Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #256

[In a time when people neglect Claremont, in a land where I don't really blog that often, there came a man, a man named JASON POWELL, who looked at every issue of Claremont's X-Men run. And the land was goddamn restored or something.]

“The Key That Breaks the Locke”

Though not the most humble of comic-book personalities, John Byrne has always downplayed both the quality and the significance of his work on Uncanny X-Men in the late 70s. While acknowledging reader reaction to the startling change in visual style between his first issue and Dave Cockrum’s last, Byrne puts it down as much to the inking as to the pencils. Cockrum and Sam Grainger, he notes, both had a softer style, while Byrne combined with Terry Austin made for a look that he likens to “cut glass.” Indeed, however Byrne chooses to contextualize the shift, the effect from going from Uncanny 107 to 108 is powerful, like a leap into the future, and remains so even three decades later.

But, as with so many moments in Uncanny X-Men’s spiraling history, that aesthetic watershed in 1977 was reiterated later … twelve years later, in this case, when the softness of Silvestri and Green in issue 255 (by happenstance the loosest and sloppiest issue of their entire tenure) gave way to the “cut glass” of Jim Lee and Scott Williams in Uncanny X-Men 256. The affect is arresting, and once again feels like a quantum advancement into a new era.

Claremont’s script points toward the future as well. Set up as a mirror to Uncanny 251 (the end of the Outback saga), “The Key That Breaks the Locke” gives hints as to what became of the five characters that passed through the Seige Perilous. As the X-Man whose betrayal sent the X-Men through the portal, and – more pragmatically – as the precognitive telepath of the group, Betsy Braddock is the touchstone. Reprising a trick from issue 250, Claremont gives Psylocke another series of visions, some of which are clear, while others are frustratingly oblique. But the images of Dazzler, Havok, Colossus and Rogue work nicely as teasers as to their separate post-Seige fates, all of which will be explicated over the course of the next year.

As for Betsy’s own fate, she seems to have been crushed under the wheel of karma. Having cajoled and manipulated her comrades into forsaking their identities and individual freedom, Psylocke now quite literally loses her own identity and freedom, at the hands of new villain Matsuo Tsurayaba. As part of Claremont’s extended homage to Frank Miller, Betsy’s brainwashing is perpetrated by the Hand, in an attempt to “succeed where [they] failed with Elektra.” By the end, she has become a ninja assassin, her features reconstructed to appear Asian. More on that odd choice a couple blogs from now.

By poetic happenstance, an issue comprising mainly teasers and hints as to the future of the X-Men is also the first to be drawn by the artistic team of Lee/Williams, who – in many respects (not least as the artists who will actually outlast Claremont on the series) – represent the franchise’s future as well. In fairness to Bob Harras -- the man who over the course of 1990 and 1991 took more and more creative control from Claremont and gave it to Lee – there were telltale signs that the artist possessed a clarity of vision that was escaping the writer by this point. Indeed, “The Key” – the first Claremont/Lee collaboration outside the comparatively forgettable Uncanny 248 – showcases the contrast in microcosm. A simple trope – the brainwashing of a hero into a villain – becomes, in Claremont’s hands, a series of psychic visions of the other X-Men. All rather well and good … yet the ending becomes hopelessly unclear. We are told that an “unknown element has entered the equation,” just as Slaymaster appears (replaying a scene from Alan Davis’ penultimate issue of “Captain Britain”). Mojo and Spiral – present throughout the hallucination, in different guises – reveal themselves, and claim to give her a new set of “inner eyes to match the outer ones we gave her long ago.” The brainwashing seems to fail, but a hard cut takes us to Betsy kneeling before the Mandarin in obeisance. Is she faking? Her smile in the final panel suggests that something beyond the obvious is occurring – yet this is never brought up again.

Also, consider the conceit introduced at the start of the brainwashing: Betsy is set on a pseudo-scavenger hunt for the Mandarin’s ten rings. Yet her attempt to acquire the ninth ring is thwarted by Slaymaster. Surely the cleaner choice would have been for the final ring, the tenth, to be the one she cannot acquire …? The logistics of how the premise plays out seem hastily considered. Other aspects of the long hallucination are out of left field as well, such as the image of Psylocke as a blonde femme fatale for just a few panels. Much of this makes little intuitive sense; we are getting Claremont at his most self-indulgent here.

