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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #22

"The Mask Behind the Facade"
July 1993

In a Nutshell
The X-Men learn "the truth" about Psylocke.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inker: Mark Pennington
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Gambit and the Psylockes attack and defeat Silver Samurai, with their battle revealing a hidden page from Lord Nyoirin's diary. Meanwhile, Shinobi Shaw meets with Matsuo, Lord Tatsu'o and Lord Nyoirin to discuss their territorial claims to Jigoku criminal enterprises. In Alaska, Cyclop's tells his grandparents the truth of what happened to his son, and meets their neighbor, Mike Milbury. Back at Nyoirin's estate, Gambit, Beast and the Psylockes read the diary page, which reveals that after Psylocke emerged from the Siege Perilous, she was found by Nyoirin's lover and assassin, Kwannon, and when Kwannon touched Psylocke, their minds fused. Losing all sense of her self, Kwannon fled, eventually encountering Matsuo and becoming transformed into the Hand's agent. Psylocke angrily refutes the revelations held in the diary, but just then, Lord Nyoirin returns, accompanied by Silver Samurai, and declares that both women are who they claim to be; the real question is if either can ever be whole again, or if they want to. Meanwhile, in Alaska, Cyclops checks on Milbury, only to learn he's actually Mr. Sinister, who has come to discuss Cyclop's family tree with him.

Firsts and Other Notables
The big retcon involving Revanche/Kwannon & Psylocke is unveiled here, as Nicieza reveals that, prior to being found by Matsu'o and the Hand, a post-Siege Perilous British Psylocke was found by Kwannon, Lord Nyoirin's ninja assassin (and lover). Upon physical contact, Kwannon's mind fused with Psylocke's and the pairs minds basically got shuffled up. After this, Matsu'o finds the Asian Kwannon, now believing herself to be Psylocke, and brainwashes her into serving the Hand as Lady Mandarin. Meanwhile, Nyoirin, in search of Kwannon, tracks down British Psylocke/Revanche, who now has Kwannon's memories as well, and nurses her back to health.


Of course, all of this flies in the face of Uncanny X-Men #255, which depicted Matsu'o discovering a post-Siege but clearly British Psylocke. So this isn't just a retcon adding something between panels or expanding on what was previously depicted: it is rewriting and directly contradicting something clearly depicted in a previous issue (which, outside of major reboots, superhero comics tend to avoid doing). Reportedly, this all came about because Nicieza had never read Uncanny #255, so he assumed the first encounter between Psylocke & Matsu'o happened offpanel, thus giving him room to play around with the details of that encounter.


Questions remain for the X-Men, such as how Revanche can speak Japanese and or how Psylocke knows martial arts if her mind was simply placed in Kwannon's body; a teased by Nyoirin at the end of this issue, it will shortly be revealed that Kwannon and Psylocke's minds weren't directly swapped, but rather mixed up and re-dispersed, with each gaining access to the other's memories/abilities.


Mr. Sinister pops up in this issue, his first appearance since "X-Cutioner's Song" ended, in the guise of Cyclop's grandfather's neighbor Mike Milbury. "Milbury" is an alias Sinister will use (and be revealed to have used in the past) again, usually pairing it with "Nathan" (the name of his child guise in Cyclop's orphanage) instead of Mike. Though it's not made overt here, it makes sense for Sinister to have been in close proximity to Cyclop's grandparents, given the way he placed Madelyne Pryor with their company after her creation and moved them off the board after trying to eliminate Madelyne (circa the early issues of X-Factor).


Cyclops' grandparents are seen reacting to the true fate of Cyclop's son.


Opal's grandfather, the crime lord Tatsu'o, last seen presumably dying in X-Factor #64, turns up alive and well at the Jinkogu summit alongside Matsu'o, Lord Nyoirin and Shinobi.


A Work in Progress
Silver Samurai of course knows Gambit by the name "LeBeau", though I don't recall if their apparent specific history together is ever explored.

Beast, who ends the previous issue by being slashed from behind by Silver Samurai, recovers remarkably quickly, in the space of this issue's opening pages.


Shinobi is shown phasing through cars/buildings, not unlike Shadowcat, which is consistent with his power set, but not how it usually depicted.


Shinobi also makes a reference to his heretofore unknown mother, in a way that suggests this might be setup for a future plot, but as far as I know, it isn't.

Cyclops notes that he and the X-Men aren't really talking about what happened with Cable & Stryfe at the end of "X-Cutioner's Song".


