Sunday Slugfest: Psylocke #1

A comic review article by: Thom Young, Jason Sacks , Karyn Pinter, Christopher Power
Following the defeat of Madelyne Pryor and her Sisterhood, Psylocke travels to Japan to place her former body in its proper resting place. However, when ninjas from the Hand attack her under orders from Matsu'o Tsurayaba, Psylocke determines that Matsu'o is one loose end that can no longer be left unresolved.

Jason Sacks:
Karyn Pinter:
Christopher Power:

Jason Sacks:

It's gotta suck to be Elizabeth Braddock, aka Psylocke. One minute you're a normal airline pilot, leading a relatively quiet life without real worries, then you're suddenly thrust into a world of mutants in which you discover a whole secret world around you. You eventually find yourself dead--with your face melted off by one of your best friends. However, the next minute after dying you're alive and well again while feeling completely disassociated from everything that previously happened to you.

So what do you do with your new life? You fly back to your beloved Japan to put everything together again.

But what happens? You get attacked by a bunch of damn ninjas.

There's never a dull moment, but it's gotta suck to be a superheroine.

On the other hand, it's gotta be the most awesome thing ever to be a superheroine. You get to wear a cool costume, hang around with some of the most interesting people in the universe, fly all around the planet at a moments' notice, and--lest we forget--any deaths that you experience are likely to be quite temporary.

There's never a dull moment. It's gotta be the most awesome thing ever to be a superheroine.

The dichotomy of the superheroine lifestyle is what Psylocke is experience in her first issue of this new miniseries. As she says:
This is where I belong. At rest. At peace. Left alone. Self-pitying. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. But part of me envies my body right now. But then again, even death is not an escape.
Literally traveling overseas with her dead body, it's fair to say that the former Elizabeth Braddock is having an out-of-body experience as she confronts the villainous ninja organization known as the Hand.

However, the Hand's plan has backfired in at least one significant way. Their attack on Psylocke's dead body has given her a reason to want to live.

Frankly, this comic kind of made my head hurt. I'm certainly familiar enough with the old comics convention that no death is forever. However, it seemed oddly grotesque and weirdly confusing for Psylocke to be accompanying her own dead body as it was taken for burial.

It was even stranger for Psylocke to be hanging around with her friend Dazzler, who had previously melted half her face. No wonder Psylocke is lost and confused; she's in a situation that only comics could bring her.

I haven't been keeping up with the events that the X-Men have experienced lately, but writer Chris Yost does a reasonable job of setting the back-story for a new reader. After reading this issue, I have a good sense of why Psylocke chose to travel to Japan and why she's so confused. Oddly, though, I felt Yost could have given readers still more context around Psylocke's very strange experiences--more of an idea of how and why Braddock was caught up in this bizarre whirlwind.

Still, Yost has written an entertaining and fast-moving story that kept me interested for all 22 pages, and Harvey Tolibao's art is nicely slick and interesting--with varying panel arrangements and interesting camera angles. His pencils are occasionally over-detailed, but he does a fine job of making Psylocke look good--and the story has the requisite amount of X-Men drama.

Psylocke #1 isn't a bad comic, but it's not great either. It's fun stuff if you like the protagonist and are intrigued by her bizarre situation. It's less fun if, like me, you lack the context to get all you can out of the story.

Wolverine will likely pop up later in the storyline, and Psylocke has a big, nasty sword on the cover of the next issue--so there is likely to be lots more bloody fighting in the next few issues (if that's what the kind of thing you enjoy).

Karyn Pinter:

Okay, so the plot of this issue doesn't have the ring or rhyme of Kill Bill, but you can tell where this story is going. However, beneath the revenge plot is a story of self discovery (or rediscovery) for Psylocke. Sometimes you have to let go to see if there was anything worth holding on to.

I have to admit, I haven't been following X-Men comics like I should. I flip flop between DC and Marvel, and I've been lured to the DC side by promises of Catwoman and Harley Quinn being in their own comics again--but lo! Those tricky and sly devils at Marvel have put Psylocke's name in giant print across a cover!

In the immortal words of Michael Corleone, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." When all the other girls on the playground where fighting during recess over who got to play Storm or Jean, I gladly stepped into the role of Psylocke--so my favoritism for Psylocke goes way back. I'm glad to see her getting some good book time where she's not dying (yet), or playing a secondary role.

However, with all the body switching back and forth, I am a bit confused as to which shell Psylocke is currently using--and when did she lose the Crimson Dawn marking? I think it's her Asian body (Kwannon), which would add to the story of Matsu'o wanting to destroy the Betsy body. Total burn if you ask me--and if you've read the issue, it's also a bad pun.

Aside from any initial confusion, once you're past the opening pages you get into the original story, which is Psylocke heading to Japan with her former body. Wolverine is along for the ride and seems to disappear, no doubt scheduled to reappear later in the upcoming issues.

Chris Yost is the acting scribe of Psylocke's tale, and so far he's got me paying attention. Although Yost is traveling down a road well traveled--with the body swapping being a key element--his story is intriguing. The story of Matsu'o really is unfinished, and I absolutely want to know what happens next.

Matsu'o did make Psylocke into the Psylocke we all know and love; there's some bad blood between them, and now it's only been made worse. Will Yost successfully lay the body plot to rest for good (yes, über pun intended), and if he does, what's going to happen then? Will this be the end of it, once and for all?

Christopher Power:

I returned from my 10-year hiatus from comics in 1997 just after the Onslaught series. As maligned as the aftermath of that series is by fans and critics, I still have a soft spot in my heart for it because it was in that series in which Angel regained his wings through a mysterious bargain with Apocalypse, Operation: Zero Tolerance ripped through the X-Men and all mutants, and Psylocke was encapsulated by a shadow dimension and embraced an elixir called the Crimson Dawn--and she began to rebuild her life.

