Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #258

[Jason Powell continues his EPIC look at ever issue of Claremont's X-Men, in the process inspiring other people not only to love Claremont MORE, but also to do their own issue by issue projects.]

“Broken Chains”

Why did Claremont turn Psylocke Asian?

The character’s transformation into a ninja is explainable in the context of Claremont’s extended Miller homage. Indeed, the eventual plan was to have the Hand succeed where they fail during the Mandarin trilogy, brainwashing Wolverine into their master assassin – a development that would have lasted a year. (Editorial nixed it, and when the time came Claremont had already quit anyway.)

But the desire to transform Betsy into a different ethnicity seems purposeless. I say “seems” because as I write this, there have just been some fantastic comments made to the blog entry for Uncanny 247, wherein Gary and others helped to beautifully explicate some of my difficulties with that issue’s ending. So while I’m inclined to say that Psylocke’s transformation was arbitrary and ill-considered, I will wait and see if any commentators can shed some light.

(I tend to put Storm’s transformation into a child in the same category. Developments like Ororo’s and Psylocke’s feel very much like the massive narrative chess game that was Claremont’s X-Men ended with “Inferno,” and that everything afterward amounts to him just idly pushing the pieces around on the board.)

At any rate, apart from the odd changes made to Betsy Braddock, the final chapter of the Mandarin trilogy is surprisingly conclusive by Claremont standards. In terms of plotting, it’s all very superhero-by-numbers, with an ending so perfunctory that Jubilee even comments on the lack of credibility at the end.

The execution, on the other hand, is delightful, containing several fantastic “stand up and cheer” bits (Claremont always excelled at crafting such moments). See: Logan slashing his way out of the sensory deprivation tank; the phantom Nick Fury gunning down a roomful of ninjas (with telepathic bullets!); the Mandarin caught between two of Wolverine’s claws; etc.

It’s a genuine thrill-ride of an issue, and once again Jim Lee hits homeruns throughout. The Mandarin trilogy isn’t one of Claremont’s most ambitious arcs on X-Men – there is little depth of feeling beneath its flash-bang surface – but Lee helps make it a first-rate comic-book blockbuster, one that holds up far better than many big-budget action films of the day (such as Tim Burton’s Batman, whose horrific dialogue is mocked by Wolverine in this issue).

Though the partnership turned out badly for Claremont in many ways, he was fortunate to have Lee as his final collaborator, someone whose talent, enthusiasm and drive – along with an abiding love of old-fashioned superheroics -- made him the heir to John Byrne’s X-legacy. (That comparison is only meant in artistic terms, of course. In terms of their professional and personal relations, Byrne and Lee are miles apart, by all accounts.)


deepfix said...

One of the reasons CC left, I've been told, is that Jim Lee tended to draw what he wanted whether CC indicated this or not. Since I've never seen actual examples used, I've, in retrospect, made the decision that Psylocke as Asian was one of those decisions. But it was aesthically pleasing and CC liked it so he forgave Jim Lee his youthful enthusiasm and went with it. This is how I explain it in my mind.

Nicholas Yankovec said...

Well, somebody must have liked Claremont's idea about the Hand brainwashing Wolverine, as Mark Millar used that plot a few years back.

I personally think the best thing about this Acts of Vengeance arc, is Claremont manages to infuse the Mandarin with more character in a couple of issues than in the rest of his appearances combined.


deepfix said...

I must disagree. As much as I LOVE jumping on the I hate John Byrne bandwagon, his writing run on Iron Man with John Romita Jr. on pencils is my favorite Mandarin. That shit rocked even though neither of them stuck around for the end.

Jason said...

This is pretty much the only Mandarin comic I've read, so I got nothin'. I do very much like his characterization in these issues -- I guess I should've talked about that a bit. Ah well.

Thanks for commenting, guys!

scottmcdarmont said...

And damn if Jim Lee doesn't make him look cool as hell in that suit... a lot of supervillains were wearing suits back then (it was the style at the time) but, in Lee's hands, Mandarin looks especially badass.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree with DeepFix.
John Byrne's Mandarin was outstanding, and although he didn't use the character a great deal, Denny O'Neil's Mandarin I always found to be wonderful.
But, there's very little about Denny O'Neil's work I don't find wonderful.
The character of the Mandarin never really impressed me, and I was quite disappointed at the time to see Mandarin in my beloved X-Men book, so I've never actually re-read these issues. They seemed to be very pointless and flawed books at the time I was reading them (Betsy's transformation left me confused also), so I can't really say how well Claremont's Mandarin held up to other Mandarin usage, but the less Mandarin usage the better, for mine.
It was really at exactly this point that I started to lose patience with Claremont. Back then, I just knew that his heart wasn't in this book anymore.

