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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

X-amining Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1-6

"Lies/Terror/Death/Rebirth/Courage/Honor"
November 1984 - April 1985

In a Nutshell 
Kitty Pryde receives martial arts training and takes the codename Shadowcat. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Allen Milgrom
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski, Joe Rosen (issue #4),
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones & Ann Nocenti, Ann Nocenti (#2-6)
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Issue #1: In Chicago, Kitty Pryde, on leave from the X-Men following her breakup with Colossus, visits her father Carmen at his bank. She overhears him being threatened, and interrupts a confrontation between Carmen and a group of Japanese businessmen. Carmen explains that the men represent a Japanese firm headed by a man named Shigematsu, who is buying the bank, but Kitty senses trouble. Her father leaves for Japan, sending Kitty back to Xavier's school. But Kitty, thinking Carmen is in danger, instead sneaks aboard a plane and follows him to Japan. Locating the office of Shigematsu, she is horrified to overhear her dad agree to use his bank to launder money.

Issue #2: Kitty is discovered but manages to escape by phasing through the building. Shigematsu's associate Ogun asks for Kitty as payment for his services, and Shigematsu agrees. Outside, Ogun knocks Kitty out. She awakens a captive of Ogun, and he psychologically breaks her down. He then rebuilds her in his own image, creating unwavering loyalty while training her in the ninja arts. Meanwhile, Wolverine arrives in Japan looking for Kitty and confronts Shigematsu, ordering him to turn her over. After consulting with Ogun, Shigematsu agrees, and Ogun, pleased with Kitty's progress, tasks her with killing Wolverine.


Issue #3: Wolverine encounters Yukio prior to his meeting with Shigematsu, and she agrees to check into Shigematsu's business for him. When Wolverine arrives at the meeting, he's attacked by a masked ninja. The ninja poisons Wolverine, slowing him down, and their fight breaks out into the city. Meanwhile, Yukio is attacked by Shigematsu's bodyguard, but manages to escape along with Carmen Pryde. Elsewhere, Wolverine and the ninja continue their fight, with Wolverine finally recognizing the ninja's scent. Yukio and Carmen, tracking the fight via the police radio, arrive at a train yard just as Wolverine unmasks the ninja, confirming it to be Kitty. Nonetheless shocked, he hesitates, allowing Kitty to run him through with her sword.

Issue #4: Yukio manages to knock out Kitty via poisoned spikes, and along with Carmen, takes her and the badly injured Wolverine to the ancestral Yashida home. When Kitty awakens, she's seemingly free of Ogun's influence, and Wolverine reveals that Ogun, who is seemingly immortal, was once his sensei as well. He believes that Ogun has imprinted a copy of his psyche on Kitty, such that eventually Kitty's body will simply be a vessel for Ogun's spirit. He sets Kitty to a series of grueling tasks intended to purge her of Ogun's influence and confirm her sense of self. Weeks later, Kitty accepts that she is herself once again, and leaves Wolverine to face Ogun, in order to overcome her fear of him and truly be free.


Issue #5: In Tokyo, Kitty, disguised as a ninja, confronts Shigematsu and demands he leave her father alone. She then leaves to confront Ogun, deciding to take the name Shadowcat. At the Yashida home, Wolverine realizes Kitty has gone after Ogun, and leaves to help her. In Tokyo, Ogun sneaks into Mariko Yashida's apartment, hoping to kill her and Amiko, Wolverine's foster daughter, to get at Wolverine. However Kitty, anticipating his move, has taken Mariko's place, and attacks Ogun. Their ensuing fight ends on the rooftop, and though Kitty holds her own, she's ultimately overcome by the ninja master. Just as Ogun is about to kill her, Wolverine appears.  

Issue #6: Wolverine and Ogun duel for Kitty's life. Wolverine, realizing he's outmatched, leaps off the rooftop, buying time to to come up with a way to turn the tables, and Ogun follows him. Below, Yukio and Carmen arrive to help Mariko and Amiko escape. As Kitty leaves to find Wolverine, Carmen goes to the American embassy. Wolverine and Ogun fight their way through Tokyo, and Kitty tracks them to an under-construction skyscraper, where Ogun offers her immortality in exchange for her soul. Wolverine, realizing what he must do to overcome Ogun, goes into a berserker rage which Ogun cannot counter, and defeats him. Wolverine offers Kitty the opportunity to kill Ogun, but she cannot, the final test which proves she is free of his influence. Ogun, however, tries to kill Kitty, but is killed by Wolverine in the process. Later, Wolverine and Kitty meet with Carmen, who reveals he's come clean to the authorities about his criminal activities  and is willing to face the consequences of his actions. Together, Wolverine, Mariko, Amiko, Kitty and Carmen celebrate their hard-fought victory. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Kitty adopts the codename Shadowcat in the course of this story, reasoning that she is no longer a "kitty" and has grown into a cat that favors the shadows. It's as much a stretch as Ariel or Sprite, but this one finally sticks, and she'll go by this codename more or less exclusively from this point forward (though she has not yet donned her definitive Shadowcat costume).

