Psylocke Haze All In My Eyes
This week I want to talk a bit about my favorite purple-haired Galapagos Finch of a woman. I refer to her this way because for one, that color is to dye for (bu-dum-tss!) and for two, she’s had quite the evolutionary storyline in her lifetime.
If you’re like me, when you think of purple hair, you think of Psylocke, duh! But be aware that I will mainly be touching on the Elizabeth “Betsy” Braddock we don’t talk about much in comparison to her well-known X-Men days. And when most people think of her, we think of her looks, her ninja-eqsue attitude, her color scheme. But a lot of us don’t remember her origins, which are vastly important to the character she is today. We first meet her in Captain Britain Vol. 1 #8 in 1976. Also it’s important to note that girlfriend’s outfit has come a loooonngg way from what I can only humbly describe as trashier-than-normal Lady Gaga. Come on, Chris Claremont, what were you thinking? She was first established as a charter pilot and then later dyed her hair purple and became a model, though her psychic powers didn’t manifest until the age of sixteen.
So what do you do when you’re a teenage with psychic powers? Get recruited into S.T.R.I.K.E.’s psi division of course, what else? There she became romantically involved with fellow psy Tom Lennox, but things took a turn when her lover sacrificed himself to save her and her family. Unfortunately, she was telepathically inside Tom’s mind when he died which had a profoundly terribly effect on her and caused her to have a mental breakdown.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, an evil version of her brother Brian, Captain Britain, switched places with him. When he tried to rape her, she had no choice but to use her psychic powers to kill him. Betsy isn’t a natural-born killer, so committing such an act, even in self-defense, was obviously anything but easy.
So you’re thinking, things have to get better now, right? Well, Betsy was convinced to become the new Captain Britain, which is pretty awesome. What’s even better is that she wore a modified version of her attempted rapist’s costume, which is a big suck it if I ever saw one. But…then along comes a piece of skeeze named Slaymaster, and the two engage in an epic battle. Though Betsy puts up a great fight, she is brutally beaten along with getting her eyes gouged out. Her brother fortunately rescues her, and is offered cybernetic eyes to replace her own, but she refuses and replies on her psychic powers instead.
So flash forward to New Mutants Annual #2 in 1986, also not surprisingly by Claremont, where we leave all the “baggage” behind us, even though absolutely none of it was her fault, though I’m told this is often how this baggage thing works. She starts off her X-Men journey getting kidnapped, brainwashed, given the name “Psylocke”, and forced to work in her captor’s show. So, not such a great start, but she does end up earning the invitation to join the team from Wolverine after she kicks some serious ass, and the girl finally gets a break. She learns fighting skills, concentration of her psychic powers, and becomes a fatal force to be reckoned with.
So why is all this tragic stuff so important? Why can’t we focus on the woman she’s become and not the woman she was? Well, because we do. We never think of her as a blonde and lost girl fighting off rapists, do we? But she was, and it is as much a part of her as the image we have of her today. She crawled out of that refrigerator after getting her damn eyes poked out, for popcorn’s sake, even though so many like her have stayed frozen. And though she is one of many WIF, she has overcome her past and stuck around to kick ass. A superheroine’s storyline is important, and not just the bits we like to talk about. The cringeworthy, the bad outfits, the terrible things she’s been through, they are all part of an evolution. Psylocke isn’t just a “hot” Campbell variant, she’s an escapist. Once a character simply there to fuel a man’s rage for saving the day, it is now her saving the day. She has even escaped death, literally, after being buried on her family estate and awakening a year after with no memory of how she got there.
We need more female characters that are this evasive and this resilient to stereotypes. We need those that are just not fuel for the patriarchal ego, but those who defy this ego and flip it right on its head. Also, nothing can be lost from a bad ass dye job and the mental skills to pay the bills.