137 – Kicky Kinko Killers (feat. Sarah Kuhn)

xptxm137_psylocke-knife

Art by David Wynne. Prints, cards, and coffee mugs available at the shop, or contact David to purchase the original.

In which author Sarah Kuhn joins us to talk about Asian-American and Asian-British representation in superhero comics; Psylocke is the literal embodiment of British imperialism; Jubilee speaks for us all; representation isn’t a Boolean state; Wolverine fails at pop culture references; and somewhere there’s probably a really dark alternate universe where Betsy teamed up with Jamie instead of Brian.

X-PLAINED:

  • Crimson Dawn
  • Sarah Kuhn
  • Uncanny X-Men #256-258
  • A proactive approach to career advancement
  • Matsuo Tsurayaba
  • The Mandarin
  • A highly symbolic dream sequence
  • A controversial transformation
  • Kwannon
  • What badass looked like in 1990
  • Several varyingly successful Batman references
  • Rose Wu
  • A fairly novel approach to hallucination
  • Some high-quality invective
  • Psylocke as a villain

NEXT WEEK: What (almost) everyone else is up to!


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40 comments

  1. XMenXPert says:

    Ah, Psylocke. I still say her original fight with Sabretooth during the Massacre was the single greatest Psylocke moment ever. Especially the smile when she dares him to chase her.

    I plan to read The Heroine Complex. I’ll try to do it next year. The Ruby Equation was my favourite story from Fresh Romance – it was absolutely wonderful.

    I grew up in the ’90s, so I grew up with Japanese Psylocke. I didn’t really know Psylocke’s backstory at the time. So, as a young boy in the ’90s, obviously I loved Psylocke. A sexy Japanese ninja in a skimpy outfit? OF COURSE I loved her. Once I learned about her backstory, I had trouble with her. I do still like her as a character, aside from the appropriation. Body aside, her character is really interesting.

    I do appreciate artists that give female characters muscle tone. Jim Lee was often pretty good for that. (The modern epitome is, of course, Kris Anka, Lord of Abs.)

    Heh, the reference to Psylocke’s knife reminded me that even Psylocke now thinks her constant talk of it was obnoxious. UXM #15 had her mention she used to go on about her knife being the focused totality of her telepathic might.

    I was actually going to mention Ms. Marvel about the American experience. #12 did a particularly strong job, as she went to Pakistan to reconnect with her roots, and she notes that she has too much of Pakistan for America, and too much of America for Pakistan.

    I do absolutely LOVE Wolverine’s hallucinations being deadly. It is such a great idea, and handled so well.

    I would be totally down with Sarah Kuhn writing X-Men.

  2. Christian says:

    The intro sounded too scripted. Fun discussion though.

    • Christian says:

      But you didn’t mention the best fetish that Betsy got (to keep) when spliced is that sexy upper-crust British accent.

  3. Damien says:

    I really got Sarah’s point about how you can latch on to bad representation when there is no other representation. I still have a soft spot for DC’s Extrano even though he was a ridiculously camp caricature (who got transformed into a butch caricature in an attempt to even things up).

  4. Ggodo says:

    As a white kid who didn’t know Psylocke was a White British woman until adulthood, I think this actual original story of how she got the new body feels slightly less bad than the wierd bodyswap angle. Mojo’s comments about not having the face of the Hong Kong underworld be white makes me wonder if there was some attempt at meta commentary, either as an ass-covering attempt or some sort wierd thing about cultural appropriation. Claremont has made clumsy jabs at social commentary before, but he also did tons of wierd things for the sake of wierd things without thinking about the consequences.

    I also learned today that Jim Lee is Korean-American. Totally didn’t know that. Of the various 90s artists I’ve always liked Jim Lee the best. But that might just be my irrational love for WildC.A.T.s. of all the 90s artists he always seemed like he had the best grasp on proportions. His art seems to have aged much better than a lot of the others. Though the Spawn guy still makes some sweet toys.

  5. TheAmazingEmu says:

    I feel like there’s actually an interesting parallel in the issue between Psylocke, who isn’t Asian but appears to be Asian, Jubilee, who is Asian but rejects her Asian heritage, and Wolverine, who isn’t Asian, but is the most knowledgeable about Asia. That being said, to the extent it’s intentional, it’s not handled well.

    I do love how Jubilee is handled and I wish her Asian-ness was explored more (I didn’t even know she was Asian when I watched the 90s show). I know there’s no chance of it selling, but I’d love a miniseries with Jubilee and Blindspot from the current Daredevil run. I think they could play off this dynamic and work well.

    • Ggodo says:

      I would like to second the comment that I didn’t know Jubilee was Asian until later. It was not overly apparent from the cartoon. I didn’t find out until later, and I’m not sure how.

