Friday, August 14, 2015

COMIC LEGEND: Psylocke Was Supposed to Turn Asian Temporarily

CBRThis week, in honor of two comic book characters in the news, we’ll do a pair of legends featuring Psylocke.

COMIC LEGEND: Psylocke was only supposed to turn Asian temporarily.


COMIC LEGEND: It was Jim Lee’s idea to turn Psylocke Asian.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

You can’t really split these two legends up, so I’ll do them as one legend.

Psylocke has been in the news a lot lately, with her upcoming appearance in the next X-Men film as well as concerns about the nature of her racial-switching.

What’s interesting is that there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the origin of Psylocke’s transformation from a white woman to an Asian ninja character in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #256 by Chris Claremont, Jim Lee and Scott Williams.

Our story begins in Uncanny X-Men #251, when Psylocke (who sensed that the Reavers were about to attack their depleted team of X-Men, as the team was down to just four members at this point in time) used her powers to trick the other three heroes to join her in transporting through the Siege Perilous, a mystical “get out of jail free” card that Roma had given them some time ago.

Psylocke then takes a trip to Mojo’s Body Shop in Uncanny X-Men #256

And when Wolverine next encounters Psylocke during the Acts of Vengeance (where superheroes fight villains they don’t normally fight – here, the X-Men take on the Mandarin) storyline in #256-258, she is now an Asian assassin working for the Mandarin…

She even goes by Lady Mandarin…

Eventually, Wolverine breaks her free from her brainwashing and she is now once again a member of the X-Men, only as a telepathic Asian ninja…

The decision to make her Asian has been shrouded in a lot of mystery, including whether it was even intended to be a permanent change and whether the idea came from artist Jim Lee, who just liked drawing a hot Asian ninja.

The whole “was it meant to be a permanent change?” thing is likely born out of the fact that around the same time, Claremont also made Storm a child and that obviously was not permanent.

The Jim Lee stuff, well, I really don’t know where that stuff comes from.

Anyhow, in an interview with Darwin McPherson in Amazing Heroes #192, Claremont gives the scoop:

Darwin McPherson: What’s with this race-changing scenario you indulge in occasionally? You changed Officer Corsi and Nurse Friedlander from Caucasians to Native Americans, then you changed Psylocke into an Asian. This is a twist I don’t think anyone else has done.

Chris Claremont: I guess it’s a way of examining old prejudcies from new perspectives.

In the case of Psylocke, it was something we had originally just intended for the “Acts of Vengeance” three-parter, the rationale being that the Hong Kong gangs would not accept an Anglo, a pure Caucasian, as the Mandarin’s emmisary, as a Lady Mandarin; therefore, the Mandarin had to take steps to make her more physically acceptable to his people.

Then Jim did such a bang-up job. It was such an effective presentation of her and it seemed to strike such a powerful chord in the audience. We figured, “Let’s go with it and see what happens.” And from the reader response, it seems to be an extremely positive move.

So that clears the first legend up and I think it clears the second one up, as well. This was only the second X-Men story that Jim Lee ever drew and he would not become the regular artist on the series for another NINE months, so it really doesn’t seem very likely that Claremont would be taking plot cues from Lee at the time. Not only that, but right there in that interview question, if Lee HAD been the one who came up with the idea, THAT’S where Claremont would have said, “Jim suggested it.” Yes, the “we” there makes it a BIT confusing, but I think it is pretty clear Claremont is referring to himself and editorial, who obviously conferred routinely. It’s certainly not absolutely definitive, but I think it is enough to go with a false there.

Thanks to Darwin McPherson and Chris Claremont for the information!


FSaker said...

I had already seen this explanation somewhere else, but it's nice that CBR explained it again to the new readers.

Claremont always had a lot of these crazy ideas, most of which were vetoed by editors (like Jean surviving the Dark Phoenix Saga and suffering severe brain damage as a consequence, or Wolverine being killed by Storm in the 1990s - while X-Men Forever was full of new directions, Claremont did say he always planned to kill Logan). In Psylocke's case, we was allowed to use his crazy idea and it stuck with most readers.

I don't even think it was that bad, as many other X-Men suffered physical changes, whether temporary or permanent (Beast, Angel/Archangel, Storm, Karma, Cable...). It's the body swap that really bothers me, but that's another writer's fault (I think it was Nicieza, wasn't it?). And other X-Men also had or still have permanent body swaps (Professor X, Nightcrawler, Fantomex...).

One funny thing is, I remember another reader mentioning a while ago that he originally thought Psylocke only changed her body armor for the blue bathing suit, because he felt Lee's art always made women look Asian...

Tazirai said...

Lol. We'll see what her future holds. I think Marvel will address it and fix it eventually. It will upset people but it needs to change.

Rahsaan Chisolm said...


This Rodrigo kid from Brazil was bitching to Cullen about you being annoying on the forums. LOL. I'm like, "Dude, pot meet kettle.". He's just as empassioned as anybody else about Asian Psylocke, so I don't see his excuse for name calling. He literally shanghaid a whole Twitter thread I had with G. Willow to bash British Betsy and to beg Willow to not change her back.

Rahsaan Chisolm said...

Sorry for misspelling your name above.

Tazirai said...

Yeah he cracks me up. I like his passion, but sometimes he comes across as kind of a Zealot. Specially when he starts the "THANK GOD!" stuff. I'm like sheesh, dude we disagree. But to bash the character you claim to love to writers makes him look bad.
Cullen Kinda answered the question after he got his "answer". I do hope GWW gets her hands on her one day.

Rahsaan Chisolm said...

By the way, is it just me or was Jim Lee's art wy better back in '89 and throughout his Uncanny run than it is today? I'd even argue that it was more beautiful during Acts of Vegeance and X-Tinction than it was during Blue Team in the 90s. For one, Asian Psylocke actully has real eyes versus just slanted lines on her face. He actually gave her an other characters real features. Also, I think his characters used to have a bit more differentiation aside from their hair and skin colors. I feel like he's become
complacent in his craft after achieving fame. Don't get me wrong, he's still a huge cut above many other comic book artists. However, his earlier work is way more nuanced and beautiful. He was hungy.

pound my cakes! said...

@ Rahsaan Chisolm : at least Jim Lee is still a good artist unlike Chris Bacchalo. Bacchalo's art downgraded. His art was superb in Generation NeXt and early Generation X works. Now it just looks too damn simple and anime like. Also! Salvador Larrocca has come a long way from the Crimson Dawn era through the 2000's