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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

X-amining Pryde and Wisdom #1-3

"Mystery School" / "Mystery Walk" / "Mystery Train"
September - November 1996

In a Nutshell
Kitty Pryde and Pete Wisdom investigate a serial killer mutant who fossilizes his victims. 

Writer; Warren Ellis
Artists: Terry Dodson & Karl Story (issue #1), Dodson & Aaron Lopresti (issues #2-3)
Inkers: Lopresti, Pinnco, Simmons, Martin
Letterer: RS & Comicraft
Colorist: Ariane Lenshoek 
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor: Matt Idelson
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Issue #1: On their way to meet with Jardin, an old associate of Pete Wisdom's, Kitty Pryde and Wisdom are attacked. After foiling the attempted assassination, they meet with Jardin, who asks them to find his daughter Amanda, a journalist who has gone undercover trying to find a mutant serial killer who fossilizes his victims. They proceed to meet with the Mystery School, a subset of the police department tasked with investigating occult cases, passing one of their members, Gideon, on the way in. Examining the body of one of the victims, Pryde & Wisdom discover a series of strange symbols carved into the bones; reluctantly, Wisdom tells Kitty his family might be able to help them. On their way, they are attacked again, this time directly by the killer, but escape once more, their actions observed by a shadowy woman who declares they must die. 

Issue #2: Wisdom & Kitty meet with Wisdom's father Harold, who helps profile their killer and promises to contact Wisdom's sister about the symbols. Meanwhile, the killer hits on a young woman at the Drones Club  pub when he sees she is reading a book called Angels; she agrees to have a drink with him. Returning to their hotel, Kitty & Wisdom are attacked by men in black who, after being defeated, turn their guns on themselves. Later, Wisdom's sister Romany arrives, and the trio proceeds to the Mystery School, where Romany explains that the symbols are written in Enochian, an ancient Biblical language, and are part of an alchemical quest; she says the killer believes himself to be Cain, the first murderer, asking God for forgiveness through his victims. When Wisdom mentions getting a drink, something suddenly clicks for the Mystery School, and everyone rushes to the nearby Drones Club. There, the shadowy woman emerges, telling them they can't catch the killer, and if they do, she'll be forced to kill them. 

Issue #3: The shadowy woman reveals herself to be a mutant and an alchemist, one who intends to kill the killer quietly so as not to provoke an anti-mutant backlash. While Wisdom distracts her, Kitty knocks her out, then the Mystery School explains that the killer is Gideon, their missing member, who has always been something of a religious nut. They go to Gideon's home, where he is being held at gunpoint by Harold Wisdom, who figured out his identity, and Amanda Jardin, the young woman Gideon had targeted at the pub. Gideon manages to use his power to fossilize one of Harold's arms and escape; Kitty chases him into the underground, where he allows himself to be killed by an oncoming train rather than be captured. Later, Romany & Wisdom part on friendly terms, and Romany tells Kitty she knows that Wisdom has been secretly paying their father's expenses, despite their cold relationship. Back at their hotel room, Kitty suggests its time for Wisdom to meet her family. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This story introduces the Mystery School, a group of police detectives who work on occult related crimes, with members who riff on an established mystical character (the chain-smoking blonde woman is John Constantine, there's an Inspector Strangefoot representing Doctor Strange, etc. Despite this feeling like a concept Warren Ellis would want to revisit, this story marks their only appearance to date. 

One of their members, Gideon, turns out to be the murder Pryde and Wisdom are hunting, a mutant with the ability to transform matter into a fossilized state. 

The story also introduces Wisdom's father Harold and his sister Romany; the former is a cantankerous criminal profiler who has a complicated relationship with his son, while the latter is a more New Age-y occult expert. This is the only appearance of Harold to date, but Romany will pop up again in Ben Raab's Union Jack miniseries and later in X-Force during Ellis' "Counter X" revival.   

In addition to Gideon, Wisdom and Kitty are targeted by a woman who goes unnamed in the story, desperate to quietly kill Gideon rather than risk his exposure leading to anti-mutant backlash in the UK. She says that she could have been the British Professor X, helping locate and train mutants, but decided to leave mutants to their own devices.  

The end of the series has Kitty suggesting she and Wisdom visit her parents next, though she notes they'd have to track down her dad, a reminder of the "Kitty's dad is missing" subplot that has been largely ignored since it started up in Excalibur #76 and it was revealed that her dad was missing in issue #78.

Issue #3 (and only issue #3, for some reason) cites the creators of the title characters, John Byrne & Chris Claremont, and Warren Ellis & Ken Lashley. 

A Work in Progress
Inspector Jardin, a former associate of Wisdom's who appeared in issue #89, returns and serves as the vehicle to pull Kitty and Wisdom into the murder mystery. 

Wisdom notes that mutants in the United Kingdom have generally stayed more under the radar than their American counterparts. 