Yet it is Lee and Williams who sell the entire story, start to finish. The art is so crisp, clear and painstakingly detailed and the storytelling so assured, that the issue feels far more coherent than it truly is. (The artists’ use of thick black border on the “real world” scenes to contrast against standard panel borders for the illusions recalls Byrne and Austin again – it is an inverse of the device used in Uncanny #133.)

“The Key That Breaks the Locke” – with its meandering script by an indulgent, comfortable old pro and slick, futuristic artwork by an ambitious young up-and-comer – must have been an early signal to Bob Harras that the winds of change were blowing.

(Claremont, by contrast, was apparently far less affected in retrospect by these early efforts from his new artistic partner. In an interview in “Comics Creators on X-Men,” he seems not even to remember Lee’s work on the Mandarin trilogy, citing Uncanny 267 as Lee’s debut and Uncanny 268 as the first time Lee’s work impressed him.)

34 comments:

scottmcdarmont said...

It is sometimes easy to forget how great Lee is in much the same way it is easy to forget that, say, Stephen Spielberg is great.

As far as mainstream superhero comics go, he's simply the best there is at what he does. Sure, people like Quitely are far more interesting and imaginative, but for musclebound heroes and beautiful women having epic battles, no one does it better.

Sure, there has been some backlash against Lee but I think this is more appropriately accredited to the fact that his style would be imitated ad nauseum over the next ten years. It's a lot like Eddie Van Halen: by the end of the '80s we had hundreds of fleet fingered guitar players cashing in on the foundation that he laid down on those first few Van Halen albums... however, they lacked Eddie's more subtle instincts in his playing (particularly the fact that he was a great rythym player as well as a lead player). Lee's imitators would fall into a similar trap; Lee's characters LOOKED great... the most glamorous heroes ever to grace the page... but Lee also understood how to be a great visual storyteller.

I've always felt that Lee was the culmination of the best who had come before: there are elements of Kirby (particularly in his tech), Adams, Byrne and Perez in his work.

And, Scott Williams inking cannot be overlooked either; a couple of years back my mom got me a copy of the 100 Greatest Comic Books and in the intro it list '10 Comics that Changed the World' with an emphasis on the respective artists' work. The lists mostly focuses on the work of pencillers ranging from the obvious (Kirby) to those often unsung outside the most diehard comic book circles (Toth, Fine). However, Williams is the only 'inker' (that is one whose primary job was inker) included singling out his work on 268 as the turning point in his career. It notes: " [he] perfected a series of new devices to delineate shapes and textures on the comics page, a feat no American inker had accomplished in three quarters of a century.
In less than a decade, Williams was at the top of his form, using split feathering, open triangles, graduated strokes defining light-to-dark strata, and other over-rendering tricks with a sterile, unemotional line that set a demanding preceedent for a regiment of rise-and-thrall runners-up"

scottmcdarmont said...

In fact, one almost wonders if Lee would have been as successful without Williams and understands why his work continues to, almost exclusively, be inked by Williams (can anyone think of any significant instance in the intervening years wear it has NOT?)

Paul said...

Wasn't Betsy's original hair color actually blond (like Brian's), but she dyed it purple when she became a model?

scottmcdarmont said...

That was Pre-Crisis....

Teebore said...

The artists’ use of thick black border on the “real world” scenes to contrast against standard panel borders for the illusions

Once again, you've pointed out something I've completely missed despite numerous readings. It's one of the things I love about these posts!

This is definitely an issue I remember more for the strength of the art than I do the story. While this three issue arc is fairly simple (Psylocke is brainwashed into becoming the Mandarin's assassin and Wolverine snaps her out of it) Claremont really does manage to complicate it, for both good and ill.

Jason said...

Teebore, glad to be of service! :)

Scott, thanks for that extended quote about Williams. I know very little about the art of inking, so I don't know what a lot of that terminology's all about, but ... hey, sounds cool.

As for whether Lee could've done it without Williams, I'm going to point to Uncanny 257 and 258 as Exhibits A and B that yes, he could have. (Both are inked by Joe Rubinstein.)