She will also possess/display martial arts skills from this point forward (issue #5 makes it clear that whatever skills she now possesses she's learned on her own, and are not a result of Ogun's psychic imprint), presumably a way for Claremont to give her more offensive capabilities given the defensive nature of her power. This series also marks the point at which we can add "ninja" to her list of traits along with "Jewish mutant genius superhero with a knack for computers and a pet dragon".


Though they've teamed up before and have displayed a father/daughter (or at least big brother/little sister) relationship prior to this series, this is the series that solidifies the mentor/mentee relationship between Wolverine and Kitty, something which will define their relationship and which Wolverine will later share with young mutants Jubilee and Armor.

Issue #1 marks the first appearance of Ogun (though his familiar demon mask doesn't appear until issue #2), a minor villain who appears again occasionally in the future, usually in Wolverine's solo series. He is notable for being one of the earliest elements of Wolverine's history to be revealed. He's a highly trained ninja master, who either via mutant or mystical power can transfer his consciousness into other bodies and possess people, making him effectively immortal. I believe he is slated to appear in this summer's The Wolverine film.


Art (pencils and inks) comes from Al Milgrom, a long time Marvel editor (he was the editor behind Marvel Fanfare, amongst other things) who often freelanced as a penciler and inker around this time. His work is generally...not to my taste.

Mariko Yashida appears in issues #5 and #6, along with Amiko (incorrectly called "Akiko" throughout the series), the young girl Wolverine promised to look after in X-Men #181. It is established that Mariko is serving as her foster mother, and though there's some attempt to setup a new status quo at the end of the series with Wolverine and Mariko serving as parents to Amiko, this thread is ultimately forgotten/dropped by Claremont.


In fact, in another case of Claremont's detractors blaming him for the excesses of his predecessors, this is the last time Claremont will write Mariko, or any kind of "Wolverine in Japan" story, leaving it to future writers to depict the fate of Wolverine and Mariko's romance and run the "Wolverine in Japan" tropes into the ground.

Issue #4 features Wolverine talking to Professor X (appearing between issues #186 and #188 of X-Men), in which Xavier tells Wolverine about Storm losing her powers (fin #185) and the death of Wolverine's friend James Hudson, Guardian, in Alpha Flight #12.


Also in issue #4, Yukio comments on the raging snowstorm, the result of the Casket of Ancient Winters being opened in Thor #348-349, which sets that issue as contemporaneous with issues #187 and #188 of X-Men, even though those issues were on the stands at the same time as issues #190 and 191. 


Kitty appears in the first issue with long hair (the better to be symbolically cut by Ogun in issue #2), despite having had a shorter haircut in Uncanny X-Men #183. Issue #5 has Kitty remarking to herself about her shorter hair and saying that the shorter style she had in issue #183 was a wig, a clumsy but appreciated attempt to explain the inconsistency in the art.


A future issue of Excalibur will reveal that Kitty's parents entered the Witness Protection Program following the events of this series.

Overall, this series is considered to take place after X-Men #183 through issue #191; Wolverine and Kitty will return to New York in issue #192, on sale the same time as the final issue of this series.

A Work in Progress
Kitty mentions a couple times that she's helped saved the world, once specifying that she's done so twice, though I'm not certain which specific X-Men adventures she's considering (the two Brood stories, maybe?).

It's revealed that Professor X telepathically taught Kitty Japanese prior to the X-Men's trip there in Uncanny X-Men #172. 

As in issue #158, Wolverine provides documentation that he has metal implants in his skeleton to get through a metal detector.


It's never made entirely clear exactly why Ogun wants to corrupt Kitty, so much so that he considers her payment for services rendered to Shigematsu.


Kitty overcomes the sedative Yukio gives her quickly, thanks to her "mutant metabolism", something we haven't seen referenced much lately.


