(Note: Over the next couple of days, I'll be doing a blog-a-log with 99Seats about the Chris Claremont/Al Milgrom mini-series Kitty Pryde and Wolverine. If you want to order it, you can buy it from Powells or your local comic book shop or read a summary on wikipedia.. our goal, however, is that you should be able to enjoy and follow along with the conversation regardless of whether you've read the book.)
It's really all my older brother's fault. Bill used to be a kind of pioneer, going through phases where he'd absorb some set of cultural signifiers, try them on for awhile and then ditch them. My earliest memory of one of these was his Michael Jackson phase (with sparkling glove), but I know there were others. His Punk and Post-Punk phase, complete with Double-LP of New Order's Substance, his love of skateboarding and the summer he built a half-pipe in our yard with the help of our father and some neighborhood friends etc.
This might seem like posing, perhaps, or trend-hopping. But Bill was always popular, and didn't need to try hard to make friends as a youth. This was something else, the chameleoning of a black kid with white parents in a majority black city attending predominantly white institutions? Perhaps. The roving search for a self through the trying on and discarding of various costumes? Maybe. If I asked Bill about it, he'd shrug his shoulders and in his quiet way say, "I was just doing what I liked". And as a child, sometimes doing what you like has thematic density and sometimes it's just a kid putting his sequined glove in a trunk, putting on his Queen is Dead t-shirt and thrashing around like a muthafucking punk over a decade after the Sex Pistols-- hardly bastions of authenticity themselves-- exploded.
The passions of my brother's that impacted me the most were the dorky obsessions. I was never going to be cool, I was never going to learn to breakdance. Skateboarding-- and the injuries implied-- terrified me, the Sex Pistols were scary, the Cure were too depressing. But Star Wars? Bring on the all-snow-day marathons! And video games? Exodus, Ultima III on the little Atari in Bill's room was a kind of powerful totem to me. It was an RPG that I did not understand in the slightest. It's directions were incredibly complicated, given my youth, and I barely managed to navigate purchasing things in the starting town before my team was eliminated.
And comics. Oh dear god yes, comics. My brother had a comic book collection. Spider-Man, Thor and the X-Men were the three stars, recurring again and again in this spin-off or that independent series or this cross-over. And oh, the cross-overs! Secret Wars, both One and Two. The consensus was that #2 "Sucked"--a word we whispered lest our mother overhear it and get the jibblies-- while #1 was awesome, because that's where Spider-Man's problematic black suit came from. And because once we saw what The Beyonder actually looked like, he was, let's face, totally lame:
Of all of the comics though, none enthralled me more than Chris Claremont & Al Milgrom's Kitty Pryde & Wolverine. In it (and I'm goign to warn you, I'm pretty much summarizing the entire plot here): Kitty Pryde's criminal father ends up being kidnapped and taken to Tokyo, and Kitty goes to follow him. She gets mixed up with Ogun, a perhaps-immortal ex-mentor of Wolveine's who brainwashes her and tries to turn her against everyone's favorite cuddly Canadian beclawed psychopath, who has come to Japan to rescue her. She nearly kills him, but then he deprograms her and they have a final confrontation with Ogun in which Wolverine slays his ex-mentor.
This all happens in 6 breathlessly-paced issues. And i do mean breathless. Page one of the first volume finds Kitty phasing through the forest while mourning her lost relationship with Colossus. In the next ten pages, her father gets beaten up, she's introduced to the Yakuza he's doing business with (including Ogun), makes a mad dash to th airport and stows away on a flight bound for Tokyo. By the end of the issue she' s had about eight misadventures, spent a night on the streets and called X-Men mansion. The plotting in this series is pretty dizzying.
This series held a fascination for me for two reasons. The first is that there's this whole motif running through it of eye contact. Most importantly, Wolverine tells this story of these two samurai who meet on a bridge and rather than have a deal make badass eye contact, figure out that neither of them will win and go their separate ways. Of course, before Wolverine and Ogun's to-the-death final duel, they have a similar moment of eye contact in which Wolverine believes Ogun will win but decides to-- to quote James Frey's tattoo-- "cut the bullshit, it's time to throwdown". As a kid, this was just unbelievably, incredibly awesome. The discipline! The mental fortitude! The Japaneseness! (this was, after all, the 80s). That story stuck with me, it's actually the only part of the book I remembered prior to cracking it open.
The second reason is that I, like many of my peers, had a big boner for Kitty Pryde. I'm pretty sure that's why she was created in the first place, and what she owes her longevity in the X-Men to, given that she can't actually really fight anything and her power is cool but not awesome like steel claws or the ability to control the fucking weather. Kitty Pryde was approachable in a way that, say, Mary Jane was decidedly not. Mary Jane was a big breasted actress with red hair and a physically impossible body and, one got the sense from all the calling people "tiger" and "lover" that she probably was sexually more than an eleven year old could handle, whereas in KP&W, Kitty discusses missing "cuddling" with her metallic boyfriend. Kitty was in high school, pretty, but by comic book standards normal, an honors student but not a genius. She got dumped by her boyfriend (as opposed to Spider-Man who had two superhot girlfriends, one as Peter and one as Spidie!), she fought with her parents... she went through normal teenage stuff. She was, to use a corporate media term, relatable. She's played in the films by everyteen Ellen Paige, a belieavable, naturalistic actor who is reasonably cute, while the other female leads are played by impossible beauties who are also terrible actresses.
Rereading the book, I'm surprised by it in a lot of ways that I hope to get to over the next couple of days.... let me turn it over to you, J: What lead you to KP&W for the first time as a kid?