Psylocke is finally coming to film. Yeah, there was a version of Psylocke in 2006’s X-Men: Last Stand, but that version of one of the most iconic female X-Men characters kind of, well, sucked. Last Stand’s Psylocke was the classic X character in resemblance only as the version of the psychic mutant played by Mei Melançon was depowered, immoral, and unexplored. Quite frankly, Psylocke deserves better and now, with the character returning in X-Men: Apocalypse (played by real life Psylocke clone Olivia Munn), hopefully this time, the folks at Fox do Betsy Braddock justice. Because let’s face it, the character has been around for a long time and has garnered legions of fans just ready to see this kickass character pop her psychic blade and do some serious damage.
Psylocke is not only a strong female Marvel character; she is one of the very few front and center Asian female superheroes in comics. Since she joined the X-Men, Psylocke has been a symbol of power and inclusion for X fans all over the world. But since Psylocke’s debut, the psychic warrior has shifted ethnicities, had bionic implants, fought side by side with her double, had a torrid romance with Archangel, and served the X-Men as team leader. It’s a rich and confusing history (because X-Men) and it’s worthy of some exploration before Psylocke, the real Psylocke, makes her true big screen debut.
Pip, Pip, Cheerio, and All That Rot
So you would expect an X-Men legend like Psylocke to debut in the pages of, you know, an X-Men comic, right? Not so, my little students of mutant history. The woman who went on to become one of the most recognized X-Men of the ’90s and beyond didn’t even make her debut in an American comic.
You see, back in the day, Marvel had a publishing branch called Marvel U.K. who published a ton of American reprints but also published original comics. The imprint created the character Death’s Head, and even published original Star Wars comics. In fact, Alan Moore penned some of these said Star Wars comics, stories that never saw publication in America. I know right, get thee to eBay.
Anyway, one of the Marvel U.K. books was Captain Britain. Marvel mutant fans are more than familiar with Captain Britain, a British aristocrat who was granted tremendous powers by mystic forces to serve as England and Earth’s protector. The good Captain would serve as the leader of Excalibur and despite the fact that Brian Braddock isn’t a mutant; he became an X mainstay for many years. Before Captain Britain made his US debut, he appeared in an original British title written by such legends as Chris Claremont and the aforementioned Moore.
Anyway, in Captain Britain vol. 1 #8 (Dec. 1976) Claremont and the late and legendary Herb Trimpe introduced Betsy Braddock, the sister of Captain Britain. She was a big part of the U.K.-only strip and had some of the finest creators in that era of comics building her character. The original Betsy was a blond, a skilled pilot, a professional model, and very, very British. Betsy even served as Captain Britain for a time! Later on, Moore introduced Braddock’s psychic abilities and after Betsy’s fiancé is murdered, the character began dying her hair that signature purple fans have grown to love.
Notice during this entire dissertation into English Marvel Comics, I never said Asian, ninja, spandex, or even the name Psylocke. So how did that all happen?
Chris Claremont must have been quite fond of his creation, because he integrated Betsy into the Marvel Universe in the pages of New Mutants Annual #2 (1986). In this tale drawn by Alan Davis, Betsy is kidnapped by the media obsessed alien Mojo. The New Mutants must race into the Mojoverse to save Betsy and defeat the corpulent alien. Mojo experiments on Betsy, brainwashing her, enhancing her powers, and replacing her eyes with bionics. This isn’t the first time Betsy would become a victim of unwanted experimentation as this trope would pop up again and again over her heroic career.
Mojo rebrands Betsy as Psylocke and sends her against the New Mutants. Xavier’s students manage to free the newly created Psylocke and welcome her to the X-Men. At this point, Psylocke wore a frilly costume and her psychic powers manifested themselves in the form of a butterfly around her eyes. Not exactly the most fearsome power in the world, but hey, it was unique.
During her initial X-Men appearances, Claremont went out of his way to remind readers that Psylocke’s powers were defensive. This was underscored in Betsy’s first encounter with Sabretooth. Now, think Newt versus the xenomorph in Aliens and you get the idea just how badly Psylocke was outclassed by Wolverine’s most deadly foe. Psylcoke won the day with guile, gaining the respect and team nomination from Wolverine himself, but the fear and helplessness she felt during this deadly rite of passage made Psylocke realize that if she was going to be part of the X-Men, she would need a significant upgrade.
Soon, everything about the character, including her ethnicity, would change…
Okay, somehow Claremont and Marvel pulled this one off without being horribly offensive, so…yay! You see there was this thing called the Siege Perilous (this was kind of in Claremont’s overwriting phase, but it’s still cool so go with it) which was a mystical portal that the X-Men had to journey through because of reasons. The takeaway is that anyone who journeys through the portal becomes amnesiac but they also transform into the being they truly want to be.
Still shaken by her encounter with Sabretooth, Psylocke wished that she was more of a warrior, a killer that could stand against any foe. And her dream came true in a very strange way. Perk up now Daredevil and Iron Man fans, things are about to get strange and cool.
