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Thursday, April 25, 2013 

An op-ed writer's double-standard on Maggot and Psylocke

I found an absurd op-ed by a would-be opinionator on Comics Beat who defends the onetime X-Man named Maggott, yet at the same time is damning of Psylocke without realizing his hypocrisy. He says:
...Maggott was a mutant who didn’t look like a bronzed adonis. His mutant power was disgusting by the worst of standards, as he didn’t have a digestive system of his own, so-to-speak. Rather, he had two slugs which burst in and out of his body at random, who acted as his system for him. Sometimes he was black (he’s South-African) and sometimes his skin was bright blue. Artists who like exaggerating drew him as a hulking giant, but otherwise he was a person-sized… person.

He was, well, super-weird. And as a result he has a reputation amongst fans and creators as being one of the stupidest ideas to ever hit the X-Men. But despite his powers, Maggott was rather well written by several writers like Joe Kelly and creators Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira, and showed quite a bit of promise before being killed off unceremoniously during the Weapon X series. Brett [White] defends the character – and, blast it all to heck, I’m going to join him in that! His piece raises a few interesting points [...]

The central point of Brett’s article is that any character can be redeemed – the “there are no bad characters, only bad writers” idea. But what I pick up more than this, is the idea that any character can be redeemed – as long as they’re pretty. Because there are characters who are thought of as ‘bad’, and the interesting thing is how often these characters tend to be the stranger ideas, the more off-kilter and bizarre creations. Whereas I agree that characters aren’t bad characters simply because they look unusual, I don’t agree that there is no such thing as a bad character. And to prove this point, I’m actually going to turn to one of the most desired and attractive characters in X-Men history. Yeah – I’m going to address The Psylocke Problem.

Although Psylocke is a former supermodel who wears revealing outfits and always jumps towards danger vagina-first, she’s exactly what people say Maggott is — she’s a bad character. And it’s not because of the writing or artwork she’s had over the years. In fact, the last few years have been utterly wonderful for her, from Chris Claremont reviving the character through to Rick Remender’s recent work in Uncanny X-Force. She’s been well written, characterised, and drawn. She’s even got a decent costume now, courtesy of Kris Anka! But despite all that, she’s inherently a bad character, and it’s a shame she isn’t more notable for that.
Okay, now he does acknowledge the argument folks like Neal Adams may have once made, that there's no bad characters, only bad writers/artists/editors, and this applies to Maggott too, I agree. Yet at the same time, he makes a mockery out of that by flippantly calling Psylocke a "bad" character. It makes no difference whether she's a hot chick or not, the Adams argument still applies. If she was too fetishized in the 1990s, that's not her fault; it's Fabian Niecieza and Scott Lobdell's fault, and come to think of it, also Claremont's fault, since he did feature a bit of that odd sexualization shortly before he left in the sans-adjective series.

Oh, I'll admit that the lady's history may suffer from serious muddles because of the body switch with Revanche, but that too is Claremont's fault, so don't go miles out of your way to blame the character, bud. As for the change in personality to an "action junkie", that may be more Niecieza/Lobdell's fault, since it was more during the 90s that it happened. So he ought to know at whose doorstep to drop off the blame, and it's not at the Braddock's house.

Yes, even grotesque characters can be redeemed. But just because he might have a problem with a possible flaw in the other guy's argument is no reason to be so vindictive and condemn Psylocke as he did, contradicting his argument so laughably.

In fact, the article at CBR he's following up on also has some flaws in history research. The writer here says:
Going back even further (yes, further away from Maggott; we're coming back around soon, I promise), one of Marvel's founding characters was an absolute mess. The Hulk, who debuted only after the Fantastic Four and Hank Pym, made absolutely no sense when he first appeared. He was unique, yeah, because he was a sci-fi monster thrown into superhero plots. But the creators behind him had no idea what to do with him. His changes first occurred at night and then were inexplicably triggered by gamma rays. The Hulk was treated as a separate character from Banner and spoke in complete sentences. The Hulk's powers changed wildly between issues; he even flew for an issue. The Hulk was a mishmash of ideas thrown together without any thought applied to how they would work as a whole. Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four didn't have this problem, but the Hulk did. Eventually, the character would get a firm set of rules established, like anger triggering his transformations, and writers like Peter David would use this setup to explore psychological issues that plague humankind. The Hulk just needed creators to establish rules with him.
Excuse me? I thought Bruce Banner WAS running a gamma radiation experiment! The rays he was struck with after the Russian spy Igor Drenkov let the countdown continue sans interruption were exactly what created his alter ego. It was an extra dosage of radiation from the sun after Thunderbolt Ross had him shot into space in the 3rd issue that altered the night-and-day effect. I'll admit, while there was a lot of interesting stuff going on in those first six stories, the Hulk didn't have a fully consistent direction until after its initial cancellation and revival in Tales to Astonish alongside the Sub-Mariner. But Lee and Kirby did try to establish something, and the whole goal was to create a good-versus-evil tale in a rather different way than what you'd usually expect. And on that, I think they succeeded pretty well.

