February 27, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
KITTY PRYDE RETURNS
Between 2004 and 2008, Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, wrote 25 issues of Astonishing X-Men, with beautiful, painstaking pencils by John Cassaday. Like most of Whedon’s output, it’s witty, exciting and well-paced; it represents strong women who talk to one another; and it can reflect an uncomfortable male gaze. Whedon has said he built Buffy as an homage to the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde, the headstrong, insistently likable, science-fiction-loving, Jewish American girl who joined the X-Men at thirteen, and whose chief power is turning intangible (phasing). Kitty was often the only teen among adults, avid for peer approval she rarely received. Some readers who grew up with her character in the 1980s developed big crushes; others simply saw ourselves in her, especially since she was often coded bisexual, her power set a figure for the closet, or for queer erasure.
Whedon’s last plot sent the X-Men into space, where aliens fired a giant missile at the Earth; in order to save our planet, Kitty turned herself and the missile intangible… and could not ever change back. Whedon had condemned his favorite character to hurtle through deep space, attached to a big steely phallus, as if to say no future writer could play with his toy.
Enter M-Day, the disaster that disempowered most mutants in Marvel comic books; enter Utopia, the island haven the X-Men built for the mutants who remained. Enter Magneto, the former villain who long saw himself as defending mutants from humans, and who saw — having survived a Nazi death camp — the worst that humans can do; enter, too, writer Matt Fraction, experienced X-penciller Whilce Portacio, inker Edgar Tadeo and colorist Justin Ponsor.
Uncanny X-Men 522 (March 2010) begins with Kitty still inside the missile, in panels all faded and grey: “All she had to do was to keep it together forever and ever until she died.” Then the color scheme shifts to Magneto’s vivid reds and purples, in space (where he detects “metals in her phantom body”) and then on Earth. He levitates, cross-legged, eyes closed. Other X-people realize he’s used his magnetic powers to turn the missile around.
Magneto nearly kills himself with the psychological effort: close-ups show nosebleeds and crackly energy lines. He’s thinking — and other mutants are thinking — about safety, and sanctuary, and belonging. Who deserves it? What preserves it? Who gets it, and when?
“Either she’s coming home and it all works out,” team leader Cyclops concludes, or “the bullet is headed for Earth, and we’re all dead anyway, right?”
And then Kitty touches down, in something like fetal position, perhaps in shock, but on Earth. Magneto speaks: “Du bist tsu dar, tzatzkeleh.” “There you are, Kitty.” In Yiddish: the language of people the Nazis tried to destroy, the language that connects Magneto, and Kitty, and the very idea of survival after all seemed lost.
She has to go into a tank for medical observation (it’s happened to her before). She won’t be solid for a while; she can’t touch her sometime boyfriend Piotr, or anyone. But she’s home.
Uncanny X-Men 522 isn’t just a beautiful superhero comic (though it is). Nor is it just one with uncommon visual variety (though that too: expressive faces, crowd scenes, fiery interstellar trails). It’s a signal to Kitty’s fans — especially, perhaps, to the closeted ones, to those in bad shape, who can’t go home, or can’t leave a harmful home. If a favorite character can come back like that — with help — when it once seemed impossible… reader, maybe you can too.
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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