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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Where the Wonder Women Are: #25 Kitty Pryde

October 4th, 2012 at 8:16

SPOILERS AHOY, ESPECIALLY FOR THE JOSS WHEDON ASTONISHING X-MEN RUN, DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.

I came late to the Kitty Pryde party. She was one of the X-Men characters I always managed to miss, somehow. She wasn’t a part of the 90’s cartoon I loved, and never appeared in the X-Men comics I happened to read. She was in X-Men Evolution but I didn’t feel I had a handle on her there, and I was so much in the ‘I love Rogue’ camp that it was hard to pay attention Kitty in the live action movies, despite her being played (eventually) by the immensely likeable Ellen Page.

But I kept hearing about her. She was the favourite character of many comics readers that I knew, especially the women. Apart from the fact that she could travel through walls, though, I didn’t have much to go on.

So it was that the first Kitty I properly read happened to be in the Joss Whedon Astonishing X-Men run and let me tell you, being scripted by Joss Whedon is a REALLY good way to make a character lovable. It didn’t hurt that Kitty was Whedon’s favourite too – he says in the notes to the Astonishing trades that she was one of the main inspirations for Buffy.

Introduced in 1980, Kitty Pryde’s power is basically the ability to become intangible, which allows her to phase through walls, fall through floors and make sure no one gets a chance to punch her in the face. It’s the kind of power that can be written as passive, in the hands of a writer without much imagination. But another side effect of her powers is that when she phases through anything mechanical, it screws it up royally. Considering that one of the greatest ongoing threats to the X-Men are the giant robotic Sentinels, this is crazy useful.

Whedon worked overtime to show just how many cool things someone with Kitty’s powers could achieve, and the many clever ways she could use them. Sure, a lot of this involved phasing through machines, rockets and giant robots to screw with their insides, but there were all manner of other tests of her skills, and in the grand climax to his five book arc (SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS, GO READ IT FIRST) Kitty saved the Earth from a massive space bullet by holding on to it and phasing it entirely through the planet.

Because of the metal that the bullet was made from, Kitty’s final act was a sacrifice, knowing that she would not be able to unphase. Still attached to the bullet, intangible, she drifted on through space until she was completely out of range of all the scientists trying to figure out how to bring her back.

Her sacrifice was not an example of women in refrigerators for two reasons: first and most obviously, despite this being the final act of the Joss Whedon run, it wasn’t the end of the character and she was written back after a reasonable time away, thanks to the surprising deciding-to-be-usefulness of Magneto, though it was a long journey back to actual tangibility.

But also, Kitty’s sacrifice came out of her own story, as a culmination of her own heroic path. It wasn’t done merely to make the other characters feel sad, but to reach her own potential as an epic character. Remember Season 5 Buffy diving to her death? Yep, it was that.

Kitty’s powers aren’t all that is great about her. She has always been a fun, lighthearted character who brought the snark – and Whedon wrote her particularly snarky when it came to Emma Frost. Once I read Kitty’s early 1980’s comics, this made a lot more sense, because there has always been tension between Emma and Kitty since the introduction of both characters – Emma as the headmistress wanting to lure Kitty to her school of slightly-more-evil-than-most mutants, and Kitty as the girl who takes an instant dislike to Ms Frost.

In Astonishing X-Men, Kitty is the voice of ‘hey wasn’t Emma evil five minutes ago,’ and it’s nice considering the history of the characters that it wasn’t about her being judgy that Cyclops and Emma were a couple in the wake of Jean Grey’s death, it was purely about her own experience with the other woman.

Which means that when Kitty returns from her magical bullet ride, intangible and for some time unable to communicate through anything but telepathy (and sadly no longer scripted by Joss Whedon), Emma is the perfect and most interesting character to help her. Their mutual dislike shifts into mutual respect while still remaining good and snarky.

Most recently, I have fallen in love with the Kitty of Wolverine and the X-Men, in which she shares the head duties with Wolverine at the newly rebuilt school (now the Jean Grey Academy) and is desperately pretending to be a grown up, while realising that in her partnership with Wolverine, she’s the mature one. It’s adorable. Even the bizarre mystical pregnancy storyline was carried off with great style and panache, despite it being one of the most hackneyed plot twists you could inflict upon a female character. But once it was evident that there was an entire alien fleet in her womb instead of a magical baby, I couldn’t help but enjoy the story.

