She Has No Head! – Psylocke: This Is Not The Ninja You’re Looking For…
Psylocke #1. Chris Yost (writer). David Finch (cover). Harvey Tolibao and Paul Neary (art). Ulises Arreola and Brian Reber (color). Marvel Comics. $3.99
I really didn’t want one of my first posts on here to be an out and out rant…but then I read Psylocke #1, and well…we don’t always get what we want.
This book, which is an abomination in my opinion to the idea of progressive women in comics, is also sadly just an abomination to good superhero comics period, and though it’s certainly not alone, I couldn’t let it go. So here I am…already with a little rant.
Before we get into the meat of this post I think I should be a little clear about my comic book history. I have been reading comics for over fifteen years but I actually came to comics a little late in the game – reading my first comic book (Uncanny X-Men #290 for anyone keeping score) when I was sixteen – rather than the young ages I’m sure many of you can boast. And I think that my late age, and the fact that it was the early 90’s, a time we all feel very strongly about as far as what was going on with comics, definitely shaped my view of them.
I was one of the absolute worst offenders of buying all those crappy 90’s bad girl books that were and are so terrible for comics and for women. But at the time, I couldn’t see it. I was so shocked, and kind of impressed that awesome badass chicks were on the cover of major books, that it didn’t occur to me that they had the covers under really hard terms – i.e. they couldn’t really be on the cover if they didn’t have ridiculous impossible porn star body proportions, or were stunningly ridiculously beautiful – and usually white, and that they had to be wearing less clothing than your average swimsuit model while fighting crime.
But I know it now. And now it fills me with a little bit of quiet rage that occasionally (okay fine, constantly) seeps out.
Like now. Like when I have to see a book like Psylocke #1 sitting on comic book shelves as if we and comics have not evolved at all in the last fifteen years.
You should also know that I love the hell out of Psylocke. And I’m talking Jim Lee style badass ninja Psylocke. I know, I know, she’s designed to be “so awesome” that it should actually negate her actual awesomeness, but I fell in love with her when I was still a teenager, when I was easily impressed and could not yet tell when people were trying to make something “cool” just to hook me. I was not the wily consumer I am now. I loved Psylocke so much I STILL have her 1992 Jim Lee trading card. See? Tell me that isn’t love?
Before we get to what is criminal about this book, let’s get over a few of the remaining 600 lb gorillas in the room that come with discussing the Psylocke character.
#1. The two Betsy Braddocks. I suppose it’s significant that I was first introduced to Psylocke as the badass ninja version. I didn’t discover her more pink butterfly telepathy power white girl beginnings until after I had already fallen in love with the Japanese version complete with psychic knife and thong. To those of you who want to rally for the white girl British version (and I understand why you may feel that way) I can only offer that I met her first as a Japanese ninja, and so that version of her always seemed like a pretty natural state to me.
#2. The convoluted history. What a mess. Whether you like it or hate it, Psylocke, like many characters, has really been through the wringer. Eyes gouged out by Slaymaster and replaced with cybernetic ones at the hands of Mojo. Turned into an assassin at the hands of well, The Hand. Then revealed to be in someone else’s body (which though many people hated it – sort of made sense of things at least a little bit). Then, Kwannon, the woman that got Betsy’s British body in the exchange comes back and wants her original Japanese body back, possibly in part because the British body is dying from the legacy virus. This is doubly problematic because their psyches’ have been partially merged. Betsy manages to keep her non-infected Japanese body and have her psyche restored upon Kwannon’s death only to later have a deadly battle with Sabertooth and be brought back to life with something called The Crimson Dawn which then gives her cool new powers like teleporting through shadows…and then…okay, you know what? That’s enough. And honestly? It gets even worse after that. The point is, love what they’ve done to her or hate it (I’m sure most of us are hovering near ‘hate it’) somewhere in there she’s a great character waiting to be discovered (again, sort of).
#3. The blue thong. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, it’s sexist. Yes, if I had my druthers I’d redesign the hell out of it and give her something worthy of her. Although, I can’t say I thought much of her old costumes either (pink and purple ruffles? Not my Psylocke. A giant purple cape to restrict your movement? Also, no). At 16 however, I thought she, thong and all, was made of badass and I loved her maybe as much because of the thong as in spite of it.
So all that said, maybe when I was 16 the new Psylocke mini-series would have appealed to me regardless of the objectifying imagery splashed all over it, but my 33 year-old self is just not having it. I’ve been waiting for someone to do something great with Psylocke for years. And THIS. IS. NOT. IT.
Let us begin.
1.The Cover. I have occasionally liked David Finch’s work in the past, though it has never conformed to what I feel comfortable supporting and praising. But I have definitely been swayed a few times by the “Oooh! Pretty! Ooooh! Shiny! Ooooh Pretty and Shiny!” factor. Aphrodite IX springs to mind here. It happens. We all have weaknesses. That said, I think this cover, even aside from the overly sexualized posing ridiculousness is just not great. Her face is a bit weak, almost looking unfinished, and there’s nothing remotely Japanese about her…which she is…in fact the book’s entire storyline (what I can make of it) is based heavily on the fact that she is no longer in her old British white body…yet here she just looks like one of many hot white women in comics, but with purple hair.
As for the costume, I guess I’m supposed to be grateful that her thong is not a true thong here, but basically a swimsuit that covers approximately half of her ass, but I’m finding it hard to be grateful. I expect more. I deserve more. And the obvious ass focused posing really undoes any of the credit Finch (or whoever) might have gained by slightly covering her up. And do you know why the posing really bothers me? I mean beyond just being ridiculous and embarrassing to be seen in public with? What really bothers me is that it’s just SO obvious. I’m getting to the age where I find the most obvious answer really really boring. It is just so damn predictable and takes zero thought or ingenuity. Is it really so hard to do something a little unexpected?