      • Si says:

        It’s very common for people to not realise Jubilee is Asian. For some reason I can’t quite fathom, the majority of superhero comic artists can’t or won’t draw Asian faces. Often what you get instead is more angular eyes with giant eyelashes, and no effort given to face shape etc.

        • Ggodo says:

          Yeah, it’s like how people always talk about how anime characters “Don’t look Japanese,” though that is a stylistic choice (Big Eyes, Blue Hair).

          For comics it’s so common I wonder if it’s some sort of instructional blind spot. Like Asian features just never get taught in class. Maybe it’s related to why Sunspot keeps getting drawn with light skin and more traditionally European facial structures.

        • kingderella says:

          I too didn’t realise that Jubilee was supposed to be Asian in the beginning. I think specifically in her case, it’s also the hairstyle she had until somewhere in the mid 90es, which doesn’t look particularly Asian to me. I loved it when Bachalo made her ethnicity visually really explicit some time into GenX.

    • Adam says:

      Was it mentioned that Jubilee was Asian in the 90s show? I felt like it wasn’t…
      It’s funny how the 90s Sat Am cartoon is a lot of people’s touchstones for the X-Men when you consider how many things it doesn’t mention like Psylocke’s origin. I didn’t realize that Rogue’s Superman-like powers weren’t actually hers for years because I missed the one episode of the show where they talked about it in its original run.

      • Si says:

        I don’t think so. And the Generation X live-action TV show didn’t use an Asian actor for her either.

      • TheAmazingEmu says:

        I don’t think it was mentioned. It was actually her very brief cameo in one of the X-Movies that finally made me realize she might be Asian.

      • Andrew says:

        I feel like in the first episode of the cartoon, we saw a glimpse of her through the eyes of a Sentinel, and a display might have referred to her as Chinese American?

        • hassibah says:

          Yeah that’s right.

          I remember the sentinel profile in the cartoon so I did realize that she was East Asian but I was really obtuse about what American hyphenated identities meant so I thought “Chinese-American” meant that she had dual citizenship or like, one parent who was Chinese and one w US citizenship. I don’t remember the sentinel listing anyone else’s race in the profile tho?

        • Mormel says:

          Yeppers. I only found out Jubes was Chinese upon re-watching X-Men: TAS when I was twelve. As a Eurasian, I was ecited to learn that there was an Asian superhero at all, even if Jubilee was the team rookie.

  6. Si says:

    I think the bathtub thing comes down to Joan Collins. In a bath, you’re lying down, semi-restrained, and naked. Very vulnerable. It’s where the psycho strikes in horror movies. But in Dynasty, Joan Collins took a meeting from her bath and was if anything more powerful and with extra sexy as well. So everyone copied it, as pulp culture does.

  7. Baalthulhu says:

    I have such a love/hate relationship with these 3 issues. On one part, the Wolverine/Jubilee stuff is all solid gold. Anytime Jubilee’s powers go way out of control compared to what you’d expect is a great sight to see. And I wish they would use the whole Wolverine mind-ghosts shtick way more than they did.

    On the other hand, they symbolize the (so far) permanent death of one of my favorite characters. Betsy Braddock was such an interesting and conflicted character, someone you could believe was real. And to be replaced by this imposer that is nothing like her is such a travesty. As far as I’m concerned Betsy died when she went into the Siege Perilous, and we’re still waiting for her to return.

    In pop culture terms people would understand, they took Tara and turned her into an imitation Faith.

    Betsy was insecure with her usage of her powers, even though when she did wield them she showed herself as capable and able to save the day on occasion such as the Sabertooth fight. The fact that Betsy was the only one to wear armor showed that she was worried about surviving being an X-men. She had a softness and a safeness about her. She hid her face behind a hood, unsure of herself and her place in the world. And yet there could be a fierce determination about her when times called for it. Betsy was an individual who was damaged by the experiences of the past, but was still hopeful and trying to move on and be a better person and help those that she could.

    This “Fake-locke” that we’ve had now for over a quarter of a century is none of that. She’s hard, aggressive, takes no shit, isn’t ever embarrassed. She’s show to be forceful about sex and has no problems with infidelity. The Psylocke of today would never have been attracted to someone like Doug, and would probably have taken glee in mocking him for his insecurity. The butterflies have been replaced with psychic knives and swords. The armor and cape/cowl has been replaced with strategically placed straps. She’s been turned into nothing more than a cheep Electra ripoff, who already was a ripoff of an entire trope of ninja-babes. I don’t care about this character being in peril because she has no heart or soul to hurt in the first place.

