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Apr 21

Fallen Angels #1-6

Posted on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

Well, they can’t all be winners.

If there’s one thing about the first wave of Krakoa X-books that everyone seems to have agreed on, it’s that Fallen Angels wasn’t very good. And there’s a part of me that regrets having to say that, because it certainly wasn’t phoned in. You can see, in theory, what it was going for. You can see how it looked like a reasonable idea at the pitch stage. But the end result is a mess, for a whole range of reasons.

One factor here is that Fallen Angels seems to have been cut short. It’s principally a Kwannon book, but the first arc is plainly structured as a “gathering of the team”. Even on that level it’s strangely put together, with half the cast only appearing towards the end, and contributing very little. But it ends up with Kwannon running a team of vaguely outsidery mutants as part of a side deal with Mr Sinister. And then it stops.

It’s not like Fallen Angels was a sales disaster. In its final month, it was the lowest selling X-book in the direct market, but it was only a few thousand copies behind Marauders – and it was outselling Avengers and Deadpool. Yet it got pulled from the schedules, and the second wave of X-books turns out to feature Hellions, a series in which, er, Kwannon and Mr Sinister run an entirely different team of outsidery mutants, but this time in more technicolour fashion. It’s hard to see that Fallen Angels and Hellions were ever intended to co-exist.

So what went wrong with Bryan Hill and Szymon Kudranski’s series? At first glance it seems to have a reasonable niche. In a world where the mutants are all swanning around in an endless utopian party, this is the book for the characters who don’t feel that they fit in there – not because they doubt the wonderfulness of Krakoa itself, but because they’re too self-loathing or otherwise screwed-up to feel that they deserve to be there. It’s the emo book, in other words, hence a first issue cover of the main characters looking moody under neon.

It’s also tasked with rehabbing Kwannon as a character. The recent re-tooling of Psylocke was an understandable move. “Betsy is turned into a ninja” is one of those late 1980s stories that hasn’t aged very well, particularly as it results in one of Marvel’s most prominent Asian characters not actually being Asian. You can see why they wanted to quit while they were ahead with that one. But at the same time, they didn’t want to throw away the recognition factor of Psylocke’s character design, and so we’re dusting off a convoluted 90s retcon which attempted to establish ninja Psylocke as the result of a body-swap with a bit of mind-mixing thrown in.

How clearly Hill actually understands that original story is unclear – he seems at times to be under the impression that Kwannon was left trapped inside Psylocke’s body, which isn’t how it worked. But the original was garbled enough that I can’t get too worked up about that. At any rate, he inherits a Kwannon who is something of a blank slate, aside from a “career assassin” back story. Time to give her something else.

Here’s where the problems start. Kwannon is outfitted with a backstory which boils down to “raised by baddies who wanted to turn her into a living weapon with no agency”. We’ve seen this before, of course – it’s the back story of X-23. What Fallen Angels brings to it is some ponderous Japanese trappings and some all-purpose glumness. There’s some very heavyhanded melodrama about a lost child and a thuddingly repetitive motif about a butterfly.

None of this, frankly, makes Kwannon interesting. It strikes an awkward balance where the plot content is absurd but the tone is going for poetically melancholy. It’s pitching for Art and while it may have the ambition to back it up, it doesn’t have the content. Scenes of darkened rooms and fragments of impassive faces serve mainly to send the message that all this is supposed to be Tremendously Important. Some of the layouts are interesting, but most of the actual characters seem blank. In fairness, that’s kind of what the script calls for, but that doesn’t make them any more engaging. Action scenes, when they happen, are rather choppy. There’s some needless confusion about whether the wraith that Cable meets halfway through the story is actually Apoth or just a camp follower (though the wraith is probably the single best piece of design work in the story).

The plot of Fallen Angels is ultimately quite straightforward: an AI that Kwannon declined to destroy years ago returns as a split personality with an evil side calling itself Apoth and making vague post-humanist noise that never really come to much in these six issues, and a good side that enlists Kwannon to deal with the problem. Kwannon enlists some other Krakoan outsiders and they, well, deal with the problem. In amongst all this she strikes a deal with Mr Sinister to come and go on her own business without the Krakoans being fully informed.

None of this really hangs together. That might be because it was going to tie together down the line, to be fair, but we can only judge what exists. Apoth’s post-human, eliminate-all-difference routine is presumably meant to tie in with the theme of Kwannon’s trainers trying to eradicate her individuality, but that doesn’t feel like a theme that develops into anything. You can hardly do “maybe Apoth has a point”. There’s a hazily developed idea that Kwannon’s idea of training her team is to repeat the abuse that she suffered, and again, this might be something that would have come to fruition if the book had run for longer. But in the event, most of the other heroes seem to serve little function beyond acting as sounding boards for Kwannon’s exposition and brooding.

Bling! and Husk are rather randomly added to the cast in issue #5, in time to contribute little or nothing. X-23 and Cable are here throughout but nothing about the series suggests a proper grasp of the characters. Now, Kwannon is the main character here, so Hill is interested in the others mainly in terms of how they relate to her – fine. And both have a back story of lifelong conflict that could make them ill at ease on Krakoa. But Hill seems to want to make them ingenues in need of training from Kwannon… which makes no sense, precisely because they’re got so much experience already. And while Cable is supposed to have arrived in the present more or less directly from the war, X-23’s main arc over recent years has been all about her moving beyond this.

