[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run; for more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]
Like a lot of the mythos surrounding the Marvel UK superhero Captain Britain, Elizabeth “Betsy” Braddock is a creation of Chris Claremont who developed into a more interesting and appealing character thanks to writers Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, and artist/writer Alan Davis. His interest in his UK creations re-ignited by those British talents, Claremont imported Betsy Braddock into the X-universe. The world of the X-Men first collided with the world of Captain Britain in New Mutants Annual #2, illustrated by the aforementioned Davis. Now, in Uncanny #213, the integration of Betsy into the X-Men’s world continues, as she officially joins the team – and again, Davis is Claremont’s collaborator.
Reprising the Wolverine/Sabretooth rivalry of the previous issue, the story here is lacking in any particularly striking invention. The comic book is marvelous to look at thanks to Davis’ gorgeous pencils, inked by the equally impressive Paul Neary. Claremont’s plotting doesn’t quite match the smooth, clean perfection of the art, however; the text seems clumsy in comparison. Furthermore, subsequent issues will demonstrate that the author is winging it here – improvising story developments without any notion of how to develop them. For example, the previous issue gave the first tantalizing mention of Mr. Sinister – an audaciously named mystery villain – as the mastermind behind the Morlock massacre. Here, Psylocke telepathically penetrates Sabretooth’s well-protected brain for information about Sinister and the Marauders; we’re led to believe she’s acquired an abundance of useful information. But that never goes anywhere – indeed, when the X-Men finally meet Mr. Sinister two years later during the “Inferno” crossover, they are dumbfounded as to who he might be.
(Betsy’s ability to break into Sabretooth’s mind, by the way, is an oblique hint as to the punning meaning of her seemingly arbitrary code-name, which doubles here as the title of the issue: She is the “lock” that acts as counterpart to the psyche, or “psy-key.” A few seconds of thought about this pun are enough to recognize that it really doesn’t work at all.)
The defining contradiction of Betsy Braddock is hammered home here: Though she’s outwardly feminine (in the cliché sense of the word – soft, shy, demure), Betsy’s soft exterior disguises an experience-hardened warrior.
This isn’t particularly exotic thematic territory for Claremont. If anything, Psylocke is distinguished from other “Claremont women” only by the sheer lack of subtlety in her defining contradiction -- her superhero costume is even pink (a first for any X-Men member), to drive home beyond all doubt that Betsy is the quintessence of stereotypical femininity.
Less immediately obvious, perhaps, is the way Claremont sets Psylocke up as the flip-side of the coin to the recently jettisoned Rachel Summers. Both are young, female telepaths, and Rachel and Betsy are also both survivors of dystopian anti-mutant realities (the latter as per Alan Moore’s “Jim Jaspers” storyline in Captain Britain).
Like Rachel, Betsy is – throughout the “Mutant Massacre” arc – constantly dismissed by the X-Men in somewhat unheroic fashion. But whereas Rachel couldn’t cope with such treatment, and thus deliberately abandoned the team in their time of need as part of a childish tit-for-tat, Betsy sees the X-Men’s snub as a challenge. Spurred to acts of heroism by a desire to prove herself, she ultimately wins the X-Men’s trust and respect, and subsequently is invited to join the team.
As we’ll see in the next few issues, Psylocke’s replacement of a former member is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern. New members will continue to join over the next few months, as Claremont slowly builds a new, third generation of X-Men to replace the previous one.
This is nothing new in superhero comics, even in 1986 – the Avengers, for example, have rotated members in and out since the 1960s – but a resonance can’t help but be struck when this happens for the X-Men, who didn’t become hugely popular until after their first – and at this point in their history, only – massive roster revision.
Also, crucially, Claremont is bringing in characters that share key characteristics with earlier X-Men. i.e., a telepath is brought in to replace a telepath, an insouciant swashbuckler (Longshot) is brought in to replace Nightcrawler. A relatively inexperienced superhero (Dazzler, introduced precisely one issue after Kitty Pryde back in 1979) replaces Shadowcat, who occupied the “neophyte” role years ago. And Cyclops will be replaced by his own brother. It’s as if the X-Men’s membership has evolved to become somehow archetypal, with certain key personas necessary to complete the gestalt.