Still, Williams is great. He is the Austin to Lee's Byrne.

(Dan Green is still my favorite Uncanny inker, though.)

Paul, yeah, originally the purple hair was credited to the fact that "it's the 80s" in a story by Alan Moore. I think at some point I assumed that they were ret-conning it to the purple being because of her mutation, and she just used the "it's the 80s" line as a cover. In fact, I believe this explanation was canonized in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update '89.

scottmcdarmont said...

Jason,

I don't really know much about the technical terminology myself but I think it basically translates into 'clearer, sharper, lines'... which, I think, you pretty much said anyway.

I'm still going with my 'Pre-Crisis' explanation for Psylocke's hair... that's my new blanket explanation for explaining anything that happenned before 1985in comics... come to think of it, it's my new explanation for any inconsistency ever...

ba said...

It's funny, I've read this comic many times (psylocke being my favorite x-man), and I never realized it was Lee's work. Guess I never noticed just like Claremont forgot.

I seem to remember in the captain britain TPB that brian registers shock in seeing betsy's hair purple, and she indicates that she dyed it for a modeling show (that being what she was at the time). I could be mistaken, though. Regardless, I know that, for the longest time, the official handbook listed her original hair color as being blonde - after 256, it's listed as officially being black, dyed purple. Again, for some reason, I though that after some issue of adjectiveless x-men, it became permanently purple.

Two quick notes - 1) it's funny that matsuo makes a comment about "whatever happens to one man's hand, he can always rely on the other." shortly thereafter, his hand is cut off by wolverine.

2) Pete is now living in "the soho artists' colony." ahhh, remember when soho actually was an artists' colony? :)

Dave Mullen said...

Loved this arc, Jim Lee was indeed terrific and his design extraordinary. The transformation of Betsy was certainly gripping though the notion of her being changed into an Asian was not something that occured to me at the time, i honestly just took it for Lee's artstyle making her look that way...
In retrospect it was a nonsense but IIRC wasn't it actually Fabian Niceiza who made it an issue? If he hadn't done his Revanche retcon it would have been swept under the carpet which is deeply unfortunate as it was never possible to take her seriously after that. X-Men Comics did crazy things in that coming era but this was arguably the start of it with Lady Mandarin and the rewriting of Betsy Braddock. So a bit of a bittersweet story when looked at from this later point.

There was so much to like about the issue though - The Mandarin as a more subdued manipulative figure, Wolverine's failing health and semi-paternal relationship with Jubilee, and a return to the far east corner of the x-men.... The Hand made a very refreshing change from the usual Mutant menaces/Cyborg-killers we'd become used to and while the book had moved on from the Outback era it still retained that same feel of a streetlevel book with relateable heroes, it's weird to think this addition of new artists was the start of a return to the neon colors and garish costumes that the book had longsince grown out of.... a step back in my opinion but an inevitable one. Nothing lasts forever.

Dave Mullen said...

p.s. On reflection is it just me or is this story feeling very much like like a James Bond pastiche? ;)

Looking at it from this angle is does seem very lazy and unimaginitive stuff compared to Claremonts average fare.

Jeff said...

I feel like Lee really brings the "pop-sexy" element into the series that Morrison was always talking about. I hate using the term, but seriously, Lee's artwork is just Cool.

Matty said...

Nah, purple hasn't been retconned as her original body's natural hair color (her current mini does depict her with blonde hair prior to her STRIKE/fashion model stint). However, I think it has been established that her current body's hair doesn't need to be re-dyed due to Spiral's work with it (and Jamie Braddock's subsequent re-creation of it from scratch).

scott91777 said...

I have more Pop/Sexy comments I plan to share when we get to issue 270?

Jason said...

"There was so much to like about the issue though ... Wolverine's failing health and semi-paternal relationship with Jubilee ..."

Just to be pedantic, I'll point out that Wolverine and Jubilee aren't in this one. :)

How would you say it's a James Bond pastiche? I've never seen any of the classic Bond films or read the books, so it was probably lost on me. (Issue 268, meanwhile, is a VERY clear Indiana Jones riff.)

