Captain Britain Reading Diary 8: Twin Tales

Captain Britain Reading Diary 8: Twin Tales

Upon her reemergence as a Captain Britain supporting character, Betsy Braddock retained little of her previous page character. Her blonde though changeable bob was now chest-length purple, worn in a half-up style that resembled a large cottage loaf, or a Portuguese man o’ war. Career-wise she was “still” a model, but no longer a charter

Upon her reemergence as a Captain Britain supporting character, Betsy Braddock retained little of her previous page character. Her blonde though changeable bob was now chest-length purple, worn in a half-up style that resembled a large cottage loaf, or a Portuguese man o’ war. Career-wise she was “still” a model, but no longer a charter pilot—now telepathic, and in this first reappearance a precog (which means an ability to see the future) and in control of her power, Betsy’s modelling career (never seen in action again) became secondary to her real role as a member of the Psi Division at S.T.R.I.K.E. Like the one S.H.I.E.L.D. has in the states, she says, although I’m not sure if the S.H.I.E.L.D. ESP Division (first appearance 1966) had the designation “Psi” before the Mega-City One Justice Department of 2000AD did (first appearance 1980). She comes back into Brian’s life asking for his help, because her colleagues and herself are being assassinated. Their psychic abilities made them able to see that S.T.R.I.K.E. was being taken over by a criminal syndicate. This is Betsy’s first run-in with Slaymaster, a killer thief enemy Brian had thought was eaten by sharks: he murders several of her work friends, and is fought to unconsciousness by her brother.

Because Marvel UK had the strange dedication to real-time events that it did—until at least 1991, time moved in Marvel UK as it did in our real life, with characters ageing at a normal rate—Betsy and Brian hadn’t seen each other for six years, Brian having vanished on the plane back from America in 1977. Throughout the Davis period, this estrangement (which could, but honestly doesn’t, capitalise on the original estrangement Brian spoke of in Betsy’s first appearance) is referred to or built on in various minor ways. Moore’s period focuses on a chill air between them, and little on-page contact, but after he left an interesting thread developed.

Delano/Davis Captain Britain #1, 1984, marvel UK

In a Mighty World of Marvel story by Mike Collins and Alan Davis, and its subsequent Captain Britain #1 by Jamie Delano (who stayed on board as scripter for the majority of CB’s second titular volume, which will be discussed in its own right at a later date) and Davis, Betsy and Brian find themselves at home again, together again, and basically between adventures. They talk about old times, reflect on recent times—essentially for the reader the process is one of summing up and establishing the canon of the past, from where the new writing team will develop their own direction, like Moore’s “rebuild” chapter without anyone dying or any major readjustments.

There’s a strong sense of familial closeness that does recall the posh affection of their earlier relationship, which may well be due to Davis being a frustrated CB reader before he was a creative CB driver. During the Delano story Betsy mentions having “lost [Brian] from [her] mind,” implying that the adventure on Darkmoor, the genesis of Captain Britain, disrupted a supernaturally deep connection between the twins and that Brian’s old feeling of lost closeness wasn’t so much to do with their parents’ deaths as it was to do with Betsy’s mutant ability. Davis’ talent is in full bloom, expressions full of fondness and traumatic recall; Betsy ruffles Brian’s hair, and he laughs. This chapter even recalls Jamie Braddock, racing driver, and gives him a retroactive moustache, though no more mention is made of him until a later chapter.

Delano/Davis Captain Britain #1, 1984, marvel UK

Unfortunately, this affectionate home life is lost by Captain Britain #5 and #6. Betsy and Brian are both the victims of sexual assault—Brian is kidnapped to an alternate dimension after fighting his evil doppelgänger and being mistaken for him, where he is drugged and raped by a woman who believes him to be her runaway “lover.” Brian thinks this woman was Saturnyne, a character longtime readers would have known and with whom he shared a crushy attraction, but even under that impression it’s made clear that he was uncomfortable with their sexual interaction. Upon discovery of her true identity he’s even more distressed and it doesn’t help that, unaware of the mistake and whilst he’s escaping, she begs him to stay with all the tragedy of the dearly devoted. Betsy is left at home with “Brian,” a nazi sadist actually called Byron, who tries to rape her with overt force. He is aware he looks like her brother, and is pleased by the misery he’s creating. She kills him with her telepathy.

With both siblings suffering from their attacks, their relationship is hard to balance, especially as Brian does not quite understand how to navigate his twin sister having been traumatised in a way that his presence not only doesn’t help, but makes worse. Soon afterwards government bastards come to invade the Braddocks’ domestic scene and use various manipulations to further erode the bonds between B&B. This results in Brian leaving the country for an extended period, and Betsy taking the Captain Britain mantle as her own without discussing it with her brother. That leads to Betsy coming up against Slaymaster again, unprepared for a genuine murderer, and being blinded for her trouble. Davis deftly makes it clear she’s having fun, playing at heroism with hands on cocky hips, to drive the change of mood in the scene, and its hefty impact, right through. Brian becomes a murderer to avenge the attack on his sister, but it doesn’t mend their relationship.

