|My vote for the best Kitty/Kate Pryde tale ever. For all that it's a fine, and of course oft-imitated, cover, it's a shame that Kate's reduced to the role of woman-in-need-of-saving in it.|
All men may well lead lives of quiet desperation, but not Chris Claremont's X-Men. Even sitting alone in darkened rooms, their angst-saturated soliloquies were so stiffly and precisely expressed, so congested with despair and anxiety, that Claremont's stories fairly trembled and grumbled with apprehension and misery. In their most private, reflective moments, his character's still seemed to be shouting at the reader, desperate to catch our attention and avoid being misunderstood or ignored. Even the sight of two friendly mutants passing each other in a corridor could project a sense of paint-blistering intensity, with the simplest of greetings coming complete with the minutiae of back-story, declarations of motivation, and suspicions concerning brewing conflicts. And this passionate, soap-charged excess was all delivered with such unnatural self-awareness and purpose that the page often seemed full of the likes of worthy, declaiming drama students expressing the sub-text of an end-of-term play prior to learning their actual lines.
Yet this emotionally claustrophobic, psychologically volatile world of mutants, aliens, standard-issue super-folks and even a few homo sapiens never drowned out Kitty Pryde's appeal as the everywoman of the X-Men. Though her character eventually began to reflect the same degree of unceasing, amped-up suffering which all of Claremont's cast inevitably did, she remained far more concerned with recognisably real-world concerns than most of her fellows. The suffering of eternally-stricken characters such as Wolverine and Phoenix served as broad metaphors for everyday human experience. But Pryde's raison d'etre in the book long remained that of broadly reflecting life as it was most typically lived in the world beyond Xavier's School, the Baxter Building and Avengers Mansion. Her concerns were at first glance banal by contrast to the never-pausing End Of Everythings which perpetually threatened the X-Men, and yet that's exactly what kept her character and presence fresh and vital during those first few years. No matter what outlandish, and often tiresomely repetitive, danger threatened the X-Men as a whole, Pryde was also concerned with challenges such as her parent's divorce, the most appropriate way to relate to folks far older than herself, her ever-deepening affection for the ultimately disappointing Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin, and her choices of code-names and costumes. In short, Kitty's life was centred far more on her relationships with family, friendship, romance, authority and social status than most of her fellow super-people's ever were, and that left Claremont's tales of space whales and genocidal holocaust victims seeming far more human and involving than they otherwise might have. Even the most cosmic of circumstances tended to have intimate as well as widescreen repercussions for Pryde, and so - of course - it was she who returned from space with Lockhood, an extra-terrestrial dragon who'd decided to audition for the role of Kitty-accompanying pet.
And so, when Pryde sulked at the prospect of being reduced in the ranks to membership of the New Mutants, it was an expression of everyone's fear of being dropped back a year, of being humiliatingly shifted a demeaning rung down the hierarchy. When she owned up to her fear, as she did when she found herself in space for the first time, she spoke out for everyone worn down by the blase responses of super-women and men facing the likes of Galactus for the twelfth time. The very qualities of extreme unease and wonder which the more experienced super-people might never express simply had to be given to Pryde, who couldn't ever have not gasped and gulped at the things she was experiencing. In her, the reader could see at the very least a passing reflection of their own selves and their own lives, which in turn grounded the grand mutant-opera of the X-Books in matters far more recognisable and fundamental than one more Armageddon and yet another heinous secret super-conspiracy ever could. The more ridiculously excessive the characters around her became, and the more supremely ludicrous the menaces which threatened, the more her own appeal as well as theirs was amplified.
For all that artistic co-creator John Byrne regretted that Claremont had made Pryde a computer expert, it didn't diminish the essential slither of the everyday which she brought. In a world apparently crowded with fantastical mutants, the ability to work quickly and effectively with ICT only served as yet another marker of relatively normality anyway. (Most of her fellow cast members at the time would never have been shown doing anything so everyday and undynamic as staring at data on a screen.) Such skills were, after all, perfectly in keeping with Pryde's ghostly power-set, given that she was, as a fighter, reliant upon her intellect and her ability to improvise to a degree which many of her fellow X-Men never had to be. To have ramped up Pryde's super-powers, as typically occurs to less-kinetically impressive superheroes as the years pass, would have been to have missed the very reason for her appeal. In our hearts, after all, most of know that in the impossible case of super-powers being handed out, we'd be lucky to end up with the capacity to walk through walls like Pryde. In truth, most of us would be shocked at the luck of receiving the ability to communicate with pond-life, or the capacity to control a belt-buckle's worth of angry bees, and that's because most of us have to fight our way through the days simply to qualify as inconspicuously adequate out here in the real world. In that, Kitty Pryde stood for those of us who're doing the best that we can with whatever few gifts we have, and her very lack of globe-breaking power helped make her a far more engaging character that fan-logic might at first determine. There are few super-people whose appeal is based on their lack of wall-flattening might combined with a conspicuous absence of psychological abnormalities. Yet Kitty Pryde's popularity as a character in the X-books over the years suggests that perhaps reflects something of a misjudgement on the part of the industry.
