Guest Post: The Choice That Defined Kitty Pryde
The below is a guest post courtesy of Priya Saxena exploring the choice by Kitty Pryde to become an X-Man. Priya enjoys reading comics and writing about comics. She hopes to one day own every single issue of the original New Mutants series (except #98, because screw Deadpool) Follow Priya on Twitter.
In the world of the X-Men, one becomes a mutant through birth – arbitrarily – but one must make the conscious choice to become an X-Man. This is the choice that 13-year-old Kitty Pryde is forced to wrestle with soon after she learns that she is a mutant. In Uncanny X-Men #129-131, Kitty becomes entangled in the Hellfire Club’s plot to capture and eliminate several members of the X-Men. This series of issues is well known for kicking off the Dark Phoenix Saga, the storyline in which Jean Grey, known as Phoenix, taps into the dark, destructive side of her recently acquired cosmic powers after discovering she has been manipulated by Mastermind of the Hellfire Club. For this reason, critical examinations of these issues tend to focus on Jean, her descent into Dark Phoenix, and the effects this has on the characters surrounding her. However, these issues also serve as the heroic origin of Kitty Pryde. Although Kitty doesn’t formally join the X-Men until Uncanny X-Men #138, it is in issue #129 that she first truly chooses to be one of the X-Men – a choice she will continue to make again and again throughout her history.
When we’re first introduced to Kitty in #129, she’s got a lot on her plate. She’s 13, her parents are splitting up, they’re looking to send her to boarding school, and she has been experiencing awful headaches. These headaches, we soon discover, have been brought on by Kitty’s emerging mutant power, something that has caught the attention of both the X-Men and the Hellfire Club. From the moment we meet her, it’s clear that Kitty is in a stage of her life that is full of change and upheaval. Equally clear is the fact that she is not happy about it. All she wants is for her life to go back to the way it was, before her parents began talking about divorce and before she starting getting these headaches.
It is no coincidence that we are introduced to Kitty as a teenager here. Many of her woes are related to the adolescent state she’s in, as someone who is not quite a child anymore but not yet an adult. Her parents’ impending divorce and their attempts to send her to boarding school signal the fracturing of her family and the end of her childhood. The emergence of her mutant power occurs at puberty, which previous X-Men comics have established is common for mutants. But the aches and fatigue which accompany the onset of her power are new to X-Men lore, and are rather reminiscent of menstruation symptoms – something else that arises at puberty. Initially, Kitty is frightened by these changes and resistant to them. But like it or not, she must accept the way that her life is changing. Her story across these three issues of Uncanny X-Men is the story of an adolescent who is forced to choose who she is going to grow up to be.
In #129, Kitty comes home from dance lessons to find her parents talking with Ms. Emma Frost, representative of a school in Massachusetts and, unbeknownst to Kitty or her parents, the White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Even though Kitty doesn’t know about Frost’s villainous background, she immediately dislikes the woman. Right after Frost departs, the Pryde household is visited by Charles Xavier and several of his X-Men. Like Frost, Xavier seeks to convince Kitty’s parents to allow her to attend his school. But unlike Frost, Xavier’s intentions are good; while Frost intends to recruit Kitty into the Hellfire Club for nefarious purposes, Xavier wants her to join the X-Men so she can learn to control her powers and defend herself. While Xavier talks with Kitty’s parents, Kitty goes to the malt shoppe with the other X-Men. She decides she likes Ororo Munroe, known as Storm, as instantly as she had decided she disliked Frost.
Emma Frost and Storm are very clear parallels here. For Kitty, they represent the two possible paths she could take, although she doesn’t yet know just how drastically they are opposed to each other. She could go with Frost and become initiated into the Hellfire Club, deceiving and manipulating others for personal gain. Or she could go with Ororo and join the X-Men, protecting humanity from mutant threats and working to achieve Xavier’s dream of a world where humans and mutants are equal. Looking at Kitty’s amazed expression as Ororo tells her that she and the others are X-Men while they chat and have milkshakes together, it seems obvious that Kitty will choose Ororo and the X-Men over Emma and the Hellfire Club. However, the attack and abduction of the X-Men by the Hellfire club soon complicates things.
In the mayhem of the attack in the malt shoppe, Kitty accidentally uses her mutant power to escape, phasing outside the building. The X-Men fend off some of their attackers, but a telepathic attack from Frost, now in her White Queen attire, takes them down. Frost and some Hellfire goons load the unconscious X-Men onto their hovercraft. The final page of the issue shows Kitty sneaking onto the hovercraft using her phasing power and observing Frost and her lackeys rendering the X-Men defenseless. Kitty is horrified by this sight. She feels obligated to help the X-Men, but also recognizes that she is way out of her depth.
