Olivia Munn as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse

Four Color Primer: Psylocke

x apocEntertainment Weekly provided us with the first look, almost a year ago, of Olivia Munn as Psylocke in Bryan Singer’s upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. With no end in sight to the superhero dominance of Hollywood, it means more and more opportunities for B-list four-color favorites to make A-list silver screen appearances. Case in point, that EW cover. Magneto, played by Steve Jobs, everyone knows. That blue monster? Seems important. But beyond the still criminally small percentage of the population familiar with comics and the X-universe, that sexy ninja on the left is a mystery.

2016 promises to be another banner year for capes-n’-tights cinema, with no fewer than seven anticipated movies based on DC and Marvel characters alone. Here’s the second in a series of unnecessarily verbose primers on some of your new favorite superheroes and supervillains. Slightly more subjective than a Wikipedia article, but just as exhaustive, feel free to sift through for enough reading recommendations to know your Betsys from your Kwannons, and your psychic knives from your telekinetic katanas.

Betsy Braddock first appears in Captain Britain vol. 1, #8 (1976)
Betsy Braddock first appears in Captain Britain vol. 1, #8 (1976)

Betsy Braddock in the 1970’s
Psylocke’s story begins in 1976 in the pages of Marvel UK’s Captain Britain, an oversized (by U.S. comic book standards) newsprint magazine that featured the debut of England’s own superpowered protector. The series and characters were created by artist Herb Trimpe and writer Chris Claremont, who later went on, along with Dave Cockrum and John Byrne, to revitalize Marvel’s X-Men franchise in the 1980’s. Although Captain Britain, doing business in civvies as Brian Braddock, never quite found his niche in the Marvel pantheon, bouncing around through different series reboots and incarnations, members of his immediate family have had a lasting impact.

our first look at young Elizabeth Braddock
our first look at young Elizabeth Braddock

Elizabeth “Betsy” Braddock starts her comic book life rushing up to twin brother Brian, imploring him to come home and tend to their older brother. Home, for them, is the stately Braddock manor in the English countryside. Older brother is Jamie Braddock who, at that time, was a cavalier sportscar-driving ladies man, and not the reality-warping mutant enemy of the X-Men that he was to become.

the first indication of Betsy’s psychic abilities

Turns out little Betsy is a charter pilot, and while flying her brother back home in a prop plan, she has a psychic freakout, our first revelation that she has some sort of telepathic superpower. But Betsy is no more than a fragile damsel in distress in this introductory three-issue arc, mind-controlled by Dr. Synne and manipulated into attacking her brothers. Brian Captains up and saves the day, of course, and Betsy fades into the background for a spell.

Alan Moore brings back Betsy in Daredevils #3 (1983)
Alan Moore brings back Betsy Braddock in Daredevils #3 (1983)

In the early 1980’s Marvel hired a promising young freelancing comic writer named Alan Moore, who was beginning to make a name for himself in the weekly 2000 AD, to revitalize their Captain Britain character. In a backup feature of Marvel UK’s The Daredevils, Moore re-introduces us to Brian’s twin sister and also reminds us that she has some as-yet unexplained power. She also now has purple hair, one of the few physical characteristics that has remained a constant for the character throughout the decades. These stories featured art by a young Alan Davis, who was fast becoming one of the best in the business, and his affection for Betsy’s character will become apparent later in the 1980’s in both the relaunched Britain series, as well as his seminal run on Uncanny X-Men.

Betsy's first, less extreme, transformation
Betsy’s first, less extreme, transformation

In the interim years Betsy has been working with the Psi Division of S.T.R.I.K.E., Britain’s counterpart to S.H.I.E.L.D. Now she’s being hunted, along with every member of that division, by a mercenary assassin with the ridiculous moniker of Slaymaster. Silly name or not, Slaymaster turns out to be quite the professional, giving Captain Britain a run for his money, and setting the table for an ominous encounter with Betsy in the near future.

a much more powerful Betsy makes her appearance (1984)
a much more powerful Betsy makes her appearance (1984)

Jamie Delano takes over the scripting duties for the Captain Britain strips, still largely illustrated by Davis, and in a story entitled “In All the Old Familiar Places,” the creative team takes another stab at defining Betsy’s character. This time, they add fashion model to her resume, but they also reveal that she’s been working on developing her psychic abilities. When an interdimensional goon squad shows up to whisk Brian back to Earth-794 (mistaking him for that reality’s Kaptain Briton), Betsy unleashes a psychic attack of previously unseen intensity.

