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Drawing Crazy Patterns – CLAREMONTISM: The Focused Totality of Psylocke’s Telepathic Powers!

In this feature, I spotlight five scenes/moments from within comic book stories that fit under a specific theme (basically, stuff that happens frequently in comics).

Today we examine five instances where Psylocke described her psychic knife as the “focused totality of my telepathic powers.”


After a few near-misses (with phrases similar but not exactly the same), the phrase made its debut in Uncanny X-Men #271…

It next popped up in #276…

Then again in #277 (note that both issues were Skrulls posing as Psylocke, but come on, it totally still counts!)…

The final use during Claremont’s first X-Men run occurred in X-Men #1…

The first person to use it other than Claremont was his longtime creative partner, Alan Davis, who broke the phrase out in Excalibur #56…

E-mail me suggestions for future installments at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!


This was the piece you wanted to do all along and then you came up with a suitable monthly theme for July to accommodate it, right, Brian?

I want to know why that guy had a banana.

This piece is in fact the focused totality of Brian’s monthly theme.

Did she ever use the unfocused totality of her psychic abilities? Or a focused subtotality? If the psychic knife is the same thing every time, why not just call it “my psychic knife”?

I want to know why that guy had a banana.

It’s the focused totality of his potassium powers…

Did she ever call it the “whole enchilada of my psychic abilities”? Or the “big dog of my psychic abilities”?

Palmer45, the guy is Jamie, the brother of Betsy and Brian, who is quite deranged and has the ability to morph reality…I don’t have the issue at hand but I think he was messing with Betsy, threatening her with some nasty weapon and then showing that it was just a banana. The joke however did fail to amuse Betsy…

Man, two Alan Davis panels foucs the totality of almost every other artist`s talent in a year.

Claremont’s dialogue cracks me up… but Jim Lee’s art looked a lot better back then.

Lee’s current DC work, especially the promo pieces that DC has released to promote the DCnU, looks stiffer and less inspired. It’s almost like he’s drawing using a by-the-numbers guide based on poses and compositions he’s used over the years; then again, he’s “the man” now as opposed to a younger artist still establishing his creative legacy.

As a fan of his all the way from the 90’s, I still love his work but other than occasional pieces like the Hellblazer cover he recently did or the short story he drew for Neil Gaiman’s CBLDF piece, he’s tended towards a cartoonier, “kid-friendly” style.

Also, I’d love to see Marvel re-release Lee’s X-Men run with Laura Martin or Justin Ponsor or another current color artist re-coloring Lee’s artwork using today’s methods… They did it for Simonson’s Thor Omnibus, so why not Jim Lee’s X-Men work?

Are we sure she didn’t use the phrase before the magistrate… maybe when she first became Lady Mandarin Orange Slice? I could swear I remember her using it at some point in that adventure…

She used a very similar sounding phrase that didn’t involve the “focus totality” part. Like “the ultimate focus” or something like that.

Imraith Nimphais

July 8, 2011 at 4:14 am

I have to say…and this is in no way a disrespect to Claremont…but after the first time, that crap became tiresome very quickly. By the second usage I felt as though she was saying it every other sentence…just because she (he) liked the sound of it.

Stepping out of a bath: “The focused totality of my psichic powers was in the scented bath-oil”.
Going on a date with warren: “The thigh-high slit in my dress is the focused totality of my psychic powers”.
Sitting across from Warren at the dinner table:
“Betsy, you look beauty-full”.
” Warren, you look…like the focused totality of my psychic powers.”

Ehh .. I don’t mind Claremont’s use (and re-use) of these types of phrases. Comics were written differently back then and for a much wider audience … kids were picking up the books for the first time all the time (six year olds like me) so it was a more ‘natural’ way for Claremont to quickly introduce those readers to the focused totality of who they were, their powers, etc. And — given that — I think its actually ‘better’ comic writing than the more sparse writing of Grant Morrison or Matt Fraction insofar as a kid couldn’t pick up any issue of their X Men runs and just start reading and enjoying … oh well. And — as an adult who still reads comics or comics websites often enough to occasionally comment — the Claremont/Byrne and Claremont/Lee runs are at least as entertaining the Morrison and Fraction runs … but again oh well … who needs new readers …

continuing Robs theory of focused subtotality…how about

the focused crosstab
the focused vlookup
the focused pivot table

of her mental powers

I don’t think that dialogue like that is the only way to win over new readers.

I have a suggestion for a crazy pattern. how about all the times Sam Guthrie/Cannonball says “ah’m invulnerable when ah’m blastin’!”

Basically, she uses an imaginary knife.

I don’t think that dialogue like that is the only way to win over new readers.

Yet Claremont’s books used to attract new readers in ways modern popular writers could only DREAM of.

