REVIEW: Psylocke # 1-4

Writer: Chris Yost

Pencils: Harvey Tolibao

Inks: Array

Publisher: Marvel Comics

I really should have known. After years of watching one of my favourite characters shunted around the periphery of the Marvel Universe(s), and then being massively disappointed at the occasions she has been given some share of the spotlight (a la Sword of the Braddocks), I stupidly expected this Psylocke mini-series to play a pivotal role in re-invigorating Betsy Braddock to the point where she can return to where she belongs, centre-stage in mainstream X-Men continuity. Instead, we get 88 pages of a ninja going nowhere, while somehow managing to take another core X-Man character several steps backward.

To be fair, writer Chris Yost was always very open about this story not being about looking back on Psylocke’s convoluted, dimension-travelling history, but instead moving Ms. Braddock forward to a place where she has a new purpose amongst the mutants of Utopia. But, unfortunately for this series, what the character needs more than anything at this point is a better understanding of how her considerable and life-changing past actions and storylines have moved her forwards as a compelling leading lady, rather than just the X-Men’s beautiful ninja assassin. This does not mean that the story has to be a retrospective or re-cap, and certainly not a ret-con, but there must be a wider understanding of how multiple ‘deaths’ and several years of dimension-hopping have shaped her. I can’t see Matt Fraction ever having the page time to devote to this over in the ensemble of Uncanny X-Men, and so this mini was the logical, and perhaps the only, place to achieve this.

Instead, we end up with a story and a character that, despite a trip to Japan, end up pretty much where they left off, with very little in the way of discernable pay-off. That said, the first three issues seemed to be rolling along at a reasonable – albeit totally uninspiring – pace. Psylocke takes a brief leave from the X-Men’s island sanctuary of Utopia to bury her former body (too long a story if you don’t already know it), when she is attacked by Hand ninjas, who desecrate the remains. Discovering that the ‘hit’ was ordered by her long-term foe Matsu’o Tsurayaba, the man responsible for her body-swap in the first place, Psylocke vows to end their feud once and for all – by killing Matsu’o.

She is hindered in her quest by a new character, Jinn, who is pretty much the most quintessential two-dimensional plot-device creation you can imagine, but as things go, this is hardly the worst crime to be committed in these pages.

Now, I don’t want to spoil what little there is of a story here, so I will try to be vague, but it is difficult to make this next point without giving something away, so avoid this paragraph if you wish to maintain the element of mystery. Not surprisingly given their strong friendship over the years (as well as the boost in sales his appearances always create), Wolverine hops along for the ride and plays a pivotal role in the final act. Great – so probably my two favourite comic book characters together in action again. Surely this is going to be a winner, right?

Uh uh. Not when this Wolverine bears no resemblance to any incarnation I have read. Logan is interesting as a character because, as much as he wants to be a hero, he often has to cross the line and do what is necessary (and often unpleasant) to get the job done, and must square all his actions with his conscience and his desire for redemption. But systematic, regular torture of another person, for nothing other than revenge? Even in this instance, where most readers would have sympathy with Wolverine wanting to do the things he apparently does, there is no way he would actually do this, year on year. I am all for characters occasionally doing things out of the ordinary and even snapping under extreme pressure, but this is just so far off the mark that I just cannot believe that this made it into print.

The artwork from Harvey Tolibao also added to the general let-down of this series. I was really looking forward to seeing his work in these pages, having been very impressed with some of his previous Marvel work. But here it is horribly inconsistent, with occasionally lovely panels being buried under the weight of some rather odd-looking and sometimes incomprehensible ones. It almost looks as if he has tried too hard in places to render Psylocke as the incomparable leading lady to the detriment of the effectiveness of the page. I look forward to seeing more of Tolibao’s work in the future but it didn’t quite click for me often enough throughout this series.

More often than not, I like Chris Yost’s work, and the stuff he is doing over on X-Force with Craig Kyle is generally top-notch mutant storytelling. But this mini-series does not do anything to address Psylocke’s place in current continuity, either past, present or future – and in fact fails to really do anything to develop her as a character at all. This alone would make this story one of the most disappointing things I have read in a long, long time, but the addition of a horrible misuse of Wolverine just makes this pretty awful.

Rating: 3/10