Betsy's new
Betsy’s newly enhanced psychic abilities catch Brian off guard

Later in that storyline, showcasing a precursor to her psychic knife, Betsy defends herself against the aforementioned Kaptain Briton and fries his brain, killing him. With developing powers, and a more focal spotlight in the series, this may truly be the first actual Betsy Braddock story. When Alan Davis takes over the writing, things get even more intense for Brian’s sister. In fact, in Chris Claremont’s introduction to the 1988 trade paperback collection of these Captain Britain strips, he comments, “and that really was not a very nice thing to do to Betsy, Alan.”

FullSizeRender (1)
Betsy, in her new identity as Captain Britain, alongside Captain U.K, the protector of yet another reality

Following a disagreement regarding the housing of warp-mutated orphans, a whiny Brian abandons the manor and, seemingly, his responsibilities as Britain’s protector as well. Betsy is talked into donning the deceased Kaptain Briton’s suit, which molds to her body, allowing her to take up the mantle as the new Captain Britain. Her first assignment? That Slaymaster asshat. He’s thoroughly unimpressed with both Betsy’s enhanced abilities and her attempts at flying around in the supersuit. He beats her down and, in a particularly gruesome display (this is what Claremont was referring to), blinds her. Take that, Dr. Wertham. The psychic tremor resulting from the brutalization reaches Brian, who is quick to respond to her aid, albeit too late to save Betsy from losing her eyes.

Slaymaster puts a quick end to Betsy’s career as Captain Britain

In the aftermath of the Slaymaster story, Betsy appears to be content to retire to Switzerland, with some possible romantic implications between her and a former S.T.R.I.K.E. cohort. She turns down an offer for cybernetic eyes, and, for all intents and purposes, closes the door on this chapter of her story, as well as her appearances in Marvel’s British publications. When next we see Betsy Braddock, it will be in the pages of an American Marvel comic book.

the end of Betsy’s Marvel UK life, and the start of something more

Although the following recommendations are collections that focus far more on Captain Britain than they do on Betsy Braddock, they are great reads in their own right, and, in addition to being early glimpses of the character who goes on to become Psylocke, they represent early work by comics creators — such as Claremont, Trimpe, Moore, Davis, and Delano — who go on to becomes comics greats.

Betsy Braddock, Psychic Supermodel Socialite

Captain Britain: Birth of a Legend (2011)

This hardcover collection contains the very first Captain Britain stories from the 1970’s, including the introduction of young Betsy and her subsequent Dr. Synne adventure. Most of the stories are written by Chris Claremont with art by Herb Trimpe.

Captain Britain (2005)

This collection reprints the Captain Britain adventures written by Alan Moore and illustrated by the incomparable Alan Davis. In addition to giving us the Slaymaster psychic-hunting storyline, this book features the fantastic dimension-warping villainy of Mad Jim Jaspers.

Captain Britain (1988)

This early trade might be hard to track down, but it’s worth it to read up on how Jamie Delano and Alan Davis develop Betsy’s character. It also reprints the issues in which Betsy takes up the Captain Britain mantle, and meets her unfortunate fate at the hands of Slaymaster.

Betsy’s first American comic book appearance is in New Mutants Annual #2 (1986)

Becoming Psylocke in the 1980’s
In the mid-80’s, Chris Claremont comes to Betsy’s rescue, shepherding the character he created a decade prior into the wildly popular X-Men universe.

