I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Favorite Marvel: Kitty Pryde

Like Jean Grey before her, Kitty Pryde has suffered her way through a bunch of code names. When she joined the X-Men she was originally called Sprite. Professor Charles Xavier, however, would have named her Ariel. Later, the name Shadowcat would stick for quite a few years, but whereas Storm was often called Storm in the field, Shadowcat was still usually called Kitty Pryde in the field. But none of those names needed to stick. It was the person of Kitty Pryde who has resonated with readers throughout the years. Of all of the young side-kicks of Wolverine that have been tried out - Rogue, Jubilee, etc. - Kitty is easily the best. As a matter of fact, I kind of wish that the X-Men films had developed their stories from her point of view rather than Wolverine's. And I'm not the only one who loves Kitty Pryde - Joss Whedon claims that his quintessential female power character Buffy the Vampire Slayer is largely based on Kitty Pryde. As you probably know, Whedon would go on to write Astonishing X-Men, a series which spent a great deal of time developing Kitty Pryde.

In many ways, I think that Kitty Pryde is Chris Clairmont's re-casting of Stan Lee's Jean Grey. Stan Lee wanted a gorgeous Ginger-type, status quo, all-American, WASPy, all-the-pretty-ones-are-redheads kind of girl, Clairmont gave us a girl-next-door, Mary Ann, a Jew who is not over-sexed (which is uncommon in the comic book industry) and who looks as young as she actually is. Whereas Jean Grey has always been fully-developed, both in terms of her adult body and her incredible powers, Kitty Pryde is a scrawny child when we meet her and she doesn't really know how to put her powers to use effectively. I do have to give Stan Lee some credit here. Giving Jean Grey the kind of power that could overwhelm anyone else on the team was really a fantastic way of literally empowering women, but she was often submissive to the leadership of the boys. Kitty Pryde has always had more on the ball than those around her. She's young and inquisitive, and without having any kind of mind-enhancement abilities, she's highly intelligent. What she lacks in great power, she makes up for in thinking outside of the box. This makes her accessible and it makes her the model of what every girl in the nation could become.

I think the real reason Kitty was important in the early days was because, with the combination of the first-wave X-Men and the second-wave (retconned to third-wave in the 2000s) X-Men, there was bound to be a lot of disagreements between the adults regarding leadership, personal issues, and how to proceed as a team. The only thing that could cut through what amounted to a great deal of political tension was the tender heart of Kitty Pryde. As a matter of fact, I remember reading a lot of issues where some really insane and difficult stuff is going on only to read, in the next issue, a Kitty's fairy tale story-line where she recast her team members as fantasy characters in a dream. Even though X-Men #1 began by teasing the love between Jean Grey and Cyclops and developed a strong fatherly relationship between Xavier and his X-Men, the entrance of Kitty Pryde was the moment when the X-Men really felt like a family, when the X-Men were bound not by a dream or a duty, but by love.

I think that Kitty Pryde did for the X-Men what Peter Parker / Spider-man has done for the rest of the Marvel universe. With Kitty, we began to realize that there was more to life than saving the world. You had to get good grades. You had to worry about boys. As a mutant who is also a child you deal with both mutant problems and the problems of coming of age. This is another way in which the character of Kitty Pryde became universal. When neither the X-Men nor the New Mutants felt they could relate to Kitty, she felt alone and hurt. We've all felt that at some point. I think that Brian Michael Bendis emphasizes this side of Kitty Pryde the best when he includes her in his Ultimate Spider-man books. After Kitty leaves the X-Men, she begins to go to school with Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy. She becomes involved in the love triangles with Peter Parker (because Colossus is gay in the Ultimate Marvel universe).

Though Cyclops and Storm are leaders and many of the characters are good looking and Wolverine is a badass, I really think that Kitty Pryde is the reason that the X-Men have remained good over the years. While I relate the most to Cyclops and feel that he is more of "my" character, I think Kitty Pryde might be the best export Marvel has ever given us. I also think she is the invisible hand behind the success of the X-Men from the Clairmont years until now. Kitty Pryde reminds us that we can all do extraordinary things for the good of those around us, and that's a message that we all need to hear.

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