Wisdom reveals that his mom, who was killed as a bystander to a gun fight, died because she was shot waiting for Wisdom to visit, yet he never intended to show up because he was mad at her at the time. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
In issue #1, Kitty and Wisdom's car has a bomb placed in it set to explode if they slow down, a very Speed-esque plot point. 

Austin's Analysis
Though not explicitly billed as such, this limited series is essentially a spiritual sequel to the earlier "Dream Nails" trilogy that first brought Kitty and Wisdom together, hitting a lot of similar beats: it moves principally in Wisdom's world, features shadowy organizations and sunglassed-goons targeting the heroes, and hits the same kind of "X-Files by way of superheroes" tone and iconoclasm as that story (in the Mystery School, it even introduces some Lone Gunman-esque characters to pair with the Mulder/Scully Kitty/Wisdom duo). This story is structured as a more of a traditional mystery than "Dream Nails" (and in its brief allusions to the Jack the Ripper killings, echoes the Wolverine/Gambit mini a bit), and is pretty straightforward in that regard - if you guessed that the seemingly one-off character who received an undue amount of attention in issue #1 was the killer, well, you've watched as many police procedural shows as me. 

Thankfully, there's still enough of a question as to the how and why to make the mystery engaging, with all the business about the killer writing in Enochian and believing himself to be Cain falling squarely into Ellis' wheelhouse. More admirably, it also attempts to flesh out Wisdom a bit by introducing his family, and while his relationship with his parents is expectedly harsh and bitter for a character like Wisdom, his more sunny, New Age-y sister is genuinely fun, and the reveal at the end that he's been secretly taking care of his curmudgeonly father who blames him for the death of his mother is, while not cliché, at least a different kind of cliché for the character, and one which gives him a bit of depth relative to his "too cool for school" demeanor. 

If anything, the art is the biggest disappointment. It's perfectly serviceable, with the heavy lines both lending to the story's darker tones (and helping cover for the bevy of artists collaborating on it), but much of the story seems to take place at the same "medium shot against a bland background" level, with large swathes of white and black backgrounds replacing any actual detail to help establish mood and setting, all of which (combined with that bevy of artists) suggests some scheduling issues. It also would have been more fun to see this story in reverse, with Kitty bringing Wisdom home to her family and forcing him to move in her world, as the final page teases (then again, I suppose that's most of what Excalibur itself is). Ultimately, this is hardly essential reading for any but the most diehard Pete Wisdom fans out there (even regular Excalibur readers could skip it and not miss much, unless they have a particular penchant for vaguely occult-ish murder mysteries), but it does what it intends to do, both in terms of providing another Ellis-ian showcase for Kitty and Wisdom and by adding a bit of depth to Wisdom's character. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the Warren Ellis run concludes in Excalibur #103. Next week, Havok returns in Uncanny X-Men #339!

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  1. I loved this when it came out. X-Men comics with a bit of edge and occult stuff, for kids who weren't old enough for Hellblazer. Pretty sure I wrote in to Marvel asking for a F.66 series.
    As per Dream Nails, Wisdom's mother was killed in the real life Hungerford Massacre. It's... an interesting choice for a comic book character backstory.

  2. I like these kind of stories and would have been fine with it being extended to an ongoing series with a better artist (that likely have been cancelled at issue 12).

    Despite the homogenized mediocrity the regular titles were sinking into at the time, it was a great time for mini-series. Outside of the Psylocke/Archangel series I don't think any of them had much, if any, impact on continuity but they were mostly fun. I'm particularly looking forward to the upcoming Domino series.

  3. Wisdom reveals that his mom, who was killed as a bystander to a gun fight

    Pedantic, but Ellis is actually tying Wisdom's Mum's death to the Hungerford massacre, a real shooting spree from the late 1980s. I'm never quite sure if that's trashy and exploitative or not - I guess I'd say yes, but Ellis just about handles it sensitively enough that it doesn't feel too bad.

    1. I think the fact that Ellis doesn't name it concretely makes it less exploitative than similar uses of real-world events. It's vague enough that if you were unaware of the event (like I was until your post), you would just think it's invented for the story.

  4. I recall liking this one somewhat when it came out, but I wasn't exactly blown away by it. Reading it now, all in one sitting, I agree that the culprit is pretty obvious. The occult stuff doesn't do much for me, either. But I like the interplay between Kitty and Pete. Regardless of whether you think they're an appropriate match as a couple, Ellis certainly did a good job of selling it.

    I like Terry Dodson a lot, but I agree this isn't his best work. The gaggle of inkers on issues 1 and 3 don't help either -- though at the same time it's interesting to see him inked by other artists besides his wife, Rachel, who has been his exclusive inker for a couple decades now.

    I didn't realize Romany returned in "Counter-X" X-FORCE, though I well remember her popping up in UNION JACK a couple years after this series. It's revealed that she and U.J. (Joey Chapman) had been a couple at some point, and he goes to her for help with -- you guessed it -- a supernatural problem.


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