None of this would be such a problem if the story was at least using its characters in a way that was entertaining on its own terms. Fallen Angel‘s biggest problem is that it’s so relentlessly one-note. That’s not quite literally true of the art, which throws in the occasional page of daylight, but the book never really departs from a general air of sixth-form poetry. It’s tremendously sincere, but rarely interesting.

Bring on the comments

  1. JD DeMotte says:

    No mutant cyborg lobsters = zero stars. Would not recommend.

    …I’d actually like that joke more if the book actually had been good. I certainly think the idea of exploring Kwannon makes sense, but it seems kind of tone-deaf to look at Betsy as Psylocke and think “Well this feels like a bit awkward cultural appropriation in today’s society” and then make Kwannon into a 90s stereotype of an Asian badass ninja. Some of that is working with what was setup in the 90s, but still, there was not anything really fresh in the first few issues to make me care about Kwannon. It ended up being the first book I dropped after the Dawn of X launch.

  2. the new kid says:

    I just don’t like Kwannon. She was always confusing and never caught my interest.

    If they ever reboot the marvel universe, they should just let Psylocke be the British telepath from Otherworld and let Kwannon be the Asian ninja with a psychic blade that Jim Lee wanted and let them go their separate ways.

  3. Evilgus says:

    Agree with JD’s point on the tone deafness. If they are trying to rectify a wrong, it’s very reductive to get an American writer to portray Kwannon as a stereotype stoic badass assassin. It’s also just plain dull.

    It’s also very obviously a cynical attempt to keep the more iconic Asian body in market circulation.

    Undoing the Psylocke body swap storyline at this time of a major relaunch, and hiding it outside the main books, is really narratively confusing too (and doesn’t speak to confidence in the decision). It’s a notorious but frankly niche bit of x-continuity. Also an odd decision given Psylocke had one of the most interesting trajectories of any of the X-Women through the last decade, from Remender’s X-Force onwards.

    Possibly right idea, wrongly executed.

  4. Josie says:

    There are a lot of things about this book that don’t appeal to me conceptually, but really, it’s just the art, the art, the art. There is not a single writer I would tolerate Kudranski’s art to read.

  5. DFE says:

    There was quite a lot I wanted to like about Fallen Angels, but it missed the mark every time. The art often felt like it could be pretty, if it weren’t so muddled. Kwannon mentoring X-23 might have worked, if she really had anything to teach her. (It seemed like perhaps Kwannon passing on the spiritual ddimension to her ninja training was the point, but it was such woo and nonsense that it didn’t convey.) Putting Young Cable in a more subservient role might have worked, except he did very little. Bringing in AI drugs cribbed from Serial Experiments Lain could have pushed the post-humanity angle forward, but it didn’t. Sinister and Kwannon working out an angle to do shady shit might have been fun, but all the fun was sucked out.

    I was even hoping to see Bling! again, only for Bling to do next to nothing. This was the book with the cast and premise that interested me most in solicits, and what a flop it was.

  6. Pasquale says:

    @Josie Totally. The art! All of the close-ups on faces made me irrationally angry.

  7. Moo says:

    Kwannon definitely needs a rethink if she’s going to stick around.

    IIRC, Niceza asserted that Kwannon had empathic abilities before the body-swap. Struck me as a bit pointless since Betsy’s abilities had replaced them by the time we met Kwannon, but maybe he was attempting to explain how Betsy’s powers could successfully transfer over to a completely different body (meaning Kwannon had to be X-gene positive to begin with in order to carry a mutation). I also recall Paul mentioning in his indexes that “Kwannon” (associated with “compassion”) seemed like an odd name for an assassin, but if she was meant to be empathic originally, I guess it makes a bit of sense.

    Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, well, I dunno, maybe delve into her pre-assassin days (have they dug into Kwannon’s earlier history? I’m not reading these books) and set her up as someone who once was a kindly mutant empath who was somehow forced/coerced into that badass ninja cultural stereotype role and then, from there, figure out a way to reinvent her.

  8. Bloodredcookie says:

    Marvel really should have just taken the more obvious route and retconed the body swap story to say that the Psylocke we’ve been following since the 80s was always Kwannon, but with Betsy’s memories. This would have fixed all the appropriation concerns and given Psylocke (the popular ninja version) some added depth, and a few interesting story arcs to boot.

  9. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Not sure that would go over well. Sounds a bit like ‘Peter Parker was the clone all the time’.

    They did go into Kwannon’s early life in Fallen Angel, they went with the ‘trained to be a killer since an early age’ backstory.

  10. Bloodredcookie says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran oh it’s totally that, but unlike Spiderman, Psylocke’s popularity didn’t really take off until the 90s, so I imagine there would be less friction.

  11. Evilgus says:

    I’d also take a hand wave approach. Just have both bodies exist, explain they are an inseparable mind meld of both women, and be done with it. Then writers can choose which version to use.

    I do wonder though, was there significant readership pressure for Marvel to undo the body swap? Or were they just heading off criticism before it became a significant deal? I’ve not read any interviews where this editorial decision was addressed, and I do wonder how much influence twitter commentators have on the x-editors.

