It’s a curious fact that Kitty Pryde’s story begins with editorial mandate. Jim Shooter told legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont that he needed to introduce a new X-Man – a teenager, to honour the fact that, hey, you know, the X-Men are based at a school – and Claremont and John Byrne worked together to create the character. Little did Claremont and Byrne imagine that they were creating a character who, this year, would be crowned the best X-Men character by Marvel.com!
By all reports, Byrne had been putting the pieces of the character together for a while. He’d liked the idea of going back to the ‘School uniform’ look, and came up with a power to make things intangible – Claremont took it in a different direction, of course. Claremont suggested the code-name Thunderbird, and that went through different versions, down to ‘Kitty Hawk’ – which reminded Byrne of a girl from his Art School, who’d been called Kitty Pryde. He sent a signed comic and a thank you note to the girl in question.
It’s interesting to note that Claremont and Byrne seem to have really struggled with Kitty’s code-name. ‘Sprite’ was dropped due to bad jokes; ‘Ariel’ came and went (possibly when Byrne realised Ariel in Shakespeare’s writings was male). Ironically, although the name ‘Shadowcat’ stuck around, she’s now best known simply as Kitty Pryde.
There are several reasons Kitty is so popular.
Kitty first joined the X-Men when she was 13, and – unlike many characters – she’s had a fairly progressive journey. With a few bumps along the road, she’s gone from the rookie kid to the All-New X-Men’s ‘Professor K’. What’s more, the sense of direction has been there since fairly early on, when the future adult Kate Pryde played a key role in the ‘Days of Future Past’ timeline; in the alternate-future ‘X-Men: The End’, she became the first mutant President of the United States of America!
For many X-Men fans, Kitty’s been the ‘girl next door’, a much more realistic character than most female super-hero designs. Sure, she’s drawn with a lot more curves nowadays than when she debuted, but rarely is she in the same range as, say, Emma Frost, or even Jean Grey. (Which kind of suggests the outrageous sexiness of some designs is actually unnecessary, come to think of it.)
Claremont mixed the design up very cleverly when he had Kitty be a little more ‘geeky’, adding a genius-level IQ when Byrne had imagined Kitty as your average thirteen-year-old. For male comic book fans, this gave Kitty just the touch of ‘nerd’ to imagine her as moving in the same circles as they were (remember, this was before comic books were cool). With ninja themes tremendously popular in the 1980s, ‘the ‘Kitty Pryde and Wolverine’ miniseries turned Kitty into a lethal hand-to-hand combatant who Wolverine himself respected. In the early 2000s, her genius manifested in computer skills (an aspect that I’ve been reminded Claremont had made part of her initial design, and one that made her rather timely). As a design, she’s always been very fluid, responding to cultural changes.
Although Kitty’s had many relationships, they’ve tended towards ‘sweet’; her childhood crush with Colossus was brought to a logical climax under Whedon’s pen, and she dated Pete Wisdom (essentially Paul Cornell inserting himself into the Marvel Universe and having himself date her) and, more recently, Iceman. The current relationship with Star-Lord cements the ANXM in the wider Marvel Universe, with Marvel intending to take advantage of that in the forthcoming crossover ‘The Black Vortex’. Curiously enough, this kind of ‘sweet’ relationship is fairly unusual in modern X-Men comics, where relationships have been dominated by the outrageous sexuality of, say, Cyclops and Emma Frost, or by the epic tragedy of Psylocke and Archangel.
One reason that Kitty’s so popular is that writers themselves grew up with the character, and are tremendously fond of her. Joss Whedon, for example, made her presence in ‘Astonishing X-Men’ a requirement of signing on to Marvel – and, in truth, she played a starring role in his run. The writers’ fondness means they handle her with a level of care they don’t always show with other characters, and it makes Kitty much more relatable than some other X-Men.
Is she really ‘the best’? I’m not convinced; but, to be honest, I don’t have to be. I know she’s one of the best, and that’s good enough.
blog search engine