Avengers Endgame was released at midnight. What has that got to do with a women’s history project in Essex you ask? Well, did you know that there are two female superheroes whose biographies list their birthplace as towns in our county? In today’s post, we examine how these fictional characters have been inspired by and reflect the diversity and personalities of the real women of Essex.
Elizabeth “Betsy” Braddock was originally created in 1976 as a supporting character, the twin sister of Brian Braddock aka Captain Britain. According to the comics, the twins were born in Maldon, the younger children of Sir James Braddock (their older brother Jamie is a Marvel villain).
Betsy is a Charter Pilot who develops psychic powers including visions of the future, telepathy and telekinesis. She briefly served in her brother’s role as Captain Britain, before taking the name Psylocke and joining the X-Men.
Betsy/Psylocke, while fictional, is definitely a Strong Essex Woman. With over 40 years of plot-lines, she obviously has been through a lot, including having her mind placed in the body of a Japanese warrior, dying and coming back to life, modeling and helping teach a new generation of heroes at a school for mutants, she has continued to fight (mostly) on the side of good against the baddies in the Marvel universe.
Doctor Faiza Hussain is a much more recent addition to the “Marvel Universe”. Created in 2008 by Paul Cornell to be a main character for the series “Captain Britain and MI13“, she is a doctor, born in Chelmsford and a big fan of cricket. Her parents are from Pakistan and she is Muslim.
In the comics, Faiza is performing emergency triage on a battlefield when an energy-bolt gives her an extreme level of control over biological organisms. According to Cornell, she can “safely open up a body, see what’s wrong with it, and sort it out on a subatomic level” – useful skills for a doctor.
Faiza joins a team of heroes led by Captain Britain, and wields the mystical sword of legend, Excalibur.
We spoke to Paul Cornell about creating Faiza, and he said:
“I wanted to make a British muslim woman super hero, and for her to be not ‘the other’ but the point of view character, the down to earth one. I’d lived in Chelmsford, and I liked the double take of the Essex coat of arms looking vaguely Islamic, but also being very British. In that the swords look like scimitars, all very cliched Arabian Nights. So use that as a super hero insignia, and it brings all her meanings together. I asked a group of Muslim women to advise me on her, and they did for the whole run”.
Cornell worked with this group to ensure that Faiza was a realistic representation of someone whose cultural background is very different to his own, that he respected the character’s Muslim faith but conveyed that this was only part of who she is. The result is a character that many Essex women can relate to. She is a hardworking, intelligent and complex. Cornell told us:
“I gave her Excalibur as a sign of archetypal British identity, of absolute mystical acceptance of her”.
Sadly, neither Betsy Braddock or Faiza Hussain feature in the new Avengers film, however Betsy/Psylocke was portrayed by Olivia Munn in X-Men Apocalypse, and is briefly glimpsed as a child in Wolverine Origins.
Faiza/Excalibur, the superhero doctor from Chelmsford, has yet to be seen on screen. Maybe we can convince Marvel make her the star of her own film?