I Love the 80s
Kitty sneaks aboard a plane using her phasing powers, then gets caught by a flight attendant asking to see her ticket.


In Japan, Kitty uses her power to take money from a "compu-teller".


Wolverine spends most of this series with a cigarette in his mouth at one time or another, most notably in the airport.

Kitty spends most of issue #4 rocking a one-shouldered, belly-baring tank top.


As Wolverine tries to help Kitty purge herself of Ogun's influence, she refers to him as Yoda.


In issue #5, Kitty comments on the relatively cleaniness of the Japanese subway compared to that of New York.


Also, I'm not exactly sure any "typical" teen has ever looked like this:


Apparently the game pachinko was all the rage in Japan at this time, and guns are said to be illegal.

Claremontisms
Wolverine occasionally refers to Kitty as "Kit", presumably another attempt to give her yet another nickname (he also uses the more well-established "punkin'") that doesn't quite stick. 

Artistic Achievements
Each of the covers of this series features some kind of split screen effect, usually with Kitty at the center. 

Young Love
Alone in Japan, Kitty yearns for some of Colossus' "special cuddles". 


Though happy to see Wolverine again, and willing to raise Amiko with him at some point, Mariko still insists she cannot marry him until she's restored her family's honor.


The Best There is at What He Does
Hinting at their shared past, Ogun mentions in issue #2 that his corruption of Kitty is what he had planned for Wolverine.


Wolverine later reveals that Ogun was once his sensei, and taught him everything he knows about martial arts.


Wolverine notably spends good chunks of this series recovering from a variety of wounds on different levels, his mutant power doing the job but requiring time to do so. Poisons, while not deadly, also affect him.

Teebore's Take
Like Magik and X-Men vs. the Micronauts, this is another limited series from this era that I'd never read before. While well aware of its significance in terms of Kitty's development (one can definitely draw a line between "Kitty before Kitty Pryde and Wolverine" and "Kitty after Kitty Pryde and Wolverine), any time I tried to pick it up I was immediately turned off by the art. So let's just get that out of the way: the art in this series is horrible. I've never been a fan of Al Milgrom's work, which I've encountered in several different places, and this series is no exception. That it is, at least, not unintelligible is the best complement I can give it. At its best, it is boring and uninspired, at its worst, it features tiny, cramped figures that barely rise above the level of scribbles.

Unfortunately, the story does little to make up for the artistic shortcomings. Nothing here is bad, it's just all very routine. Like the initial Wolverine limited series, this one suffers in hindsight, filled with cliche plot devices and narration that may have read better in 1985, before countless "Wolverine in Japan" stories ran the story beats into the ground. It's biggest saving grace, at least in 1985, was likely the involvement of Ogun, providing readers with some of the earliest hints at Wolverine's mysterious past, as well as the continued "Mary Sue-ing" of fan favorite Kitty Pryde. Claremont intended this to serve as a follow-up to that initial series, but already the law of diminishing returns has set in, with much of this reading like a watered down version of that series (and needless to say, Al Milgrom =/= Frank Miller). Even in the wake of all its imitators, thanks to Claremont's innovative prose and the strength of Miller's artwork, Wolverine remains a legitimate classic. This most assuredly is not.

Next Issue
Tomorrow we look at the first New Mutants annual, and next week, we return to the regular series and the Dire Wraiths in Uncanny X-Men #187.

8 comments:

Chris said...

I'll say this; it did not read better in 1985. I consider this mini-series one of the final hurdles in X-Men shark-jumping.

Blam said...


I've never been a fan of Al Milgrom's work, which I've encountered in several different places, and this series is no exception.

Yeah. It's a shame, 'cause he's a nice guy and a journeyman — the mainstream American comics industry was built on the backs of guys like Milgrom as much as on geniuses (some of whom were, remarkably, always dependable and outstanding). His Marvel Fanfare shtick was always fun. I even remember liking some art he did for Spectacular Spider-Man. Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, though, was just an endurance test.

Unlike such tangential material as the Iceman and Beauty and The Beast limited series, I did pick up every issue of this. While I don't actively recall the characters' prolonged absence from X-Men, the mini was clearly important to the overall impetus of the main series. And it was just all the more disappointing due to that fact, not to mention how it was so clearly a lesser thing than Claremont & Miller's Wolverine.