In The New Mutants Annual #2, illustrated by Alan Davis, Betsy is whisked away from her Swiss hideaway by another interdimensional interloper. This time it’s the fiendish Mojo, who reigns over a twisted reality that subsists on gladiatorial television programming and where ratings rule above all else. He also looks like a cybernetic Jabba the Hutt and traverses dimensions with the aid of six-armed Spiral.

you're welcome, Psylocke
you’re welcome, Psylocke

Betsy is to be the star of their newest show, “Wildways,” and is coerced into using her powers to transform and control a new batch of abducted kids. Along the way, Mojo implants her with bionic eyes and gives her the codename Psylocke.  So, you know, not a complete loss.

The New Mutants come to her aid, along with big brother Brian, and when she zaps herself clear of Mojoverse and into a different manor – Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters – it’s clear that a new era and a new Betsy has begun. She also wakes up naked with Cypher.

Betsy begins waves good bye to lousy Marvel UK sales and hello to the hottest comic book family on the planet
Betsy waves goodbye to lousy Marvel UK sales and hello to the hottest comic book family on the planet

Baby steps, Betsy. You’re on comic book shelves stateside, but so far we’re only talking a New Mutants appearance. And it was in an annual, no less. Ready for prime time? Ready for The Uncanny X-Men? Let’s see how you handle Sabretooth.

Psylocke’s butterfly telepathic projection
Psylocke’s butterfly telepathic projection

In a story conveniently titled “Psylocke,” Betsy finds herself alone in the X-Manor while the rest of the team is in NYC dealing with the Mutant Massacre. She plays around with Cerebro, and we get a look at the telepathic “butterfly” that becomes a trademark indicator of her powers. We also get a look at Wolverine’s deadliest nemesis prowling the school grounds looking to take advantage of an empty nest. Time to step up, Betsy, and show the Yanks what kind of fire you’ve got hiding beneath that prim English exterior.

Betsy holding her own against Sabretoth until the cavalry arrives
Betsy holding her own against Sabretooth until the cavalry arrives
welcome to the X-Men, Psylocke... etc.
welcome to the X-Men, Psylocke… etc.

Not only does Betsy survive the attack, but she occupies the fur-collared fiend long enough to allow the first-stringers to make their way back and collar the fool. And it’s Wolverine, the obligatory gruff skeptic, who gives Psylocke her X-badge. Next, time to ditch the curtain drapes and get yourself a real costume, Betsy.

She settles in as the team telepath, a role left vacant since Professor X left earth to gallivant among the stars with his lover and Jean Grey, newly resurrected, was hanging with X-Factor.

She also starts displaying a little more psychic muscle. After another Mojo and Spiral encounter in Uncanny X-Men Annual #10, Storm and Wolverine give Psylocke a little pep talk, explaining the difference between being born a mutant and being an X-Man. You’re going to be a hero, Betsy. Time to start kicking a little more ass. The psychic attack she’s been displaying since her Captain Britain days gets a little more precise, and earns the name “psycho-blast.”

Psylocke gives Juggs the psycho-blast treatment
Psylocke gives Juggs the psycho-blast treatment

But that pink jumpsuit still wasn’t testing well among the teenage boy demographic, so when the team moves to a base of operations in the Australian outback, Psylocke slips into a mask and armor, complete with cowl n’ cape. As far as we can tell, however, she’s “still” just a telepath, and an outfit like that is begging for a little more dynamite.

Psylocke in her Australian-era armor
Psylocke in her Australian-era armor

Betsy struggles through this awkward teenage phase of superhero development at a similarly awkward phase for the X-Men. Between the glorious rebirth of the franchise in the early 80’s and the dynamic decade-defining high-water mark of the early 90’s (there’s a reason one of the All New All Different Marvel titles features an X-Men team from ’92), were a handful of stories that were mostly hit-and-miss. Somewhat like Betsy’s portrayal in the comics. But for serious TPB diggers, here are three collections worth checking out.

From Betsy Caterpillar to Psylocke Butterfly

The New Mutants Classic Vol. 6 (2011)

Currently the only collection reprinting Betsy’s first U.S. appearance, New Mutants Annual #2. This book, however, is also recommended as a highly under-appreciated part of Claremont’s mutant canon, including an X-Babies bit with Art Adams, and the poignant Larry Bodine suicide story.

