When I spoke to Chris Claremont in 2017 (the fruit of which is yet to see light—forgive me, I’m a ~Creative and I’ve never heard of schedules) I took a moment to ask him about his decision to turn Betsy Braddock, the white, English X-Men member, into a woman who appeared to be and is referred to as Asian. It happened in 1988, and it’s a face and cultural aesthetic she’s kept through love, tattoos, death, and resurrection … until this year. The Mystery in Madripoor we discussed during a recent Cover Girls roundtable stands revealed: it seems like Betsy is going back to white. Just like Akira Yoshida. In light of this, it seemed like a good time to transcribe this section of our interview and allow everyone having the discussion as much clarity as possible.
CN: Can I ask you about Betsy Braddock?
CN: The uh, well mostly, just the change in her … visage.
CC: You mean when she became Asian?
CN: I do!
CN: So I was reading an interview with you on—
CC: [laughs in … surprise?]
CC: It’s just that— go on, ask your— you were saying?
CN: Okay. On ComicsBulletin I read a previous interview with you, which said that it was supposed to be temporary? Only during the three-parter?
CN: And that it was responded to so well that you kept it. So I have a few questions I guess. What were you gonna say, though, first?
CC: The interesting thing is … Betsy, that Herb Trimpe and I created, along with Brian [Braddock], back in the very beginning, even though she would—all the elements were there, at least in my head, and heart, when I was creating her, visually she was totally unlike what Alan and Alan turned her into, god, fifteen years later! Ten years later. Alan Moore and Alan Davis, on Captain Britain.
CN: Mm. Yeah.
CC: And that was just plain wonderful. And since she turned into everything I had in mind when I created her the first time around, I had no problem hijacking her for Excalibur. Especially with purple hair. But …
CC: Your turn!
CN: Okay. I guess, first of all, did you discuss the idea with Jim Lee? Because he was drawing it, as an Asian artist. Did it come up, as a subject for …
CC: Well, not really because that was a fill-in arc. That was almost, in a way, his audition art to take over the series. So it was a self-contained, three-part story, that would lead up to his, you know to his taking over Uncanny and then spinning off into X-Men. But … the rationale for it was… We were going to have, as the villain of the piece, the Mandarin. And the Mandarin, being very … China-centric, at a time when China was negotiating with Britain for the hand-back of Hong Kong.
So the idea of him using an Occidental—pardon me, a pompous phrase—lackey, kind of made no sense. On the other hand, throwing in Mojo, to kind of muck things up, was fun. You know, I was establishing all the elements in terms of the relationships between Brian and Betsy, and their big brother, so I just wanted to—I wanted to establish her absolutely as, “this was the Betsy I had in mind, back when we started.” The idea of her being—she was the one who was, she’s the first-born, by, like, five minutes— she’s the one who always wanted to be the superhero. The hero. Brian was the bookish, pipe-smoking one. And … the whole point of the first issue was to get her to the stage where she comes back as Lady Mandarin.
And then at the end, when she finally breaks free, in the original concept in my head, the breaking free would be literal. The whole illusion or false face of “Asian Betsy” would shatter, peel off, and she would be back the way she was. Because this was an echo, in my mind, of what Mojo and Spiral had done with her in the annual two years earlier, which opens with her being … it picks up basically where Captain Britain left off. Her being blind, and [having her bionic eyes inserted]. I mean the thing I kept having to remind myself and the readers as we got along was, “By the way, you realise that Mojo has given her artificial eyes and he’s spying on the world through her!”
So—the idea was to put everything back the way we found it, originally. But then, looking at what Jim had created—visually—she looked so cool. “Heck it, we can fix it later.” I mean, Jim, Jim will be around for three years, and then we’ll get a new artist and we’ll fix it. In the meantime—let’s go with it! And see what happens. See where it leads. Sometimes you have a plan, sometimes you have an inspiration. The one thing I didn’t consider anywhere in this equation was “What if I’m the one to go, and not Jim.”
CN: Because she was working as Lady Mandarin, I mean—at this point in time, 2018, I don’t know or remember exactly when it happened, but she has been … pretty firmly established as being … Japanese-Asian.
CC: Yeah well that, see that … Daargh.
CN: Is that a later … ? Yeah.
CC: See that—again—I had a very specific—For me, the Mojo, Spiral, mucking up the plan, was part of reality.
CN: I knew it!
CC: After I left the book and Fabian took over, he clearly viewed it as metaphor. And then figured out he had to have a rational … explanation. So, basically, [it was retconned that] they popped her mind out of her body and plugged it into Revanche’s body.
CN: Do you ever sort of look back and think … “If only I’d just introduced an Asian mutant, instead of changing—instead of putting a white character in an Asian body. Like bringing back Yukio, or … creating a new character that could have served the same visuals, but—
CC: I mean, oh yeah. Second thoughts are par for the course. But again, it’s … it’s the rule of unanticipated consequences. You know. Doing something in 1988 because “it’s a giggle,” one never thinks thirty years down the line and goes, “Aeeaahhh~.” You know?
CC: Maybe we should have thought better of it. On the other hand, I’ve got a whole catalogue of characters from everywhere, that have fallen by the wayside simply because there are too many to go around. And no-one wants to use them, and, and …
It is very easy to have second thoughts, especially from a perspective of ten, or twenty years down the line. At the time it just seemed like fun, and … again, it allowed for some good interplay between her and Jubilee. Who was, as you said, the legitimate Asian. She was only supposed to be ten years old. Amazing how quickly they grow up.
CN: Isn’t it!
CN: Did you get any positive or negative feedback from Asian women reading the comics at the time? On the change of Betsy.
CC: Um … I can’t think of anything … specifically negative that was said. I can’t really think of anything specifically positive, other than the audience seemed to like it. That’s because Jim drew ridiculously attractive characters, no matter how you divide things.
Um— I think [the change] was partly an expression of wanting to get her out of a … rut? Because Betsy was… although a telepath, was one of the—Of all the X-Men she was the one who probably needed to wear armour. Because she had no invulnerability. So I think Psylocke was a way of playing with that. But again, that’s me looking back at it from far down the line. The problem …
The real problem is the writer, in his arrogance, regrettably looked on this as, “These are my guys to play with, my people to play with, my stories to play with; if there is a problem I will fix it.” Even then, I, I figured I would go for twenty years. That was a cool round number. Maybe twenty-five if I still had idea—and I figured I would. But it never occurred to me that the confrontation in ‘91 [which led to his leaving Marvel for some time] would happen. So all of the stuff, all of the loose ends … I tend to plot in a way that established things and then let them sit for a while. X amount of issues, pardon the pun. Until I figure out how I want to resolve them. Or a better way to resolve them than my initial inspiration. And it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be around to do it. So … a lot of this happened because reality stepped in, unexpectedly, and I ran into an iceberg. And sank! And everything after that was out of my control.
So all I can say is … it seemed like a really neat idea at the time, but … as Holmes would often say, beware of the unanticipated consequences. Of which X-Men has had more than its share.