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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #257

"I Am Lady Mandarin"
January 1990

In a Nutshell 
Wolverine & Jubilee battle Psylocke

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jim Lee
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Letterers: All Available
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Psylocke, as Lady Mandarin, uses her newfound martial arts skills and the Mandarin's rings to unite the crime lords of Hong Kong under the Mandarin's control. Meanwhile, Wolverine, disguised as Patch, and Jubilee arrive in the city from Madripoor. In Cairo, Illinois, young Storm flees from Jacob Reisz, who has blamed the death of the doctor her killed on her, setting the local authorities after her. In Hong Kong, Wolverine & Jubilee arrive at the office of Rose, an old friend of Wolverine's. As Wolverine and Rose discuss the situation at hand, Jubilee is taken shopping by Rose's niece Ruth. At the Hand's island base, Psylocke trains and complains to Matsuo of the Mandarin returning to America.


In Hong Kong, Ruth and Jubilee are captured by unseen assailants while shopping. On Muir Island, Forge sets up a new defense system while Legion takes control of Polaris' mind. In Hong Kong, Wolverine, hunting for the missing Jubilee & Ruth, is attacked by Hand ninjas. Despite his weakened condition, he holds his own until Jubilee, controlled by Lady Mandarin, distracts him. Wolverine and Lady Mandarin battle, with Wolverine recognizing her as Psylocke just before she uses her psychic knife to knock him out, declaring that at long last the Hand will have its revenge on one of its greatest foes. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Wolverine and Jubilee return to the series this issue, appearing for the first time since slinking away from the Outback town in issue #253. Wolverine is still recovering from his injuries at the hands of the Reavers, with his healing factor overtaxed, a condition that will persist for the character pretty much through to the '91 relaunch.


Jubilee, meanwhile, debuts her iconic Robin-inspired red shirt/green shorts/yellow raincoat/big sunglasses look this issue, the look she'll wear (with some variations) throughout the animated series and into her Generation X days.


This issue marks the debut of Psylocke's psychic knife, the signature manifestation of Ninja Psylocke's powers. It is, as internet commenters love to mock, the focused totality of her psychic powers, though that particular Claremontism isn't used her; instead, it's simply said to be "the ultimate focus" of her psionic powers. It's also established that in addition to overloading an opponents mind and knocking them out, the psychic knife also forges a more direct, aggressive connection between Psylocke's mind and the mind of her opponent, making it easier for her to read the mind of someone, like Wolverine, with strong mental defenses.


This issue is an "Acts of Vengeance" tie-in, though neither the Mandarin nor any other non X-villain appear in it. Psylocke notes to Matsuo that the Mandarin is back in America fighting super-heroes (most likely a reference to his upcoming appearance in Avengers #313), an act which is destroying his credibility amongst the Hong Kong crime lords.

We check in briefly with Muir Island, as Forge completes work on a defensive system for the island in the wake of the Reavers attack, and Polaris becomes possessed by Legion. 



This is also the first appearance of Rose Wu, another old friend of Wolverine's (though she we will see again) who works for Landau, Luckman & Lake (the law firm with which Wolverine's had dealings in his solo series). Later stories suggest she has some shapeshifting abilities. She has a niece named Ruth in this issue who befriends Jubilee, but I don't think Ruth ever shows up again.


Similar to the picture of Wolverine and Chang (Landau, Luckman & Lake's representative in Madripoor) set in the past which Jessica Drew spotted in Wolverine #5,  in this issue Jubilee sees a picture of Wolverine with Rose in a futuristic "Blade Runner" city. I'm not sure if that's supposed to be Madripoor (whose Hightown is somewhat technologically advanced) or a hint at some kind of time travel story. Either way, it's never made clear/followed up on to my knowledge.


A Work in Progress
The Hong Kong crime lords mock Mandarin for his repeated defeats at the hands of the "lowliest of heroes". Just wait 'til the Iron Man movie comes out, guys. 

Jubilee (rightly) mocks Wolverine's eye patch "disguise", a sign that perhaps Claremont has realized it was a dumb disguise.


Wolverine is still hallucinating images of Carol Danvers and Nick Fury, and interacting with them regularly, as if they're physically with him. 