X-Men: Mutant Massacre (2011)

This book collects one of the first big crossover events in Marvel history, as several different heroes in their respective series deal with the Marauders’ assault on New York City’s Morlock population. You get that first Psylocke-Sabretooth encounter, plus a fun spattering of Thor, Daredevil, and X-Factor.

X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda (2011)

The best thing about this giant hardcover, from a Psylocke fan’s perspective, is that it collects the initial Genoshan storyline that runs from Uncanny #235 through 238, and then jumps into the heart of the X-Tinction Agenda that kicks off in #270 (skipping Inferno). So you get Betsy pre- and post-transformation.

Psylocke undergoes her famous transformation in Uncanny X-Men 256 (1989)
Psylocke undergoes her famous transformation in Uncanny X-Men 256 (1989)

Transformation and Reinvention in the 1990’s
And now things get weird and wonderful. The Psylocke most people are familiar with – indeed, the Psylocke portrayed briefly in X3: X-Men United and featured in the upcoming movie  – is created in the 90’s. And I really mean created.

a mind-wiped Betsy falls into the hands of the Hand
a mind-wiped Betsy falls into the hands of the Hand

Towards the end of their time in Australia, Claremont brings back the sword & sorcery fantasy of his Captain Britain days, after a fashion.

Roma, the daughter of Merlyn, and one of the Otherworld players responsible for empowering the Braddock kids, gives Psylocke the ability to utilize the Siege Perilous, the mythical seat of power rooted in Arthurian legend. Tapping into that source, however, leaves her fried, washed up on the shore of an island in the Pacific, ripe for manipulation by Matsu’o Tsurayaba of the shadowy Japanese underworld organization, The Hand.

And if manipulation is in play, it’s time to bring back Betsy’s old Mojoverse pals. In the landmark Uncanny X-Men #256, Betsy, turned over to Mojo and Spiral, is physically transformed into a Japanese ninja. Months later, in Fabian Nicieza’s Kwannon storyline, a little clarity is provided, but, in this issue, it literally looks like Mojo is just pouring Asianness all over Betsy. He then releases her back to the Hand, a ready-made death-dealing telepathic assassin.

there have been so many bad jokes made about this sequence already... I'm just going to leave it alone
there have been so many bad jokes made about this sequence already… I’m just going to leave it alone
Psylocke, reborn
Psylocke, reborn

So there she is. In late 1989, Chris Claremont and Jim Lee dropped what seemed, at the time, another oddball Mojo-twist on the X-Men universe. In many ways, however, this was the shotgun blast that changed things dramatically for Marvel’s top-seller of the 90’s. Although technically his second X-Men issue (he also provided pencils as a fill-in for Marc Silvestri on #248), and he wouldn’t become the regular artist on the series until #267, this three-issue arc debuting the new Psylocke became a defining moment in Jim Lee’s career. In much the same way that Claremont collaborated with Cockrum and Byrne on the reinvention of the X-Men in the early 80’s, Lee becomes a co-scripter in the 90’s, working with Claremont to launch a new X-Men series in 1991. The first issue of that series, by the way, has sold over 8 million copies and is still the best-selling single comic book in history.

who's this asshat?
who’s this asshat?

So the new Psylocke goes through a little Ghosts of Betsys Past experience, all the while confirming that she is wholly transformed, body and mind. She even has an illusory encounter with old pal Slaymaster who was, in all likelihood, completely unknown to the vast majority of American comic book readers.

By the end of that issue, Psylocke is, in essence, a new character. Just as Betsy Braddock’s first comic book storyline involved mind-control and a forced attack on her brothers, new Betsy’s first storyline involves a similar scenario pitting her against her brothers-in-arms. Mission: take out the X-Men.

In a battle with Wolverine, we get the first look at her psychic knife, a dagger-like manifestation of focused telepathic power (in a now-characteristic magenta hue) that she can use to disrupt an opponent’s mental functions or, as we saw in an early incarnation of the power, kill. In this new form, she’s also an adept martial artist, and her skill with weapons not made of colored mind energy is just as deadly. After Wolverine helps her snap out of it, she is welcomed back to the fold, new appearance and new powers intact.

