Fallen Angels #1
Frank D’Armata (colors), Bryan Edward Hill (writing), Szymon Kudranski (artist), Tom Muller (design), Joe Sabino (letters)
November 13, 2019
In an interview with Adventures In Poor Taste, X-Men Group Editor Jordan White clarified that the reason we would see the newly-reestablished Kwannon going by the codename of Psylocke, as well as wearing the costume of Psylocke (specifically the Jim Lee swimsuit from the ’90s, rather than the body armor and cape she was known for prior), was to sell comic books. That’s… not really a logic I can fault, but it’s one that I believe was not quite fully explored, and to an extent it casts a pall over the identity of the character in question.
Lord, I keep coming back to identity, don’t I? It’s been a strongly recurring subject in this new era of X-Men, and it seems like virtually every book has some sort of commentary to make regarding it. In Fallen Angels #1, Psylocke has rejected the name of Kwannon, in much the way Betsy has rejected the name of Psylocke. Both characters, separate at last, are in the process of establishing new identities born of choice rather than the roles they’ve been thrust into for the last couple of decades.
White’s comments break the illusion, somewhat. Obviously, the goal of any story appearing in a Marvel comic is to sell more comics, but to state it so plainly in this context here is to lay bare the truth: this isn’t about representation, not really, and that’s the problem. The story of Kwannon is the story of a fictional woman of color done wrong, and the future that character deserves is a reclamation of self.
This is evident in writer Bryan Edward Hill’s script. Psylocke uses the term “robbed” in the telling of her story. She tells of a crime committed against her person, and crimes have a need to be answered for. There is a poetic neatness in the adoption of the identity and the costume of the person who inhabited her stolen body for so long, but it’s worth it to note that she has not taken these things. They have been cast off, and she has picked them up.
This woman’s identity as Psylocke is dependent upon the good will of the previous, white bearer, and in turn upon the predominantly white creators and white editor who currently helm the line, writer of this book (who is, it should be noted, not white) notwithstanding. This change will hold for a while—Jane Foster held the title of Thor for years! But at some point, the mantle of Captain Britain will default back to Brian Braddock, and at some point the mantle of Psylocke will default back to his sister Betsy. Where will that leave Kwannon?
But all of this is above the scope of the book itself. Fallen Angels #1 carries the sense that, if this is the thing that must happen, then it will happen, and the focus will instead be upon establishing the new Psylocke’s identity going forward. To this end, Hill has begun building up her backstory a bit more—I did appreciate the brief mention of her history with Matsu’o, but I have to say that the other major choice regarding her history does not sit well with me. At some point before the loss of her body to Betsy Braddock, Kwannon gave birth to a daughter. That daughter was taken from her (as a “lesson”), but marked with a butterfly tattoo on the back of her neck, on the off chance that Kwannon might find her again years later. A child, a girl, is used as a prop to control this woman, and in the same breath, Psylocke’s new identity is that of Mother, given over to this unknown child, who is then—spoiler—killed over the course of this issue.
The other prominent woman in this book doesn’t fare much better; Laura Kinney returns, but has lost all of the growth of her three solo titles. Here she says on page once again that she wishes to get out from under Logan’s shadow. I can only assume, reading this line in 2019, that Hill has simply not done the reading. Far be it from me to argue the sanctity of canon, but Laura’s arc is prominent, best-selling, and widely read; she has long since moved past the question of her identity in response to Logan. To see her return to it here is a depressing regression.
The women in Fallen Angels #1 are presented as beholden to men, indebted to men, controlled by men, at every opportunity. When Psylocke, who craves action, receives a vision regarding her daughter and a new threat by the name of Apoth, she goes first to Magneto to request permission to leave Krakoa. Magneto dismisses her concerns as a “bad dream,” which is more than a little disingenuous; if there is one thing Magneto should know not to do these days it’s to discount the visions of a telepath. He denies her request, then unofficially points her to Sinister for help getting off of the island. Both instances read false. A woman, a deadly woman trained as an assassin, is looking for her daughter. No one is going to get in the way of that—not Magneto, not Sinister, no one.
The overall image presented is that no one involved with this book knows what to do with women; indeed the only primary character who is allowed to simply be is Kid Cable, who is just happy for the violence.
I wish I could say that I appreciated the art at least, but I can’t. Szymon Kudranski’s work favors an abundance of extreme closeups on faces against dark backgrounds. It renders the book as little more than talking heads most of the time, and excludes virtually any kind of visual storytelling. This, however, may actually be a blessing in disguise, as the figure work presented when he does venture outside of this mode is stiff and clunky. I don’t think it’s actually the case, but the complete package reads like photos with filters applied over them; there’s a level of uncanny valley-ness here that is disconcerting. The colors, by Frank D’armata, don’t help this in the slightest. The whole thing just feels… unfinished, on top of the rough linework.
On first read I enjoyed Fallen Angels #1 more than X-Force, but the more I thought about it, the more these nagging issues consumed my opinion of it. There is nothing about the work here presented that indicates the men behind it understand how to write women. That this book, to which the very concept of womanhood is so central, should not have a single female creator on it, is a very, very frustrating problem. If you had told me this book were released in the early 2000s, I’d believe you; it feels dated in every way.