Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Convoluted Digression concerning the Braddocks

Marvel Maniacs be warned: Spoilers ahead.  

We will in the course of this entry be examining the Braddock family and commenting on the most recent developments in their lives.  This will not be an intensive examination, so certain details may not be mentioned, while others will be closely scrutinized.   

Betsy Braddock, also known as Psylocke, entered the X-Men during the fabled Chris Claremont era. She was a telepathic precognitive with a moral code informed by aristocratic British sensibilities, her powers manifesting as pink butterfly effects and psychic knives.  Her conservatism was evidenced for some time by her dress sense (below) and general avoidance of outright mind control.  Of course, she did kill use her psionic powers to convince the X-Men to kill themselves once, to avoid being butchered by cyborgs... 


... which led in to a rather patchy plot device of the sort that Claremont was so fond of in his soap opera-like run with those wacky mutants.  The Siege Perilous. When one passes through this mystic gem/gateway, one is transformed according to the judgments of mysterious cosmic forces and teleported back to Earth, often naked and suffering from amnesia.  This may sound akin to an unfortunate night at a Fraternity, but is it convoluted enough? No.  A Japanese crime lord's lover, Kwannon, fell off a cliff, suffering brain damage she'd never recover from.  This same crime lord discovered the returned Psylocke washed up on shore, and with the help of a six armed magician named Spiral (who worked for an interdimensional television network that had been using Betsy's bionic eyes as cameras for a show about the X-Men) brought his lover back, only mind-swapped with Betsy.  So we've officially transitioned into the realm of the almost inexplicable and utterly ridiculous.  But we do get a very different Betsy Braddock out of all this convolution.  She's got a ninja assassin edge to her now, and what's more, she lost her sense of modesty at some point during that whole Siege (Rohipnol) Perilous experience.  So g-strings and skin-tight outfits are go.

She puts the "ass" in "Ninja Assassin".

We're not even going to get into the part where she discovers the woman she swapped bodies with contracted the Legacy virus, or the part where gets disemboweled by Sabertooth and is cured by a magic potion and can suddenly teleport through shadows, but it should be noted that at a certain point she falls into a romantic relationship with founding X-Man Angel, which is well developed in the series Uncanny X-Force, but is for the moment besides the point.  Let's get into the details of Betsy's twin brother, Brian.  That's right. Twins. Even though he's a blond and she had purple hair her whole life.  Whatever.

Brian Braddock is one of the most insufferable pricks in the Marvel Universe.  His whole life was handed to him on a silver platter.  Needless to say, we have his father James to thank for this.  Turns out there's this little thing called the Multiverse, of which the Marvel Universe we known and love is only the 616th iteration, and which is accessible most efficiently through a transitive plane known as Otherworld, or Avalon, a mystical realm of super-significance that doesn't actually matter whatsoever.  Turns out that James was sent to Earth-616 on a mission to breed by Merlyn, or Merlin, yes, that Merlin, who it turns out is Sorcerer Supreme of Otherworld, or Avalon, depending on which writer remembers Otherworld exists in the first place.  James Braddock, being your standard supergenius comic book father, designs an organic supercomputer in his basement to monitor his progress and sets about the difficult task of breeding superhumans.  Years later, Brian was out on a date (for once) when his father's organic supercomputer killed his parents and made it look like a lab accident.  Then Brian got in a car wreck and was presented with a choice between a giant sword and an amulet. Like the chump he is, he picked the amulet and got loaded down with a suit that gave him superpowers.  He became Captain Britain, which fit the outfit's flag motif, and wandered around trying desperately to seem useful and special, even rooming with Peter Parker as an exchange student at one point, and fighting contrived British villains with stupid names and powers.  When it seemed silly to writers that he was just some guy with a suit (thus being a lame knock-off of Iron Man and Captain America simultaneously, "cosmic significance" notwithstanding and minus military training or super-genius) the cosmic benefactors that manipulated him into existence granted him powers that derived from the "friction between universes", which sounds much cooler than it actually is. All he's ever used it for is to punch things and generate force-fields.  Or similar stupid crap.  His powers have changed fifty times in desperate editorial efforts to make him seem significant.    

I mean really. Look at this prick.

Whenever Captain Britain seemed to have a stable sense of existence, things would be shaken up, because nobody likes him, not even the people that write or draw him.  He can't do anything right.  Ever.  Example: early on in his career, he got into a fight with his future wife, the shape-shifting Meggan, and ended up accidentally killing one of her friends.  He ended up just being the whiniest punk about the whole thing.  Later, he tried to lead Excalibur, the lamest superhero team of any reality, ever, and ironically the one somehow tasked to deal with alternate reality nonsense and cosmic incursions, which should be cool and important.  It turns out, in fact, that Roma, the female counterpart to Merlyn, inflicted a "blunder jinx" on Brian to negate his effectiveness when acting alone.  Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, except to explain why Captain Britain was, is, and will always be the lamest character in the entire Marvel Universe.  Did I mention the Captain Britain Corps?  They guard all variations of Britain in the various universes.  The convolutions of Captain Britain's back-story acted for years as a sort of editorial kiss of death for any writer unfortunate enough to receive him as a character, or any artist with the onerous task of redesigning his costume.  Fashion sense in the Braddock household is quite a disturbing and often perverse thing.  Which brings us to the eldest Braddock, Jamie. 

Clearly not a fan of clothing.