Psylocke debuts her psychic knife in battle with Wolverine
Psylocke debuts her psychic knife in battle with Wolverine
odd accent? the hell is this supposed to be?
“odd accent,” eh? who do you reckon this is supposed to be?

Fabian Nicieza becomes the main X-scribe on that aforementioned X-Men series, and in a story that begins in issue 17, he introduces us to the mysterious Revanche, another Japanese-speaking ninja-type looking to tussle with the X-Men. She shows up again in issue 20, this time in Westchester, and, clothed in a costume that looks a lot like Psylocke’s old armor, she breaks out a telekinetic katana that puts the ol’ psychic knife to shame. She also seems to have a real problem with our dear Betsy Braddock.

that's not a knife... THAT'S a knife!
that’s not a knife… THAT’S a knife!
well she certainly LOOKS like our Betsy...
well she certainly LOOKS like our Betsy…

And no wonder Revanche is pissed. As she reveals at the end of the issue, she’s the real Betsy Braddock! But wait – what? Didn’t we see Mojo transform poor Betsy into that Japanese chick? Hasn’t Wolverine already vouched for her? Yes and yes. And Logan sniffs her out again. He sniffs them both out. And therein lies the problem. They’re both Betsy Braddock.

in the words of Olivia, "Most wonderful!"
in the words of Olivia, “Most wonderful!”

Time for that promised clarity. Turns out that Hand fellow, Tsurayaba, needed Mojo and Spiral to restore consciousness to his comatose lover, Kwannon, an actual Japanese woman. So, ostensibly, we could be dealing with the old brain-switcheroo: Revanche is Kwannon’s mind in Betsy’s body, and Psylocke is the reverse. But it’s never that simple, especially when fandom has erupted with delight in Psylocke’s new appearance. Over the course of the next few months, Revanche and Psylocke co-exist on the team and it becomes ever more apparent that Betsy and Kwannon’s psyches co-exist as well, shared in two separate host bodies.

a pair of damaged, reborn killing machines and the start of something complicated
a pair of damaged, reborn killing machines and the start of something complicated

But, as we know from Highlander, there can be only one. Survey says: keep the Asian. When Revanche contracts the dreaded mutant-killing Legacy Virus, Matsu’o puts her out of her misery. Her death restores Betsy’s full persona, and increases her powerset.

It’s around this time that Psylocke begins a relationship with Archangel, the poor bastard who went through his own vicious transformation into a killing machine at the hands of a psychotic despot. Although this initial romance didn’t seem to last, it has been one of the most enduring connections in Psylocke’s story, continuing into the current comics.

this next encounter with Sabretooth doesn't work out as well
this next encounter with Sabretooth doesn’t work out as well
Crimson Dawn = badass tattoo and attitude to match
Crimson Dawn = badass tattoo and attitude to match

The next significant alteration to Psylocke occurs as the result of the Crimson Dawn storyline. After a rematch with Sabretooth ends up poorly for our hero, she is revitalized by a magical serum that restores her health, and gives her a crazy red tattoo over her left eye.

Along with the new look comes a new shadow-hitching teleportation power. It also seems to have triggered a more vicious edge to her personality. We’re a long way from the scared, psych-sensitive little girl in the English countryside. This Betsy Braddock has been abducted, violated, transformed, and manipulated multiple times. She’s a more powerful telepath than ever, and has picked up considerable telekinetic abilities along the way. She’s a martial arts master, wielding weapons of both steel and focused mental energy. And she has a severity that seems matched only by Wolverine. One could say she had become, in the popular parlance of the late 90’s, extreme.

X-Treme X-Men #2 (2001)
X-Treme X-Men #2 (2001)

When Chris Claremont came back onboard at the turn of the 21st century, he piloted the new X-Treme X-Men book with Spanish artist Salvador Larocca. And one of the first things he accomplishes, in that initial storyline, is kill off Psylocke. It wasn’t Sabretooth, or Mojo, or even Slaymaster, or any one of a hundred other pre-existing X-villains. It was an entirely new baddie named Vargas who, despite her laundry list of impressive new abilities, made short work of poor Betsy.