Later, Wolverine battles Psylocke and the Hand wearing his "Patch" costume from his solo series, the first time he's been seen wearing it in the pages of X-Men.


Young Storm continues to run from Jacob Reisz, who has, since issue #255, taken Dr. Shen under his control.


Wolverine refers to Jubilee as his lifeline, an indication of just how strong their bond has becomes since last we saw them.


Banshee, concerned over Moira's strange behavior and the general atmosphere of Muir Island of late, asks Forge to build a "backdoor" into the security system, so he or Banshee can access the island undetected, if need be.


Psylocke once again notes that Jubilee's thoughts are slippery, making it difficult to read her mind.


I Love the 80s
Wolverine's blood is colored blue, presumably to keep the Comics Code placated.

Jubilee tells Wolverine to "read my lips", possibly a reference to Bush the Elder's famous campaign promise.

Wolverine finds smoking to be difficult with his healing factor overworked, and seemingly gives up the habit, though he'll return to it eventually, before giving it up for good in the 00s. 


The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine says he is someone for whom thought and action are one (his use of "a body" is also a Claremontism).


For Sale
This issue features an ad for, I believe, the first round of Marvel Masterworks hardcover reprints, a series of reprints that is (with a few trade dress changes along the way) still going strong today.


Teebore's Take
It's impressive how non-decompressed (compressed?) this story is: last issue, Psylocke was transformed into a ninja and pledged to the Mandarin, this issue, she unites the Hong Kong underworld in his name, Wolverine & Jubilee arrive in the city, Psylocke captures Jubilee and then fights Wolverine, setting the stage for the final chapter next issue. That's a lot of plot movement for one issue (nowadays, this three-parter would be stretched out to six parts, at least), but to Claremont and Lee's credit, none of it feels particularly rushed. Putting aside the convenience of Wolverine and Jubilee arriving in Hong Kong in the midst of Psylocke's power grab (Wolverine hand-wavingly says it feels like the right place to start their search for the missing X-Men, which, I guess it is), their re-introduction is well handled, with a clear sense of how their relationship has solidified since last we saw them, Wolverine's weakened condition is used to add tension to the narrative, and there's even time to advance the Muir Island/"Forge & Banshee search for the X-Men" subplots. In lesser hands, all of that would feel rushed or half-formed, but everything has room to breath, creating the sense that this story is, overall, much bigger than its three parts would suggest.

Next Issue
A pair of conclusions (finally) this week, in New Mutants #85 and X-Factor #50. Next week, "Acts of Vengeance" Part 3.

Collected Editions

17 comments:

  1. The ninja Psylocke was always problematic for me - probably because I liked the original Betsy Braddock. Her showdown with Sabretooth is one of my favorite issues from the 200-250 spread. Making her into a Pokémon didn't set well with me, though it wasn't as bad as her weird proto-relationship with Cypher.

    Jubilee as the nouveau Kitty also leaves me cold. Just Marvel trying a bit too hard to be hip.

    As I've said before, this is sort of the time that comics in general and X-Men in particular started to slip away for me. The art quality is mixed, the characters I loved are gone or changed irrevocably, the stories lack the depth and innocence of previous years (now get off my lawn). It's probably why I was fleeing into Excalibur and West Coast Avengers during the last gasp of my contemporary comic fandom.

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  2. I'm not sure if that's supposed to be Madripoor (whose Hightown is somewhat technologically advanced) or a hint at some kind of time travel story.

    LLL had a knack for time travel, among other things, at least when Zoe Culloden pops up eventually on WOLVERINE. So if the futuristic implication wasn't done on purpose here, then Larry Hama has just firmly secured the throne of the maintainer and builder-on of Claremont's legacy as far as I'm concerned.

    Ha, the man will taking more cues from Claremont's UNCANNY and specifically this arc than from other writers' WOLVERINE of the same era.

    Wolverine refers to Jubilee as his lifeline, an indication of just how strong their bond has becomes since last we saw them.

    Harsh notion on the panel by Logan, that without Jubes it's his willpower that might be giving up, with the implication that his healing power is already on the last threads.

