At its heart, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine is a coming of a age story, it’s also the teenage version of the more famous Dark Phoenix Saga. The Dark Phoenix Saga is hard to explain in that twisty, aggravating ways that X-Men plotlines are hard to explain, but to put it briefly: Jean Gray, a not-particularly-powerful psychic, is exposed to some cosmic radiation and becomes a being of nearly unlimited power (literally made up of psychic energy) named The Phoenix. She returns to Earth and decides to limit her power for the good of the Universe, then she is psychically manipulated by a villain named Mastermind, who can create huge completely fictional scenarios and trap people in them. The fight to get her back shatters the psychic barriers she had put on place over her power and she goes coo-coo bananas and destroys a far-off star, killing billions of sentient beings. Eventually, the X-Men get her back under control, but an alien Queen wants her to pay for her crimes. Antics ensue, she eventually commits suicide.
For those of you out there interested in the whole gender-politics side of superhero comics, Dark Phoenix is like a never ending cornucopia of male paranoia. Mastermind does his psychic number on Phoenix for no reason other than he wants to have sex with her. The aftermath of her cheating on her husband is to lose total control and become a pure destructive force. She eventually has to pay for her crimes by disintegrating herself. Said suicide is the only point in the entire saga in which she had any agency whatsoever. Her lack of agency is, in fact, the reason why The Dark Phoenix Saga is a tragedy. Jean Grey is undone due to circumstances completely outside of her control. She gained her superpowers by accident, was psychically controlled by someone else and then went insane. She’s not even rescued from her insanity by the force of her own will, Charles Xavier is the one who has to come in and reprogram her brain.
In other words, ew.
Similarly, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine is about a female character and the various male figures who fight over control over her. Here, however, they’re not husbands (Kitty, remember, is a teenager) they are instead potential fathers. First, there’s her own father, week, morally compromised and largely absent. Then, there’s Ogun, who is domineering and controlling. Third, there’s Wolverine, who has a tough-love approach and wants to teach Kitty how to make decisions for herself. The book can be understood on some level as a battle between these three forces.
Ogun is the villain not only because he’s a Yakuza but because he doesn’t want Kitty to have free-will. He wants to brainwash her, to transfer his soul into her, and make her like him. This desire is (in one of the more disturbingly adult aspects of the book) sexualized. Kitty describes Ogun as getting “inside” her. When they first meet, his eyes “linger” on hers. When he first captures her, he cuts her hair and clothes off with a sword, in a way that feels both like undressing a lover and like dismembering a foe.
In other words, ew.
Like Jean Gray, as a result of having her mind controlled by a man, she does something horrible (in this case, run Wolverine through with a katana after defeating him in battle). But comics play by horror movie rules, and Kitty Pryde’s a virgin, so she gets to live and be redeemed through Wolverine’s tough love. (About those horror movie rules, Kitty Pryde does eventually get killed off, by Joss Whedon—who seemingly doesn’t know how to write a plot without killing off a major character— in a plot line that features her having sex with Colossus, although no one stays dead in Marvel comics and she is apparently on her way back even as we speak).
Wolverine’s parenting style is explicitly about the child’s agency. He can train her and show her the way, but it’s up to her to decide what she wants. Over and over again, people—including Kitty— ask him why he can’t be lighter on her, he responds with stuff like this: “The trick is taking the hand you’re dealt an’ winning anyway. It’s a decision only you can make, Katherine, the most important you’ll ever face… The only one that matters.” How tough is Wolverine’s love? Immediately after saying this he abandons her in the middle of a forest in a blizzard after she’s collapsed from exhaustion. Yikes.
The fight for Kitty’s soul is made literal on the covers of the various issues, two of which feature Kitty in the center bisected by a line with Ogun on one side and Wolverine on the other:
It’s important to note, though, that this volume is not just an important turning point for Kitty, it’s also an important turning point for Wolverine, but for more on that, I turn this over to J…