Thankfully, Pryde's tended be represented far more as a distinct individual rather than an indulgence of cheesecakery, as has happened to so many other youthful - and not at all youthful - female super-women. The first string of artists who took charge of Pryde's appearance, for example, worked laudably hard to present a youthful, barely pubescent woman whose appearance carried nothing of the hyper-sexualised about her at all. Byrne had begun that process with sensitivity, restraint and charm. After him came Dave Cockrum, who presented Pryde as an at times painfully thin, gauche and yet always enthusiastic teenager, and Bob McCleod, who even succeeded in showing the character in her underwear without a hint of objectivisation contaminating the page. Since then, the best of those who've portrayed Pryde - such as Paul Smith, Alan Davis and John Cassady - have succeeded in presenting a woman with her own unique physical identity and appeal rather than one that's a reflection of whatever the age's malestream-driven stereotypes might be. Indeed, Pryde has more often than not been visually defined by the fact that she doesn't traditionally conform to the t'n'a excesses of the day, which has in itself established her as an individual rather than a type.
Yet her status during her first few years in the X-Men as an outsider- in terms of her background and her youth - didn't mean that Pryde's appeal was limited to that of the token, plucky teenage girl. For in just Pryde's sixth appearance in the comic, Claremont and Bryne also introduced the Kitty Pryde of decades later, a greying, middle-aged freedom fighter attempting to ensure that the mutant holocaust which had occurred in her future timeline never came to pass. As such, the reader had almost immediately been given not just a clear sense of Pryde as a youthful, often impulsive and almost totally naive adolescent, but also of her as a grown, focused, sharp-thinking, street-fighting resistance leader. "Kate" Pryde was effectively the head of what remained of the mutant population under the reign of the X-gene-eliminating Sentinels, and, as Claremont had Professor X declare, she was as "charming and admirable" as her younger self was. Yet the famous Days Of Future Past two-parter established Pryde as one of the most formidable of all of Xavier's mutants, and showed how her more endearing personal qualities were part and parcel of a character which could challenge the most overwhelming of fates. As a result, it didn't matter that Pryde's powers of intangibility could be viewed as regrettably reactionary in terms of traditional gender roles, because her status as an individual rather than her standing as the bearer of an extravagant power-set had been swiftly and convincingly established. If her mutant ability reflected the typical business of avoiding direct conflict and sidestepping the use of force where female characters of the age were concerned, her intelligence, bravery and empathy marked her out as quietly and efficaciously remarkable. Everything in the end, it seemed, was going to rely on Kate Pryde, and where mutants with far more powerful abilities would end up slaughtered by the Sentinels, Pryde would survive, persevere and, ultimately, offer the past the opportunity to avoid the worst of fates.
Perhaps it was that very lack of eye-catching, obviously story-turning powers which so often protected Pryde from the worst of abuses at the hands of Marvel's editors and creators in the decades since. It may also be that Pryde''s early-established qualities of decency, modesty, courage and intelligence left her both far less subject to sensationalist revisionism and far more able to return to her long-set identity after unfortunate innovations had worn through. To find her often functioning as the de-facto leader of Excalibur, for example, or maturing into a teacher of young mutants and a cornerstone of the X-community, is to watch the dots being logically joined between the life of the young, neophyte X-Man "Kitty" and that of the Sentinel-resisting "Kate". That Pryde should now be self-evidently capable of mentoring, and even when necessary intimidating, the next generation of mutants makes perfect sense, just as it seems quite logical than even those comrades whom she dislikes - such as Emma Frost - should have respected her capacity to do the right thing when everyone else might fall short.
I stumbled away from the X-Men in the mid-1980s, when the ever-shrill, eye-blisteringly soapy melodrama of Claremont's stories proved just too unrelentingly hysterical even for my comics-habituated taste. As such, I've never had to incorporate Kitty-the-ninja or Kitty-Agent-Of-SHIELD into my own ill-informed schema of the character. I've never even come to regard code-names such as "Sprite" or "Shadowcat" as being appropriate to her identity. As with all of us beyond the most obsessive, my own version of what Pryde is and should be is an entirely sophistic business, strung together from personal taste and experience, lifted from the fragments of continuity which I still think fondly of and damn everything else which might torpedo my own prejudices. That comics published since Days Of Future Past have rendered that tale impossible, for example, matters not at all to me. My Kate Pryde's life leads there, regardless of what either indisputable fact or well-informed opinion could offer to legitimately contradict me. Thankfully, the past almost-decade at Marvel - under the direction of writers of such as Josh Wheedon, Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron - have provided a version of the character that's as laudable as she's endearing and effective. While Cyclops and most of his inner court have stumbled from tyranny to tyranny, Kitty Pryde's shown herself once again to be the most admirable of individuals. When the very worst comes to Marvel's mutant-verse, it's not, it seems, always the costumed assassins, the super-brawlers, the energy-projectors, or even the world-destroyers who'll step up and attempt to save the day. Sometimes, it'll be the likes of Kate Pryde, who's remained the representative of the reader on the page while gradually growing into the role of the very soul of the X-Men.