Anonymous said...

"everything afterward amounts to him just idly pushing the pieces around on the board."


Claremont never ran out of ideas. But he did run out of vision.

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally: the Mandarin and the Yellow Claw both started as lame-ass Yellow Peril villains.

Both went through significant retcons and upgrades in attempts to fix them. The Mandarin spent nearly a decade dead; the Yellow claw is currently dead.

My own take is that they're both basically unfixable and should be left dead for good. But you can't keep a "classic" villain down.

Doug M.

Menshevik said...

I wonder if to view this story as an extended Frank Miller homage isn't a slight exaggeration. I'd say CC's penchant for things Asian (which already could be seen years before people took notice of Miller as an artist, let alone as a writer) plus the fact that he was now collaborating with an East Asian artist also had a lot to do e.g. with the decision to change Psylocke's ethnicity and MO.

It also does tend to conform to a certain pattern of his, to introduce an abrupt, apparently random change, which however quite often sticks for a long time or even permanently, and where explanations would sometimes only be supplied later. These would include, IMO, Jean becoming Phoenix, Illyana's sudden transformation into a teenager (and sorceress), Rogue becoming a heroine, Storm losing her powers (for a time) and becoming a child (for a time). And Psylocke's transformation was not the first or the last time Claremont changed a character's ethnicity, before that we saw Corsi and Friedlander physically turned into Cheyennes during the Demon Bear Saga, arguably Wolverine and Dani Moonstar spiritually joined different ethnicities by becoming a kind of samurai and a valkyrie, respectively, and Claremont would use the device in the second GeNeXt series as well.

(I did not check the comments on the previous issues, so please forgive if I am inadvertently duplicating what someone else said earlier).

Jason said...

Anon, thanks for reminding me, I DID read a Denny O'Neil Iron Man issue with the Mandarin, and it had one of the best cliffhangers I read as comic-book collecting child. It was during one of the James Rhodes phases (maybe O'Neil's whole run had Rhodes in the armor? I don't know enough about the series' history, but ...) The Mandarin uses his telepathy ring to make Rhodes remove his helmet, and I seem to recall the Mandarin being surprised Iron Man was black. (Might've even been a racial slur in the dialogue ...). Then he says, "Pick up the knife in front of you," and Iron Man complies. Then he says, "Slowly cut your own throat." And the last panel is the knife starting to go into his neck (even with a little trickle of blood!).

That was a dang fine cliffhanger, I must say. Denny O'Neil is great.

Mensh, those are all good observations. I wonder if this motif of Claremont's is anything to do with him being an immigrant ... ? Hadn't really thought about it before, but maybe there's something there. (I'm glad that, even at this late stage of the game, I am still getting fresh insights into Claremont from all you commentators!)

And, note, I don't think Psylocke becoming Asian is anything to do with Frank Miller. But making her into a Hand assassin specifically (with basically a blue version of Miller's Elektra costume), and putting her up against an over-the-hill-tough guy with a sidekick who looks and speaks just like Carrie Kelly ... It's Dark Knight Returns meets Daredevil, and certainly for me it's hard to view the Wolverine/Psylocke/Jubilee triad in any other way, really, ever since Scott first pointed it out.

scottmcdarmont said...

It's worth pointing out that Lee was also a big fan of Miller's and might have incorporated certain Miller ideas into the visuals, not only in Jubilee's Carrie Kelley-ish appearance, but also in Psylocke's costume being a dark version of Elektra's (in fact Miller's original Daredevil run probably would have been one of the more influential ones during Lee's formative years). Again, my guess would be one of those collaborative things where Lee sees what Clarmont is doing and then adds visuals that correspond... and I'm pretty sure cockney accents were involved...

Jason said...

I'm still not sure I buy that Lee would have been the instigator of those elements, especially when he had just arrived, and wasn't even the regular penciller yet.

I'm also not sure I buy the suggestion that Claremont chose to do an Asian-themed "Acts of Vengeance" crossover BECAUSE of Lee. Lee was not his new regular collaborator at this point. He didn't become a regular for another six to eight months, and in an interview years later Claremont didn't even remember that he had worked with Lee prior to issue 267. Seems unlikely if Lee had already begun to influence the plotting and thematic elements.

I'm pretty sure the story here is all down to Claremont, and I'm sticking to the suggestion that Claremont suggested all the Miller-esque visuals as well. (Byrne and Silvestri have both confirmed that Claremont's plots for his artists were very very dense with information.)

