Jean asks "were they in the gutter"? Harsh jealousity, I tell ya.

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