And about the Hulk "flying": don't judge a book by its cover, pal. I remember that story from reprint reads years ago, and I don't think it was ever explicitly stated in the interior story that he could fly. What he can do, as was established for many years, was to leap amazing distances (at one point in David's run, he showed that happen in a tongue-in-cheek manner while in Las Vegas as Joe Fixit). My speculation is that Lee and Kirby probably did consider the idea, but dropped it as they realized it would give the Hulk too much advantage and its not like they wanted to copy Superman to the letter, hence the odd exclamation by a soldier on the cover. Speaking of the Man of Steel, White also says:
Superman is a character that I have previously expressed a lack of enthusiasm for. I have been the exact kind of fan that I just kinda criticized. I've resisted reading Superman comics in the past just because I decided, rather arbitrarily, that he was boring. I thought the same thing about Captain America as a kid, until Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's political thriller and espionage-tinged take changed my mind. Why couldn't the same thing happen with Superman? So what if my perceived notion of Superman didn't thrill me? I owe it to myself to read good stories first, regardless of the characters involved.

"Superman: Birthright" and "Superman: Secret Identity" did a lot to change my mind. At some point while reading both of those miniseries, I formed my own opinion of who Superman is, one not clouded by my previous "too powerful/so boring" non-opinion. Superman's the guy that does what's right no matter what; he's the guy that will save you because he can; he's dependable, he's unwavering, he's a force for the greater good of all mankind over all else. I knew that before, but it didn't click with me until I read stories by creators I love (Mark Waid, Stuart Immonen, etc.). [...]

I gave Superman a shot, resulting in me enjoying the character for the first time. I've learned that there's no real reason to write off any character. Any character can work given the right setting and creative team. If an oddball character like Maggott can work just fine for one brief moment in time, then any character can.
Well at least he's willing to admit in that context that it's not the powers that matter, but how enjoyable and absorbing the story is. But it doesn't make me happy that he's seems to base his judgement on some of the newest-of-the-new tales and probably isn't willing to give any of the older tales from the Golden and Silver Age any chance. (And Brubaker was the one who insulted the Tea Party 4 years ago.) There are some good stories of Superman and Captain America from the remote times of superhero comics that are just as good - and decidedly better - than what the powers of today are foisting on the readerships, and White might want to consider all the trouble those famous writers from years before to produce all those old stories in the beginning. I'm not saying they didn't have faults, but that's no reason not to show some appreciation for their contributions, mainly since their first and foremost goal was to offer the readers some decent escapism.

In the end, of course it's not Maggott's fault for how he was written. But if not, then it's not Psylocke's fault either, nor any other superhero's. And that's something that the first op-ed writer on Comics Beat should bear in mind before making a laugh riot out of himself.

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Wow. Talk about sand-poundingly stupid. As Avi and others and me point out, "It's not the characters, it's the writers, stupid." Why is that so hard to figure out? Especially in the current online, when you can look up every comic writer who wrote Batman #___. Which is so amazing..., unless you don't use it or too lazy to care. I don't know.

While Psylocke has her problems, I've no issues with her or with Maggott, really. Again, any issues, go with their creators/writers.

"But it doesn't make me happy that he's seems to base his judgement on some of the newest-of-the-new tales and probably isn't willing to give any of the older tales from the Golden and Silver Age any chance."

I agree, except you know the answer, Avi. They'll just say, 'well, those were written in the racist, sexist past by racist, sexist White men, so I don't need to waste my time." Which is absolute B.S., yet that's the current "logic."

Speaking of race, given how race-obsessed modern comic opinionators (and writers and fans) are, you'd think they'd have some mileage about Betsy's body-swap issue and "English woman's second life in a Japanese woman's body." I think Chris Yost's mini-series in 2010 came close, or close enough to at least acknowledge the issue. (And if that isn't enough, the art by Harvey Tolibato isn't bad on the eyes, either.)

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