It’s nice that Kitty is being given a chance to grow up (finally), though her youth has often been one of the most iconic aspects of her character. In 1980 she was only 14 when she moved in with Professor X and his mixed up family of mutants, in the wake of Jean Grey’s second and most dramatic death. She took the name Sprite, which was suggested by Storm as an alternative to ‘Ariel’ as suggested by the more Shakespearian-minded Xavier. A cute bundle of energy, Kitty brought innocence and sparkle to the fairly morose team, and couldn’t help but make them smile. Wolverine calls her ‘Punkin’. Nuff said.

Kitty’s baptism of fire came in an early Christmas issue where she was left alone in the house as all the adults went off to their various plans. A massive demon broke into the house, destroying all in its wake, and she found herself pursued and hunted by a creature that could certainly do her harm. Finally, using that sharp brain of hers, she ended up luring the demon to where the X-jet was garaged, and fired up the rocket engine function. This trashed the jet, and the demon. Win! Right from the start, there was more to Kitty than anyone might imagine from her big grin and wild curls.

Soon after, the Days of Future Past storyline showed us a future Kate Pryde, war veteran and survivor of a terrible war against mutants, who sent her consciousness back into the body of her younger self in order to change history. Apparently this is planned to be the plot of the next X-Men: First Class movie, and it will be interesting to see if they actually include a Kitty/Kate or not.

Kitty later changed her code-name from Sprite to Shadowcat, to mark her growing up, though she has always retained her sense of humour, her outspokenness and a certain awkwardness. She also acquired a small purple “dragon” along the way, Lockheed, who is actually an alien warrior creature but prefers people to think of him as her pet. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it increases his napping time?

In the Marvel Ultimate Universe, Kitty was not only a character in the Ultimate X-Men title, but also joined the regular cast of the flagship title Ultimate Spider-Man for a while, when she hopped into a relationship with the equally goofy Peter Parker. At a time when he had broken up with Mary-Jane because of her tendency to wander into danger and nearly get herself killed, a girlfriend who could literally not be hurt was very attractive to him, and Kitty was even willing to fight crime at his side in a costume, going against her usual policy of open identity, so that they could date, but a crisis meant that she was outed as Spider-Man’s girlfriend instead, and thus couldn’t openly date Peter. In a comic that danced haphazardly between angst and humour, Kitty fit in beautifully, her uncertainty and nervousness around romantic etiquette balanced with a refreshing confidence in her powers and status as a mutant superheroine.

Of all the X-Men, Kitty is the one who seems most ‘normal’ – and I swear I’m not saying that because she’s a white, brunette woman. She doesn’t have a traumatic or outlandish past, she’s not so crazy powerful that she can’t control it, and she doesn’t have love stories so very angsty that they threaten to overwhelm her character entirely (at least, hardly ever). For all the weird things that happen to her, she maintains a sensible and pragmatic view of the universe, and she’s the one most likely to make the self-deprecating comment that makes the bizarre space battle or mutant monster attack feel like it’s happening to real people. (Wow, I’m now starting to wonder if maybe she was as much an influence on Whedon’s Xander as she was on Buffy)

Like Jubilee and many others, Kitty suffers a bit from eternal teenagedom, in that she started out at a teenage character in 1980 and has only slowly been allowed to grow up, but unlike Jubilee she is now treated as an adult, albeit a young one with thirty years of bizarre experiences and fractured education under her belt.

I’d have her in my Scooby Gang any day.

Where the Wonder Women Are:
0: Introduction
1: Black Canary
2: Rogue
3: Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
7: Vixen
8: Abigail Brand
9. Jubilee
10. Batwoman
11. Catwoman
12. Huntress
13. Robin
14. Batgirl
15. Jean Grey
16. Ice
17. Emma Frost
18. Fire
19. Lady Sif
20. Supergirl
21. The Wasp
22. Gypsy
23. Misty Knight (and Colleen Wing)
24. Mystek

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