Delano/Davis ± digital chamelion, Captain Britain #13, 1985, marvel UK, colours added later

Colours added in reprint

More stand-out than her relationship with Brian during this Davis period is Betsy’s relationship with her boyfriends. She has two: one dies, and another lasts to the end of Captain Britain volume 2 (but vanishes before Betsy is seen again in American Marvel products). The resounding impression given by these men, and the writing of her character in regard to these men, is that Betsy Braddock is kind of a bogus person.

Her first lover, Tom Lennox, is from the Moore era (naturally he also dies within it). He’s a co-worker at Psi Division, and his power is exceptionally weak telekinesis. I say “exceptionally weak” meaning this in superhero terms, of course—Moore made this choice for a reason and it’s congruent with the rest of his 1980s superhero output. Lennox’ whole character is defined by being “not superhero enough” without this ever being overtly voiced or made a productive point: he’s balding, he has no lantern jaw, he wears a shortie robe at night, he’s an insomniac with no extra gimmick, he’s only strong enough to throw bottles or comics, and he dies immediately “holding [attackers] off,” a task at which he was obviously going to fail.

Tom Lennox, Moore/Davis Captain Britain Crooked World collection, Marvel

Colours added in reprint

His relationship with Betsy is present in text only—she is seen looking around at an empty bed whilst he’s being shown at the fridge, which is as evident as their love gets. They don’t share on-page affection, or pleasure, or joy; she seems, in the main, lightly irritated to roundly aggravated at him. At his existence. When he dies she feels it, falling to the ground in disabling horror, but so does the other psychic with her. The sense of their romance is that it’s one of… convenience? Boredom? Desperation? Lennox is a work colleague, one of only two men versus the four women “left” that we’re made aware of having been in Psi Division; Betsy is the model with the missing brothers—it feels like settling, and resentfully at that. I don’t suggest that models cannot love men who are not beautiful—I suggest that Alan Moore is not writing a happy or pleasant relationship, and he’s adding these elements of “mismatch” to provoke supposition about why relationships can be unhappy. I think you’re supposed to prove you’re a progressive by assuming that it was something else that made their love go wrong. The Delano/Davis #1 where Betsy and Brian look back on recent events reframes this scene, and allows her having felt Tom die to become more of a capstone to their apparently joyless relationship. “I felt his death, wrenching… empty,” she says. There’s more empathy in it than amour, and that feels an appropriate position from which to move the character forward.

Matthew/Gabriel and Michael, RCX, Delano/Davis Captain Britain, Marvel UK, 1985

Matthew/Gabriel, left (colours added in reprint)

Unfortunately, we butt up against boyfriend number two. The government bastards who invade Braddock manor: Michael and Gabriel, not their real names, a pair of gimmick-looking con men who kidnap children and brainwash them to fight. They plead sanctuary from Brian and Betsy claiming their collected minors won’t be safe elsewhere, being very obvious mutants. (They’re actually referred to as “warpies,” implicitly extra-mutant people magic’d into life by the events of the Jaspers Warp storyline in which reality was first altered, then mostly unaltered, but there’s nothing especial to gain in differentiating them from regular Marvel mutants. They’re essentially New X-Men’s Special Class mark one. The point is that they’re “too different” to not be kidnapped and brainwashed by people who say they’re from the government.) Betsy is taken in, with delightful comment from scripter via Gabriel about maternal instincts, whereas Brian is not keen to have strange, explosive children in his house, or in his bath, while he is trying to take one. The twins quarrel.

Michael and Gabriel have been seen in pages manipulating Linda McQuillan (and we’re getting to her, honest, as chapter six promised) back into her Captain UK persona through use of shock tactics, bullying, and implicit threats to children’s lives. Bringing her to the Braddocks, Linda’s clearly not comfortable, but Betsy is excited to see Gabriel—when he was going by Matthew, he worked at S.T.R.I.K.E. in a different division. She says “I see you haven’t changed” when Matthew refuses alcohol but states a preference to smoke his pipe inside their house. Michael and Gabriel give their fear monger spiel, not mentioning that they have a van full of children they brought to beat up the Braddocks, and Betsy and Brian immediately disagree about whether or not they’re full of it. The van full of children are let loose and Betsy, Brian and Linda do end up having a fight with them. They punch children! Brian doesn’t seem to be fully cognisant that they are children, but Betsy is. She still sides with Matthew after he reveals they have more children in more vans, her anger at him for discussing the “restraint” of teenaged houseguest and newly powerful mutant/warpie Meggan completely vanishing. Allowing not only the children but their government controllers to live in Braddock manor, Betsy wants to give the little ones love.

Brian is called away to rescue Jamie Braddock from a kidnapper, but discovers within eleven pages that Jamie is actually the devil (not literally). He’s a slaver, selling people along both race and gender lines. Kind of a swerve and a waste of a character but with some very evocative, clever sequences that would read far better in a longer arc.

