“You can always judge an X-Man by the quality of his enemies.” If you’ll forgive my misquoting Oscar Wilde, today I want to start a new series of posts – ones that celebrate the ‘grudge matches’ that shape the history of the X-Men, that look at the incredible heroes and villains – and ponder what tomorrow will bring…
In the Blue Corner!
Psylocke! Betsy Braddock is the sister of Captain Britain, introduced in 1976 and not joining the X-Men until a decade later. She’s one of the world’s most powerful telepaths and telekinetics, with her powers recently boosted to (according to interviews with the authors) Omega Level. After an iconic plotline in the 1980s, her mind was swapped into the body of the Japanese ninja Kwannon, and she gained all the combat skill of the assassin.
Betsy has been a staple member of the X-Men for many years (and an erstwhile reality-hopping Exile); she even gave her life for the cause (but, of course, given these are X-Men comics, death didn’t last very long!). She’s always been aggressive and combat-ready, willing to jump into the depths of battle and burning with confidence that sometimes gets her into trouble. She’s not one to back down.
Over recent years, Betsy was plunged into adventures with various incarnations of X-Force, and she crossed lines that separate her forever from the rest of the X-Men. She became a woman who seems ever more willing and able to use her phenomenal talents – both mutant and martial – to lethal effect…
In the Red Corner:
Sabretooth! One of the most iconic X-Men villains, introduced as an enemy of Iron Fist in 1977. Victor Creed found his way to the X-Men comics as a member of the Marauders, taking great pleasure in the Mutant Massacre of 1986. He’s sadistic and brutal, taking real pleasure in death, and has a bitter vendetta against Wolverine and the X-Men.
In spite of his evil nature, twice Sabretooth has forged an alliance with the X-Men – once with near-tragic results, as he escaped and headed after Generation X to revel in the bloodshed. More recently, though, we’ve learned that the brutal Sabretooth we know and hate was, in fact, a succession of clones; the real Sabretooth has emerged from the shadows, and looks set to play a key role in the Death of Wolverine arc.
Why’s this a grudge match?
In Uncanny X-Men #213, the X-Men were still reeling from the events of the Mutant Massacre. Many of their members were in a bad way, and a good few of the team were down in the Morlock tunnels helping clear up the mess. That’s when Sabretooth crashed the Mansion, and Psylocke – still a rookie back then – stepped up to the task. What followed was a wonderfully unequal battle, with Betsy managing to catch in a lot of heavy hits even as she drew Sabretooth away from the injured. There’s a single glorious moment where Betsy turns to face Creed and declares:
Psylocke knew she was out of her depth, but she was unflinching. She was saved by Wolverine, but – incredibly – took advantage of the battle of the berserkers to do a little probing in Sabretooth’s mind, trying to find out the reasons for the slaughter. Some time later, during the events of Inferno, the two had a very different encounter:
The next encounter of note is in X-Men #6. By this time, Betsy’s mind had been swapped into her ninja body. Betsy was apparently forced to co-operate with Matsuo Tsuarayabi, who hired Sabretooth as well. And so, much to Betsy’s evident displeasure, she and Creed seemed forced to work together in the hunt for Wolverine.
In reality, Betsy had broken free of Tsurayabi’s control, and she used her telepathic powers to force Sabretooth into co-operating with her!
Sabretooth wound up in the Mansion for a time, and he actually made a move on her, forcing her to kiss him and then tossing her away like a rag doll.
Incredibly, Betsy’s response was to take this as a challenge, and she began sparring against him – and even mildly flirted with him (this immediately prior to her relationship with Archangel). That plot led to tragedy in Uncanny X-Men #328, when Professor Xavier realised that Sabretooth was beyond even his ability to help. Creed manipulated Boom-Boom into accidentally releasing him, and would have gutted her like a fish had Psylocke not intervened.
With Boom-Boom (then codenamed Meltdown) standing there, Betsy knew that she couldn’t back down. What followed was a knock-down, drag-out battle to the death. Both were playing for keeps, Betsy using her ninja skills to tear into Creed, but Creed more than matching her blow-for-blow. The outcome was horrific, as Boom-Boom could only watch.
As the years have passed, this bitter feud seems to have cooled – perhaps in part because Betsy encountered the Sabretooth of another reality and fell in love with him! But still, the hatred and history is deed; Creed is the man who has outmatched Betsy twice, and I have no doubt at all that Betsy bears a grudge.
Their rivalry even gets a mention in the Wolverine Heroic Battle on Avengers Alliance!
And when they next meet?
Nowadays, both are in a different place. Betsy’s power-levels are off the charts, and if anything I reckon she’s an even more skilled fighter than she was in Uncanny X-Men #328, when she sure did get some good shots in. Meanwhile, Creed has been revealed as more cunning than we ever thought before, and no doubt this would give him some different – and even worse – strategies against Betsy.