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A Kitty becomes a Cat, and Logan isn’t just along for the ride – Kitty Pryde and Wolverine

January 24, 2013

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With a new Wolverine movie coming out this summer, one hopefully of enough quality to scrub from memory the last underwhelming Hugh Jackman solo affair, now seems a good a time as any to take a look back at one of Logan’s seminal moments. Help get us revved, you know? But which one? Maybe we can take another cue from Hollywood. Since the primary X-Men film franchise is going whole hog nuts in the best of senses, bringing elements of the orignal cast and the First Class troupe together in a cinematic adaptation of one of the top X-arcs of all time, Days of Future Past, let’s make this post a two-fer. In the spirit of that collision of worlds, why don’t we take a retro look at a limited series that featured Wolverine and Kitty Pryde, the lynchpin of Days. It seems natural, and so be it: Kitty Pryde and Wolverine it is. (Granted, the post title and the cover image above take some of the suspense out of these deliberations. Forgive one the need to bloviate.)

There are few characters that on the one hand generate more affection among comic fans than the young, fresh-faced, somewhat naive Kitty, and on the other gin up a nuclear inferno of fandom like Wolverine. Kitty, with her modest power of phasing in and out of corporeal existence, is a metaphor for the shrinking shyness in so many of us, especially an adolescent reading audience. Taciturn Logan, all claws and teeth and indestructibility, is a symbol of the animal that we all at times wish we could unleash. As polar opposites, it’s no surprise that narratively, not to mention realistically, these two would be drawn to one another. The affection that was developed in these pages and Uncanny X-Men proper was simultaneously filial and paternal, and it was one of the best elements of what was the X-Men’s brightest extended hour of storytelling. A lot of what made up the heart and soul of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters came from the makeshift family dynamic. From the very start it was misfits — all square pegs in a world of round holes — finding one another, and no mutual discovery was more unlikely than Miss Pryde and Logan. Yet there it was. And here it is. This is the magic of the X-Men, the beauty of the whole damn thing.

Putting the two in a miniseries, one that kept them isolated from their teammates, made sense both in a financial sense (mo’ books, mo’ money) and in terms of demand (give them what they want). And Chris Claremont — the don of all things X — and the ever-capable Al Milgrom gave it life. (Mr. Milgrom only handled the art duties here, so we aren’t treated to the senses-shattering scripting skills that brought us Marvel’s trucker hero. Our loss.)

It all takes place shortly after Kitty’s breakup with Cyclops in issue 182 of Uncanny. She’s wading through the angsty internal contortions of youth while spending time with her father at home, but she discovers that her father is in over his head with some rough and tumble Japanese businessmen, gents who are clearly Yakuza. One especially gives her the willies, but, when her father accompanies them (somewhat unwillingly) to Japan, Kitty stows away on a plane and follows. Like father, like daughter: Kitty too soon finds herself a bit overwhelmed in a strange culture (even if it’s one whose language she knows, in a country she’s visited before, and hey, she has superpowers). This prompts an anxious call back to her other (real?) home:

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She hangs up before saying a word, but this isn’t some run of the mill superhero on the other hand whose just going to let a hang up slide. Logan is on the trail. (We get to see a rather amusing little sequence as he and his adamantium bones try to pass through metal detectors during his travels. It’s tough when the Blackbird isn’t available and he has to fly commercial. Does he prefer the window seat?)

Meanwhile, Kitty gets in deeper. The shadiest of the men who had harassed her father turns out to be a rogue ninja named Ogun, who was one of Wolverine’s mentors.  He’s gone over to evil and has also developed a penchant for wearing demon masks — fun! He makes Kitty his prisoner, and breaks her down both physically and mentally in an extended sequence reminiscent of V’s surreptitious brutalization of Ivy in V for Vendetta:

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If there’s one thing we’ve learned from reading comics, it’s that you break a woman’s will by cutting off her hair. It’s not a lesson you get to put into much practical effect, though, unless you’re a serial killer.

Kitty emerges a mere extension of Ogun’s evil soul, one who battles Wolverine and almost kills the poor guy, healing factor and all. Thanks to some timely assistance from old friend Yukio, both are brought to safety (along with Kitty’s father), and there Logan begins the painstaking process of rebuilding Kitty from the ground up. He also takes a moment to give a scant bit of backstory doubling as a parable — this is also a chance for Milgrom’s art to change up a bit:

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The most lasting significance of the mini is Kitty’s maturation. It’s in these pages that she makes the shift from the baby of the X-Men, the kid who others are comfortable calling Sprite, and takes on her more grown-up moniker:

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Catwoman likely saw that last panel and thought about how imitation is the highest form of flattery. Or resolved to scratch Kitty’s/Shadowcat’s eyes out, one or the other.

Everything builds to a Shadowcat-Wolverine-Ogun confrontation at the end, with the mentor and pupil dueling for the last time, and Kitty struggling to excise the last vestiges of Ogun’s meddling. Are there panels of Wolverine and Ogun in a Leone-esque staredown, with a reprise of the nicely rendered parable sandwiched in between? YOU BET THERE ARE:

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The series is solid, and that’s by no means a backhanded compliment. There’s something to be said for a story that paces itself well, delivers a plate of art that’s long on steak if modest in sizzle, and fulfills its narratives goals. That Claremont scripted this is evident in the care and craft of every page, and Milgrom’s art goes far in evoking the edge of a young woman losing herself, finding herself and coming of age all in six issues. His use of broad brushstrokes is especially effective, and their use in the border of the parable scan above is a nice touch. And in a broader continuity sense, all the bases of Wolverine’s Japanese orbit — Yukio, Mariko, etc. – are touched, satisfying those taken with that part of his backstory. (Indeed, Japan will be the setting of this summer’s film.) Building on the steak metaphor, this series is a full meal.

There are complaints that can be made. There’s too much interior dialogue in the first issue, and Kitty’s ability to phase through walls and walk on air of course plays a part in the story, yet in the climactic battle, moments after doing those very things, she completely forgets about HER INCREDIBLE POWERS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU ARE YOU STUPID. Occasionally too much time is devoted to restating the events of the previous issue, something that would make more sense in the original monthly release format, but feels clunky when all are read in one sitting.

Yes, these are problems, but considering the fantasy subject matter, they kind of pass by without rippling the waters too much. And this too is a testament to what Claremont and Milgrom did.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the X-Men back in the day. It seemed that they were jammed down readers’ throats at every turn (in the case of X-Men Spaghettios, quite literally), and there was a natural anti reaction. Stories like this make a person realize what was missed. But hey, they’re still around in back issues, and this series was collected in a hardcover several years ago. (You can also find it among Marvel’s digital comics, if that’s your thing). It might be worth a look if you’re unfamiliar, especially in light of the coming twists and turns of the extended film franchise.

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