When Betsy awoke from being Siege Periloused (is that a verb?), she couldn’t remember her past. She awoke around China and was taken by the head of the Hand ninja cult (Daredevil!) and was once again used in a twisted experiment. Matsuo Tsurayaba and the twisted six-armed resident of the Mojoverse Spiral combined Betsy and Tsurayaba’s comatose lover Kwannon into two joined beings. They both shared the same powers and skills and really, as I’m saying this, none of it makes sense but just go with it. Betsy took the identity of Lady Mandarin and was now in Kwannon’s body.
Uncanny X-Men #257–258 saw the first appearance of the new Psylocke as the transformed Betsy went after Wolverine and used her new power in the form of a psychic dagger that manifests from her knuckles to scramble Wolverine’s Canadian eggs. With this psychic attack, Lady Mandarin (and no, Trevor Slattery appeared nowhere near this issue, get over it, it was a good plot twist) experienced all of Wolverine’s memories about her past life as Betsy Braddock. This helped Betsy regain her memories and rejoin the X-Men as the suddenly deadly Psylocke.
Now think about this, before Betsy’s power consisted of making psychic butterfly projections. Now, after the Siege Perilous and Tsurayaba’s experiment, Psylocke just stabbed people as tough as Wolverine in the head with her brain knife. Now, that’s an upgrade. It’s kind of like giving Rainbow Bright a chain gun.
Anyway, thanks to Psylocke’s transformation, the X-Men now had a front and center Asian female on the roster, something incredibly rare in those days. Not only was Psylocke an example of diversity and inclusion, she became damn popular thanks to the arrival of the artist that would come to define Psylocke for a generation- the great Jim Lee.
When Jim Lee and Chris Claremont’s X-Men #1 shipped in 1991, it marked the rise of Psylocke as a major member of the team. Psylocke in her new form fitting costume was often the centerpiece of Lee’s X-men covers and slash pages.
In the opening issues of the adjectiveless X-Men book, Psylocke could frequently be found relentlessly flirting with Cyclops, something that Jean Grey didn’t take kindly to. This established Psylocke as something of a femme fatale in the X universe. When Psylocke and Grey finally had it out, they were interrupted by the arrival of Kwannon in Betsy’s old body. Wha-wha-wha? Yes, for a brief time in the early 90s, fans could enjoy two flavors of Psylocke as Kwannon was back in Betsy’s old form. Soon, the two women settled their differences and Kwannon joined the X-Men as Revanche. Revanche is French for revenge and why a Japanese woman in a British body would use a French language codename is beyond me, but Revanche soon became a member in good standing of the core X-Men.
Sadly, these two psychic sisters of destruction would not remain together long because Revanche became one of the first X-Men to fall to the mutant killing Legacy Virus. I guess there was only so much purple hair dye to go around, but the era in which two Psylockes joined forces remains a fascinating footnote in the characters already mega-cool history.
And Then She Got An Eye Tattoo and New Powers
And then there’s Psylocke and Archangel: Crimson Dawn (1997) by Ben Raab and Salvador Larroca. After Psylocke was gutted by Sabretooth (X-TREME!) her new lover Angel, Doctor Strange, and a few other notables found a cure for Betsy. The cure came with new shadow teleporting powers (X-TREME!) and a crimson eye tattoo (X-TREMELY X-TREME!). These new shadow powers made Betsy icier than ever before and drove a wedge between her and Angel.
But, it was the late ’90s when everyone in comics lost their damn minds and Psylocke would soon return to classic form…
And then Psylocke died, came back to life, joined the Exiles, joined Excalibur, and I don’t know, binge watched stuff from when she was dead or something.
The Deadliest of the Species
Psylocke was rather directionless for a number of years until she was picked to join Wolverine’s elite hit squad X-Force. Her inclusion in X-Force solidified Psylocke’s status as one of the deadliest mutants in the Marvel Universe. Wolverine’s secret team of mutant killers was only sent on the deadliest missions and was kept secret from the more altruistic members of Xavier’s school.
Here, her romance with Angel continued as she was the only being that could help Angel repress his more violent Archangel persona. During this time, she was forced to murder her angelic lover as Psylocke continued to be portrayed as a woman dedicated to getting the job done no matter the consequences. After her run in X-Force and Uncanny X-Force, Psylocke was seen as a woman who was just as deadly and violent as character like Wolverine, X-23, and Deadpool.
Natural Born Leader
After her time in X-Force, Betsy led her own X-Force team consisting of mostly female mutants. She rejoined the X-Men and is currently a hand chosen member of Magneto’s Uncanny X-Men. Now, you know you’re an elite badass when freakin’ Magneto wants you on his crew.
And that’s Psylocke, a deadly, beautiful, heroic, inspiring mutant who is just about to make a real impact in the world of cinematic super heroes. It’s been a long, strange journey through many eras, many comics, and even a couple of ethnicities for Betsy Braddock. If X-Men: Apocalypse gets her right, Psylocke might be bigger than ever before.