  12. Evilgus says:

    @bloodredcookie: I imagine if X-Men hadn’t gone stratospheric when it did, then the Psylocke body thing would have been undone just all the other post siege perilous stuff was, or Betsy would have been shunted sideways alongside other relative late comers like Dazzler and Longshot. Or when Jim Lee moved on.

  13. Adrian Brown says:

    I think people are looking at this the wrong way. My theory is that editorial cares about Betsy not Kwannon. They also don’t care about any body swap or fixing it. Hickman/Howard’s story treatment required Betsy as Captain Britain as a lead in to the next crossover at least. They did not want to lose the Asian character design in the process. So Kwannon was necessary. I would be very surprised if Betsy as Captain Britain sticks. I suspect Kwannon will die when they are ready for Betsy to take back the outfit.
    I could be wildly off the mark though but the evidence is not great for Kwannon as any priority. Fallen Angels does not seem to have been a part of Hickman’s overall treatment. I would not be surprised if it came about because they wanted to still use ninja outfit Psylocke. Kwannon was shunted off here on a mediocre throwaway book instead of being part of a main title where she would get exposure. She is now further downgraded from dealing with other B-grade characters (Cable, X-23) to dealing with D-grade obscurities like Nanny and the Orphan maker. Not exactly a high profile start for a character editorial considers a priority.

  14. Dimitri says:

    @Adrian Brown

    Interesting theory. Definitely thoughts worth considering. However, it occurs to me that, in this day and age, it might actually be more effective to launch what is essentially a new character in a B or C title. If you put them in an A title, they just become that person taking attention away from the characters the readers were truly interested in. You end up building more resentment than momentum.

    In a smaller title, they get to drive the story, if the writer so chooses, and have their corner of the MU build in support of their character rather than in service of a bigger picture. That may be more effective in generating long-lasting interest.

    Having said that, I have no strong impression as to whether Marvel is interested in launching Kwannon as a semi-important character. I suspect that you are right that this could be about Betsy. Maybe the creators decided to return Betsy to her original body, as you say, and the editors realised that this could lead to very bad optics, removing the most recognizable Asian face in the X-Men line, so they commissioned some books to try to make Kwannon work independently. Like, if it fails, at least it’s on record that they tried, you know?

    Of course, one would then have to explain why, under that logic, Betsy needed to become white again to be Captain Britain…and that just made everything uncomfortable again.

  15. Dimitri says:


    Regarding how much influence Twitter commentators have on Marvel editors:

    On the one hand, going by some of the new character names in New Warriors, Twitter folk seem to have enough influence that the creators will go out of their way to troll them.

    On the other hand, I just listened to an infuriating panel conversation on “X-Plain the X-Men” where one of the X-writers was arguing that Asians like me who are irritated by the Psylocke thing clearly have a problem with women because Psylocke had no agency in this, and it’s not her fault. (Because, you know, Asians like me are apparently so abhorrently stupid and inherently hateful of women that we would blame a fictional character rather than the string of unfortunate creative decisions that led to this mess. Fucking awesome.)

    Between that and the Akira Yoshida thing, I’m thinking it’s a safe bet that Marvel does not give two shits what their Asian readers think on Twitter or elsewhere.

    …which if fine, by the way. I suspect I’m coming off way whinier than I mean to. We’ve all got bigger problems right now than the corporate optics of a swimsuit ninja.

    It’s just that, as I mentioned on another thread, the Psylocke thing brings complicated, decades-old feelings for me. Very sorry for being a weird downer about it.

  16. Evilgus says:

    @Adrian, Dimitri
    Gosh, I never thought of the “why can’t Asian Betsy be Captain Britain” argument. It’s almost worst somehow if they made her white again, for that purpose. But these things are cyclical so one never knows how this may wrap up.

    (Could argue Asian Psylocke was Captain Britain for the Otherworld arc in Uncanny X-Force, but the art was so stylised it was hard to tell her ethnicity.)

    Another option would be to double down and have Betsy in an Asian body, and Kwannon in a British body – actually delve into the cultural appropriation aspect head on in a conversation between the two characters, rather than sidestep it (which they’ve also done so far in HoX. Infuriating. Like when Rachel Grey and teen Jean Grey just looked bemused at each other… Give the readers the drama and resolution we crave, dammit!)

  17. Evilgus says:

    Sorry, I missed your post while I was writing my other one!

    On twitter: I do think vocal fans can have undue influence on a writer. I remember how the X-Fan forum influenced Claremont to give Betsy Braddock the middle name Glorianna. I mean, what?! Especially also a lot of new writers come up through the twittersphere/slash fiction. I find it’s really obvious in a jarring way, in some of their work.

    On Psylocke again: I’m sorry it’s brought out complex feelings in you. I remember that Xplain the X-Men podcast you refer to. They tried to be sensitive and brought on the author to talk about Asian superheroes. I think they tied themselves in knots a bit, about character agency versus actual misappropriation, and what trumped what. Which kind of missed the point slightly, I think.

    You’re right that Marvel has mishandled this (the Cebulski/Yoshida stuff is absolutely shocking) and needs to send a stronger signal it’s learned lessons. And I’m not sure treating Kwannon/Psylocke in a subpar story is the right way to go about it.

    One of the attractive things to me about the X-line is that it should be a diverse set of characters gathered from round the globe. But I’d argue it has struggled with non-Western representation.