I hate to rag on JRJr. in a comment on a post that doesn't even cover his work, but for me a perfect storm was brewing. Romita was pretty much nothing more than a far lesser Paul Smith to my eyes on the flagship title; Marvel, wherever in the chain the blame may lie, was clearly willing to pump out substandard ancillary material in the name of cashing in on popular aspects of its Universe. On the one hand of course it may look like nothing compared to the later flood of spinoffs, but in some ways it's almost more offensive to follow up a singular standout project like the Wolverine mini with a lackluster sequel — 10 years later, look at the misguided attempt to cash in on Marvels, as if painted art was all that it was about — than it is to just constantly barrage (potential) readers with a glut of material featuring their favorite characters.

Teebore said...

@Chris: I'll say this; it did not read better in 1985.

Ha! Good to know.

@Blam: It's a shame, 'cause he's a nice guy and a journeyman

I know what you mean. I feel bad that I've never liked his work, especially since I love the relative novelty of an editor freelancing as a visual artist instead of a writer.

Marvel, wherever in the chain the blame may lie, was clearly willing to pump out substandard ancillary material in the name of cashing in on popular aspects of its Universe.

While the glut at this point never quite reaches the levels we'd experience in the 90s and beyond, this is definitely the era, even accounting for New Mutants, when it becomes clear that A. Marvel realizes what it has on its hands in terms of the X-Men's popularity and 2. Marvel is willing to exploit that popularity for financial gain.

It's definitely a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there are elements to the X-Men becoming a franchise that I greatly enjoy (there are several chunks of X-Factor that I like more than any of the other titles being published alongside it), and I overall appreciate the widening of the universe.

On the other hand, it does eventually lead to a glut of subpar spinoffs and pointless miniseries down the road, such that the good stuff almost gets crowded out, and more immediately to unfortunate stinkers like this.

Matt said...

I read this mini-series for the first time about two or three years ago, when Marvel issued a new collected edition. I was let down, to say the least, having assumed for years that this would be of the same quality as the Miller Wolverine mini. Not sure why I thought this, since I've never heard anyone discuss this series with the same reverence as that other one.

For one thing, given how much he's referenced over the years, I expected Ogun to be a bigger deal. His power does not seem all that impressive (though it may have been if it was established he was like a thousand years old -- but I don't recall that here). He essentially turns out to be just some random ninja dude, though he does wear a cool mask.

Al Milgrom isn't an awful artist, having done some passable Spider-Man work over the years, but after Frank Miller's work on the first Wolverine mini, his art here is kind of a let-down. Plus at this point, you'd think an X-Men project written by Chris Claremont would attract more of an A-level talent as penciler, maybe inked by Milgrom. The "tiny, cramped figures" you mention in your review do seem to be a trademark of Milgrom. That's also Jim Shooter's preferred style.

"It's as much a stretch as Ariel or Sprite..."

I actually think Shadowcat is the most appropriate of all Kitty's codenames. And it's definitely the one I prefer.

"... this is the last time Claremont will write Mariko..."

That's so weird. She was kind of a big deal for Wolverine. It's strange to think that Claremont just dropped her altogether for the next six years!

And this may have been Claremont's final "Wolverine in Japan" story, but it's certainly not the final "Wolverine in Asia" story. I think most readers, rightly or wrongly, tend to think of Claremont's Japan and Madripoor pretty much interchangeably.

Claremont did bring Mariko back in X-Men Forever though -- as a cackling villainess, no less!

"Xavier tells Wolverine about ... the death of Wolverine's friend James Hudson, Guardian, in Alpha Flight #12."

This has to be one of the most continuity-conscious limited series ever, between Xavier's recap to Wolverine and the Casket of Ancient Winters (which seemed to be referenced in practically every Marvel title around this time).

Also, I forgot about Xavier informing Wolverine of Guardian's death. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Byrne's full Alpah Flight run for the first time ever (after having only read 1-12 previously), and it's interesting to note that even there, Wolverine doesn't show up to comfort Heather Hudson for a few issues after her husband's death. Maybe this is why.

(Though more likely it's just that it took that long for Byrne to convince the editors to convince Claremont to allow him to use the character for an issue. Wolverine does appear in the issue immediately following Guardian's death, but it's part of a dream sequence.)

"Wolverine notably spends good chunks of this series recovering from a variety of wounds on different levels, his mutant power doing the job but requiring time to do so."

I seriously miss this version of Wolverine! The ultra-unkillable rage machine we have today just isn't interesting to read about.

Ugus said...

