Betsy Braddock is a fairly famous comics character. [She is certainly not Linda McQuillan, but we’ll get there. –Ed.] She debuted as an X-Man in the 80s, moving from New Mutants Annual #2 in the summer of ‘86 to X-Men Annual #10 in the autumn of that year. By the full swing of ‘87 she was making regular appearances in Uncanny X-Men, which built her up from a woman afraid of battle to a stint as a fairly ruthless leader of the team. One of Chris Claremont’s final large moves as the X-Men’s common and driving force involved a fairly large change for the character, in tandem with the design and illustrational abilities of Jim Lee. Those creatives who came after continued to use her heavily, giving her a central subplot during the Legacy Virus arc and a new power set in the mid 90s. In 2001 she died, and soon after that she woke up again. She’s been involved in major Marvel “events” and joined an Exiles team; she’s been part of Black Ops X-Men and enjoyed various, dramatic romantic dalliances. Most recently, she’s made headlines as her character has been returned to a white body and face after wearing an Asian one for almost thirty years.
And “going back” is what we’re doing now, because before all of this she was just a girl with a pilot’s license and hair that wouldn’t sit still. Before she was a part of the X-Men, Betsy was Brian Braddock’s younger twin: the stay-at-home sister tied to a chair who watched her brother try his best at learning to be Captain Britain. She appeared in the last three issues of CB’s original Trimpe-Claremont ten issue run, and nine more of the original costume period’s chapters. Davis and Moore brought her back as a regular supporting character—with purple hair, despite their black and white printing, to Claremont’s later delight—and Delano and Davis continued to use her prominently whilst Captain Britain was still with Marvel UK. Her journey as a character is an interesting one—not as smooth as it might be, but with strong enough themes to discuss.
In her debut appearance, Betsy was a blonde with a bob, a worried looking girl dressed drably but practically and, believably, expensively. She arrives to take Brian home to see their brother Jamie, who’s been in an accident whilst trying out a new formula 1 car. Brian thinks about how it’s harder to communicate with her after the deaths of their parents, even though they’re “so close,” and Betsy goes from frantic calling to serious concentration to horrified hallucination, not cracking a smile once. (She doesn’t, actually, smile in a single panel until summer ‘77, when Lawrence, Lieber, Wilson and Esposito reimagine her as a groovy-baby model, a characterisation that lasts only for the length of that page.)
Betsy is a charter plane pilot, much as Madelyne Pryor was in her own debut seven years later (want to impress Chris Claremont, ladies? Learn to fly, I guess!), but classically feminine enough to be “shaking like a leaf” when she tells Brian about their brother’s accident. At the end of this short debut the plane and its pilot are attacked by Doctor Synne, Brian’s main villain for a good few issues and someone eventually revealed to be empowered by the evil AI that lives in the Braddock manor basement. He attacks with laser holograms and a certain degree of telepathy, and his influence lights up Betsy’s eyes with a pink glow as she looks at the monsters he’s forcing her to see, which leads to their crash. This both puts her out of the story for a while bar appearances as a melodramatically draped, unconscious body that needs to be put somewhere safe, and establishes something of the visual element that became an iconic part of her design: once Betsy was being written as a telepath her power became indicated by a pink light, in the shape of a butterfly, that hovered around her eyes and temples.
Claremont and Trimpe quickly revealed Brian’s Captain Britain identity to brother Jamie, as the latter rescued the former after a hard fight with Synne. One must wonder what the original plan for Jamie Braddock was, as when questioned by Brian as to how he’s able to be up and walking around so soon after a crash the latter replies “You know me, brother, I’m invulnerable.” Easily brushed off as a throwaway piece of casual banter, but also easily the sort of back-pocket foreshadowing of potential that a writer of this strength is given to seeding throughout. Betsy, by this point (this point is one issue later), has not discovered Brian’s secret, but has gained several inches of hair and changed its colour to an auburn brown.
As the Braddocks sit down to a comfortable evening’s drinks and recovery, Betsy is a again attacked by Dr Synne. He sends hallucinations that cause her to believe her brothers have been killed by monsters which are now attacking her; the monsters she sees are mapped over Jamie and Brian, leading her to attack those who she seeks to avenge.
