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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 119: The New Mutants Annual #2

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This quasi-week: Chris Claremont. Today’s page is from The New Mutants Annual #2, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated October 1986. Enjoy!

Only crazy people don't like Alan Davis!

On a personal level, when I first got into the X-Universe in 1989/1990, I immediately fell in love with Elizabeth Braddock, and this is one of the comics that fueled that love. She’s awesome in this comic, I must say. But that’s not why we’re here!

The raison d’etre of this comic book and Betsy’s inclusion in a comic starring the New Mutants is fairly convoluted. Claremont invented the character back in 1976, and Alan Davis first drew her with purple hair (perhaps with Alan Moore’s instruction, as Moore was writing the character at the time) – originally she was blonde, just like her brother, Captain Britain. Writers and artists today might not know that the only reason her hair is purple is because she dyed it in the early 1980s, when New Wave was the thing. Davis blinded her, too, when he was writing Captain Britain’s adventures not too long before this annual came out. Claremont didn’t expand the X-Men internationally originally back in 1975, but he made the international team the best-selling book on the planet, so presumably he wanted to keep that flavor and use a character with whom both he and Davis had some history, but with whom American audiences might be unfamiliar. Hence, Betsy showing up in American comics and immediately becoming one of the three best X-Men in history (the others, of course, are Rogue and Dazzler).

Claremont, with his inimitable style, tells us when and where this page takes place, and then the caption box says “It’s hard to be a hero.” This is the name of the story in which Betsy is blinded, so Claremont is doing a nice little call-back to that episode, even though the words fit with what he wants to say. As you can see, he takes his time getting there, but we learn that Betsy had been Captain Britain for a time, and she was blinded as a result. Betsy is a telepath, however, so it’s not as sad as you might think. Still, sucks to be her, don’t it?

Davis, of course, is marvelous (as are Tom Orzechowski and Glynis Oliver, who lettered and colored the book). The establishing shots show Betsy schussing down the slopes, with both panels giving us a fine sense of motion that Davis excels at. In the second panel, we get the trademarked Davis smile, as Betsy enjoys the sensation of skiing. Davis deliberately shows her going away from Claremont’s caption boxes so that we take in the entire scene – the stacked boxes on the left side don’t crowd Davis’s art, which is nice, and even though we want to ignore Betsy in the second panel and get on to the rest of the page, Davis doesn’t let us. She finishes the run to applause, and then Davis drops in a carousel for no apparent reason … except it’s foreshadowing!!!! Yes, a carousel figures rather importantly later in the book, so Davis incongruously sticks one in the lobby of the resort. Claremont, once again the master of foreshadowing, has Betsy wish she could ride the carousel with “a child’s joy … a child’s innocence.” It’s heavy-handed, but considering what happens to the New Mutants in this book, ominous.

The reveal of Betsy’s blindness is somewhat annoying, because although it’s a dramatic moment, a reader might be forgiven for wondering what the deal is – so her eyes are in shadow, so what? Remember, that this was a time when the Comics Code was still in effect, so Davis can’t show too much, and Claremont quickly clears up any questions about the “cost” of Betsy’s time as Captain Britain. You’ll also note that Davis pulls back in the penultimate panel, showing Betsy alone in the room. This is so the turn to the audience and the blazing eyes in the final panel are more dramatic, because something is happening suddenly. It’s a nice touch by Davis, because the reader knows that Betsy was alone, and when she senses that someone is there, it’s a shock not only to her, but to us. The way she turns – to her left – also propels us from the left side of the panel to the right side, providing the impetus to turn the page (where Davis gives us a gorgeous and terrifying splash page).

This is a very well-constructed first page. Sure, Claremont is verbose, but he does at least give us a lot of germane information. Meanwhile, Davis packs a lot of visual information onto the page, but it’s never cluttered and it flows very well. This is one of my favorite comics, and I think this first page shows why.

Next: Claremont at DC? What madness is this? Steel your nerves by checking out the archives!

18 Comments

Ah, Claremont at DC. Always, always a bad thing.

It’s funny, this was about three years before I stopped reading X-Men and New Mutants, and yet I do not remember Betsy at all, even though she actually joined the X-Men while I was still reading it. She made no impression on me whatsoever. That terrible hooded outfit she had probably didn’t help. I hadn’t read any of the Marvel UK stuff, of course, so I only knew Captain Britain through a handful of US appearances, and Claremont’s habit of dragging the characters he liked writing from one unrelated series to another was totally lost on me here.

I think she joined right after this during the Mutant Massacre since Kitty and Nightcrawler had to leave.

My first Alan Davis exposure was in Detective Comics #569, but for whatever reason New Mutants Annual #2 made his name one to remember, second at the time only to Art Adams. Great choice for a first page.

