Wednesday, March 26, 2008

X-MEN #31 – April 1994


Soul Possessions Part One: The Butterfly and the Hawk
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Andy Kubert (penciler), Matt Ryan (inker), Lovern/Digital Chameleon (colors), Bill Oakley (letterer)


Summary
Matsuo Tsurayaba reflects on his past relationship with Kwannon. He served The Hand, while she served crime boss Nyoirin. When Nyoirin came into conflict with The Hand, Matsuo was sent to kill him. Kwannon tried to stop him, but fell from the high cliffs around Nyoirin’s estate into the sea during their battle. Nyoirin, also in love with Kwannon, gave permission to Matsuo to take her away and have The Hand heal her. The Hand, with Spiral’s help, healed her body, but her brain was damaged due to oxygen deprivation. In the present day at the X-Men’s mansion, Revanche removes her bionic eyes and leaves a letter to Professor Xavier. The Legacy Virus has increased her telepathic powers, enabling her to learn the truth about her past. She leaves the eyes with Psylocke and goes to Japan. She soon confronts Matsuo, her former lover when she was in Kwannon’s body. She wants him to explain the mind-switch between her and Psylocke. Matsuo reveals that after he discovered an amnesiac Psylocke, he planned to use her telepathic powers to repair Kwannon’s mind. However, he later discovered that Spiral switched Psylocke’s mind for Kwannon’s as a cruel joke. Matsuo hoped to mold Kwannon’s body into what Kwannon used to be, as Nyoirin took Psylocke’s original body. Revanche reveals to Matsuo that she has the Legacy Virus, and asks him for a clean death. Meanwhile, Psylocke reveals to Archangel that her original body had bionic eyes created by Mojo. As Revanche dies, Psylocke and Archangel feel her psychic pain, causing their car to crash. Suddenly, they’re confronted by Spiral.


Continuity Notes
I don’t even know where to start on this one. Psylocke’s eyes were originally gouged out by Slaymaster in the Marvel UK Captain Britain series. In her first American appearance, Mojo and Spiral replaced her eyes with bionic ones, in order to broadcast the X-Men’s adventures in Mojoverse. Mojo’s servant Spiral alters human bodies with her “Body Shoppe”.


Matsuo Tsurayaba discovered an amnesiac Psylocke in his first appearance. All of the X-Men who went through the Siege Perilous emerged nude with no memory of their previous life.


This issue confirms that Psylocke is now in Kwannon’s body, while Revanche is actually Kwannon in Psylocke’s original body.


Nyoirin’s diary, which claimed that Psylocke and Kwannon were both a mixture of one another, is revealed as a fake. Revanche claims that he created the lie to keep Matsuo away from her.


Professor Xavier asks Beast to replace Cyclops as leader of the X-Men’s blue team during his honeymoon, and to take over daily operations of the mansion. Xavier claims that he’s going to “make amends” for the actions he’s recently taken and can’t commit to the X-Men at this time. I can’t remember this going anywhere. Xavier also reveals that Emma Frost left her Massachusetts Academy to him in the event that she ever became incapacitated.


Rogue is beginning to behave in ways that remind Gambit of Bella Donna. Rogue absorbed her memories in the Gambit miniseries.


Creative Differences
Xavier’s revelation that Frost left the Massachusetts Academy to him has been re-lettered, leading me to believe that there might’ve been a different justification for Xavier taking over the school.


Production Note
This is the first issue of X-Men colored by Digital Chameleon, which drastically alters the look of the title. They show up on the X-books after doing computer coloring for Image in its infancy. I don’t know if this is significant or not, but Digital Chameleon is credited before the letterer, even though letterers were generally credited first during this time.


Review
Does anyone else have a headache now? Fabian Nicieza falls on his sword, sacrificing his intended storyline about the nature of identity in order to set right the continuity he unknowingly disrupted. Bringing back Spiral from Psylocke’s past at least helps to sell the illusion that all of this nonsense was planned all along, but it also adds more layers of continuity to an already confusing storyline. Referencing Psylocke’s bionic eyes (for probably the first time since 1986) is either an attempt to remind the reader of her repeated physical violations, or a way for Nicieza to show cynical readers that he’s done his homework and that this story won’t screw everything up again. I can’t begin to imagine this storyline being published by Marvel today. Marvel’s not as continuity-lax as they were during the early Quesada years (didn’t Leonard Sampson show up as an arms dealer or something?), but there’s still the attitude that continuity shouldn’t get in the way of a “good story”. So if Nicieza’s editor today felt that his original plans for Psylocke and Revanche were worth doing, the continuity issues would just be ignored. I’m still curious to know how this two-issue continuity patch came about. Did Bob Harras know that Nicieza’s original plans contradicted the details of the “Lady Mandarin” storyline (which he also edited)? Did he simply not care (which would go against executive editor Mark Gruenwald’s hard line pro-continuity stance)? Was it negative fan reaction that led to this “correction” storyline?