    Which, I have let myself be told, due to editorial issues, alongside the ghost Nick Fury and Carol Danvers, didn't really never show in Wolverine's own title (?).

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  3. Jubilee (rightly) mocks Wolverine's eye patch "disguise", a sign that perhaps Claremont has realized it was a dumb disguise.

    ... or he's just fed up with the insufferable teens keeping pointing that out.

    Later, Wolverine battles Psylocke and the Hand wearing his "Patch" costume from his solo series, the first time he's been seen wearing it in the pages of X-Men.

    Totally out of nowhere for someone who failed to catch the WOLVERINE issues this far. A thesis could probably be written about the differences in male and female comic book costume designs, now that both Wolverine and Psylocke are sporting almost the same color scheme.

    Claremontisms: "The mistake, assassin... is yours!"

    "Jacob Reisz" could not look any more villain on those TV shots. It's like the grin from his fatal heart attack got fixed of his face.

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  4. As a child I thought that the Hand and the blue Buscema costume were two things that belonged in "Wolverine" solo. So I got annoyed around this time that the solo title had him in his X-Men costume fighting a dorky shark guy while "X-Men" had him in his solo costume fighting characters from the classic miniseries. It was a confusing time for an 11-year-old.

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  5. "Jubilee sees a picture of Wolverine with Rose in a futuristic "Blade Runner" city. I'm not sure if that's supposed to be Madripoor (whose Hightown is somewhat technologically advanced) or a hint at some kind of time travel story."

    Don't forget LLL is also an INTER-DIMENSIONAL law firm...it's possible they're 1) not on Earth or 2) Not on "our" Earth.

    "Psylocke once again notes that Jubilee's thoughts are slippery, making it difficult to read her mind."

    As much as I like Jubilee (even here), her resistance to telepathy both here and during her stay in the Outback seems more plot convenient than anything else.

    This issue is also noted for being the first any of the Outback X-men are reunited in some way.

    There was one scene was that confused me. When Wolverine rips off Psylcoke's mask, he makes the comment "That face!" Was he shocked that he recognized Psylocke's scent but saw a different face, or that he recognized her as Psycloke but her features had become more Asian? I only say this because Lee's artwork is a bit unclear as he draws Psylocke as more Eurasian at this point than being fully Asian...

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  6. @Joe: Jubilee as the nouveau Kitty also leaves me cold. Just Marvel trying a bit too hard to be hip.

    Appreciation of Jubilee is definitely dependent on when you first encountered her. She was firmly entrenched as the Kitty of the 90s when I first started reading comics, so I have a lot more tolerance and appreciation of her than someone who encountered her earlier or later.

    Plus, I think her role as the POV character on the 90s animated series helped win her some fans in that era.

    @Teemu: Which, I have let myself be told, due to editorial issues, alongside the ghost Nick Fury and Carol Danvers, didn't really never show in Wolverine's own title (?)

    I obviouly haven't read them, so I can't say for sure, but it's also my understanding that Wolverine's solo series is pretty much an island unto itself at this point. The writers there drop in a few places where chronologers can fit in UXM stories, but otherwise, they just do their own thing. Eventually, Hama tightens up continuity between the books a bit, but that's still a ways off.

    "Jacob Reisz" could not look any more villain on those TV shots.

    Right? It's a wonder anyone is listening to him and not just asking "why are you psychotically grinning all the damn time?"

    @Jason: So I got annoyed around this time that the solo title had him in his X-Men costume fighting a dorky shark guy while "X-Men" had him in his solo costume fighting characters from the classic miniseries. It was a confusing time for an 11-year-old.

    Ha!

    Yeah, even with the Psylocke stuff, this really does read like it could have taken place in Wolverine's solo series. I suppose that's what happens when there's no team so anytime Wolverine appears in UXM, it's basically like a second solo series.

    @wwk5d: Don't forget LLL is also an INTER-DIMENSIONAL law firm...it's possible they're 1) not on Earth or 2) Not on "our" Earth.

    True. My larger point is mainly that as far as I know, whatever is being teased here (Madripoor, future, alternate dimension) is never specifically paid off or referenced again.

    her resistance to telepathy both here and during her stay in the Outback seems more plot convenient than anything else.