J.M. said...

Anybody know the current status of that Claremont/X-Men documentary? Is there any footage/clips available online yet?

Teebore said...

like the massive narrative chess game that was Claremont’s X-Men ended with “Inferno,” and that everything afterward amounts to him just idly pushing the pieces around on the board

I'll second that (well, third it, I guess).

Inferno definitely does feel like an endpoint. There's plenty of good stuff, some neat ideas and whatnot, post-Inferno, but after that story, what follows feels less like chapters in an ongoing master plan grand narrative and more like regular (albeit still better-than-average) comics.

We haven't gotten to it in depth yet, but you mentioned the Kid Storm transformation, and man, even moreso than Asian Psyclocke, that one leaves me going "huh? What was THAT about?"

Jason said...


I know I do some talking about Kid-Storm in one of the blogs -- probably for issue 265 -- but yeah, that's another puzzler for me.

It's curious to me that in X-Men Forever, Claremont has reverted back to the child-Storm, which kinda suggests that he originally didn't want to turn her back into an adult as swiftly as he did originally. That was apparently meant to be a long-term arc.

Not sure why. I've puzzled over this stuff at (I think it's fair to say) considerable length, and yeah, Asian-Psylocke and kid-Storm both remain frustrating for me.

Teebore said...

I know what you mean. Seeing him bring back Kid Storm in Forever was almost as perplexing as when he did it the first time.

There just must be something in that concept Claremont really, really likes...

Menshevik said...

@Teebore -
should one bring up the X-Babies, another Claremont creation, in that context? They sort of began as a one-off joke (foreshadowed by the actual X-Men being returned to childhood in UXM Annual #10), yet the kept and keep coming back!

Teebore said...

That's a good point: Kid Storm isn't the first time Claremont de-aged the characters (though the X-Babies have always been played more for laughs while Claremont takes Kid Storm very seriously, but that's largely the fault of the creators post-Claremont who have kept the X-Babies going).

There's definitely something about the "Adults to Kids" trope in which he's interested.

Menshevik said...

Another thing that maybe someone else brought up already is that Elizabeth Braddock already had gone through a number of changes before and I can only wonder if she would have remained in what some detractors like to call the "nimbo" version for as long if Chris Claremont hadn't left. One of the things that struck me about the X-Men in the 1990s was how some characters who had gone through quite a few changes previously now were kind of "frozen" in one look, notably Psylocke, but also Rogue (who during JRJR's run seemed to change her costume (at least a little) every other issue and her hairdo every four) being sort of set in stone in her Lee-designed X-Men vol. 2 #1 visuals and Jubilee being stuck in her Robinesque duds until she was transferred to Generation X. Of course Marvel's merchandizing department could be partially to blame here (I say this as someone who didn't like Rogue's X-Men #1 costume that much to begin with - way too much yellow! - and as time wore on became more an more impatient for it to be replaced).

But I do have to wonder why the Miller homage did not strike me as that obvious until now...

Menshevik said...

Well, since Claremont very much played the X-Babies for laughs in their first two appearances in UXM Annual #12 and the Excalibur special (three, if you count UXMAnn#10), I don't think we have to deny him the credit (or blame) for that or read too much into the fact that other writers picked up on that.

dschonbe said...

I'm nowhere near caught up, but I just wanted to say thank you to Jason. This series of posts is fantastic reading, comments and all.
-Dan S.

cease ill said...

Ditto, that. I wasn't in a very bright mood---it's always that way when it's coming slow and I don't break away, I suppose---and I missed this blog. One day soon I'll probably get the ESSENTIALS and follow along, as I was busy "out growing" comics during this time. To little avail :-D ("oh, I have a sweetheart now? Let's see...baby, how would you like to try a comic book?")

dschonbe said...

Finally caught up to here (though still a few months behind the main series), and I have an actual point to make.

"Mensh, those are all good observations. I wonder if this motif of Claremont's is anything to do with him being an immigrant ... ? Hadn't really thought about it before, but maybe there's something there. (I'm glad that, even at this late stage of the game, I am still getting fresh insights into Claremont from all you commentators!)"


Consider the scene where the native Chinese man berates the American Born Chinese girl for losing touch with her Chinese-ness drawn by an American raised Korean man. There is most definitely something there. Though what that is, I'm not a smart enough man to say. Hopefully those more inclined towards literary analysis than I will add something here.

-Dan S.

Jason said...

That is a good observation, and like you I can only hope somebody who knows more about such things will comment.