  18. Bloodredcookie says:

    What I would like to understand is why it’s acceptable to take Marvel’s most popular east Asian character and whitewash her based solely on some very obscure continuity. That feels a little racially insensitive to me.
    (To be clear, I’m not trying to make a point or anything. I really would like to better understand.)

  19. Benji says:

    I guess it’s only obscure for readers post-2000 but for me, and probably a bunch of people in the comic industry who make decisions, Psylocke’s origin as the twin sister of Brian Braddock is something I can’t forget.

    That being said, I reckon I would be able to get over it if a retcon happened. And I don’t think comics and the comics industry needs to be worrying about older readers. The industry can’t really rely on readers like me (40+) anyway and I’ve actually stopped buying them. Still interested, but my money isn’t going to the comic so (really) why should my opinion matter that much.

  20. Dimitri says:


    Thank you for your empathic response.

    You know, the more I think about it, the more I agree that the Twittersphere is influencing creative decisions… and often not in a good way. For example, I’m convinced Havoc turning evil was a result of the unexpected backlash Remender got for Havoc’s Unity speech in Uncanny Avengers.

    On a personal note, I wish they’d instead integrated the backlash in the main story. Like, what does the Avengers Unity Squad do when they give a well-meaning speech that ends up creating more division than anything. Angsty “Oh,my gosh, I suck at public speaking; I shouldn’t be the leader” Havoc is something I would have liked to read in the same way that, yeah, your idea of Betsy and Kwannon, radically different women from different corners of the world forever united by a body swap neither of them asked for, is something I’d for sure like to read.

    In general, I think it’d be great if creators actually started addressing the social media backlashes head-on in a constructive way instead of trying to sidestep them and essentially run away scared like bullied children. I feel there are a lot of creative opportunities being missed here, not to mention a chance to set the tone for an adult interaction with the fans.

  21. Dimitri says:

    @Bloodredcookie, Benji

    Now, that’s an interesting perspective. After 30 years of Asian Psylocke, at what point does the fact that she started off white just become odd continuity trivia?

    It’s worth noting that Betsy was created in 1976 and only turned Asian 13 years later in 1989. So it’s not like it’s just a matter of readers and creators having to turn a blind eye to one particularly problematic issue or something. Her existence as a fully constructed (and delightful) white character constitutes roughly 30% of her 44 years of publication. That’s a lot to ignore, especially since her relationship with her non-Asian twin Brian is referenced on a semi-regular basis throughout her 30 years as an Asian woman.

    On the other hand, those 13 years of publication as a white woman were three decades ago, before a lot of readers were even born. And every representation of Psylocke in other media have dutifully ignored the body swap element and just made her Asian or, like in the movies, biracial.

    I myself thought Betsy was British of Asian descent when I started reading comics, until Kwannon showed up to reveal the body swap, and I felt sooo betrayed. In hindsight, this is when they should have reversed the body swap. It had only been four years since Betsy turned Asian at this point. And, frankly, Kwannon the New Hardcore Sexy Swimsuit Ninja Extreeeeeme probably had a better chance of success as a character back in 1993.

  22. Taibak says:

    Dimitri: Gail Simeone did that when DC rebooted their universe. A lot of fans were upset when Barbara Gordon regained the use of her legs and went back to being Batgirl. With DC’s permission, she met the controversy head on and tried to address fan concerns.

    She did a few interviews about it and it’s probably an object lesson in how to do this well.

  23. Voord 99 says:

    I think that’s a problem, though – it’s dubious if you can call Psylocke “Asian” during those years. She was a white woman possessing an Asian woman’s body. We’re in “I Am Curious (Black)” territory. I’d hope that one could aim higher than that for Asian representation.

    But I think there’s more than that. There is, first, the fact that being in an Asian body was accompanied by a recharacterization that sexualized her more than any other character in the X-books at the time. Betsy went from a “demure” and repressed “proper English” woman (which is obviously an annoying American stereotype of Englishness) to hitting on Cyclops while wearing a tiny bikini. I think that has to connect to well-known stereotypes of Asian women as being sexually available, and there’s something really creepy about the consideration that it’s not really justified much beyond the mere fact of her having an Asian female body.

    And then there’s the whole “An Asian woman with an English accent?” thing. This isn’t a character who is an Asian character who happens to have been created as a white character – it’s a character where the combination of Asianness and Englishness was explicitly presented as part of the fantasy aspect of the comic, something impossible.

  24. Bloodredcookie says:


    That’s very insightful. You really make some good points. I guess it was bound to be a no-win scenario no matter how Marvel addressed (or didn’t adress) the issue.

    As to the issue of writers responding to twitter, I like that idea in theory. The problem is (and please correct me if I’m wrong) each issue takes around six months to go from the writer’s laptop to the shelves. By then Twitter would usually have forgotten about whatever they were upset about, and the issue is ancient history, and that’s assuming that the writer tries to address the problem in the next available comic, rather than waiting for a logical break in the narrative. What’s more, if he/she is already in the middle of a tightly plotted tale and has to break the flow creatively to address a controversy from half a year ago the story could suffer for it (Unless the writer was a master at rolling with unforeseen punches ala Peter David).

