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Wolverine and Psylocke

Wolverine 50th Anniversary
by yo go re

You may recall that Hasbro got the Marvel license in 2007. And when they did, they initially assumed Marvel fans would be the same kind of suckers as Star Wars collectors, so they released a Toys "Я" Us exclusive Wolverine painted solid silver in honor of his 25th anniversary. Now, those of you out there with advanced mathematics degrees or at least access to powerful computational devices may notice 2007 was not 25 years ago, so how is Hasbro now doing an entire "50th Anniversary" line? Well, because Wolverine first appeared in 1974, and that earlier figure was actually in honor of Wolvie's first solo comic, from 1982. Anyway, the point is, Marvel fans didn't fall for it, the figure didn't sell, and now on the anniversaries we instead get good toys.

Wielding the Ten Rings and newly acquired ninja skills, Psylocke engages Wolverine in a telepathic battle for control.

Yes she does, but she's packaged on the right hand side of this two-pack, so first we need to talk about him.

Once upon a time, Marvel actually cared about tight continuity among its books. For example, when Wolverine got that miniseries we mentioned up above, Chris Claremont specifically made the effort to write Logan out of the main X-book for a few months so readers wouldn't wonder how he could be having adventures in two places at once. Ah, simpler times! Similarly, once Madripoor began to be a thing, Logan wanted to keep that part of his life separate from the X-Men, so he wouldn't wear his Wolverine costume when he was operating in the area. As a civilian, he was "Patch," but when it was time to fight, he put on his little dance onesie and his eye shadow, just so no one would see a brown and orange costume and know it was him. (It does help to remember that this was during the period when the X-Men were supposed to be dead and were trying to keep a low profile, so it's not as silly a choice as it may seem.)

This costume was already done once, in the first X-Men Retro Collection series, but there are enough differences that this won't look like an exact duplicate. For instance, that one simulated a black costume by being a very dark grey; this one simulates it by being a very dark blue. That one had a belt with a buckle; this one has a belt without. Which is actually more accurate, since nobody ever really drew him with anything other than a red stripe around his waist.

50th Anniversary East Asia Wolverine also has two heads instead of one. That figure's yelling, John-Buscena-inspired head was nice, but hey, if you like it that much, the fact these are all the same body means you can swap heads to your heart's content. These are both sculpted by mystically reincarnated Renaissance stoneworker Paul Harding: one scowling, one smirking. Neither get the veil or makeup or whatever that was supposed to be over his eyes, but Jim Lee didn't draw Wolverine with that anyway, so this is accurate.

So the second figure in this set may be called Psylocke, but she's technically not: when Betsy Braddock was found by The Hand, their goal was to make her a replacement for Elektra as their master assassin, one who could use her psychic abilities to complement the ninja training they were giving her; they first sold her services to the Mandarin in his bid to take over the Hong Kong underworld, which is why she was operating under the name "Lady Mandarin."

Betsy was just one of several characters who got some sort of extreme body modification around that time in the X-Books (Storm getting turned into a child being the other most famous example), but it wasn't meant to be permanent: the idea was that Mandarin would have needed her to look Asian while acting as his emissary, but she would have gone back to being British soon after. But reader reactions to Jim Lee's portrayal of this change were so powerful, the reversion kept getting pushed back further and further, and the next thing you knew two decades had passed.

Lady Mandarin gets a whole bunch of new parts. Mandarin gave her a costume vaguely similar to what he was wearing at the time - blue skirt and shoulder pads, silver armor on the limbs, oddball headgear/​helmet thing. It's possible the torso is reused, but it's under a belt/loincloth and quilted skirt piece, so it's hard to tell. Her billowing cape and single high shoulder pad are molded together, and permanently attached to the front and back of the upper body (even though she'd probably look better without it). The armor on her arms is the full "banded metal" look so many comic characters get, but her legs just have a large panel like that in the middle of her otherwise-smooth thighs. And of course, there's that giant winged headdress framing her face. Both faces, in fact.

It's accepted now that Betsy was turned Japanese, but that wasn't the case at the time. The fact that this story took place in Hong Kong was no accident: it was written in 1989, less than a decade before the United Kingdom's 99-year lease to Hong Kong was set to expire, so the mingling of cultures was already in the air; add to that the Mandarin's goal was to use Hong Kong as a base from which to take over his native China, and it becomes clear that Betsy's new body was originally meant to be Chinese, not Japanese. She was a physical representation of the territory being handed over from British to Chinese control. But 1990s American comicbook readers (and eventually, writers) weren't able to make the distinction between the two.

This figure includes two versions of the same head (same armor, same hair) with different faces: one calm but angry, the other grinning wildly. The first one could come from any point in the story, really, because it gets painted with pupils, but the alternate, with its blank white eyes, seems to come from the beginning of the issue when she's just finished beating up the crime lords' goons. Reading UXM #257, you do get the feeling the story was written with the notion that she'd have a full-face mask instead of leaving herself exposed: while they're fighting, Wolverine thinks he knows who she is, but then cuts off her helmet and is surprised by the face he sees. The face he could already see. But also still somehow recognizes her as Psylocke upon doing so? It really doesn't make sense. And it's surprising Hasbro didn't give this figure one helmeted head and one uncovered. Wonder how well the Strike Force head would fit on this neck?

When sent to threaten the Hong Kong gangsters, Mandarin gave Psylocke the use of his rings. This figure includes a pair of fists and a pair of open hands, and both are sculpted with a ring on each finger. (She'd given them back by the time she and Wolverine fought, but pay no attention to that little issue.) The figure also comes with her pink psychic knife, "the ultimate focus of [her] psionic powers," as introduced for the first time ever in this issue, as well as two yellow Kirby dot effects pieces that can clip onto her wrists, to suggest her using the power on Mandarin's rings. Nifty!

The Wolverine in this set isn't a terribly big draw, especially if you already have the one from a few years ago, but there's never been any "Lady Mandarin" toy before, so this is a really great pairing.

-- 05/13/24

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