    Definitely. And not even in all that significant a way, which makes you wonder why Claremont is even bothering.

    Was he shocked that he recognized Psylocke's scent but saw a different face, or that he recognized her as Psycloke but her features had become more Asian?

    I have always assumed the former, though you're right that it's ambiguous and not entirely clear.

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  7. I always felt Wolverine recognized Betsy only after seeing her face. One would assume there would be any amount of him commenting it's Betsy if he had already recognized her being Betsy.

    Unless it's a (self-)homage on similar scene on KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE #3, where Wolverine for some reason is totally surprised to find out that it's instantly ninjaficated Kitty who's under the Ogun mask.

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  8. But hey. As avid non-believers of coincidences, why was/is the solo book Wolverine sporting the same costume, red belt on navy blue, as the Gamma Flight was on that one panel in ALPHA FLIGHT #1 (Byrne) and Ben Grimm was during his Battleworld period (Byrne)? Did everybody get a great deal from the Shaw Industries (Byrne) or what?

    And why did it fall onto Byrne of all people to get rid of it on WOLVERINE solo book, and now onto Jim Lee to put Wolverine back into a Byrne look instead of taking him out of one? Isn't it just ironic... in weird Canadian Alanis Morrissette sort of way?

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  9. So many abandoned plots between Claremont's Wolverine series/ run and this story.

    Was Betsy's knife meant to be a psychic expression of her earlier choosing the Sword over the Amulet when offered the role of Captain Britain?

    Just what did Claremont intend the story to be behind Landau, Luckman and Lake before Hama and Kelly revealed them as an inter-dimensional law firm? I always considered the town in the photograph to be Hightown given the visual similarity from that opening story in Marvel Comics Presents #1 (have you reviewed those Teebore).

    Just what did Claremont intend by introducing ghost Nick Fury and Carol Danvers? How might they have been involved in Claremont's intended brainwashing of Wolverine by the Hand when he had them make him their assassin?

    I always felt that Wolvie's shock after seeing Betsy's face was meant to echo his discovery of Kitty under Ogun's mask and further suggest Ogun's dojo was a Hand training camp (and that the ninja Matsu'o in that series was the same Tsurayaba here).

    This issue also marks the teaming of Psylocke and Jubilee which Claremont later wanted to transition over to Wolverine's solo title while he was preoccupied with the Hand turning him into their assassin. I guess they'd have played a similar role searching for him just as Forge and Banshee were searching for the remainder of the X-Men here!?

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  10. I just got to X-Men #132 in your reviews, and was struck by one of the panels you highlighted. Mastermind is escorting Phoenix up the stairs at the Hellfire Club and reveals himself to Cyclops with his original look. Cyclops, of course, reacts with "that face!"

    Claremont, like Aaron Sorkin, demonstrates that good writers have no hesitation when it comes to copying themselves.

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  11. I actually like this issue. One thing that was pretty noteworthy for me was Jubilee's attitude during this era and the notion of heritage. Despite being ethnically Chinese, she invokes a stereotypical "ugly American" attitude in this arc. She complains about the food, how "dirty" the town, the language is etc. She mentions repeatly and loudly that she's American (no ethnic-inspired hyphens for HER!) In addition I suspect this is when her "valley-girl" lingo really went into overdrive. I mean contrast the spunky and blunt Jubilee to Rose Wu's Hong-Kong grandniece, who's a bit more demure and mild-mannered. One of the citizens even calls Jubes a "banana." It"s like Claremont really wanted to say something about second-generation immigrant experience and the role assimilation plays in it but I just can't figure out what.

    And to add more logs to the fire this is the same arc where we not only have Psylocke transformed into an Asian woman, but one who is a ninja and dresses in Asian-print fashions (something that Nicieza noted when he created his "Revanche" storyline.) It's like Claremont wanted us to savor the rich flavor of irony here! ("Get it? The Asian chick acts "Western" and the European lady acts "Asian!" Hahaha?)

    Sorry for the longest post and *going there " (don't you hate read a comic book and a sociology paper spontaneously erupts?) But that was just something that just struck out at me, even while reading this as a child.

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  12. Jonathan Washington: (don't you hate read a comic book and a sociology paper spontaneously erupts?)

