There is an anonymous proverb that states the only three things that are certain in life are birth, death, and change. Within the realm of ongoing comic book narratives, these take the form of retcons, resurrections, and reboots. For the purposes of this weekly feature, retcons are elements added into a character’s history after the fact, resurrections are characters return from death or some state of limbo, and reboots are wholesale changes to a character or characters canon (history, supporting casts, origin story, etc).
These changes, just like all stories, range from those that add definitive things that still stand with the characters to those that sometimes should best be forgotten. Except, they won’t be in this feature. Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Resurrections, and Reboots.
This week we’re going to kick everything off with a retcon that has not only been controversial for over three decades but is still playing a major role in currently published comics. That would be the body-swapping nightmare of Betsy Braddock and Kwannon. While both are “living their best lives” (though that’s up for debate) in the new Krakoan era, it wasn’t always this way.
To understand the retcon we must first go all the way back to the events of Uncanny X-Men #255, where Betsy Braddock’s transformation began under the pen of one Chris Claremont. After traveling through the Siege Perilous (it’s a whole thing – read more here about that), Betsy ended up amnesic and was found by Japanese gangster and Hand ninja clan member Matsu’o Tsurayaba. Sent through the Body Shoppe along with a nightmarish dream brainwashing sequence, she was next seen in #256 and #257 as the Japanese bodied Lady Mandarin, gifted to the Mandarin by the Hand as part of an alliance.
While it’s been documented that Claremont originally planned for the change to be temporary, that quickly changed and Betsy as a Japanese woman stuck all the way through to 2018.
Now that the basics are there, let’s jump into the actual retcon and the retcon to that retcon and how they actually made the original change even more of a problematic one over the last three decades.
Skipping forward quite a few years, Claremont has left the books and there is the second very popular adjectiveless X-Men series going where Betsy is one of the featured characters. Under writer Fabian Nicieza the door was opened once again not to bring the change to an end but to complicate it even further.
Beginning with X-Men #17 and #19, a mysterious purple-haired and purple-clad ninja is revealed, talking about revenge and a desire to find the X-Men in order to kill Psylocke. This was the introduction of Kwannon who would go by the name Revanche, and eventually, she did find the X-Men in issue #20 where she declares herself the true original Betsy Braddock and the other is an imposter.
Except, that wasn’t the case. To make a long story short Nicieza introduces the retcon here that changes the story to be that it was Kwannon (in her original Japanese body) that discovered the broken and unconscious Betsy after her leaving the Siege Perilous. A touch between the two causes their minds to merge and Kwannon’s body runs away after the experience and Matsu’o and the Hand work to fix her mind leading to the moments from Claremont’s original issues. Later Matsu’o reveals that they ended up merging parts of their “souls,” thus why they act and fight and such the same, both being Kwannon & Betsy and neither one being a complete lone person.
Right away it should stand out that this is a clear conflict of what Claremont actually set up with the body swap, Matsu’o and the Hand having found Betsy still in her original body and changing her. It turns out that is because during his work to research the story Nicieza missed out on reading Uncanny X-Men #255, as Nicieza admitted to in the 363rd entry of the Comic Book Legends Revealed column series.
Realizing the mistake, Nicieza pivoted and created a new actual retcon revelation beginning in X-Men #31 that took his original retcon and merged it in a new way with Claremont’s original story. At this point, the choice had been made to have Kwannon Revanche be suffering from the Legacy Virus while in Betsy’s body and she was dying. Her death led to flashbacks and revelations focusing on how she and Matsu’o were in love and he made a deal with the Hand and Spiral to save her life, by trying to merge her and the found Betsy.
This sorcery caused their DNA to mix and giving them both the purple hair and fighting stills and British accents and the rest. A long road to try and create an in-story “reason” for the body change that was never meant to actually go this far or be this deeply explained.
Where does this retcon rank? It’s a pretty giant complicated problematic mess that went on for far too long. While Claremont’s original change has issues of multi-level appropriation, Nicieza’s changes actually made it far worse. Rather than Betsy just having her own altered body, she spent the next almost 25 years living out her life in Kwannon’s body while Kwannon was relegated to the afterlife. A white woman got to live out her life pretending to be a Japanese woman
It took till 2018’s Hunt for Wolverine: Mystery in Madripoor for Betsy to get her own body back (through a whole comic booky thing of using psychic powers and trapped souls to rebuild herself a body that was her original one) and then for Kwannon to be able to return as a full actual character in her own body for the first time. Both are getting chances to thrive in the new X-Men era (Betsy as Captain Britain and Kwannon as Psylocke), but the stink of the swap and the retcons hasn’t been fully washed away and likely never will.