  25. Josie says:


    I’ve been thinking about Uncanny Avengers lately, and now you’ve got me thinking about it more, and . . . I don’t know if this dovetails into your point, but indulge me a little.

    The thing that worked with Remender’s Uncanny X-Force is that all of the characters were flawed and broken to a degree, and their efforts as a team were a way to maybe address those flaws, and maybe just act on them but in service to a greater good.

    The problem with Uncanny Avengers is that the Avengers characters really have no flaws. We were told early on that Thor had some hubris issues regarding Apocalypse, blah blah blah, Cap wasn’t feeling great because of Dimension Z, blah blah blah, Wanda has guilt.

    Meanwhile, you have Wolverine, who led the X-Force squad that kind of created the problems the Uncanny Avengers face, Rogue, whose extensive redemption arc under Mike Carey was basically ignored and she was regressed to former-villain status, unreliable hothead Sunfire, and Havok, who not only has a chip on his shoulder due to his brother being the Star Mutant, and later a Mega Terrorist, but also was turned evil dozens of times.

    So Havok’s heel turn (again) may have not been a reaction to fans so much as a frustration over his inability to do anything interesting with the other half of the cast.

  26. Adrian says:

    If the character is introduced organically and fits within the story, there should be no resentment. Especially if other characters are not marginalized as a result. A Marauders type book would not work as all the other characters in that book are secondary to Kitty. But a balanced approach like Remender’s X-Force is something that could.

    Some comments are saying that they do not understand why Marvel had to make her white again. Technically they didn’t. She doesn’t look that much different from before. It is more that they are focusing on her British backstory now.

    Either way, they have taken a B-level character and downgraded her to D status. I have zero interest in Betsy’s British backstory and no interest in her without the Psylocke angle. I also have zero interest in a generic, troubled, brainwashed Kwannon killer seeking redemption. It’s been done. He is called Wolverine. And the other is X-23.

    Remender did all that work to revitalize and streamline the character and they flushed it down the toilet so they could milk a measly 45K for six months with a mediocre book. What a waste.

  27. Voord 99 says:

    I’ve wondered what part of my soul I am missing that I’ve never gotten what was so amazing about the writing in Remender’s X-Force run. Not that it’s *bad* for me or anything – it’s fine.

    But the consensus is, and was at the time, that it was exceptional and wonderful, and I just never felt that. I’d be genuinely interested in hearing people talk about what was brilliant about it.

  28. Krzysztof Ceran says:

    It was a good execution of the grim killer squad trope, with a little more of a fantastical bent to it than Craig and Kyle’s previous approach – due to using Otherworld, Deathloks, alternate realities and other such Marvel accoutrements, instead of limiting the scope to ‘kill all mutants / kill all who want to kill all mutants’.

    Also Psylocke giving Angel a telepathic happy ending as she was destroying his mind was pretty touching, if rote.

    Other than that, I’m not sure. And to be honest, for me after the Dark Angel Saga the title veers wildly looking for a purpose that it never finds again. And it goes so over the top in its search for deeper meaning that I found the supposedly dramatic scene of Wolverine killing Daken to be hilarious instead.

    As a complete aside, I’m endlessly fascinated by Remender’s approach to epic storytelling, in which when the heroes are at their lowest he shunts them to an alternate reality where they rediscover what they’re fighting for or somesuch and come back ready for the finale. Over and over again. The go to the Age of Apocalypse in Uncanny X-Force, there’s the whole Planet X arc in Uncanny Avengers, the morality shift in Axis is a variant of that, and I’m pretty sure there was something similar in his Secret Avengers run.

    Oh, and of course Age of Apocalypse isn’t the only time he did that in Uncanny X-Force, there’s also the alternate future with Magistrate Psylocke or whatever she was called. It’s like he has one idea he just can’t let go of.

  29. Dimitri says:

    @Voord 99

    Regarding Psylocke’s race swap, agreed on largely all points. Like I said, when I was a kid, learning that she was a race-swapped caucasian woman all along really soured me on my favourite character.

    I was merely considering how all this might come off to newer readers who might not know of the body-swap storyline and just assumed she was an Asian woman the same way I did when I was a kid. It’s worth noting that most of the issues you raise don’t play if you don’t know Betsy started off white. So, for new readers, it must be as jarring to see her return to her original race as it was for me when I was a kid to find out that she had an original race. And for them, that’s potentially 30 years of ugly recontextualization to go through all at once. I could understand readers resenting more the reveal to them that Betsty was not quite who they thought she was as a character rather than the 30 years of publication they enjoyed unaware of the underying issues. 

    As for Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, what I like about that run is that it’s basically the first (and perhaps only) epic Betsy-centric story to work, well, since I started reading comics. For me, Betsy’s inner struggle with her compulsion to solve problems through violence drives every single storyline in that run, and all the other characters are largely foils for her character journey.

    Wolverine is the man encouraging the rationalization that the ends justify the means, an attitude that is slowly destroying Betsy’s world, as represented by his counterpart in the Age of Apocalypse. Archangel represents her attachment and idealization of the classic X-Men ideal, but, for her, there’s something rotten inside, and, in order to restore that dream, she ends up embracing Wolverine’s philosophy and turn herself into a murderer. Deadpool is the unlikely voice of reason, who’s managed to keep his moral core in the midst of all that violence but makes the whole thing look like an exercise in insanity.