This issue came out during the massacre (Betsy fought Sabertooth in issue 214) and just previous to the X-Men Annual #10, art by Art Addams, featuring Longshot’s introduction to the X-Men.

Only crazy people don’t like Alan Davis!- – Amen

“Alan Davis first drew her with purple hair (perhaps with Alan Moore’s instruction, as Moore was writing the character at the time)…”

When Moore was writing Captain Britain for Davis, back in the early 1980s, it was being printed in black and white in various Marvel UK titles, so it’s probably unlikely that Moore had any strong opinions on the colour of her hair.

Padraig: Dang, you’re right. I forgot. Brian does specifically mention the purple hair in the script, so who knows who came up with it!

I almost forgot Betsy’s bionic eyes on top of her switch to a Japanese ninja body, her Crimson Dawn face tattoo and shadow powers, her telekinesis, and Omega-Level power boost. Even for a mutant, she’s faced a lot of mutations.

Come to think of it, unwanted body modification was a strong theme in Chris Claremont’s X-Men. In addition to Psylocke’s transformations, we had the New Mutants security and nurse who got magically turned from white to Native American Cheyenne, Polaris turning into a tall amazon woman, Storm turning into a 12-year-old girl, Moira MacTaggarat evoking her Highlander warrior persona, Callisto getting tentacles for arms….was there a larger theme to all of this, a series of coincidences, or some fetishes I’d rather not know about being entertained?

One of Chris Claremont’s pet tropes deals with bizarre physical transformations, usually accompanied by some form of mind control, with the villain declaring “You now belong to me, body and soul,” or words to that effect.

AsianTelepathsAreCool

April 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I definitely think your on the ball with the latter, dude. There is a site called Mcforum where in the forums they mention how frequently the transformation stuff appears in his work. Heck, even at the very beginning Claremont had transformation elements. Jean Grey and the Phoenix? Jean Grey being brain-washed and corrupted and wearing an 19th century dominatrix outfit. I mean, in what way or context could this stuff possibly be allegorical.

I’m pretty sure this was one of the first real back issues I ever bought. When I first started buying comics in 1992, I naturally gravitated to the X-titles, and then I got really into Jim Lee’s X-Men trading card set. That summer, when a small convention hit my hometown, I went on my first ever back issue hunt with the goal of buying X-Men first appearances (handy information on the back of the trading cards).

I found cheap copies of Avengers Annual 10, Uncanny 129, Uncanny 141, and this one. And reading those four comics that afternoon made me a huge Claremont fan to this day.

Remember how in the 80s, annuals used to be classic stories? How did that change in the 90s, when annuals became the home of gimmick stories, new talent showcases, and fill-ins?

Soooo many of my favorite issues from the 80s are annuals. Too bad that changed.

Not to mention Claremont is the one responsible for most of Wolverine’s major character traits, including the adamantium bones and all of the Weapon X experimentation on him.

And you had the techno-organic virus on Cable as a baby, too.

I wonder if it had something to do with creating a sense of fear in the reader for what it was like to be a mutant, as their bodies were always altering or being altered.

I just like he fact that being a telepath means she’s okay without eyes, even thouh here’s no one else in the room with her to see where she is in relation to, say, that coffee table.

I was in jr. high when this came out and pre-Asian Betsy was one of my favourite X-Men at the time.

Wait, even though she’s blind she’s still a fantastic slalom skiier just because she has telepathy?

One of my favourite comics, I also loved the follow up in xmen annual #10, when we see Psylocke & the New Mutants rescue the de-aged xmen from Spiral & Mojo. It had the best artwork & Psylocke had crippling psy blasts. Loved everything about it.

Never got a hold of this issue; X-Men Annual #10 was my introduction to Psylocke. And so I never saw whatever it is that happens here to establish Doug Ramsey and Betsy as possible love interests for each other, which always seemed really weird to me and never went anywhere…

The “telepathy makes up for blindness” conceit is an interesting one. Psylocke eventually started manifesting an eyes-in-a-butterfly effect that she could send all over the place– she monitored the “Wolverine vs Sabretooth, round 2″ fight with it. If she could psychically see through that, then she could psychically see up close as well, I guess. But my initial reaction was like Seth’s above: being a telepath doesn’t help you see unless there are sighted people around into whose brains you can tap.

Don’t know why this never occurred to me before but: a blind psychic who favored colored pajama-style jumpsuits? For a little while there, Betsy was cosplaying Cassandra Craft. (She wore purple rather than pink– but she was blind, after all.)

One of my all-time favorite comics. I was a fan of Alan Davis from his Batman/Outsiders/Detective work, but this was the one that really kicked it up a notch for me. Great work from him. And Betsy was pretty awesome in this book (and even more so in the companion New Mutants Annual that picked up the story).

Oops, got that backwards. I meant the X-Men issues that picked up the story from NM Annual.

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