Scott, why issue 270? Give me a preview, bro! -- 269 is where I left off during my last blog-writing session, so maybe you can help me get the juices flowing for the next one! :)

Jason said...

"I feel like Lee really brings the "pop-sexy" element into the series that Morrison was always talking about. I hate using the term, but seriously, Lee's artwork is just Cool."

Fair enough, although I still gotta give it to Silvestri.

Anonymous said...

In retrospect it does seem like a Cockrum/Byrne transition, but at the time the change didn't seem so sharp at all, at least to me. Lee seemed like a more polished Silvestri. One of the things I actually preferred about Silvestri was that he would throw in the odd bit of "deformity," the ugliness that made the beauty more beautiful. Whereas Lee has always seemed a bit stiff and emotionally sterile. Lee would also star the great '90s phenomenon of drawing just about all characters with the same faces. Silvestri was more expressive.

Lee does design two great new looks for Psylocke -- her Lady Mandarin armor and the nimbo form she settles into. The Mandarin's armor also surpasses any apperance he's worn before.

At the time, these issues felt like a whirlwind of unpredictability. Now I'm starting to wonder if they were just incoherent, one editorially mandated (or aborted) storyline after another. The Mandarin trilogy holds up pretty well, though.

Jason said...

I'm kind of the opposite, Anon. At the time, the Lee transition seemed like a quantum leap, whereas now I agree with you: Silvestri at his best was more expressive, and (dare I use the term again) pop-sexier.

But by the end of his run, Silvestri was (by his own admission) losing his enthusiasm -- a brilliant issue would be followed by a really sloppy one -- and Lee and Williams seemed, by comparison, unable to do any wrong. They came along at just the right time.

But I'd put the best of Silvestri above the best of Lee, yeah, absolutely.

scottmcdarmont said...

I thought I left a comment, but I must have not gotten the word verification correct...

Re: Issue 270 and PopSexy...

I remember that being the issue where, for the first time, superhero characters looked just as cool (if not cooler) in their street clothes than their costumes. I'm thinking specifically of the scene with Storm and Jean having hamburgers. They just looked so cool and 'hip' (at least at the time) and I totally wanted one of those Jackets (which, within a couple of years, would be available to X-fans with deep pockets).

Also, 269 happens to be my very first issue as a regular reader of the series....

Jeff said...

Reaction to this may vary; but here's Kaare Andrews' promo drawing for his upcoming run on Astonishing X-Men. This reminds me of Silvestri in all kinds of good ways...

http://joeshusterawards.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/astxmenvol2_01cov_col_02.jpg

Anonymous said...

I note that Lee and Silvestri were both members of the Image Seven. (In fact, they're probably the two least obnoxious members.) IMS -- and it may not -- Claremont was sort of a godfather to the whole Image project, but didn't join and never made any money out of it.

(Really, the whole Image thing is astonishing. Of the seven, two were complete hacks, three were some combination of arrogant, sleazy, or utterly self-obsessed, and at least three were pretty much completely talentless. A project that made Valentino a millionaire, and Todd McFarlane a multimillionaire... well. It's one of the stranger twists in comics' long history.)

Betsy Braddock's transformation into a Hott Asian Chick was, in retrospect, pretty stupid. Whose idea was it, anyway?


Doug M.

Jason said...

Thanks, Scott. That's a good point. I hadn't thought about it, but yeah, I think I had similar thoughts at the time about the characters' "street clothes," not just in X-Men but in other comics at that time. (Like how Silvestri drew Wolverine in the solo comic ... I wonder if he was following Lee's lead ... ?)

Doug, I've thought about the Asian transformation a lot for these blogs, and ultimately I think I have to agree with you. Since it was Claremont's idea (at least I've never heard anyone else take credit for it ...), I would love to defend it, but I can't. I really don't get why he did it. (Someone on another website suggested it was because he wanted to create his own version of Elektra. The flaw in that reasoning is that Elektra is Greek, not Asian.)

It is interesting, Claremont's relationship to Image. WildCATs and Cyberforce are so very X-Men-derived, particularly the former.

And Lee and Silvestri both seemed happy to let Claremont write a few issues each of their respective series. (So Claremont must've made SOME money. He wrote seven Image comics total, and that was when Image still sold a ton, as I recall. The page rate for writers at that point surely was nothing to sneeze at.)