I wish Marvel could put a poll into the field. To find out how many Psylocke fans, or interested new readers would have bought this book, even if she was allowed to be the star of the cover instead of her infamous ass…and how many people would have passed it by if her ass had not been the sole star. Because maybe I’m an idealistic moron, but I really think the numbers would not be significantly different…I think the percentage of people buying superhero comics solely for wank factor are pretty small.
2. The Interior Art. It’s by no means the worst art around – we’ve all seen far worse than what Harvey Tolibao does here – but it’s also not really good – at all. It’s overly fussy and complicated and the panel layouts are an unnecessary mess. The places where it is up to the art to tell the story (particularly the action sequences) are almost impossible to understand.
The art is also wildly inconsistent. If it wasn’t for the purple hair and distinctive costume, I would have a hard time recognizing Psylocke from page to page as her look is constantly changing. You know what never changes though? She always has ridiculous inflatable boobs. And she never looks Japanese. In fact, there’s a split panel on page ten (see below) that shows Psylocke now piloting the blackbird (or some such) and old style British Betsy Braddock pre-body switch from when she was a pilot – and there is literally no definition between the two faces belonging to two different bodies – except one has blonde hair and one has purple hair.
Why waste such an awesome artistic opportunity to show how drastic it must be to live in an entirely new body? We always want our comic art to be great – but in this story’s case it seems to be freaking critical to the plot and yet it’s terribly missing the mark. And this leads us directly into the problem with the story…it seems to be a lot of whining and exposition about how Psylocke is no longer the woman she once was – in body or mind – but in body – she um, looks EXACTLY THE SAME. And in mind…well, I know I haven’t been reading consistently for years, but I thought the whole point was that she is Betsy Braddock, although she has admittedly been manipulated…she’s still herself at the root of it all (and even Fraction’s recent Uncanny Sisterhood arc backs this up). So I’m confused. Really confused. And so is this story.
3. The Story. Um…what story? No, seriously. I have no freaking idea what the story is here. Betsy constantly talks to herself via narration that seems unfocused and repetitive. She waxes poetic (or really, not so poetic) about not being herself…which as I’ve already discussed…kind of doesn’t make sense based on what we know about her history so far…and in the way that it should easily make sense to us (i.e. visually) it also doesn’t make sense…because she looks the same as she did before getting a new body.
The plot goes absolutely nowhere. I don’t understand anyone’s motivation beyond revenge – which though a good standby is not exactly revolutionary or particularly interesting. From what I can gather beyond the exposition, Psylocke feels honor bound to return her once again dead and deformed old body to its grave in Japan. Wolvie comes along for sales purposes and disappears quickly. Once in Japan Matsu’o Tsurayaba’s assassins, The Hand, come and blow up the old Betsy Braddock English body, right under Psylocke’s nose, and while I can certainly understand Psylocke’s desire for revenge on Matsu’o back in the day, it’s pretty hard to reconcile it (or care) some ten plus years later. So it seems here that Psylocke is reacting not to Matsu’o’s manipulation of her years ago but rather just to Matsu’o’s people blowing her old body up and quite frankly, I’m not sure he hasn’t done her a huge favor there. If I was Psylocke I would have burned that old body to ash and sprinkled it in the ocean myself, if only to better ensure that there would be no more goddamn shenanigans and body swapping.
Somewhat ironically, Psylocke #1 starts similarly to Stumptown #1 in that we open with a dramatic scene (less so in Psylocke, but whatever) and the rest of the story is then told in flashback, but that is sadly where the similarities end. Where Stumptown is all smarts and nuance and character building, Psylocke is all color and boobs and ass and mindless fluff that barely makes sense to devoted fans, let alone newcomers.
4. The writing. On the whole it is mediocre, but I’m less inclined to just outwardly blame the writer (Chris Yost) than I am whoever gave him the plot line for this dreck (although if it was Yost himself, I’ll happily foist the blame back onto him). There’s just not anything special or unique here and it makes me sad.
I think probably the reality is that there was no hope for me to actually like this book, given the variety (and severity) of the sins they have already committed in my eyes (over sexualization, opportunistic misogynistic cover art, mediocre writing, mediocre drawing, and bad storytelling). However, I think some might argue that with a character this complicated and screwed over historically, it’s a huge task to write a book or mini-series that gets her back on track and re-introduces her to the world. I might have agreed with that, except I’ve been reading Bendis’ new Spider-Woman, and I’d say Jessica Drew is equally as screwed as Psylocke, and yet Spider-Woman (love Bendis or hate him) is operating on levels that this book hasn’t even dreamed of becoming. As someone that has perhaps shamefully never read a single Spider-Woman book (more on that another day) I was able to pick up Spider-Woman #1 and instantly not only get a feel for the character, but also understand the important aspects of her convoluted history. Yet with Psylocke, a character I already have incredible built in love for, I have no interest in seeing where this thrown together plot and mediocre at best team are trying to take her…because it’s just not worthy of her. I’ll wait for the real thing.
And as if to further prove there’s no hope for this book…here’s the cover for Issue #2.
So what do we have to look forward to? Giant boobs? CHECK. Giant ass in a thong? CHECK. Waist so small it would break in half if it had to carry that ass and boobs? CHECK. Impossible posing (that would land you at the chiropractor if you tried) all in order to better feature “the ass”? CHECK. Hot white girl face…not a Japanese feature to be seen? CHECK.
Is it 1995? Did I just IMAGINE I was living in 2009? Hmmm. Must have ’cause this has 90’s bad girl book stink smeared all over it.