Matthew/Gabriel and Betsy, Delano/Davis Captain Britain #13, Marvel UK, 1985

“I won’t fall for it again”

When we return to Braddock manor, after some international adventures with Brian and Meggan, Betsy has taken the CB mantle. She offers us a sequence of flashbacks that cover the whole of her career, from being angry to be asked to be Captain Britain, angry with Gabriel, to being angrier at being asked to wear the costume of her brother’s doppelgänger who tried to rape her, to loving having the power of flight and strength, to being congratulated by Gabriel with a shoulder touch across a living room full or children when her feats are celebrated on the news, to being afraid to work without Captain UK, to being sent out to fight a major villain who has set an obvious trap.

Betsy is being battered by Slaymaster—in his best costume, because let’s concentrate on the positives—who is working with the Vixen, that same villain who infiltrated S.T.R.I.K.E. and set Betsy’s whole world off kilter. Slaymaster destroys Betsy’s eyes with his fingers, and Bran is called away from seaside playtime to rescue her. He kills Slaymaster for trying to kill his sister, and when he gets her home to berate Michael and Gabriel for setting her up for this fall… Betsy defends Gabriel. Because, apparently, they’ve been having a romance, and he tried to stop her going! Betsy sends Brian away, and in their final appearances in Captain Britain, or Marvel UK for a few years, the Braddocks are apart. Brian lives in a lighthouse with his girlfriend, and Betsy makes plans to leave Braddock manor, with Gabriel, feeling it’s “no longer home.” She refuses his offer of bionic eyes, a moment which Claremont was happy to turn to irony, and Gabriel, or Matthew, proposes. Her answer goes unspoken.

Matthew/Gabriel and Betsy, Delano/Davis Captain Britain #13, Marvel UK, 1985

They’re so happy together.

Seeing Betsy once again turn to a S.T.R.I.K.E. colleague is bad enough. Allowing it to be one with whom she has no on-page pleasantness, and in fact plenty of genuine and reasonable and even health and safety-based disagreements prior to the reveal of their romance is worse. Gabriel/Matthew is a horrible person, an on-page manipulator who keeps children in vans and barges into homes and Betsy’s fondness for him seems to be rooted entirely in the fact of their time together at S.T.R.I.K.E., before her close friends started being murdered. Betsy seems to associate Brian more with the stressful scenes her life devolved into than she does Matthew, though he brought a huge part of it to her door and “somehow” managed to avoid Vixen’s takeover of S.T.R.I.K.E. She goes back and forth on whether she sees the dreadful things that Gabriel and Michael do, alternately hating them and acting as if anyone who speaks against them is unreasonable. It can’t help that Brian is identical to Byron, but no help is sought or offered on that front—the story chose to keep Betsy in flux, being referred to with a sneer as maternal and being blatantly manipulated by someone she later chooses to side with, sharing almost no lines and no plot relevancy with her most stalwart female supporting character, Alison.

Captain UK, Michael and Betsy, Delano/Davis Captain Britain #13, Marvel UK, 1985

The Betsy Braddock of Marvel UK’s mid-80s gives the impression of being easily led, untrusting of herself, and given to siding with authority but arguing for it like it’s in danger. She seems, without making this an accusatory negative, weak—a person who is out of her depth and unwilling to admit it. Not a weakly drawn character, but providing a definite impression of a reedy voice. This is one of the ways in which Captain Britain at Marvel UK is interesting to a longterm X-Men reader: the arc that Betsy took once she arrived at Xavier’s, from a woman hating herself for being puny to a warrior who wanted more and more control, is not something that sprang from nowhere, good as it is to read alone. She really was a person who needed to find herself, her feet, her own sense of direction. Seeing her fail fantastically at being Captain Britain stings, because it always stings when a woman is set up by her narrative to fall, and because it was a story that, like Jamie Braddock’s Evil Adventure, deserved longer stories over longer periods. But at least we can say it was capitalised on.

Captain UK and Betsy, Delano/Davis Captain Britain #13, Marvel UK, 1985

The first taste of physical control

And that’s Elizabeth Braddock all done, my readers! We can return, in peace, to our protagonist, and to Linda McQuillan—

NEXT WEEK.

Series Navigation<< Captain Britain Reading Diary 7: Your Brother and Your SisterCaptain Britain Reading Diary 9: He’s Union Jack But He’s Never at Sea >>
1 comment
Claire Napier
SENIOR_WRITER
PROFILE

Posts Carousel

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

1 Comment

  • David
    March 15, 2019, 7:13 am

    As a HUGE Psylocke fan I gotta say this was a great article. Now when I’m explaining to people the depths of Betsy I can direct them this way. Im lucky enough to own all these original issues and they are all little gems of character work. Also check out my Betsy fan group on facebook. I left the link up above. Please more Psylocke pieces ❤

    REPLY

Latest Posts

Most Commented

Featured Videos

Series Navigation<< Captain Britain Reading Diary 7: Your Brother and Your SisterCaptain Britain Reading Diary 9: He’s Union Jack But He’s Never at Sea >>