Psychlocke is the focussed totality of why I gave up on the X-Books. I think I’m turning Japanese I think I’m turning Japanese I really think so.

It is certainly not the only way to attract new readers … but it sure did help to make the book much more accessible to younger readers. Sure, what was helpful and awesome to my younger self is now annoying and over-written to my older self … but it was that ‘bad’ writing that first introduced me to the comics I love and it is that love that has kept me coming back for 20 years …

@ TNT That’s usually followed by Sam getting smacked down though. I’d think he’d learn not to say it.
(and I’m a Cannonball fan)

If you’re going for the original go-to Claremont phrase, that whole “make a fist like a thing unto iron” sounds shockingly similar and is in every old Iron Fist story I can remember…

And honestly, bad as that dialogue is the art ages even worse to me. At the time to me Jim Lee was the best thing to hit X-Men like ever, but now when I read it it’s just awful to look at. It’s aged worse to me than any other art on the run. He’s not highly regarded now, but I think Silvestri’s run was far superior even. And that horrible way all his women stand, with those swayed hips…does he still do that?

“GIXGKYL” indeed…..

I remember that I got tired of the cheap anime knockoffs that always did this (character saying what they are doing to you AS they did it). Then I pick up X-Men and they had Psylocke do it seemingly everytime she did it…

The one thought I always had was “Aren’t ninjas supposed to be QUIET and mysterious?”

Betsy said it so often, I waited for the counter and subsequent punch/kick to the face…. Never came though…

I will say however that I feel now that the Scott / Emma pairing is just a cheap copy of the Lee hinted Scott / Betsy one in my mind…..

Regarding Claremont’s heavy use of repeated dialogue – I’d rather have it that way than the current norm of slim to no dialogue. If these panels were written today, it would fill up two to three pages with not a single piece of dialogue, and I would have to wait a month to hopefully get an explanation in the front page summary as to what the hell just happened.


Hear hear! Sure, some of the Claremont dialogue ages poorly, but again, this is not too long after the mindset of ‘every comic is someone’s first.’ And I’ll take it over the popular writers of today. But I admit, I grew up with these (well, earlier than these, but you get the idea), so take that for what it’s worth.

Give me those Claremontian mountains of dialogue over an entire issue of talking heads saying nothing!

What was the UXM selling at in those days? Does anyone know? Even with the speculators skewing the numbers, I have to think the overall market was better.

Take it and run,

It’s the back to back uses in issues #276 and #277 that are the most egregious, I think, and really stick out.

There’s still a part of me that wonders if the rise in “Claremontisms” towards the end of his run was a response to the pressure he was getting from editorial and his annoyance at seeing his status as THE X-Men guy usurped by Lee that led him to throw phrases like that in again and again.

“You want back to basics? Traditional superhero action? Treat every issue like it could be somebody’s first? Fine. Here’s Psylocke explaining her powers over and over…”

Then again, he may have just been saying “eff it” and not trying as hard by that point. Or he really liked that phrase. He’d always had a tendency to get attached to certain phrases/word combinations/cadences.

I am disappointed, Teebore, I expect more from you when it comes to Claremont defense! :D

EDITED TO ADD: Just to be clear, I’m kidding around. I know you’re not really his “defender.”

What can I say? I don’t want to come on TOO strong. And I love me some Claremont, but I’ll be the first to admit his phrasing got pretty repetitive by the end there. :)

Hehe…I was editing my comment while you were posting.

Heh. No worries Brian. ;)

John Trumbull

July 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Man, Psylocke is a boring character. Don’t see what people like about her beyond the cheescake factor.

I always liked Psylocke but that got tiresome fast. Another one I remember was back in Claremonts early X-Men run when everyone had “speed that belied his size.”

Billy Bissette

July 9, 2011 at 9:49 am

At least “focused totality” was an explanation of the current action.

Claremont later gave Psylocke a catchphrase about how she had the power to shatter mountains but not the control to pick up a dime, which was much more annoying as she’d just say that whenever she seemed to feel like it. Which was constantly.

Mike Loughlin

July 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm

John Trumball,

The “cheesecake factor” is post- Jim Lee Psylocke’s appeal in a nutshell. I’ve always found her boring. That one Excalibur story and the “Psychic War” story from Joe Kelly’s run are the only two times I found her tolerable.

Well, if we’re speaking about Psylocke’s appeal as a character, I have got to say that I don’t know what it is that appeals to me about that character but it definitely is not her transformation into asian or that “costume” of hers… Maybe it’s more about her being one of the more proactive and ruthless among X-Men… If it’s not that then I honestly have no idea

Matty Macomber

July 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

As an actual born-and-bred Asian that lived with racial stereotypes and am still caught between Asian values of community/family honor and American individualism, found it a terribly cheap thing to turn Betsy faux-Chinese (or Japanese, ‘cuz, apparently all Asians are alike). Yuck. Sadly, though, I think that the visual change was the thing that made her a 90s mainstay while the rest of her X-Men cohort (Dazzler, Longshot, Havok) ran in the second-strings.