Artistic Achievements
I'm not sure if it's a change in coloring techniques, the result of having had an issue off, or simply Andy Kuber coming more into his own, but this issue has always seemed like a step up in terms of the art, relative to his earlier issues. It's still rough around the edges (and his work will continue to improve throughout his run), but this is the first in several quality "jumps" that can be seen from during his run, with the art seeming deeper and lusher, and the linework more full and less scratchy (of course, those improvements are down to the colorist and inker more so than Kubert, but they're also the same creators who have been working with him on previous issues as well; it just seems like *something* has changed for the better).

Austin's Analysis
Though the story technically continues through the next issue, this is where Nicieza's big Psylocke retcon (and, ultimately, the point of this story) comes out. It's a fairly simple change: instead of being physically transformed into an Asian woman by the Hand, a post-Siege Perilous Psylocke had her mind scrambled via interaction with an Asian ninja assassin, whom the Hand later brainwashed into serving the Mandarin. Of course, it all falls apart because it requires OG Psylocke to encounter Kwannon *before* being found by Matsu'o, and we all saw Matsu'o discover post-Siege OG Psylocke on panel. So right from the get-go, things are off.

Now, the blame for this could be laid at Nicieza's feet, for not reading every previous issue involving the characters he's now writing (or at least cross-referencing relevant issues after coming up with this idea), but at the same time, comics have a safety net in place for this kind of thing, and it's editors. So really, this seems like something Bob Harras should have caught, especially since he was also the editor on the issue which Nicieza missed and led to this whole kerfuffle. Ultimately, it's a fairly harmless retcon, one which removes some of the questionable physical transformation stuff for a more straightforward (by comics' standards) mind swape scenario. It's also easy enough to squint and find a way to reconcile this retcon even with the blunder (which, in the end, is ultimately what happens when Nicieza returns to this story to retcon his retcon to rectify his mistake). But it still feels like a huge miss by editorial, one which, unfortunately, presages the diminished role of the editor in preserving some semblance of narrative and character continuity in modern comics.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, some old friends return in X-Force #24. Friday, Alan Davis departs with Excalibur #67. Next week, Unstacking the Deck looks at Marvel Universe series IV.

Collected Editions




12 comments:

  1. On one hand, I don't think any classic comic book story has been written under the 'editorially driven system' that Marvel used in the 90s; on the other hand, the modern disregard for continuity has produced an incoherent mess for both Marvel and DC.

    Perhaps the worst example is the work of Paul Jenkins: in the case of his Inhumans mini, he admitted he'd never read any of their previous adventures; in the case of his run on David Finch's Dark Knight, he declared he hadn't even read the handful of issues leading up to his brief run.

    Inexcusable!

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  2. Can we all agree that the Siege Perilous was a dumb idea? It was meant to provide those who entered it with new lives. In practice, this was not the case. Rogue came back to Australia, with all her memories, Havok and Psilocke were sent to different places with their memories scattered in awful places had led them to be brainswashed and Colossus and Dazzler had lost their memories, but were still brought back in nicer places in which they could really begin again. Which is odd, because from all others, Colossus and Dazzler were the ones who actually had a family. Maybe Colossus didn't care whether their parents thought he was dead or not. He never felt guilty of faking his death to them.

    Anyway, this new retcon was a wasted opportunity to clear up the mess of having a British telepath in the body of a Chinese ninja. It was stupid from the beginning, even if it sounded "cool" in some people's mind. Chinese ninja should have been revealed to be truly Kwannon and British lady should have been the real Psylocke. I wouldn't have minded to see Betsy being called "Revanche", while Kwannon kept the Psylocke name. But is definitely better thank keeping the body swapping and killing Kwannon just a few issues after she appeared, only to be promptly forgotten by all characters.

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    1. I will say the Siege Perilous was an interesting case study in illusion of change. Everyone was inevitably going to reset - Chris Claremont's 16 year tenure be damned, that's just the nature of the beast - so its execution as a temporary diversion holds the most appeal. Revisiting that "Dissolution and Rebirth" era, I'm pretty down with the idea of Claremont taking his team apart brick by brick and turning the book into this wild, sprawling narrative, then seeing how it all comes back to center. I can't blame him for wanting to get a little experimental, even after so many years of redefining the concept of a straightforward superhero comic.