It's too bad Claremont's Image series idea, HUNTSMAN, never got off the ground. I don't recall ever reading why that was.

Anonymous said...

Making his own Elektra may have been part of it. Certainly Claremont never had any problem with... reprocessing... other creators' ideas.

-- I'm not sure what the right verb is there. 'Ripping off' is much too strongly negative. 'Hommaging' is not quite right, and also pretentious. Taking someone else's ideas and playing with them? Anyway.

Another element here is Claremont's fondness for physical transformation, especially for female characters. We discussed this way back in the issues from 130 to 170: Storm becoming a vampire, a statue, getting depowered; Carol Danvers becoming Binary; Phoenix and Dark Phoenix.

It's mostly female characters, mind. And I think there's a link here to sexual activity and/or sexualization. Kitty Pryde doesn't go through these sorts of changes, nor do Jubilee or Rogue. (It's half forgotten now, but Claremont originally wrote Rogue as being in her mid to late teens -- her intermittently "adult" appearance and behavior was Carol Danvers' influence.) On the villain side, note the body-switching White Queen and Mystique, the sexy shapeshifter. So I think there's something there.

Finally, I think there's an element of geeky fanboy "Asian chicks are hott!!"

Or, as Chris Sims put it: 'Psylocke leaps vagina first into the fray!'

http://the-isb.blogspot.com/2006/10/bold-new-era.html

(scroll down a bit)

Really, just a bad idea.


Doug M.

Jason said...

Absolutely he wanted to make his own Elektra. I didn't think that was in dispute; it's even explicit in the dialogue.

I like the term "re-purposing."

I'm just saying, it doesn't explain why Asian specifically, because Elektra was not Asian.

I have read that Chris Sims bit, and love it. :) (Although I disagree with his overall premise that X-Men #1 makes no sense.)

The other thing -- and we just talked about this recently, 'cause they were in issues 254 and 255 -- is the two characters (one male, one female) who went from white to Native American, thanks to some magic-related shenanigans in 1984.

Claremont's thing about physical transformations is certainly well-documented, but it's the transformation from one culture to another that is problematic to me. I seem to recall someone online once saying that "Claremont had something he wanted to say about culture and identity, but he had no idea what that 'something' was." Maybe that's all there is to it.

(Not sure it is limited to females or to young'uns, though. Rogue physically transformed all the time thanks to her power, even back when she was a teen. Tom Corsi became an Indian; Doug got turned into a Warlock guy on a temporary basis that was on its way to becoming permanent before Simonson killed him off; Rahne was a shapeshifter, as was Warlock; Spider-Man and Angel got turned into animals that one time in Marvel Fanfare; etc.)

Jason said...

But, I do still agree with you: Psylocke turned Asian = bad idea.

scottmcdarmont said...

Let's also not forget Kitty Pryde's constant changing of her alter-ego/costume in her earlier years: From Sprite to Ariel (didn't we, basically, figure out that code name was only used once in print?)to Shadowcat. I also think that, had he stayed on, we would have seen him develop her character more (has he done anything with Jubilee yet in X-men Forever?)

Jason said...

At the time, the only time I remember the "Ariel" codename being used by Claremont was in God Loves, Man Kills. But it may have shown up in some guest appearances 'n' such ... maybe in X-Men/Micronauts, which I have not read. And there have been stories published more recently set in that era, which may use the Ariel name ...

I don't know if codenames and costumes changes count for what Doug's talking about, but certainly Kitty's transformation to a ninja is worth bringing up, as it is a precedent for the Psylocke stuff. (It's even Wolverine who snaps both characters out of it.) Shame on me for not noticing that link ... !

No Jubilee in X-Men Forever. (Or "XMF," as we hardcore fans call it.) I think someone actually asked about her in an interview, and Claremont dismissed it pretty quickly. (She actually seemed on the verge of being written out back when Claremont left, and she was not in Claremont's last issues, X-Men 1-3.) I guess with Kitty imported back onto the team, Jubilee was redundant. (Like Mr. Sinister said after Maddy died and he captured Jean, "Who needs the copy, now that I've the original to play with?")