    While I appreciate the deservedly needed discussion about the European-> Asian change that happened, I feel like that is a minor change compared to the complete character assassination that also took place at the same time. I don’t particularly care if my super-heroes are white, black, Asian, alien, demonic, or a fluffy care bear. What I do want are flawed, real people, having real world reactions to what are some incredibly unrealistic situations. How they rise above the problems in their lives to show their nobility in the face of danger and impossible evil.

    • Tazirai says:

      As a huge Pre-Ninja Psylocke fan. I’m with you.
      I write fan fiction, and in my stories she NEVER went through the seige. She actually took over the team, and led them to win over Zaladane, joined up with Magneto, and defeated the Reavers, saving Wolverine, with Jubilees help. In my world she knew Jubilee was there and harmless.

  8. Josh says:

    Long time listener, maybe? first time commenter? THIS. This right here is gold. Uncanny X-Men 257 was my first (and only for the longest time) X-Men book. I love your show, I have been eagerly awaiting this episode. I grew up loving X-Men TAS, it was baffling, but I enjoyed it. This comic however? I had no idea what was going on. I liked what I saw, but I didn’t understand it. This continuity laden mess of a cross referencing book deterred me from actually reading much of the X line through some of its (90s) hey day. I resented the impenetrability of the line. It drove me away from long running… anything. To this day I prefer graphic novels, novels, and movies to long running TV series or comics. This comic is probably why I enjoyed TAS so much because I was able to let go of what I didn’t understand and enjoy it as it was. Unlike Miles, I wasn’t able to do this with and still enjoy the comics. I was too curious about what I was missing. I would find out that I should “see issue 245, -ed.” to find out the story and being in a small rural town, that wasn’t an option. Still, I liked the tidbits I got despite the frustration. I avoided all X-Men and latched on to new properties like Gen 13 and the Team 7 line of books over at Image. Here was something I could get into, a continuity that was just getting started. I could get everything and know everything!

    and yet…

    I am still drawn to X-Men like a moth to a flame. I love X-Men with all of its flaws and I love your show for helping me navigate the messy waters of what I haven’t read. I doubt that I will ever go back and read everything X, but I will get a piece of it through listening to you two.

    Sorry for the rambling.

    Much Love,

    Josh

    PS. I teared up when I listened to the Claremont episode. It seemed to me to be the culmination of a lot of work and love to get him. During the introduction, I was saying out loud (in my cubicle at work) right before Jay (I think) announced his name “no way! they couldn’t have got him, no way!” I had to stop the play back for a while to collect myself after he was announced. Emotions, eh?

  9. Icon_UK says:

    Yeah, so.. this arc.

    Was always unimpressed by the idea to be honest, there were so many ways they could have introduced an actual Asian female psychic, rather than turnng Betsy into one. It wouldn’t have taken much in the way of plot and would have been some genuine diversity instead of this uncomfortable mess.

    I was a little surprised that you went into the whole Betsy/Kwannon deal so soon, since that does have quite a large impact on the perception of the character, which is never a part of Claremont’s narrative, so seems to be a layer of confusion I’m not sure she needed at this point. As far as these stories are concerned she’s an altered Betsy and that’s it.

    The mental car journey is interesting, I saw her rejecting studious young Brian as casting “dependability” aside, and rejecting Doug because of his usual role as “moral compass”, both of which she was now living without. (and I really do wish the current comics would have the two of them at least talk to each other)

    Oh and that ruddy “pschic knife” palaver, that drove me NUTS! She’s a telepath who can use her powers across a large area and fry your entire psyche without going near you, why the blue blazes would she ever limit that ability to “a couple of inches past my knuckles”?

    As far as Mandarin’s Rings, they’ve recently broken away and formed their own team (I’m not kidding). Malekith the Accursed found one and then recruited new wearers for each of them (though the Rings consider themselves to be charge, since they’re now sentient and can all get together to talk in a sort of hive-mind virtual reality), and they’ve got new names, so Mento-Intensifier is now worn by someone who uses the codename “The Liar”, which isn’t nearly as much fun IMHO.

    BTW have Jubilee’s powers ever been on the scale of “casually destroying a building” again?

    BTW (again) please pass my thanks on to Sarah Kuhn, she raised a number of points I’d never considered as regards the experiences of both Betsy and Jubilee, so it was a very rewarding episode.

    • Kara says:

      She does it a few times in the Gen-X comics, and I think Emma mentions Jubilee as having the potential to detonate matter at a sub-atomic level? But I don’t think it gets further explored after Gen-X, and well, then she got de-powered and turned in to a vampire.

  10. ca_lazerdwarf says:

    I read a lot of 90s X-men, but I don’t remember Psylocke ever doing anything storywise. She was just there to psychic stab people on occasion. And look sexy.

    Going to miss British Psylocke.

  11. Andrew says:

    A couple of quick points:

    1- I’m glad they revisited the idea of Psylocke’s robot eyes. I feel like even Claremont forgets about them, and never references them.