But no big deal, right? Every legitimate superhero has to die and come back at least once, y’know? It’s like a rite of passage. Or a way of hitting the reset button. Or both. Regardless, one can’t help but consider the author’s motivations here, especially if we’re dealing with a major creator who likely had some autonomy. More than a decade earlier, in his introduction for one of the Captain Britain collections, Claremont wrote the following:

When you create a character and a series – regardless of whether it’s for yourself or a company, whether you own it or they do – a soft spot always remains. No matter how dumb the book or awkward the situation, these people are some small part of you and you can’t ever look at them down the line (after you and they have parted ways) without feeling some small twinge of nostalgia and perhaps a sense of sadness, because (in your heart of hearts) it isn’t being done as well as you could do it, and you feel sorry for them because they’re being so short-changed. – Chris Claremont, 1988

IMG_0511He goes on to say how, despite these sentiments, he was delighted with the direction taken by Davis and Delano in particular. But could that maybe not have been the case in the 90’s? He brought this new Psylocke into the world, and maybe he felt like he could take her out again. The following reading recommendations trace the origins of this tragic, complicated new Betsy Braddock from her physical transformation, through her battle for her identity, and into her untimely demise. And, keep in mind, that the only way this particular reset-button theory makes sense is if Claremont plans on scripting her resurrection…

The Birth and Death of the New Psylocke

X-Men: Mutations (1996)

Track down this early TPB if you can, because in addition to collecting the issues that detail Betsy’s physical transformation and manipulation, it also reprints the X-Factor issues that chronicle Angel’s transformation into Archangel.

X-Men: A Skinning of Souls (2013)

Fabian Nicieza’s Kwannon/Revanche story with art from Andy Kubert. Also worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Jim Lee-inspired long-legged, hair-whipping heroine style that dominated the 90’s. Also, Psylocke in the shower.

X-Treme X-Men: Destiny (2003)

Salvador Larocca’s early work, on display here, is as special as psychoanalyzing Chris Claremont’s treatment of the characters he raised from X-babies. You also get a taste of the brief post-Archangel relationship between Betsy and Thunderbird.

Psylocke returns in Uncanny X-Men #455 (2005)
Psylocke returns in Uncanny X-Men #455 (2005)

A Fresh Start in the 2000’s
Chris Claremont does indeed bring back Psylocke, and has some very special help. Seems like maybe he was waiting for the right time, or just the right partner. Old Betsy devotee Alan Davis returns as the regular artist on the series, and together they bring Psylocke back from the beyond.

This resurrection isn’t winning any points for ingenuity, however. As superhero returns go, this is one of the least interesting. Psylocke just… shows up again. No armor, no tattoo, no explanation (not for a while, anyway), just back from the dead. And in the absence of time-travel heroics, cosmic cocoons, or mystical planeswalking, it seems the rest of the X-Men team isn’t buying it either.

Bishop and Rachel have their doubts
Bishop and Rachel have their doubts

They take her along on an emergency trip to the Savage Land, but keep Psylocke restrained in the Blackbird for the time being. Can she be trusted? Who is she really? Turns out Betsy wants the same answers. On a trip through her own mind, we get character confirmation – from deranged brother Jamie, no less – that this is a legitimate reboot. Claremont and Davis, that dynamic duo, with a chance to get this right.

Betsy pieces together her origins with her current reality
Betsy sifts through pieces of her origins and her current reality
Jamie would have preferred a "thank you"
Jamie would have preferred a “thank you”

In a later issue, we learn that this mad elder brother of hers was solely responsible for her resurrection. Jamie Braddock pulled on the quantum strings of reality because little Betsy was needed to combat the First Fallen. And, once that was accomplished, Psylocke is whisked away again.

oh no... this asshat again?
oh no… this asshat again?

She spends much of the next few years reality-hopping with the Exiles. Claremont must have wanted to keep her close. Along the way she flirts with Sabretooth, deals with another Mad Jim Jaspers, and, in the cruelest series of events, faces down a Slaymaster intent on wiping out Betsy Braddock from each and every reality in the Omniverse. These revisited characters and encounters make it seem as if Claremont needed to solidify Psylocke definitively as his character, re-created but built with the same bones.