    Well... no. With the thematic environment of the X-universe it should be expected really that well-founded pointers are sometimes to emerge both from the creators' and on readers side, and you can't do much else that to welcome it when it is spontaneously bound to happen.

    Personally, though, I do have hard time with what essentially seem to be social justice blogs that masquerade themselves as comic book blogs and you go in expecting to read about plasma being projected and things controlled magnetically and instead you get a very-non-spontaneous-feeling tear-uppance of white male writers of the 1980's whose work apparently fails to tic all the necessary boxes of the 2010's mindset, despite the said writers seemingly having been in contest of who gives his female character(s), possibly of an ethnic minority even, the most prominence.

    It's an organic history at work here. There had been any amount of... lets call it anachronistic lashing against the death of Gwen Stacy for example, "why couldn't she have taken a job in another town instead of being killed", but back then it was a breach against a trope, cliche even, stemming from very undeveloped depiction of womankind in comics, which ultimately enabled the alternateverse Spider-Gwen having her own ongoing amd apparently extremely welcomed title today.

    So yeah I don't know what Claremont's point, if any, may be, but I'm really disturbed about how genuine a character with actual inner depth his Asian Betsy is compared to everyone else's later on. I kind of love her enthusiastic "I won i won I WON i won!" celebration after her first victorious fisticuff against the lackeys of Madripoor underworld.

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  13. @wwk5d: // Was he shocked that he recognized Psylocke's scent but saw a different face, or that he recognized her as Psycloke but her features had become more Asian? //
    @Teebore: // I have always assumed the former, though you're right that it's ambiguous and not entirely clear. //

    You both deserve No-Prizes, then, because that reading didn't occur to me. I expected him to perhaps recognize her by her scent, or then again not if the body alteration was that severe; we got no indication that he did but then he says "That face!" and I thought "HTF does Wolverine recognize her when her face should be the one way he doesn't?!?"

    @Jonathan: // Despite being ethnically Chinese, she invokes a stereotypical "ugly American" attitude in this arc. //

    That was some thoughtful stuff; I appreciate you "going there".

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  14. Oh, yes, to second the sentiment of Blam's: that "well-founded pointer on readers' side" bit was very much meant to apply to you here, Jonathan. I hope it came through the first time but I choose to write it open here now as a part of wider open acknowledgement that you guys, each and every one of you, continuously keep coming up with massively fine pointers that I take in and appreciate pretty much every time but usually fail to explicitly acknowledge that in my following comments, partially as a conscious effort to avoid making it feel like a massive circle jerk.

    What I'm trying to say is that dissecting these books with you gentlemen (of all genders) is a joy and a privilege I don't mind checking and finding it's there.

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  15. Jonathan -- "One thing that was pretty noteworthy for me was Jubilee's attitude during this era and the notion of heritage."

    I believe Claremont takes this further next issue when the Mandarin returns, dresses Jubilee up like a subservient Chinese serving girl, and berates her for her Western mannerisms.

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  16. Let me also state how invigorating and dynamic Jim Lee's often bombastic artwork was at the time. In addition I have to hand it to Lee to resist his usual artist references (Dolly Parton, apparently) and draw Jubilee with an appropriate petite and age-appropriate look. Given that hisother female characters look like "crosshatched Baywatch" that must have taken some restraint.

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  17. @Joe: Claremont, like Aaron Sorkin, demonstrates that good writers have no hesitation when it comes to copying themselves.

    Heh. Good point. And both are writers whose work I love, even while it's often criticized online. :)

    @Nathan: I always considered the town in the photograph to be Hightown given the visual similarity from that opening story in Marvel Comics Presents #1 (have you reviewed those Teebore).

    Good to know I wasn't the only one who considered the photo to be of Hightown. And yes, I covered that intial MCP story here.

    @Jonathan: Sorry for the longest post and *going there "

    No apologies necessary; you raised some really interesting points.

    In addition I have to hand it to Lee to resist his usual artist references (Dolly Parton, apparently) and draw Jubilee with an appropriate petite and age-appropriate look.

    Indeed. And to his further credit, he sticks with it throughout his run, even after his fame blew up and he could have do whatever the heck he wanted on the book.

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