Comics are weird. X-Men comics doubly so. To be fair, a certain level of weirdness is to be expected on a long enough timeline in any serialized story. This weirdness is especially prevalent when the aforementioned story is populated with a group of superheroes embracing their own powers from a natural genetic mutation whilst dealing with killer robots, time-travel, alternate dimensions, ninja assassins and your run-of-the-mill evangelical persecution.
The X-Men have been a conduit for many social and political allegories since the 1960s. Most of the time these allegorical moments were handled with finesse and understanding. Other times, no so much. While surely the intentions by most X-Men creative teams were never malicious, there have been some stories and characters that haven’t exactly aged well. One such subject is actually a fan-favorite character with a somewhat sordid and confounding history: Psylocke.
On the surface
Betsy Braddock might be one of the most fetishized super heroines in Marvel Comics, which is saying a lot considering the human form (both male and female) is almost exclusively presented in nigh-unachievable aesthetics in comics. And while a lot of hyper-sexualization has been curbed in comics as of late, superheroes are still drawn to represent peak human physicality. In short, impossibly voluptuous woman and men with abdominal muscles we never knew existed aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
A character like Psylocke, who has been the X-Men’s leading “sexy ninja lady” for nearly 30 years, has been drawn in more than one uniquely explicit action pose to show off her “assets.” Strangely enough, however, the sexual fascination with Ms. Braddock’s form is not the most problematic facet of her character (although there is an argument to make that it is). But her aesthetic appeal is certainly part of why she grew to become one of readers’ favorite X-Men. Regardless of your thoughts on the character, she has always been a badass.
The Trouble with Betsy
If a novice X-Men comics reader were to see the name Elizabeth “Betsy” Braddock attributed to Psylocke and think, “wow, that’s a pretty anglicized name for a Japanese character,” it would be hard to hold it against them beyond the fact they were being rather presumptuous. You see, hypothetical X-Men newbie, Psylocke was originally introduced as the twin sister of Captain Britain, a superhero so anglicized he begs the question, “is there such a thing as being too British?” Co-created by legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont (one of the architects behind some of the craziest stories the mutants have gone through) in 1976, Betsy Braddock would be partially relegated to playing the part of supporting character for the majority of her early exploits. That is until she was later reintroduced in Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men a decade later as Psylocke.
But shortly after her reintroduction, Psylocke would quickly prove to have one of the most bizarre story lines in X-Men history (even by Chris “Now Storm is a Space Whale” Claremont standards). After washing up on on a small island off the coast of China, Betsy was taken by The Hand, had her consciousness put inside the body of a brain-dead Japanese assassin named Kwannon. She was then given the moniker of Lady Mandarin (exploring the implications of that name alone is like dancing through a racially-charged minefield). At the time, this seemed like just more run of the mill X-Men craziness, but this body swap story was no flash in the pan moment.
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