Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Uncanny X-Men #256-#258: Lady Yellowface

Going by the cover dates Uncanny X-Men #256-#258 contains the first issue of the 1990s. And as if they already know what the decade is going to be like, the first thing they do is make one of their characters into a bloody ninja.


The Mandarin. He's primarily an Iron Man villain, and he's going to be played by Ben Kingsley in this film that's coming out later this month. Do I need to go into his name? Mandarin is a word in English that originally referred to Chinese imperial bureaucrats. In this sense it has a bit of a perjorative usage. Because of this, it also the name used in English for the standard spoken Chinese used by the Chinese government, and also that of the northern varieties of Chinese spoken in the north. In both senses it is an exonym: a word applied to a group by others. Do you imagine Stan Lee knew any of this in 1964 when he invented the character? Of course not. Why then do I bring it up now? Because hey, it is the 1990s, and people really ought to be thinking.


The Mandarin. Hong Kong. They tried to book Madripoor, but it was in use by a Wolverine storyline. OK, so can we get Wolverine? Psylocke. Mojo. Ninja brainwashing. Obviously ninjas have to be East Asian. Skin colour. Epicanthic folds, installed on a face hidden behind a mask. Psylocke becomes "Lady Mandarin", Mandarin's chief enforcer. Wolverine and Jubilee arrive on a boat; Wolverine disguises himself as "Patch", which worries Mandarin, and Psylocke is sent to deal with him. When the mask is revealed Wolverine recognises her. It's her face, just changed a bit for the 1990s. Psylocke takes a rare look inside Wolverine's head (and sees the Nick Fury and Carol Danvers inside there), a sight so shocking it breaks the conditioning.

The body transformation thing is just dropped in there as a minor detail. Well, beyond the Mojo-y dream sequence thing which reads awfully like bad transformation fic. I find it hard to believe this got published in a Code comic as far ago as 1989, before comics had really given up on the teenage market; but there it is, in front of me, in four (or more) colours. The colourist is told to draw her skin one shade darker. Betty doesn't even really acknowledge what happened to her physically, the real problem is the brainwashing. Lots of things will go back at look at the corporeal aspects. For now, the Japanification is just there as a fetish element.

And that's why it's - without question - problematic. If you had the exact same story elements used differently in a story that was actually about race, then could one make a case that it was worthwhile. That's not happened. It's a gimmick.

Still, we've not had much post-Lady Mandarin Psylocke to deal with yet; perhaps there will be some thoughtful consideration of identity (you'll note that in addition to having her appearance taken from her, she remains in the swimsuit with ribbons that she was assigned in this storyline - her codename had come from Mojo, too, back in the day) And she can compare notes with Sharon and Tom, who had a similar experience. But this story isn't it.

1 comment:

  1. And she can compare notes with Sharon and Tom, who had a similar experience.

    But alas, she never does...