Far from the reserved Betsy of issue eight, nine and ten see her go wild with an axe, leaping at a monster (who is actually Captain Britain) with such force that they crash out of a window together. “The miracle is that she’s able to stand and fight at all!” say the narrative captions, reminding us that only a scant while earlier she was being helped home after a plane crash. This is more like the warrior Betsy the X-Men came to know, and her fierce loyalty to her brothers is sad to see in the light of how little of it remains in issues after. Brian tries to take care of his sister even as she’s set to murder him, flipping her into the snow with the thought bubble “Over you go, my love!” and a “nerve pinch” to keep her from consciousness and hypnotic visions.
Jamie and Brian take Betsy to a mental health clinic to combat her monster-seeing problem. Of course, little do they know that the doctor is under the evil spell of Dr Synne. Jamie tries to talk to Brian about his sudden superheroism, but Brian is unable to. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter of this diary, Claremont and Friedrich took fairly different perspectives on Brian’s rebuffing Jamie’s overture. One seems wistful, one prickly. Jamie is seen to be doing his best as a family man, checking in on Betsy as she sleeps at the clinic. Again, a Braddock recovers more quickly than expected, Betsy sitting up complaining of slight dizziness after the evil doctor has pronounced her condition as “hopeless.” Certainly a thing that happens with various degrees of meaning, in comics, but this was a time during which “mutant healing” was something that all mutants could boast and provides a handy piece of support to later revelations about the character. During this chapter, Betsy’s hair is shoulder length; blonde with a bronze tint to the shadow.
Jamie and Betsy next appear during Brian’s team-up with Captain America, as captives of the Red Skull’s forces. They spend a fair deal of time tied to chairs in their own home, Betsy’s hair a few inches below her shoulders by this time, and flickering between blonde and a reddish light brown depending on chapters (or, sometimes, pages). Once they’re untied, she loses a good swathe, returning to her original chin-length bob. This is the cut she retains after Ron Wilson took over grounding art duties; Wilson seems to have directly referenced the art from Betsy’s first appearance, as she is a meek and trembling figure in the few panels he devotes to her. Clutch your hands together, clutch your face! O, woe, woe, woe! And keep your ankles crossed, child, you are a lady. (But not a Lady. Don’t get confused!)
Friedrich and Wilson, with assorted collaborators, continue the most antagonistic relationship between Brian and Jamie, when Jamie seeks out his brother to offer help during Brian’s fight with Lord Hawk. Jamie has thought his brother dead before now, and as the big brother of three siblings who have lost their parents it’s understandable that he might try on the protective role. But Brian, likewise protective, won’t take it, and pulls superhero rank in the most absurd way: as mentioned in an earlier diary, he knocks Jamie out and ties him to a chair. Then he spends all night thinking and falls asleep—then, when Jamie demands an explanation and is quite angry at having experienced the reception that he did, Brian… leaves. To fight his battle, sure, but it’s a rather low point in their brotherly affection.
This is the battle in which Brian almost dies again, making both brothers’ fears well-founded, and giving Betsy the opportunity to log another pre-telepathy moment. She awakes from a dream, having seen Brian lying bloodied, and Jamie does his best to comfort her. Jamie fears hearing news of Brian’s death from the news media. By this point Captain Britain was not published in colour, so Betsy’s hair was a reliable back and white.
Budiansky and Wilson’s Silver Jubilee chapter in summer ‘77 featured Betsy’s last appearance in her original format (below). Featuring rather intense eye make-up and an upper-class frown, Betsy, with that same chin-length bob, asks Brian “How could you?!” when the newspaper reports that he tried to murder the queen. Jamie is seen with an expression that suggests he is gently shaking his head.
Jamie Braddock is another character from Captain Britain who’s appeared in a notable number of Marvel US comics after his establishment at Marvel UK. Claremont took him back during his Excalibur run, with various artists, and even brought him over into Uncanny X-Men in the mid-2000s. Other writers took the baton for a moment or two, with his last listed appearance being in 2012. But the Jamie Braddock you’ll see in American-first releases is fairly different to the Jamie Braddock you’ll find in old CB. There’s a change that came upon him, and it came all at once, in 1985, entirely under the pen of Alan Davis.
But you’ll hear about that, and the Betsy of 1983-1985—