I seem to be in definite minority here, but I liked this back then. No, let's rephrase that: I actually really loved this. It came out as one huge volume in Finland in the late 80's, and was something quite different from the usual Marvel stuff. I still like the closed, creepy atmosphere. Especially the first half is great, with Kitty sinking deeper into darkness. There's a neat sense of "no escape". But yes, Ogun is a bit of a disappointment in the end.

I also agree that the art could be better. It's not horrible (or distracting even, at least not for me), but it's kind of unimaginative at times, and I wonder why a series like this didn't have a bigger artist assigned on it. The covers look cool, though.

Teebore said...

@Matt: though it may have been if it was established he was like a thousand years old

More "hinted at" than established, but the idea is floated in this series.

Plus at this point, you'd think an X-Men project written by Chris Claremont would attract more of an A-level talent as penciler, maybe inked by Milgrom.

What really mystifies me is the notion that maybe, at this time, someone at Marvel thought Milgrom WAS an A-level talent as a penciler. He certainly seemed to get plenty of work (including as the penciler of Shooter's high profile Secret Wars II).

I could see Marvel saying "hey, we can always use more artists" and tossing some fill-in freelance work to one of their editors, but to actually seek him out because you think his tiny, cramped, chicken scratch pencils specifically will sell comics? Man, I just can't wrap my head around why someone would think that.

Or, to put it another way: Milgrom's work is art that you tolerate if the story is good enough, but it's not art you'd seek out. Yet I think someone at Marvel (maybe even Shooter) seemed to think people would seek out his art, and gave him assignments based on that.

I actually think Shadowcat is the most appropriate of all Kitty's codenames. And it's definitely the one I prefer.

Definitely. And it's my favorite as well. I just chuckled at how Claremont strained to work in the "origin" for the name into the story.

I think most readers, rightly or wrongly, tend to think of Claremont's Japan and Madripoor pretty much interchangeably.

You're probably right.

Claremont did bring Mariko back in X-Men Forever though -- as a cackling villainess, no less!

Ha! That must have been after I'd bailed on the series - I don't remember that.

Wolverine doesn't show up to comfort Heather Hudson for a few issues after her husband's death.

Is that something like Alpha Flight #17 or #18? I remember seeing references to it in the Index, but I've never read anything past the first twelve issues of Alpha Flight.

I imagine that after all the effort Claremont put into making sure Wolverine's appearance in this series fit in with the main book, he was going to make damned sure that his appearance in Alpha Flight would fit as well, which probably accounts for the delay.

The ultra-unkillable rage machine we have today just isn't interesting to read about.

Indeed.

@Ugus: Especially the first half is great, with Kitty sinking deeper into darkness. There's a neat sense of "no escape"

The first half is definitely the strongest. After that, it becomes a lot more like a watered-down Wolverine.

The covers look cool, though.

I do like the covers - particularly the way they carry through the split screen gimmick in some clever ways.



Blam said...


@Matt: Wolverine doesn't show up to comfort Heather Hudson for a few issues after her husband's death.

@Teebore: Is that something like Alpha Flight #17 or #18? I remember seeing references to it in the Index, but I've never read anything past the first twelve issues of Alpha Flight.

It's Alpha Flight #17, yeah, which flashes back to — and reuses about half of the pages from — "Home Are the Heroes!" in X-Men #109. The cover date is Dec. 1984, same as this week's examined issue on the blog (Uncanny X-Men #188).

Neat though it was from a character/continuity standpoint to see Logan reunite with Heather Hudson after Mac's' death in Alpha Flight #12 and to give us a different perspective on a classic issue by interweaving panels from it directly into the newer story, the consensus among my friends at the time was that Byrne did himself no favors by directly contrasting his contemporary work with the earlier Byrne/Austin stuff.

I'm hardly a complete hater of Byrne's art post-Austin; I like some of his self-inked Fantastic Four, Gordon's and Ordway's inks on his FF as well, some of his Superman work as inked by Kesel, and his Namor as inked by both Wiacek and then himself. At various points, though, his interest in backgrounds has seemed nonexistent, leading them to become virtually nonexistent — or maybe his interest in speed, and the attendant flow of per-page paychecks, was simply greater — and generally speaking I find that his art suffers from being minimalist rather than embellished.

Teebore said...

@Blam: the consensus among my friends at the time was that Byrne did himself no favors by directly contrasting his contemporary work with the earlier Byrne/Austin stuff.

Ha!

generally speaking I find that his art suffers from being minimalist rather than embellished.

Agreed. Which is why so little of his most recent work does very little for me.