Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Growing up with Pryde - Part One
(This article was originally written for BACK ISSUE #32, January 2009)
Kitty Pryde ranked #13 in Wizard's Top 200 Characters list of 2008 and, what surprised many, was that she was not only the first woman, but also ranked ahead of the iconic Wonder Woman. How could a plucky, resourceful teenager rank ahead of a battle-hardened warrior-princess? Approachability.
Kitty has been around for 30 years with roughly a few hundred appearances while Wonder Woman has been around for 65+ years with a few thousand appearances. Kitty is your girl-next-door with a mutant power, while Wonder Woman is an Amazon princess with the backing of the gods of Olympus. Would you rather spend an evening in casual conversation with Kitty or be intimidated by Wonder Woman?
Kitty’s notable ranking in the Wizard poll is a direct result of her loyal fans which in turn is a direct result of a cleverly designed teenage archetype. If you were a teenager in the 1980s and read Uncanny X-Men, you were probably like me and had a crush on Kitty Pryde.
Kitty was molded to be a love interest for their target audience of teenage boys. She was a geek’s dream: she was smart, loved sci-fi movies, excelled at video games, belonged to a superhero team, and kept a pet dragon. Kitty was never drawn as the typical comic book “babe”, instead, she was drawn as a perky teenaged girl with a glint of fun and mischief in her eyes.
Kitty Pryde was created by John Byrne in 1978. From Byrne’s first sketch of Kitty, he outlined: "My concept here is that Ariel should be not so much a new member of the X-Men per se, but rather the first member of a second team, a kind of "X-Men-in-Training" team.” Byrne’s “X-Men-in-Training” would come to fruition years later in the form of the New Mutants.
On the creation of Kitty Pryde, former Uncanny X-Men editor Roger Stern recalls that “Jim Shooter expressed an interest in seeing the X-Men get back to the original concept of being a school for mutants. Not a bad idea, but it wasn't easily going to work with Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops. None of those X-Men were really kids. And could you see Wolverine turning in a homework assignment? [Laughs] Yeah, me neither.”
Younger readers in the early 1980s might have had difficulty relating to the adult cast of the X-Men, but Kitty was the ideal character through which to view them and their world. She embodied everything the readers wished they could be and they lived the X-Men’s life vicariously through her.
“Kitty works because she’s cute and funny,” Louise Simonson, former X-Men editor, said in Marvel Age #11 (Feb. 1984). “She’s a youngster in a group of older people and therefore gives a fresh vision to a lot of the stuff the others take for granted. A lot of questions she has and the turmoil she goes through is something that they are beyond, so she gives a younger dimension and insight into the book, characters, and stories. She provides freshness.”
Katherine “Kitty” Pryde made her first appearance in Uncanny X-Men #129 (Jan. 1980) as her developing mutant power triggered Professor Xavier’s mutant-detecting device Cerebro. Her life suddenly got much more complicated.
“I liked her as John [Byrne] had presented her,” explains Roger Stern. “She was supposed to be the "normal" one -- the average middle-class kid from the suburbs of the Midwest -- I think her house even had a white picket fence. And then, out of the blue, she has a weird mutant power click on. Kitty was scared by what was happening to her, and seriously weirded out by all of the bizarre mutants and the strange world she suddenly found herself in. But, at the same time, she was a little jazzed by the thrill of it all, just like most of us would have been at that age. There was going to be something new and fantastic around every corner for her, and we were all going to go along for the ride. What a great, fun character Kitty was! Of course, once John and I were both off the book, she became a girl genius and a ninja and a spy, and lord knows what else by this point.”
Dazzler also made her debut in Uncanny X-Men #129 and served as an interesting contrast to Kitty as both of these characters couldn’t be more different. Dazzler was older, on her own, flashy, and loved to be the center of attention. Whereas Kitty was younger, still living at home with her parents, quiet, and used to being overlooked or ignored. Which one of these characters was more likely to create a bond with teenage readers?
Kitty was popular from the moment she first appeared. In the letter page of Uncanny X-Men #135 (Jul. 1980), Chris Claremont answered a reader’s letter: “You were one of the many - heck, why be modest? - the multitude of fans who applauded the debut of Ms. Katherine “Kitty” Pryde of Deerfield, Illinois. John [Byrne] and I figured we were creating a pretty nifty character, but we never counted on the incredible - completely favorable - response she generated. Whew!!”