    And then you have her new love interest, Phantomex, who walks the fine line between the light and the darkness. I think it’s significant that, at the end of the story, he splits into three beings–one completely good, one completely bad, and one in the middle–and that Betsy chooses to embrace the one in the middle, a representation of the path she’s chosen for herself to bring peace between those same aspects in her own inner struggle.

    I find those to be complex thematic schemes to juggle consistently (note that I am calling the schemes complex, not the themes), and Remender does keep those schemes consistent throughout the entirety of his run. And in so doing, he made Betsy work as a character for the first time in what seems like forever. I find that’s quite an achievement. But that’s just my personal taste obviously.

  30. Dimitri says:

    @ Taibak, Bloodredcookie

    Regarding the Twittersphere influence, I think it’s okay to incorporate a backlash within story only six months to a year after everyone’s moved on. For me, it’s not about putting out fires, but more about politely acknowledging that it happened without scrambling to shovel things under the carpet. A creative way of saying, “We meant well and stand by our story, but we also heard you and are not dismissing criticism.”

    Having said that, it’s a very good point that it would take a particularly flexible writer to do this sort of thing, and it may be unrealistic to expect that of every creator.

    To do the same while also putting out fires, I think the interview with Gail Simone is indeed a more immediate way of tackling things. Thank you for the link, Taibak! I had no idea she’d done that. 

  31. Dimitri says:

    @ Josie

    Yes! Let’s do talk about Uncanny Avengers! 

    I too mostly think of Remender’s Uncanny Avengers in relation to his Uncanny X-Force. I view it as a sequel of sorts. Like, if Uncanny X-Force is about the darkness within (with Psylocke as the centre, struggling to rise above her darker nature), then Uncanny Avengers is about the light without (with Havoc as the centre, struggling to live up to his bright ideals).

    From that perspective, I’m not sure you need Captain America and co. to have the same level of inner struggle the X-Force squad had. As foils to Alex, some of them can be the perfect examples of brightness that he can never reach. At least, that’s how it played to me in the first half of the run. And then something changed, and the change in direction felt rushed to me, which is one of the reasons I suspected that it had to do with the Unity speech backlash, but maybe you’re right, and it was more just Remender throwing his hands in the air. 

    I mean, a logical direction for a “light without” story is to expose some of that light as being superficial before revealing that striving for it alone is a worthy exercise. For that, you might have to expose the Avengers as imperfect and perhaps slight hypocrites (I feel that’s where Remender was going with Thor), but maybe editorial blocked him at every turn for obvious reasons. That’s a scenario I could definitely believe in.

    Of course, I have no insight in what goes on at Marvel, so I’m just conjecturing.

  32. Chris V says:

    Outside of Remender’s X-Force, I never found Psylocke to be an interesting character.
    People say that Betsy was boring, so that was why Claremont picked her for this body transformation story.
    The problem was that this still didn’t make her interesting. She was now the same bland character with a really hot body and was a bad-ass ninja. That’s not characterization.
    Until Remender, no one did anything interesting with her in her new body either. I still found her incredibly boring.

    So, basically, it doesn’t matter to me if she’s in an Asian woman’s body or becoming Captain Britain. There’s not a lot to the character, outside of her 1990s costume.

    It might have been interesting to see the fact that Betsy was in a different body, and especially a body of a woman from another race, explored more. Instead, it was mostly glossed over by writers. It seemed like it was just accepted by Betsy.
    Something interesting might have been an Asian-American man wanting to date her. Something interesting could have been made of that, but that’s not usually under the purview of superhero comics.


    The alternate “Minority Report”-inspired future in Uncanny X-Force was very important to the overall story.
    It showed the logical end point of where the characters on the team with their modus operandi was leading.
    I found that to be an exceptional story-arc.

  33. Thom H. says:

    All this talk of the unblemished Avengers characters makes me wonder when that kind of portrayal started. I mean, the whole Marvel template is “flawed hero in a recognizable world,” right?

    Was it around the movies that they became squeaky clean? Since I never really had that much interest in the big 3 (Captain American, Iron Man, Thor), I don’t know if it happened then or earlier.

  34. Evilgus says:

    I really like your dissection of the themes of Remender’s X-Force, and how the male characters represented different aspects of the female lead’s (Psylocke’s) inner conflicts. I’ll remember that one.

  35. Voord 99 says:

    @Dmitri: That is the best explanation of what’s good about Remender’s X-Force that I’ve encountered.

    @Thom H. Was it around the movies that they became squeaky clean? Since I never really had that much interest in the big 3 (Captain American, Iron Man, Thor), I don’t know if it happened then or earlier.

    No simple answer, I think. Different aspects to it, off the top of my head:

    – Marvel heroes were not historically all that flawed by post-80s grim and gritty standards – they were just closer to it than DC’s were in the ‘60s. So if you characterize them as they were c.1965-1985, they seem idealized.

    (Not just the Avengers, and not especially them. Claremont’s classic UXM is probably more idealized — for all that we call it a soap opera, relatively little of it is about interpersonal conflicts within the core cast. The Avengers historically quarreled a lot more.)

    – Captain America’s a special case, because while he has had plenty of melodrama and doubt, he’s also been approached with an extreme degree of reverence as the symbol of the US. His classic stories about his doubts arise from just how good a person he is, when he is confronted with an America that doesn’t actually live up to his example.