James "Jamie" Braddock Jr. is the other mutant in the family, though ten years older than his siblings.  He's of the "schizophrenic and possessing reality warping powers" ilk of villain, always a popular trope to explore, but unfortunately always a failure in terms of actual execution.  For whatever reason, just like the Beyonder before him, cosmic reality altering menaces such as Jamie, limited as they are only by their imagination's scope and intrinsic frailties are, well, always disappointingly limited.  In poor Jamie's case, he was a race car driver (yes, of course) who got mixed up with the Maggia (the Marvel Universe's attempt to thinly veil the word "Mafia") and then, while being purged of his intrinsic evil (because these things happen when you insist on wearing only a white Speedo and ankle bracelets) unlocked his inner schizo-reality-warper.  Of course, despite all this, it took roughly five minutes and one well-placed psychic knife to take him out.  He popped into a coma at some point, then a very vague sequence of time wherein he helped Captain Britain out, in a pinch, since Brian's so freaking useless. Jamie was shuffled under the paperwork of reality, and at some point reformed, off-panel.  Which brings us to his most recent appearance in the pages of Uncanny X-Force.

My question is: who designs their outfits?

Uncanny X-Force is one of the best titles to hit Marvel in recent time.  Imagine if the dream Xavier had of a world where peaceful coexistence between man and mutant was undercut by the covert actions of a crack squad of the Marvel Universe's deadliest mutants pulling jobs that all the brightly colored hero types couldn't stomach.  Their first mission is to assassinate a resurrected Apocalypse, who it turns out is just a little boy.  Psylocke doesn't want them to do the kid in for something he has not become yet.  Faux-French Weapon Thirteen Fantomex puts a sentient bullet in the kid's forehead and that's that.  Except everyone involved reacts to it on an emotional level.  Psylocke actually provides herself with a little confessional booth psychotherapy session in the Danger Room, where she confesses her sins to Brian.

That face he makes is worth the death of an evil child, any day of the week.

Of course, once the Captain Britain Corps catch wind of Fantomex killing Kid Apocalypse, they nab him, drag him to Otherworld, put him through a quick trial, and order his execution.  Fun side-note: Fantomex is wholly unique in the Marvel Universe, in that he has no parallel version on any reality.  Of course that's dangerous to the Captain Britain Corps, since they're so lame they need countless alternate selves to pick up the slack for each other.

Villains reforming in the Marvel Universe is an old concept, especially among the mutant population. 

It's fitting, in a way, that Jamie Braddock is the prosecutor in Fantomex's trial.  His reform as reality-bending schizoid into the fold of Otherworld's bureaucratic hodge-podge perfectly fits the convoluted roller-coaster of the Braddock family.  Clearly their father James had high hopes for the boy, who you know damn well is still wearing that super-tight Speedo under his billowing white robes. 

Don't you just wanna slap him?

There is a brief moment between Betsy and Brian where we establish that the Braddocks actually have psychic links to one another, through her.  Also, at some point it seems that Jean Grey, who's been dead for close to a decade in real time, amplified Betsy's powers.  Of course Brian knows everything, and of course he, along with all the other Captain Britains of Otherworld, hold the wholly unique Fantomex in contempt for it.  Flawed justice systems such as this are all that hold the Multiverse together, right?

Gotta love that British sense of tradition, ey wot?

And in one page, we have a most masterful example of comic book storytelling.  We have character development, foreshadowing, and realistically paced natural dialogue.  Brian's admiration and love for his brother, Jamie's influence on Betsy, and Betsy's natural predilection for killing are all here, in one page. It establishes, on page one, what is to follow. And every contrivance that came before it, every convoluted plothole and misdirected characterization, is somehow worth it.  When Betsy frees Fantomex, it's in the midst of an invasion by an evil Goat Wizard Monk thing that has been assaulting the Tower Omniverse and hacking the Captain Britain Corps to pieces, then reanimating them.  At a certain point it's established that the Goat possesses three Orbs of Power that are already present and accounted for in the Tower.  So who is this goat and how can he have three artifacts that cannot be physically replicated?When Betsy touches the Goat's mind, she finds the answer.

Of course.

Now as we mentioned before, X-Force has come a long way from the Liefeld days where the team name was coined.  This is the team that gets their hands dirty in ways that nobody else will or even can. The Goat Demon is consuming millions of souls every minute.  Jamie is the Goat, and a proxy in many ways of the child Apocalypse, such that he's guiltless, but predestined for atrocity. Psylocke enters into Captain Britain's mind and tells him what he has to do.  When he refuses, she mentally dominates him, then forces him to break his own brother's neck like a chicken for suppertime.

She told them both that she loved them as she did it, too.

Sure enough, the Goat Demons invading the Tower Omniverse vanish, screaming "Our line, erased!"  Holding his dead brother in his arms, weeping like a big Union Jack coated baby, Brian insists that they could have found another way.  Betsy feels completely justified in her actions.  Millions were dying by the second.  Countless realities were saved.  There was no other choice.

The parallels between the action that Fantomex was on trial for and the actions that Psylocke took are obvious.  Looking even deeper, the pragmatic cruelty of using her twin brother as a murder weapon against her elder one shows that Betsy Braddock has evolved greatly from her days of simply forming knives and butterflies, a frail character for the background or, at best, ass-cheek eye candy.  We've not even explored that prior to these events she wiped out her lover's mind after he turned evil.  From fluff to skank to emotionally rich and somewhat tortured individual, Betsy Braddock has come a long way in terms of characterization.  Brian, who's now a Secret Avenger, will be forced to deal with his own role and failings in this event, and chilly encounters between these two will be interesting for competent writers to explore in the future.  As for Jamie, the villain who reformed, the reality-bender who got his neck snapped, we can rest assured of one thing and one thing alone.  He will return.  Nobody stays dead in the Marvel Universe except Uncle Ben.

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