      In the end, it did feel like some of the changes were undone a bit too easily. Rogue had the loophole of the Carol Danvers business, which, OK, but... Havok was restored by Cyclops just shouting at him a lot. There was no logical reason for Dazzler's memories to return. I guess if you want to no-prize it, there's something in the idea that the more you find yourself pulled back into your previous life, the more that identity starts to reassert itself. Still, that does have the effect of reducing the Siege Perilous to little more than an overblown mind-wiping device.

      That said, I can imagine how reading those issues as they came out (accompanied by some dodgy art) would've been a real slog. Keeping the SP in play also kinda breaks the story, so it was definitely best left as a one-time-only get out of jail free card.

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  3. We don't really know where the Siege Perilous direction was going though, as it was editorially mandated that Claremont should move in a different, more classic direction.
    Claremont's initial plans were probably to keep the different threads moving for a much longer period of time.
    Psylocke being turned in to a ninja assassin was a pretty horrible idea though, yeah.

    As far as Paul Jenkins' Inhumans....It was the best story that ever featured the Inhumans.
    If it was true that Jenkins had not read any of the character prior appearances, well, maybe that ended up being a good thing, in that one instance. I had never heard that story before.

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  4. It's weird. On the one hand, Bob Harras was definitely asleep at the wheel. The original depiction of Betsy's "transformation" doesn't make a goddamn lick of sense, so there's definitely enough wiggle room to introduce the idea of a second party/mind swap. So I can imagine Harras being OK with it in general principle. Unfortunately, the mechanics of Nicieza's retcon contradicts the ONLY real clear-cut scene in that entire sequence of events.

    And yet... I feel like he still could've reconciled Nyoirin's diary with Uncanny #255? I dunno, we'll get there eventually, but when Nicieza (somewhat heroically) revisits all of this in subsequent issues to correct his mistake, he ends up throwing out the diary as fictitious. I don't think that was entirely necessary - it could've worked as part of the resolution, with the rest coming in the form of Spiral and the Body Shoppe's further complications in concert with Matsuo. Backpedaling on this retcon altogether makes the whole thing come off as more blatantly egregious and convoluted than it really is.

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  5. Is Revanche ever mentioned again? I haven't read current comics for close to a decade now but for the longest time I remember she was "Ben Reilly'd" out of existence. I don't think the Revanche stuff is nearly as complicated as people make it out to be, but from here on out we're in a really rough period for Psylocke fans.

    After this you get shadow-teleporting Crimson Dawn Betsy, followed by powerless Shadow King-jailer Betsy, then Betsy and Jean switch powers because Claremont, then Betsy dies, then comes back, then almost immediately gets kicked out of the mainstream reality to hang out with the Exiles. None of these changes work for the better. I feel this is pretty much the end of Psylocke as a useful character. She becomes such a muddled mess after this, nobody can decide what she's supposed to be.

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    1. "Is Revanche ever mentioned again?"

      She appeared in some story as a reanimated corpse, but because the art was by Greg Land, she was a creepily sexy reanimated corpse missing half her face. I don't know the full story, but that image was once of the probably-accidentally creepiest things Marvel have published.

      "She becomes such a muddled mess after this, nobody can decide what she's supposed to be."

      Yeah. It's a shame because until (at least for me) the Crimson Dawn stuff, Psylocke was an interesting character. But once everything became about tweaking her powers again & again instead of actual character stuff, she was no longer worth the effort. I don't think Claremont, Lee, or Nicieza should be blamed for this, since I doubt they saw the full path of where this story would eventually lead the character.

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    2. Yeah, I mean, she hangs around between this story and the one that retcons this retcon, but she doesn't do much aside from contract the Legacy Virus.

      But after that, it's pretty bleak. As Mela said, there's a brief return during the Fraction era, and that's about it.

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    3. They actually got some good usage out of Psylocke during the Uncanny X-Force era of Rick Remender.
      I remember actually caring about the character again, which I hadn't since the Claremont days.

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    4. Oh, yeah, I'd totally forgotten about that! That Remender X-FORCE era was actually pretty good in terms of dusting off some underused characters. Good Psylocke/Archangel stuff.

      (And the earlier Yost/Kyle X-FORCE was pretty good in terms of that too, ridiculous X-Men Murder Squad premise aside).

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  6. I’m reeeeeally glad I don’t care about spoilers at this point. 8^)

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  7. I would agree that this is the point where Andy Kubert began to grow on me, but we're still about nine or ten issues away from when I would ultimately decide I liked his artwork.

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