    – I think the nostalgic turn of the ‘90s is big: Busiek’s Avengers, while not by any means perfect, are definitely portrayed as idealized goshdarnit heroes. (Especially Captain America, and there he’s also playing off what Waid, the great master of superhero nostalgia, was doing.)

    – The movies are also part of it, though. They’re not the only reason why the Avengers became so central to the comics MU — it was happening before that. But they definitely gave it a lot of added impetus. Centrality doesn’t have to mean perfection, but there’s a certain tendency, perhaps superhero-specific, to make the figures at the center of the narrative world “iconic,” godlike, etc., and this pushes towards perfection.

  36. Chris V says:

    It’s sort of funny to talk about the Avengers, or well any Marvel hero, around the period of Uncanny Avengers as being too idealistic.
    We had Tony Stark becomes George W. Bush. Thor realizes he is unworthy. Not too far beyond this point, Cap is revealed as a fascist.

  37. Bloodredcookie says:

    @Thom H.
    I would argue that Marvel’s A-list avengers are all decently flawed. The problem comes when you compare them to the X-Men (and other X-spin offs) who have far more skeletons in thier closets (Almost literally in a few cases).
    Nearly every Big name mutant has been through a period (or at least a story line) where they’ve been villains, there have been numerous X kill squads, and nearly all of thier important villains have been part of the team at one point or another. By comparison, the Avengers look like classic DC heroes.
    I don’t see this as a failing on the writer’s parts. The X reaction and worldview feels organic when you consider that they have to loose every time for thier premise to work, while the Avengers could hardly be Earth’s mightiest If they lost all that often, and thier approach feels natural for a group that’s used to winning.
    (For me that contrast was one of the things I felt like Uncanny Avengers really nailed).

  38. ASV says:

    Was thinking the same thing — how can the Illuminati era be seen as one of idealistic portrayals of unblemished heroes?

  39. Josie says:

    I appreciate Dimitri’s analysis about why Uncanny X-Force worked for him, but those aren’t the reasons why I love it and sing its praises. So let’s do this:

    1. Caveat: I do not love the entire run. In my mind, the run ended with the coda chapter to the Dark Angel Saga. The second half of the run may as well have been a new volume by a new creative team. I love Phil Noto as an artist, but he was completely wrong for this series, and none of the other artists in the second half work for me. AoA Nightcrawler wasn’t a substantial enough addition to the cast, and while I liked his Iceman revenge issue, I still don’t really consider him part of the team.

    2. The first 20 issues (19 plus 5.1) are a magical run. Not perfect, but Marvel has very few really solid and complete lengthy runs, much less those I would consider all-time classics. Priest’s Black Panther is one. Miller’s Daredevil, once Elektra comes in.

    3. Along the lines of what Dimitri described, Uncanny X-Force immediately stands out as a series ABOUT something. That can be said for very few other mainstream comic book series. The themes are not deep (revenge, the struggle for redemption), but the series fully commits to them, to exploring them, and to examining the characters through those lenses.

    Can Wolverine satisfy his killer urges? Not really, but he can at least use them productively.

    Can Fantomex stop being a self-absorbed jerk and act nobly? Eventually, yes.

    Can Deadpool rise above his base urges, and the mercenary reputation he’s built for himself? Yes

    Can Psylocke save herself and Warren? Maybe?

    Can Warren save himself? No.

    Can Deathlok learn the power of love? Yes!

    And perhaps most crucially, can Apocalypse be redeemed? Perhaps yes.

    4. The series is a love letter to the X-Men stories of the ’80s and ’90s, which were incredibly shallow, by turning them into a meaningful, coherent narrative. The opening arc takes the typical framework of a typical Apocalypse fight. The first three issues are mostly just action, but incredibly depicted and made genuinely interesting (when’s the last time action in a comic was truly interesting?), and the final issue is a moral debate that sets the tone for the rest of the series. Deathlok Nation is basically a play on the Days of Future Past dystopian future, except the villains are the team themselves and their possible failure to prevent their own fall. Age of Apocalypse shows us a world where Wolverine gave into his worst impulses. And the final arc basically nixes the relief of returning from a dystopian alternate reality, to the real world where Warren has caved to his dark side, which is sort of a culmination of his struggle throughout ’80s X-Factor.

    5. The entire series (these 20 issues) are basically ABOUT Apocalypse and yet never feature Apocalypse proper. Evan/Genesis patently isn’t Apocalypse, which is the entire point of his arc. AoA Wolverine and then Warren become mirrors of the will of Apocalypse, and then there’s Genocide/(Holocaust), the demented son of Apocalypse, and lest we forget the Horsemen. All these characters are vying to see the will of Apocalypse done in their own way, they’re all prisms exploring the same core idea, much like how Morrison’s Batman run looked at all these alternate Batmen (Dick, Damian, Jason, the Club of Heroes, the Three Ghosts, etc.) as a way to explore the core idea of Batman.

    6. This may sound minor, but the team actually feels like a team. You wouldn’t think such a weird assemblage of characters would work, but it does because they’re all broken in similar ways, and they’re all different gradients of desperate to try to redeem themselves. They are all engaged in the necessity of their missions, and are all varying degrees of sarcastic as a means of copying with the horrible things they have to do.