The initial Claremont creation was, surprisingly, just a standard damsel in distress with some precognitive flashes. It was the work that Moore-Davis-Delano did with the character in Captain Britain that I loved. Claremont appreciated that revamp and brought her to the team as someone who was seeking to become a warrior. Some have to be convinced that there are things fighting for, others could already fight but had no cause. From joining up with STRIKE to taking on the mantle of Captain Britain, she’s been a willing combatant and active learner. This is the core of the character I still like. As Tomi says, it’s her ruthless and proactive nature I like… not as vain or witty as Emma; not as sometimes bland mature, sometimes erratic passionate as Jean (although I like them both, too).

Clearly Psylocke is a wrestling fan and keeps saying that because she came up with a catchphrase for a tshirt.

Do the “My TK can shatter mountains” Psylocke used to say after she returned from the dead

its probably a disclaimer, otherwise people would think its the middle finger.

Personally, I stopped reading the X-men about the time Byrne left. Not becuase Byrne left, but because I couldn’t take Claremonts writing anymore, including his repetitive phrasing. How many times did Storm say “Butcher!”, did Wolverine say “I’m the best there is at what I do…”, an enemy say “..but I’ve been one step ahead of you the whole time, old enemy.”, various people said “her mind is tabula rasa…a blank slate”. I imagine the number is beyond counting in the decades since I stopped reading him…

@Rich: Technically, Wolverine never said “I’m the best there is at what I do…” during Byrne’s run. That particularly line was first uttered in the first issue of the Claremont/Miller Wolverine limited series, and in the regular series, in issue #162, well after Byrne left.

Claremont certainly had his favorite phrases and tics, but most of them didn’t appear in insane amounts until later in his run, like Psylocke’s “focused totality” bit, and most of them were blown out of proportion by the writers who followed him on the title and tried to emulate his style.

I liked Psylocke better in her original body. I never like the way Claremont handled her when he turned her into an Asian Assassin.

It was Claremont’s way…if a female character seemed a bit too wimpy for fighting then she would get instant ninja training (it also happened to Kitty Pryde) – at least at that time when ninjas were the in-thing.
(I guess if he stayed on the series longer then Jubilee would have probably suddenly developed ninja skills overnight)

Claremont certainly had his favorite phrases and tics, but most of them didn’t appear in insane amounts until later in his run, like Psylocke’s “focused totality” bit, and most of them were blown out of proportion by the writers who followed him on the title and tried to emulate his style.

I usually agree with you on this type of stuff, but I remember this part differently. Usage of Claremont’s repertoire of stock phrases definitely peaked with him and declined after he left. I remember because although I thought the franchise lost a lot with his departure, that was one of the few aspects I felt improved.

Usage of Claremont’s repertoire of stock phrases definitely peaked with him and declined after he left.

Needless to say, this is definitely something I’ll be watching for as I continue my issue-by-issue analysis. It’s certainly possible I’m remembering it wrong myself; it’s been a while since I last read the issues surrounding Claremont’s departure.

I do know that only sixteen issues in, I’m already getting weary of Sam being described as “near invulnerable” while blasting and Illyana’s Soul Sword being the “ultimate manifestation” of her magical abilities (and she’s only had the thing for like three issues!) in New Mutants.

[…] traditional style has its dark side, too. For every ‘best there is at what I do’ there’s a ‘focused totality of my psychic powers’ and Lobdell is certainly guilty of writing some oversimplified and expository […]

OK seriously? Psylocke was just looking for an excuse to bust out her knife and her blade. Did she really feel threatened by that banana?

That should have read “her knife and that phrase.”

So it’s a knife made of mental energy, therefore it doesn’t cut, only mentally hurts. I only know Psylocke from the videogames, where it was never made clear the knife was the focused anything or anything. I just thought it was like a lightsaber that grew from her generaql wrist direction!

@ Palmer: “I want to know why that guy had a banana.”

That’s Jamie Braddock, Betsy’s other brother. He really is not generally known for his sanity.

British Betsy was always better than Asian Betsy btw.

@Vesaius–I would agree with you there. Still love the character, but I much prefer the primarily-British iteration. And I loved the body armor she wore during the latter half of the Outback years.

Gotta love how modern day tastes now complain about classic writing. Never had an issue with it then, and frankly, it made the book a good jumping on point for anybody with explanations of how their powers work. You NEVER see that now. Somebody tell me exactly what is it Cyclops is supposed to be doing right now, or how any of the new mutant kids powers work, or exactly what is it that Magneto can and can’t do and why?

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