    Question for Jay and Miles (and others on the board who know more about X-Men than I): does the Mojo eyes thing get resolved in any way later? Or is it forgotten?

    But then this raises another question: if we retcon her transformation as a body swap, then why does she still have Mojo eyes? Did they swap Kwannon’s real eyes with Betsy’s fake ones? I suppose if the swap was done by the Body Shoppe, then that makes sense (Mojo would ensure that his spy tools continued to work in actual-Psylocke’s skull).

    2- I disagree that 1990 is the last year of the 80s. Saying “The 80s” isn’t the same thing as saying “The 20th Century”, where 2000 is definitely the last year (1901-2000). In the same vein, it is correct to say that 1990 is the last year of “The 199th Decade” (which would have been 1981-1990), but in saying “The 80s”, we are clearly describing years that contain an 8 in the second digit from the right.

    Though if we refer to any decade as a reference for what was culturally relevant, then it becomes extremely subjestive regardless. To quote Homer Simpson, “For me, the 6os ended that day, in 1978.”

    • Icon_UK says:

      When Revanche (Kwannon’s codename when she was in Betsy’s original body) showed up, which was the start of the reveal of the whole convoluted morass of their mutual bodyswap, Revanche removes the camera eyes that were still in her head, making herself blind, but on her own terms.

      I _think_ Asian Psylocke still had camera eyes so guess Spiral was retconned into adding a new pair to Kwannon’s body when the bodyswap happened.

      I was never certain why her camera eyes appeared to be immune to Roma’s “no camera can see the X-Men” rule, as I’d have thought she outranked Nojo in terms of power by quite a lot.

      • XMenXPert says:

        I’m pretty sure Asian Psylocke didn’t have the camera eyes. In fact, I’m pretty sure Mojo actually complained about that once.

        • Icon_UK says:

          Fair point, I suppose she can’t have them, or they’d still be there and I’m sure SOMEONE would have used them to give her ninja infra-red vision, or lasers or something by now…

  12. Kelvin says:

    Always DID love the Crimson Dawn convolution.
    Mostly because, where I’m from, Crimson Dawn is a county park on the mountain on the site of an old witch’s cabin where Summer Solstice celebrations take place. Always like to think ol’ Bets had something to do with that…

  13. hassibah says:

    I definitely didn’t experience latching on to problematic representation just because it was there. Even when I was a kid I found the xenophobia present in, say, wrestling or action movies or a lot of superhero stories at best embarrassing when I didn’t have a vocabulary to exactly articulate why, but it would also depend on whether you’re talking about appropriation or problematic sympathetic characters or mocking or full on demonization. But it’s interesting to know that it wasn’t like that for everybody.

  14. David says:

    Um, actually…

    You said this was the first ’90s issue you’ve covered, but it isn’t. Don’t remember the episode number, but you covered X-Men (Vol. 2) #30 for your anniversary a couple years ago.

    • XMenXPert says:

      I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count. That was them doing something out-of-order. This is their first real entrance into the ’90s.

  15. MB says:

    Okay, so after listening to this I have a question – for the podcast or for anyone else who might know – has there ever been, in the mainstream 616 or any other universe, a proper Kwannon story? Something where she was the focus of the story but it had nothing to do with Psylocke and the body swap?

    • XMenXPert says:

      Nope. She got nothing. At best, she might have been a background character in, like, Age of Apocalypse or something. But I don’t think she even got that much. She definitely never got to be a focus character.

  16. Andy B says:

    I’m really hoping that Olivia Munn’s version of Psylocke gets more screen time, maybe in the X-Force movie. I’ll be interested to see what they do with her backstory in the movies.

  17. kingderella says:

    Re Ultimate Psylocke: yeah, it’s a better version of the “body swap” story, but… I think they should have just made the character Asian. I mean, come on.

  18. David H. Adler says:

    Pedant sense… tingling…

    Tor Johnson is not in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. You may be confusing it with The Unearthly or The Beast Of Yucca Flats, which are films that, similarly, are terrible, in black and white, and have featured on MST3K, but do feature Tor Johnson. Who, as we all know, is as harmless as a kitchen.

  19. Tazirai says:

    if they ever fix the convoluted mess. I hope Psylocke becomes caucasian again, and that Kwannon becomes the actual true Asian representation. Now that Psylocke isn’t wearing that stupid thong costume anymore. She gets the actual characterization she deserves. Which I love.
    I truly like that she’s almost back to who Psylocke used to be.

  20. David Morris says:

    Landau, Lucknow and Lake is, I believe, a nod to Nick Landau, Mike Lucknow and Mike Lake, who founded Titan Distribution and the first Forbidden Planet shop and Titan Books.

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