Uncanny X-Men in this era is very interested in choices and their repurcussions. At the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean Grey makes the choice to sacrifice her life in order to stop Dark Phoenix from causing more death and destruction. A few issues later comes the Days of Future Past storyline, which imagines a grim, dystopian future for the X-Men that came about as the result of anti-mutant legislation in response to mutant terrorism. In both of these situations, it is the actions of one person or a small group of people at a particular point in time that have drastic effects on the rest of the world – the rest of the universe, even.
At the end of #129, Kitty is faced with a choice: whether or not to help the X-Men. The outcome may not be world-shattering, but it is nevertheless crucial for Kitty as a character. One option would be for her to simply turn around and leave the way she came, phasing through the back of the hovercraft and abandoning the X-Men. Neither the White Queen nor the X-Men would even know she had been there. She could allow the X-Men to meet whatever horrific fate the Hellfire Club has in mind for them, and wait at home for Ms. Frost to contact her family about boarding school again.
The other option is the more life-threatening one. Kitty could stay and try to help the X-Men escape. In doing so, she would be making an enemy of Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club. Given the Hellfire goon’s weapons and the White Queen’s psychic powers, Kitty could be caught, injured, or even killed. But at least she wouldn’t be turning her back on her newfound friends. Also, if she helps the X-Men, then they might be able to help her avoid the clutches of the Hellfire Club.
In #130, Kitty makes her choice. Hiding in the industrial complex where the White Queen has imprisoned the X-Men in cages, Kitty thinks, “I oughtta have my head examined, thinking I can free the X-Men all by myself. But I’ve got to do something. Storm is my friend. I can’t desert her—or the others.” In the next panel, as she sneaks toward the cage holding Storm, she thinks, “’Sides, from what I’ve heard, once these creeps are done with the X-Men, they’ll be coming after me!”
In this moment, Kitty choses Storm over the White Queen. She chooses the X-Men over the Hellfire Club. In sneaking over to help Storm, she shows her allegiance to Storm and the rest of the X-Men. Although Kitty is well aware of the danger, she tries to help Storm anyway because of the friendship she feels toward her. This friendship causes her to feel a responsibility to help Storm and the other X-Men. Her desire for the X-Men to protect her from the Hellfire Club factors into her decision to help them, but it is secondary to her need to stand by her friends.
In a larger sense, this is Kitty taking her first step into her new life. Now that she has shown her allegiance to the X-Men, her life will be forever changed. In #130-131, she helps the X-Men by calling Xavier’s mansion for backup and, as Cyclops instructs, sneaking back into the compound and freeing Wolverine from his cage. It is frightening for her, this teenage girl who discovered her powers and met the X-Men only a few hours earlier. But Kitty and all the X-Men make it out safely, and it’s all thanks to Kitty’s help.
At the end of #131, Kitty returns home to her worried parents. But she won’t be staying there for too much longer. Kitty’s parents decide to send her to Xavier’s school (albeit in part due to Phoenix’s mental manipulation), and she shows up on the steps of the mansion in #138. From there on out, she begins training with the X-Men, learning to control her powers and becoming better acquainted with the other members of the team. She leaves her old family behind and integrates herself into a new one, all because of her decision to help the X-Men instead of fleeing. She takes this essential step in determining what kind of adult she is going to be and what kind of life she is going to live.
The X-Men are often described as a family, and that’s what they are to Kitty. In this tumultuous time in her life, with her parents splitting up and her powers emerging, she craves a stable core of people who will love and support her. She finds this in the X-Men. Not only do they welcome her onto the team, they nurture and guide her, both in the use of her powers and in her moral and psychological development.
The X-Men provide the sort of care that Kitty needs in this stage of her life as she transitions from child to adult. Kitty’s parents wouldn’t have been able to nurture Kitty in this way, because they are humans and because she has outgrown them for the time being. The Hellfire Club would have nurtured her in a very different way, perhaps grooming her to become evil just like them. So it is something very unique and valuable that Kitty Pryde receives from her time with the X-Men. Clearly she made the right and necessary choice for her personal development. Who she becomes going forward – X-Men member, Excalibur co-founder, X-Men schoolteacher, Marauders leader – can be traced back to this very crucial moment early on in her publishing history, where she chooses compassion and growth over cowardice.