Doug Glassman's month-long spotlight on Kitty Pryde stories.]
Marvel’s first big crossover, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, shook up the status quo in a number of titles. One of these was Uncanny X-Men. The budding romance between Colossus and Kitty Pryde was broken up due to editorial interference, with Colossus falling in love with an alien woman. This allowed Chris Claremont to move Kitty forward along a path of maturity. Since she was aging in relative real-time compared to the other X-Men, she had to grow up, and Claremont chose an unusual way to do so.
In the 1980s, Japan was the fascination of many Westerners, and Claremont was one of the biggest Japanophiles in comics. He and Frank Miller had revamped Wolverine with his own mini-series shortly before, adding a new roster of Japanese supporting characters. At the same time, Claremont felt the need to define “Yakuza” in each issue, so Japanese culture had not yet reached saturation in the United States. He occasionally resorts to stereotypes, including giving the main villain a sumo wrestler bodyguard, but it never comes off as offensive or ignorant. For instance, said wrestler is taken down through proper judo techniques.
By the end of the first issue of Claremont's six-issue miniseries Kitty Pryde and Wolverine -- collected a number of times by Marvel -- Kitty is starving, cold, sick, broke, injured and hiding in a dark corner of Tokyo while on the run from the Yakuza. Her father, banker Carmen Pryde, is in deep with the gangsters while trying to support his local bank in Deerfield, Illinois. To protect him, she sneaks on board an overseas flight without letting the other X-Men know. This is simultaneously brave and stupid -- but Kitty knows she’s making rushed decisions. Combined with extensive demonstrations of how she uses her powers, Kitty’s actions demonstrate that she had gone as far as she could go without a revamp.
Things get even worse for Kitty as the story goes on, and I give credit to Claremont for putting a character he loves through so much hell. Kitty has been cited as a template for DC’s Stargirl (the pre-New 52 incarnation), but Geoff Johns wouldn’t have allowed Courtney to be brainwashed by a sinister telepathic ninja master, eventually having her hair and clothes cut away in a very suggestive manner. Kitty’s assault comes courtesy of Ogun, the enforcer of the Yakuza boss, who also trained Wolverine. Ogun was also a contemporary of famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Before there were different aspects of Logan's origin being published every month, this was one of the first clues about his past, opening the question of just how old he was.
The Wolverine aspect of the title comes from an interesting decision. Had Kitty called the entire team, Ogun would have been defeated much more quickly. Instead, Kitty turns to Logan -- in part because of his experience in Japan, and in part because of her rash decisions, knowing that he would keep the incident secret. In fact, apart from a phone call from Professor Xavier to connect the mini-series to concurrent events in Uncanny X-Men, no other X-Men even appear in the comic. The absence of Kitty's dragon Lockheed seems a bit strange, but he was hanging around with the New Mutants at this time.
By the time Wolverine arrives in Japan, Kitty has been possessed by Ogun and mentally trained in his ninja skills, allowing her to wound Wolverine. They escape and recover with the help of Wolverine’s crazy friend Yukio, who back in From The Ashes convinced Storm to get leather and a Mohawk. In those issues, Yukio was just manic. Here, she’s totally crazy, jumping out of moving cars and antagonizing the aforementioned sumo bodyguard. She and Carmen Pryde form a disparaging, bickering relationship which provides some much-needed comedic relief as the story continues. Kitty Pryde and Wolverine came out shortly after the issues collected in From The Ashes, and so the aborted Mariko/Wolverine marriage is addressed here as well, and an uneasy love triangle of Wolverine, Yukio, and Mariko emerges. (If the subtext is any indication, Storm fits into that love triangle at certain points.)
Wolverine’s training of Kitty owes a lot to another Japan-related piece of media: The Karate Kid. Some of Kitty’s exercises include manipulating a Zen rock garden and holding a sword above her head for hours at a time. The still-weak Logan combines aspects of Mr. Miyagi and Yoda, complete with leaning on a staff, forcing Kitty to face dangerous extremes while forging her concentration. While Kitty does defeat Ogun, it takes Wolverine to deliver the final blow. He’s not cynical enough to let Kitty go down his path. At the very end, Kitty takes on her new codename. “Sprite” and “Ariel” never quite fit, but “Shadowcat” lasts to this day.
The art here is provided by Al Milgrom, who I admit I knew of more as an inker rather than as a penciller. He uses Kitty’s phasing powers to a much greater effect than some other artists, using page-length panels to demonstrate her going down through entire buildings. He does his best to make her “air-walking” power look dignified, but that’s an impossible task for any artist. As part of Kitty’s new look, she gets a shorter haircut which, to be honest, I’m glad didn’t last. Not only is it ugly, but it was also chopped off by Ogun while he was taking over Kitty’s mind. Milgrom did create the basis of the Shadowcat uniform, although the mask would be added later, replacing some odd-looking eye make-up.
If you’re a fan of either title character, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine is an essential step in their character arcs. It’s also a fun read for X-Men fans in general. After the events of this story, Kitty lost control of her powers, joined the unusual British team Excalibur, and went to college. She was out of the spotlight for a few years, but she became a major player in the mutant world when she joined the Astonishing X-Men, where we’ll pick up her arc next week.
And tomorrow from Collected Editions ... I, Vampire!