Anonymous said...

Darn it -- I lost a long comment somehow. I managed to connect all this to Grant Morrison's DOOM Force /and/ "Modok's 11".

Oh, well, must go to bed now.


Doug M.

Gary said...

I'll be the voice of dissension: I'm "okay" to "pretty cool" with Psylocke being physically transformed to an Asian. Because why not? So much of the character is being reinvented here, why not? It creates a very real disconnect, an enormous character break - and that's great for what Claremont's doing with the character. It's a writ large version of a costume change, as Doug M has pointed out. And the degree of the character redesign is typically daring for Claremont. In the same way that he is willing to go so far to make the X-Men something other than your typical hero book, he's making Psylocke here (the only X-Man out of the Siege Perilous we're going to get back into the fold on their first appearance - Colossus is going to get two appearances and a happy ending before editorial fiat brings him back to the team) radically different. This isn't your usual "You thought I was dead, but I wasn't, so back to status quo!" that is the SOP for this situation.

This window for commenting is too small. I can't see enough at once to evaluate how cogent my argument is. At any rate, it's secondary to my point, which is that I like Asian ninja Psylocke and don't feel she's a nightmarish misstep as many seem to think.

What Fabian Nicieza will do with the character (Revanche was right about the time I gave up on X-Men) is not germane to this discussion, because largely, this discussion looks at Claremont's work in a Claremontian vacuum - what people did with what he set up after he left doesn't matter, though to some degree what people did while he was on X-Men that he addressed, influenced, or lived with is. Complaining that dumb things were done with her after he left is like bawling me out for what the current tenant has done to my former residence.

scottmcdarmont said...

Doug,

Please, please, oh Please, connect this all to Doom Force when you wake up...

Anonymous said...

Haha!

Okay, second try.

Last week I read "Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK's 11" to my boys as a bedtime story. SVTM: M-11 is just a great old-fashioned fun comic book story by the inimitable Fred van Lente. It has MODOK gathering a bunch of D-list supervillains -- we're talking people like the Rocket Racer and the Armadillo -- to pull of a heist.

(I had to lightly bowdlerize it, as there are a few not-age-appropriate bits. But once my eight-year-old saw "Super-Villain Team-up", really, there was no stopping him.)

Now: one of the villains was Nightshade, aka Deadly Nightshade. Remember her? Blaxploitation villainess from back in the 1970s? Turned Captain American into a werewolf?

Well, Nightshade was always a pretty one-dimensional villain. She was BLACK, she was HOT, and she was BAD... and that was about it. She ran around in an Afro, leather underwear and a bikini top, and liked to wave big tuns. Otherwise, she was a pretty generic minor evil-scientist character, with weird serums, robots, wacky schemes to be foiled by the heroes, and lots and lots of crazed ranting. She bobbed in and out of various storylines over the years. Her level of African-ness fluctuated oddly; some writers gave her middle-American speech patterns, others wrote her using comic-book-ghetto talk (the villain equivalent of Cage's "sweet Christmas!"); some artists drew her very African, others with nearly white features. She was a minor enough character that nobody much cared.

Oddly enough, the one author who made Nightshade /slightly/ interesting was... Chris Claremont. He used her in his brief run on Power Man and Iron Fist. She was still a minor villain, and still very much a blaxploitation character, but at least he wrote her as being an intelligent character (if handicapped by poor impulse control.)

But! In the wise and caring hands of Fred van Lente, Nightshade actually became an interesting character. He wrote her so that she was (1) recognizably African-American, (2) true to her comic book roots, (3) still a mad scientist type, albeit calmed down a lot, and (4) sympathetic.

(One sentence: "Things were a lot simpler back then, honey. All a girl needed was a secret lab, a werewolf serum, and a dream.")

Van Lente wrote her smart, too, and gave her lots of agency. There's a lovely scene in issue #4 where Nightshade holds the new Mandarin at bay for a couple of pages, using only wits, courage, and a single shot of industrial solvent...

Anyway. In upgrading Nightshade, the first thing van Lente did was /put some clothes on her/. Instead of the bikini top and thong, she's now wearing a leather Catwoman outfit and an overcoat -- by comic book standards, a burqa.