    7. Dimitri was a fan of Psylocke who felt this was finally a story that did Psylocke justice. I have never been a fan of Psylocke, or Warren, or Fantomex, and this story made me love them (at least, I love them IN this story). And although this is a kind of more vulnerable, less arrogant Deadpool that hasn’t appeared elsewhere, his jokes are genuinely funny. I particularly love the line where he dismisses Dark Beast’s exposition about the Age of Apocalypse, telling him that nobody cares about the fake history of his fake world.

    8. The art. THE ART. Jesus. If you’ve seen this series, I don’t need to explain. And if you haven’t, boy are you missing a visual treat. Only three issues I consider to be not absolutely fantastic, and only one of those that’s visually meh. Yes, Opena is a master craftman, but it’s Dean White who ties the look of this run all together.

    9. The moments! So many amazing moments. Lesser writers in comics tend to structure their stories entirely around moments, but Remender effortlessly drops then all over the plot he has in mind. Deadpool feeding Warren. The resolution of whether or not to kill the Apocalypse child. Deathlok showing up to the rescue. Shadow King letting Archangel loose. Jean Grey shows up. Genocide’s, uh, genocide. Iceman the titan. Psylocke and the life seed. Wolverine and Sabretooth in the coda. So many moments.

    10. I’m not a fan of Rick Remender. Or at least, despite how much I love Uncanny X-Force, I just don’t love anything else he’s done. In an ideal world, his Uncanny X-Force run would be average comics. Every series would look beautiful, would actually have a purpose, would have suspenseful plots and interesting action and meaningful character interaction. But they don’t. Uncanny X-Force fulfills all the requirements of what I expect from a good story, where so many other mainstream comics fail the very basics of storytelling. It’s a series that arguably had no reason to be half as good as it was, and has ended up as my favorite thing Marvel has put out in the past 10 years, easily.

  40. Thom H. says:

    Thanks for all the consideration of my question about the Avengers. Interesting stuff.

    @Bloodredcookie: I was thinking the same thing. The X-Men retained an old-school doubt about themselves and their actions that other Marvel characters have shed.

    Because maybe the problem with the Avengers, in terms of having flaws, is that they no longer have doubts about themselves or their actions. To the point of grandiose delusion and psychopathy sometimes.

    Once you largely remove doubt from Iron Man’s character, for example, you end up with someone who no longer acknowledges — or barely acknowledges — any limits to his power and begins leaning much more toward “fascist” than “hero.”

    And as soon as the characters are making decisions about the life and death of entire universes, a la the Illuminati, they’ve left the realm of the “real” world altogether.

    What’s interesting to me about that is Hickman is doing the same thing to the X-Men right now. One aspect of the Krakoa set-up is about removing mutants’ doubts about their place in the world.

    They’re no longer conflicted about their relationship with humanity — they believe that they’re better than baseline humans and they’re acting like it. Which is why many of them are behaving like psychopaths. And possibly also why many long-time fans no longer recognize their favorite characters.

  41. Taibak says:

    Thinking about this more, there is a good example of a writer dealing with backlash in the text too. When Mark Gruenwald was writing Captain America, he did a story where Steve Rogers quit and was replaced by John Walker. In response to fan questions about bringing Bucky back, he introduced Lemar Hoskins, who was Black, as a new Bucky, sidekick to the new Captain America.

    After a few issues, Dwayne McDuffie sat Gruenwald down and explained to him that “Bucky” would be a VERY offensive name for a Black man and that Gruenwald was making it even worse by having the adult Hoskins take on the identity of a white boy. They agreed to rename the character and they went with Kieron Dwyer’s suggestion of “Battlestar”.

    McDuffie and Gruenwald then worked this into the story. Hoskins met another Black character who made McDuffie’s arguments and he changed his code name in response. The whole process took eight issues.

  42. ASV says:

    Thom H.: Totally agree with this. There are precursors in the events of the 90s, but I think Civil War provided a real breaking point in how editorial considered the nature of the Marvel universe. The basic conceit of the response to the triggering event and then the registration regime breaks a core premise of an open-ended, ongoing superhero universe that’s been around for ~15 in-story and ~45 real years. As part of a self-contained story (e.g., the Keene Act in Watchmen) it’s fine, but it’s not something that can be plausibly walked back. Secret Invasion did the same thing, lampshading the fact that anyone could be a Skrull. Anyone could still be a Skrull! But by the mid-00s, I get the impression most comics writers saw themselves writing movies instead of long-term serials, so we got a lot of bombast that didn’t provide useful connective tissue to the “world outside your window” baseline.

  43. Jason says:

    This is a wonderfully smart comments-thread and I’ve nothing intelligent to add, but I would like to say that the phrase “corporate optics of a swimsuit ninja” has not left my head for days.

  44. LiamKav says:

    Someone who is less, well, white than me might have more insight, but would an actual reboot that just made Betsy into a British woman of Japanese decent have been the best answer? I know you’ve got Brian around but you could just make them in to half-siblings if you needed him to be 100% white for whatever reason. Or, hell, make him part-Japanese as well.

    This would still allow you to tell stories about race identity that, er, they never told with Betsy. Granted, you’re removing an actual Japanese person from the board, but it’s not like Kwannon was the best conceived character in the first place.

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