With the return of Psylocke to the mainstream Marvel universe (616), it's interesting that there is a certain amount of symmetry between the current era of X-men and my fondly remembered and misspent youth--Angel’s deal with the devil seems to have come back with a vengeance with the return of the Archangel persona; Bastion, the villain of Operation: Zero Tolerance, has returned to life and been active with the purifiers in the pages of X-Force; and we once again find Psylocke returning from beyond the beyond and trying to rebuild her life.

Given all of this parallelism, does this book succeed in capturing the essence of Betsy "Psylocke" Braddock while avoiding all of the landmines that are sitting around in her past? Well, yes and no--and thus my mediocre, but solid, rating for this book.

Psylocke is depicted as a restless, frustrated young woman who has been put through the wringer of life one too many times. She is bored, which is something I like a lot. Given that this woman has been through a lot in the last year--hopping dimensions over in the pages of Exiles--it is reasonable to assume that someone with Betsy's adventurous attitude would not want to be stuck hiding on an island.

However, the restlessness also seems to be related to the dredging up of old memories, in the form of her old body. The hardened veteran X-Man comes face to face with the body of the spry, naïve young British woman she once was--something that Betsy assumed she had put behind her.

The story continues, and we actually do get a certain amount of resolution. I will not spoil the plot, but the writers do a decent job of setting up Psylocke as being what she is now--a talented telekinetic, a weak telepath, and a passionate woman in the body of a former Japanese assassin. That profile is a pretty tall order to accomplish, so kudos to the writing team.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of plot points that are going to get really lost on any new readers--and even some long-time readers like me. The sequences of panels showing Betsy as a young British woman are spliced into other panels, and there is little context around the panels--which I found very jarring and distracting. These panels did not provide information that furthered the story, nor did they seem to evoke the kind of emotional resonance about what Betsy has lost that I assume they were supposed to achieve.

I'm not sure, but perhaps the problem is due to the amount of time that has passed since we last saw the original Psylocke/Captain Britain. In any case, the panels of Betsy's past detracted instead of added to the story--which is a shame because I like the idea of these history panels.

The story follows a logical sequence, but there are moments that don't seem to fit (at least not for the uninitiated). The appearance of Wolverine is important because of the history that he and Betsy share--both in Japan and in previous stories (see Crimson Dawn for details). However, Wolverine does not do anything in this book, nor does he even say anything particularly important. I hope his purpose will become apparent in the future story.

What really left me a bit baffled, though, was the appearance and actions of the Hand, and the subsequent mention of the major villain of the piece. It all just came too quickly, and I did not have time to digest the significance of all the dialogue until my second (or even third) reading.

On a positive note, the art team handled the pencils, inks, and colours well. There is a tendency for comics starring Psylocke to be quite cheesecake-y in their presentation--largely because of the absurd costume she has worn since acquiring her current body. However, penciller Harvey Tolibao does a respectable job of not highlighting Betsy's obvious features. Instead, he focuses on her eyes, face, and hands--as well as the depiction of her powers.

I particularly liked the psi-dagger presentation; it looked really unique and detailed rather than just a mass of energy. The presentation of combat action was fluid--if a bit confusing at times. For example, I still cannot figure out what happens when Psylocke flips a member of the Hand over the dead body of Betsy Braddock.

One thing I will say is that we have a new beginning for Psylocke. It looks like the powers-that-be at Marvel want to clear up her backstory and give us a character they can move forward with. If they can achieve for Psylocke what DC has accomplished for Power Girl in the last couple of years, I would be most pleased.

Psylocke is a character that has a lot of story to her, but it hasn't really been fleshed out in the way that characters like Wolverine or Jean Grey have. She seems to have spikes of public interest, and then she fades into the background for a while. Maybe now, with only one body, Psylocke will be able to move forward a bit and sever the ties that bind her to Kwannon and any other self she might have. It's time for the girl to have a rest from the tug of war—but, as it is stated in the comic, "no rest, no peace." So right now, Psylocke's fate is open.

What I think stands out the most for this comic is the artwork. I'm not too familiar with Harvey Tolibao's pencil--like I said, I haven't been following my Marvel lately, and most of his work seems to be with them. However, I like his work here; Psylocke is looking pretty damn good--though I doubt it's hard to screw up a ninja/model/assassin who always wears a purple bathing suit.

Tolibao has the action down, too. I'd love to see a script page so I can see how he went about translating it to pencil, because the few pages of action are pretty intense. I expect Tolibau will rock the ninja fight scenes.

Just one thing about his characters, though--the nose bubble. My buddy, Marty, pointed it out, and now it's all I can look at on the faces of the female characters. It just a little diamond accentuating the tip of the nose, but your eye is drawn to it.

However, as good as Tolibao's pencils are, the coloring is my absolute favorite thing about this issue--beautiful, beautiful, vibrant color work with great blends of pinks and purples in the backgrounds. There's a great page in which one of the Hand ninjas attacks the Betsy body and there's a fiery explosion with the lines blurred for effect. That page is just . . . bang . . . right in your face action. It's one of the best examples of the marriage of lines and colors.

With this issue being the first of only four, Yost may have us all in for one fast and bumpy ride. I hope this plot plays out well. I want to see Psylocke move on a bit, but will this be taking away the one thing she really has going for her?

This comic is thoroughly entertaining and fast-paced, and I don't think I could really call it "a girl comic." Yeah, it has a female protagonist, but it's outside the girly box--so to all the guys out there who might be apprehensive about buying this miniseries because it's a girl comic, it's definitely no Wonder Woman. It's a sure hit for Psylocke fans, and a definite take-a-look for anyone in need of some amusement.

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