I tried to look at this issue as a story and not just a continuity patch, but it’s virtually impossible. Nicieza does try to tie all of the events to Matsuo’s love for Kwannon, but their ridiculous dialogue gets in the way (“Are you so elusive in spirit and form that you can’t allow yourself to be trapped in a portrait of who you are?”). Most of the story is made up of Matsuo’s flashbacks, which mainly serve to reconcile Nicieza’s previous story with the original storyline about Psylocke’s transformation. Unless you’re already fluent in late ‘80s X-Men continuity, I can’t imagine you’ll find this stuff really that interesting. Just like in Cable’s “Fathers and Sons” arc, Nicieza’s unwilling to give a straightforward flashback to set things right. The story jumps around between Matsuo remembering Kwannon, Spiral bragging about what she’s done, Revanche leaving the mansion, more flashbacks from Matsuo, unrelated subplot pages with other X-Men, Revanche confronting Matsuo, even more Matsuo flashbacks, Psylocke and Archangel developing their relationship, and a cliffhanger with Spiral. Not exactly the best way to resolve an already cluttered storyline. I will say that most of this didn’t bother me as a kid, mainly because I was so excited to get the “real answers” about Psylocke, the execution didn’t really matter.


I mentioned earlier the debut of Digital Chameleon at Marvel. When Image began, I didn’t understand why their production values were so much better than Marvel’s. Shouldn’t Spider-man and the X-Men look as good as this Spawn book? When a friend of mine bought this issue, he excitedly called me and said, “I got the new X-Men…and it looks like an Image comic!” The colors really impressed me as a kid, but they haven’t aged well. The flashback pages have a blurry filter, which is somewhat understandable, but even the present day scenes look out of focus. Way too many black lines are knocked out for no reason (including the detail lines on the inside of an apple), which gets distracting quickly. The earlier issues may have looked a little bland, but at least the colors weren’t so off-putting. These hyperactive computer effects thrilled me as a kid, though.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm going to admit it: I actually don't mind these issues all that much. Yes, this is slogged in continuity, but is it really THAT confusing? I remember reading this as a kid and understanding perfectly who was what with whom and I hadn't even read the 80s issues it was referencing. Also, I thought Kubert's art took another leap forward with these issues. Ah well, maybe I'm just looking at these through nostalgia-filled eyes.

Paul said...

I read this one in college. I didn't mind it. In fact, up until this issue, everything about ninja Betsy got on my nerves. I saw this as an attempt to "explain it all away".

Teebore said...

Yeah, maybe the execution could be better (though I thoo thought Kubert's art stepped it up this issue), but this is the kind of stuff I love about comics: not just long winded continuity born from decades of continuous publication, but whole stories built around addressing that continuity.

Sure, I wouldn't want that in EVERY story, but continuity as it exists in comics is a beast more or less unique to super hero comics, and I'm happy when creators embrace that fact instead of downplaying it for fear of alienating audiences or some BS like that.

rob said...

I have to agree with the anonymous poster on a both counts - yes, maybe I'm looking at this with the nostalgia of buying it as a eight yr old but I didn't find this two parter that confusing.

It has continuity issues to address, and it does so. And instead of doing it in one straightforward flashback, it hangs in on a story that can involve the X-Men now, interspersed with flashbacks that deal with the muddled continuity of Psylocke.

In addition, Niceiza finally gets some decent material out of characters like Matsuo and Revanchle, particularly in her death scenes. And I also agree that Kubert's art to leaps ahead as of this point - I was almost moved as I kid to write to Marvel to tell them how much I loved the art in this very issue! (But I was also almost compelled to do the same for an issue of Cable drawn by Steve Skroce that looks hideous in retrospect.)

percy blakeney said...

I found this one to be essentially unreadable. Its a series of continuity scrubs and as you rightly say in your review it becomes increasingly muddy and laborious. As others have commented it isn't impossible to follow it's just hard to care because there isn't really any story to speak of just a bunch of mucking about with the past to no discernibly positive effect. This and the previous Psylocke/Kwannon FUBAR are utterly pointless.
By introducing Kwannon they could've put both characters back in their original bodies and then had Kwannon join the X Men in her own right (the idea of a telepathic ninja is a pretty good one in its own right, after all). Problem solved. Instead they just blurred the whole thing even more.

Does anyone know if Claremont had any greater plan to the whole Lady Mandarin story that launched this fiasco originally or was there nothing more than a desire to have a sexy asian ninja on board and an unwillingness to actually introduce a new character? Why, why why? It remains one of the worst things in Marvel comics ever and as faras I'm concerned completely hobbles Psylocke as a character.

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