Tuesday, 25 August 2015

X-Men: Kitty Pryde and Wolverine

As part of an occasional look at material left out of the Essentials it's time to turn to this classic mini-series.

One of the less well reprinted X-Men mini-series is Kitty Pryde and Wolverine from 1984, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Al Milgrom. It's not often been seen again but did appear in the Marvel Premiere Classic line that mainly handles classic limited series and short storylines in a hardback format together with two alternate covers.

This series starts off incredibly slowly as Kitty, trying to pull herself together after breaking up with Colossus, discovers her father is involved in shady business with Japanese gangsters and follows them all to Tokyo by clumsily stowing away aboard an aeroplane. There she finds she is a fugitive in a strange land, lacking even friends or shelter and contemplating crime. The aim is clearly to establish her as a naive girl who has bitten off more than she can chew, but the pacing is awful. Worse still, her co-star appears only in one brief scene when Kitty tries calling the mansion but chickens out when he answers. The second issue is almost as slow, focusing upon Kitty's training and brainwashing as the mysterious Ogun turns her into an efficient ninjas, ready to kill even her dearest friends whilst Wolverine starts searching for her. Only in issue #3 do things start speeding up with the return of Yukio and a battle between Wolverine and the ninjified Kitty. The rest of the tale is one of training and prolonged conflict as Kitty rebuilds both herself and her life, facing down first the gangsters and then Ogun.

This is very much a tale of Kitty coming of age, as she comes to term with many of the certainties of her life evaporating and has herself almost literally deconstructed and recreated by Ogun in a memorable sequence as he uses first his katana to cut up her and clothes and then mentally regressed her to a baby before implanting ninja training as she regrows. Her regrowth under the guidance of Wolverine sees her recover not exactly her past self but still enough of her innocence and youth remains that she does not become as hard edged and brutal as Logan. This is also the tale in which she adopts the codename "Shadowcat", as well as an early version of what will become her best known costume. The business affairs of her father aren't given too much attention but by the end he and Kitty have reconciled as he accepts his mistakes made in good faith and turns himself in.

Whilst there's a strong emphasis on Kitty and her character development, her co-star isn't used so well. We get a revelation that Ogun is a key figure from Wolverine's past who he was once very close to, and although this characteristic hasn't yet been overused to the point of cliché, it is nevertheless a reminder of the problems of maintaining a major character with a mysterious past. If not handled well with a private history clearly mapped out then there's a real danger of such a past becoming a dumping ground for the needs of every individual story, leaving a sprawling mess of numerous closest friends and teachers and absolutely no overall coherence. As part of an effort to provide clear chronology to all Marvel titles, this series also sees Wolverine learn the news about his old friend Guardian of Alpha Flight but, unlike the out of season snow (due to events in Thor), it feels dropped into the tale for editorial purposes rather than a clear turning point in the character arc.

The setting of Japan may invite comparison with Wolverine's solo limited series but the only characters to return from there are Yukio and Mariko. Once again there's a look at how the notions of honour and duty are followed in that culture, but it's something of a sideshow to the main themes of growth, development and standing up the values and actions of one's parents, biological or otherwise. An attempt is made to build up Ogun as a great figure of legend, but the way the character is depicted and drawn just doesn't match up to such ideas. In general Al Milgrom's art just doesn't set things on fire as he struggles to match the style of Miller in a world largely defined by him.

Overall this limited series is rather disappointing. It's trying to contrast Kitty from Wolverine and develop her in the backdrop of his world without her losing her innocence and becoming completely like him, but the pacing is very poor and the themes feel awkwardly placed. Wolverine's past is a tricky thing to mine and the results are less than spectacular, making for a somewhat pedestrian affair that has the critical job of dragging Kitty forward from an innocent young girl to a worldly and ready young woman. Such a major development deserves a much stronger tale.

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