No sooner does Claremont release his beloved Betsy back into the wild, than other writers and artists get right to work complicating things again. Her return to Earth-616 and the X-Men occurs in the “Sisterhood” storyline, in which a sinister sextet that includes Spiral and Madelyne Pryor, AKA the Red Queen, dig up Kwannon who, as we all know, died in Betsy Braddock’s original body. Then, with a captured Psylocke in their possession, they magically imbue that corpse with its original psyche and send it on yet another attack-your-friends-and-family operation.

the Red Queen may be a wicked bitch, but she offers a nice summation of the Psylocke story
the Red Queen may be a wicked bitch, but she offers a nice summation of the Psylocke story

Matt Fraction did wonderful things for Marvel in the aughts and early 2010’s including revitalizing characters like Iron Fist and Hawkeye. But one of the things I am most grateful for was his run on Uncanny X-Men. Together with Ed Brubaker, another important modern Marvel architect, they brought the team to San Francisco. Colossus hung out in the Outer Richmond; Emma Frost taught classes in Marin County. And Psylocke comes back to stay.

seriously. come home.
seriously. come home.
Betsy's original body, one last time
Betsy’s original body, one last time

Once upon a time there was one X-Men comic on the newsstands. The nineties made a big deal out of supporting a second team book. Comic specialty shops in the 2000’s stocked endless varieties of spinoffs, limited series, and graphic novels. What a great time to be fictionally alive. On the cusp of a new decade, Psylocke needed to star in one more solo adventure, and this one would help provide some closure: stick her old corpse back in the ground where it belonged, and deal with that fuck Tsurayaba once and for all.

Although only in comics for roughly half of this decade, the 00’s became a bit of a re-coming out party for Psylocke. In these three different collections from three different creative teams, including protective parents Davis & Claremont, you’ll get a sense of the writers and artists’ appreciation for the character and watch the sun come up on another important chapter in her story. She’s really Betsy. She’s really Asian. She’s really badass. Let’s all accept, and move on.

Psylocke Reborn

Uncanny X-Men: The New Age, Vol. 3 – On Ice (2005)

Psylocke’s return from the dead is also the first time Claremont and Davis collaborate on this version of the character. There’s something special about that fact, and this fun little Savage Land tale also happens to feature some of Davis’s finest work.

Uncanny X-Men: The Sisterhood (2009)

Greg Land, who currently has the honors of illustrating Psylocke in the pages on the Uncanny X-Men ongoing series, gets his first stab at the character. This may not be the best of the Fraction Uncanny arcs, but the entire villain group is a bunch of sexy female villains and… have you seen Greg Land’s artwork?

X-Men: Psylocke (2010)

Speaking of sexy and artwork, Filipino artist Harvey Tolibao offers his take on Psylocke in the limited series that sends Psylocke back to Japan for that much needed closure. Individual issues from this series are pricey, but so is the short-printed TPB collection. Luckily, it’s available digitally.

Uncanny X-Force #12 (2011)
Uncanny X-Force #12 (2011)

The Modern Psylocke of the 2010’s
I had promised to keep this “primer” to under 5,000 words*, so let’s get caught up quickly on the last few years. Because the first half of our current decade has brought so many resuscitative jump-starts to the entire Marvel Universe, from “Marvel NOW!” to “All New” to the current “All New All Different” (in all likelihood to be followed by “All New All Different For Real This Time”), we’ve experienced significant twists and turns to many of our favorite characters, Psylocke included.