So how does this connect to DOOM Force and/or Psylocke? More in a little bit...


Doug M.

Anonymous said...

So, DOOM Force. This is minor but amusing Morrison. It's a one-shot, single-issue parody of the Lee/Liefeld/McFarlane era of horrible comics. The art has lots of cross-hatching, contorted faces, saliva strings, and pouches. (But no feet.) The writing involves purple prose and characters spouting immense, panel-filling blocks of expository text...

Anyway. A recurring theme in the book is that the male villain keeps telling the female villain that she's overdressed. She shows up wearing a low-cut minidress, and he yells at her: "What are you, a GRANDMOTHER on a trip to ALASKA?!?" You see, he thinks that taking off more clothes will both literally and figuratively empower her... By the end of the book, she's wearing a G-string and pasties.

Morrison's point, and it's a good one: beginning in the late '80s, there was an explosion of female comic book characters who were "T & A badass". I'm sure someone has a better name for this. But you've read enough comics to know what I mean, yes? The female character who is as BAD and TOUGH as any male... and whose presentation is overtly sexualized.

This was not a new thing, I hasten to add. There had been T & A characters in comics since day one. But starting around 1989, suddenly they were everywhere. And they showed a new, rather creepy conflation between power and sexuality. Some female characters had always been sexualized for the titillation of the fanboy. But now the narrative was that the sexualization was /good for them/: it meant they were more authentic, more fearless, more self-confident, tougher, badder... more *empowered*. What we wanted them to be, was what they should be!

The logical end-conclusion of this is Jim Balent's grotesquely awful "Tarot" comic, where giving women DDD-cup breasts and then stripping them naked and tying them up is asserted, with an utter lack of irony, as "empowering".

(On the other hand, there's "Empowered". If you haven't read "Empowered", go and do so right now. Go on. I'll wait.)

For the record, I should say that it's not impossible to have a scantily clad, overtly sexualized female superhero character who is also strong, interesting, and has agency. It's just really, really hard. I can count the successful examples on one hand (and Alan Moore is claiming a couple of the fingers). Most of the time, it really is "Psylocke attacks vagina-first": this character is "tough" purely so that she can throw flying kicks that let us look up her crotch.

So, one problem with Betsy Braddock is that she's an early example of this very bad idea. She gets a power-up, with kewl Ninja Skillz, an exotically Hott new Asian bod, and a sexy new costume -- and it's all one package.

(At this point I pretty much have to link to this: http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?t=302049. No, don't thank me. Comes with the job.)

As for the Asian thing... hum. Maybe in a day or so.


Doug M.

Menshevik said...

I like(d) Jim Lee's art well enough, but I don't think it really seemed like an artistic watershed to me at the time. For one thing, it was no "before and after" as you had with Cockrum and Byrne earlier, but there was a considerable overlap (IIRC #256 was the second issue penciled by Jim Lee, after the Green-inked #248, Silvestri would briefly return almost immediately (#259-261), not to mention that there were four more pencilers involved in the year after #256 (counting Art Adams for the Annual). So the switch was less perceptible, more gradual. To me it was actually less of a pronounced change than there had been from Cockrum's second run to Paul Smith. Also, Art Adams and the two Smiths (Paul and Barry Windsor) also did great "cut glass" to my mind, in their various issues, so for me personally Jim Lee did not bring that much new to UXM. He was a great penciler, though. Maybe another factor was that I did not see Silvestri as important as you - I definitely preferred both Paul Smith and John Romita, Jr., at the time...

Matt said...

I must be the only person in the world who actually enjoyed Fabian Nicieza's Revanche saga. The only problem with it was that it went on for too long!

Also, Mark Gruenwald and Rik Levins covered Nightshade in a neck-to-toe jumpsuit during their time on Captain America (in the "CapWolf" saga among other appearances). I think they also did away with the 'fro and gave her dreadlocks. So -- Gruenwald Did it First?!

NietzscheIsDead said...

Though this is often listed as Matsu'o's first appearance, there is actually a minor ninja named Matsu'o during the Kitty and Wolverine miniseries. This Matsu'o is notable for being the only ninja in the service of Ōgun to survive the miniseries. Early appearance?