You have probably never heard of Mystek. She always stood out in my mind as a character who had huge potential, and yet was killed off stupidly before she got a chance to explore any of that potential.
The Ray was one of the comics I read voraciously in my teens, the story of a teenage boy who spent his whole childhood out of the sunlight only to discover upon the death of his ‘father’ that he didn’t have a rare sun allergy at all, but sun-based superpowers. Written by Christopher Priest (no, not that Priest, a different one), his comic was the perfect blend of comedy and angst that appealed greatly to my fifteen year old self, and it didn’t hurt that Black Canary made semi-regular appearances.
And then there was Mystek. She was introduced as a supporting/antagonist character in the Ray title (she figured out he was a meta-human from her sensors when he wandered into her Radio Shack and instantly cracked the secret identity he worked so hard to preserve despite having the same first name as his superhero identity). She later crossed over to Justice League Task Force, the junior super team of which Ray was a member, also written by Christopher Priest (seriously, not that one).
Barclay, or Seong (we were never told which of these names were real, and if so which was her first and which her family name – the “demon” Neron calls her Seong first but notes that she prefers to be called Barclay) was a snarky Asian-American teenager with a talent for making machinery do what she wanted to. She had built her own super suit with which to either cause havoc or fight crime, whichever most appealed on the day. Oh and yes, as it turned out, she was claustrophobic which made the whole mecha suit choice a little… retrospectively odd.
In the team, which was made up of several bitchy teenagers who resented the at times harsh leadership of J’onn J’onnz, Mystek’s role was to stand to one side and comment on the fact that everyone else were being idiots. Frankly, it was an important job, because they all pretty much were idiots, and I say this as someone who was addicted to the comic at the time. (also, possibly, I was a teenager who wanted to be a lot snarkier than I really was)
The element which I found most intriguing was that Mystek’s mecha suit was male in appearance so everyone who came into contact with her thought she was a smart-mouthed bloke and treated her accordingly. ‘Everyone’ included her entire team, which got awkward when they were sent on a long space mission that meant Mystek could only get a breather from her suit in the tiny bathroom. (And led to a sequence in which Triumph walked in on her, making a crude comment about her taking too long to ‘drain the weasel’ only to learn that Mystek, in fact, had no weasel.
In the following issue to the weasel joke, Mystek was killed off, in space, in a throwaway scene that meant nothing and led nowhere. We complain a lot about the women in refrigerators phenomenon, and rightly so, but at least most of those deaths serve a narrative purpose even if it’s a short-sighted and cliched purpose.
Mystek was built up as if there was some point to her character, and then she was discarded. After one issue of dealing calmly and sensibly with her mild claustrophobia, at the beginning of the next she suddenly went out of her head with claustrophobic panic (having put her mecha suit on FIRST), damaging the ship and sending herself and her teammates flying out into space. While Triumph rescued Gypsy, Mystek herself was later found as a floating and bloated corpse.
All of which took place early in the issue of the comic, and was not mentioned for the rest of it. When the Ray (who travelled on his own) met up with the rest of the team, they never mentioned to him what had happened to Mystek, or acknowledged it among themselves. They just went on bickering, quipping and bantering their way through the space adventure as if she had never existed. Oh and to add insult to injury, the cover (with the tagline ‘in space no one can hear you die’) featured Triumph and Gypsy, with no sign of Mystek.
Even J’onn J’onnz, who could usually be relied on for a bit of survivor guilt, never batted an eyelid or mentioned their dead teammate.
A few issues later, Task Force itself came to an end, and apart from a vaguely poignant scene in which the teammates who had barely known anything about Seong Barclay (or “Barclay” Seong) bid her an awkward farewell at a memorial, that was it. Though actually, on rereading I realised that it wasn’t even a memorial: Triumph simply made a statue of Mystek in order to start a conversation with Gypsy about himself and what an asshole he was.
I recall that after months of reading and waiting for Mystek to come back (because it had to be one of those deaths that was faked, right? You wouldn’t really kill a character off that casually), this bugged the hell out of me, because I really liked her. Damn you, comics.
More recently, I discovered that the reason Mystek felt like a narrative dead end was because that is quite literally what she was. Priest had introduced her in The Ray and expanded upon her in JLTF in order to build readership loyalty for an original mini-series he was pitching to DC. When they passed on the project, he killed her off with a flip of his hand. After all, he couldn’t sell her as a character to any other publisher now that she had appeared in DC Comics.
You could say that Mystek was a victim of the lack of creator-ownership in big comics publishers. But that doesn’t make me any less irritated at the writer on behalf of the fifteen year old me who bought into Mystek as a genuine character. It’s not like snarky Asian-American teen superheroes with gender-bending twists and mad electronics skills are so common in mainstream comics that we can afford to chuck them on the scrap heap like that.
I wanted to know more.
I kind of still do.
Where the Wonder Women Are:
1: Black Canary
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
8: Abigail Brand
15. Jean Grey
17. Emma Frost
19. Lady Sif
21. The Wasp
23. Misty Knight (and Colleen Wing)