[*actually, I made no such promise, but  foolishly thought I could get through this business in half the space it took RF to discuss Colossus]

The most dramatic Psylocke storyline in this era occurs as a member of Cyclops’s black ops X-Force team. She gets back to her old reality-hopping ways and helps prevent the coming of Apocalypse in the body of former lover Archangel. Her feelings for Warren Worthington are undoubtedly complicated, but it’s clear that, without Psylocke’s ability to telepathically keep the monster in check, Archangel is a genocidal timebomb.

complicated... doesn't even begin to describe this relationship
complicated… doesn’t even begin to describe this relationship

Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force earned the creator the right to take a number of established Marvel fixtures through the wringer. And although not currently working on a Marvel book, his recent storylines are affecting the status quo, even post-Secret Wars. The Red Skull is still running around with Professor X’s brain in his head; Steve Rogers is still a decrepit old man. And the Psylocke-Archangel relationship is still a finger-on-the-button apocalypse-waiting-to-happen.

in the same issue Betsy makes out with Cluster, Fantomex's female clone. très bien!
in the same issue Betsy makes out with Cluster, Fantomex’s female clone. très bien!

But he also did some nice things for Betsy in the new decade. Like open the door to a romantic relationship with someone who isn’t 90% monster (Fantomex – who is a dude pretending to be French and, therefore, only 70% monster).

Or take her back to Otherworld to settle things with her brothers (if Claremont didn’t like how folks handled Betsy, I’d love to get his reaction to Brian being portrayed as an utter ponce). She slips back into that old Captain Britain attire, this time far more confident that she knows how to use it.

Betsy gets another crack at being Captain Britain, and saves Fantomex in the process
Betsy gets another crack at being Captain Britain, and saves Fantomex in the process
refuses? not exactly.
refuses? not exactly.

Remender stops turning every tough decision in her life into an edge-of-breakdown crisis. Psylocke is a bonafide X-enforcer for whichever team needs the muscle (typically, that’d be X-Force). And she’s smart and experienced enough to know when and how that muscle should be flexed.

looks like this butterfly finally discovers how to use her wings
looks like this butterfly finally discovers how to use her wings

And he completely opens up her powerset, encouraging other creative teams to play around with what it means to be an Omega-level telepath and telekinetic, also still wielding a mean katana. Check out Brian Wood giving her a teke crossbow, or Cullen Bunn and Greg Land clarifying those powers of flight.

There are already a wealth of great Psylocke stories to explore in just half a decade, most of which involve various iterations of the X-Force family. But, really, if you do nothing else, pick up all the recent issues of the latest Uncanny X-Men book.

the current Uncanny X-Men
the current Uncanny X-Men
Psylocke Today

Uncanny X-Force, Vol. 1: The Apocalypse Solution (2011)

And you thought Betsy’s life in the 90’s was complicated. Rick Remender’s seminal run on Uncanny X-Force, accompanied largely by art from Jerome Opeña, begins in this collection, and continues through the Dark Angel Saga. Also worth checking out is the Otherworld collection, that focuses on Betsy’s challenging reunion with the Brothers Braddock.

X-Men, Vol. 1: Primer (2013)

One of the better re-boots to the non-uncanny X-Men series was this version by Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel. Storm captains an all-female team and immediately clashes with Betsy – who she once lectured about what it means to be a hero – over leadership decisions. It’s a great series, and seems to take a definitive stance on Psylocke’s character.

Uncanny X-Men (2016-)

The current ongoing Uncanny X-Men series is one of the best books in the All New All Different Marvel Universe. In the wake of Infinity, there’s a huge cloud of Terrigen mist rounding the globe, turning latent Inhumans into superbeings, but killing mutants. Magneto and Psylocke (still holding Archangel on a leash), along with Sabretooth and Monet, lead a team intent on protecting mutants at all costs.

This wasn’t as brief as I would have liked (or, probably, you expected from a “primer”), but I thought it was important to show just how far back in comic book chronology this character stretches. Not to mention the many different versions of her powers, personality, and appearance. As for the upcoming movie: keep in mind that this complicated timeline will be distilled into one character with one set of powers, and a singular motivation. Which, from the recent Super Bowl-aired trailer, seems to be as a villainous horseman in Apocalypse’s thrall.

wonder if Olivia Munn caught that Super Bowl ad..? if she wasn't busy doing something else...
wonder if Olivia Munn caught that Super Bowl ad..? if she wasn’t busy doing something else…

But whether the film does justice to Psylocke or not, her comic book career, influenced and informed by an impressive list of artists and writers, is, and has always been, in excellent hands.

Other Four Color Primers: Colossus | Black Panther