Monday, February 17, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #168 (April 1983): My first subscription comic!

Did you ever love a comic so much you subscribed to it?  Sure, people have "pull lists" these days.  We had those back in the antediluvian days of comic book fandom, too.  I mean, my antediluvian days, which were the early 1980s.  I had a pull list at two different comic book shops, but both of them went out of business fast.  There were not enough people like me to support them in our small southern town.  So to primitive me, subscribing to a comic for a year and getting issues in the mail was the sign of true love.  Like offering a sweater or a ring to that special someone.  My special someone was Uncanny X-Men.  And Uncanny X-Men #168 (April 1983) was the first issue that came straight from Marvel to my mailbox.  What a day that was!  I was always the first person home, so my responsibilities included running out and checking the mail.  And there was a brown wrapper with a battle-damaged Kitty Pryde inside.

"PROFESSOR XAVIER IS A JERK!" Kitty exclaims in the splash panel, pointing accusingly back at the readers as if we don't believe her. 

I remember this as a shocking moment, a new, upstart character badmouthing an old school stalwart.  Apparently, others felt the same about it because Joss Whedon and John Cassaday would recreate it as a Kitty memory when she returns to the mansion during the first moments of their initial Astonishing X-Men story arc.  What had Xavier done to piss off Kitty?  He refused to let her be an X-Man because it was too dangerous.  To add insult to injury, he also forced her to join the New Mutants trainee team, which is like being demoted from the Majors to low A ball in the middle of the season.

Uncanny X-Men #168 (April 1983), Script: Chris Claremont, Pencils: Paul Smith, Inks: Bob Wiacek

Kitty does her best to prove Xavier wrong throughout the issue, but at first, her attitude is pretty much what you'd expect from a disappointed fourteen year old.  She flips.  Her calmer, cooler friend Illyana immediately calls her out for acting like the child Xavier already thinks she is.  And Illyana should be the one to show maturity.  She and Kitty are roughly the same age, but Illyana is also the demon queen of the Limbo dimension.  Being a demon queen gives one a more advanced perspective. 

Ah, the art!  There is some excellent acting throughout this book and it's all just so clean, so slick, so easy on the eyes.  Paul Smith took over Uncanny X-Men after Dave Cockrum left the book for a second time to write and draw his own property, The Futurians. While I really dug his return, Smith immediately piqued my interest with his ultra-sleek linear style.  With Bob Wiacek finishes, practically everything in the book seems made of polished metal.  Okay, I'm exaggerating, but Kitty's hair certainly has a metallic look.  And good portions of the story take place in the X-Mansion's lower levels where the walls actually are polished metal.  The Smith-Wiacek team is my third art team on this book and the last to capture my imagination.  I copied their Kitty-hair and style of drawing noses for months, but the Smith-Wiacek Storm is the character at her most goddess-like.  Absolutely beautiful.  Then they gave her a Mohawk.

Dubious fashion choices aside, the father-daughter dynamic Chris Claremont works in this issue is a lot of fun.  Professor Xavier has the dad role, of course, and Kitty is the typical teen who wants to prove to her parents she's grown up enough to make her own choices about risk taking.  For most of Kitty's contemporaries, this would mean going un-chaperoned to a Duran Duran or Michael Jackson concert.  Everyone else is going!  Why can't I?  Since Illyana is apparently Kitty's only age-appropriate friend and the rest of the people she hangs out with rarely attend pop concerts but instead have superpowers and enjoy dressing in colorful leotards to launch into space and fight insectoids, that's what she wants to do.

After she realizes throwing a tantrum isn't going to help, Kitty calms down and puts her intellect to work on the problem.  She tries various strategies to change the Professor's mind, from whipping him at chess while explaining her considerable advantages to shouting to shameless brown-nosing.  The progression Claremont presents is just so believable.  Who hasn't tried each of these with parents?

Then, unlike those of us who never got to see the Go-Gos or the Replacements until we were out of the house and in college, Kitty gets lucky, because some space cockroaches who shoot magenta ray beams from their eyes have infiltrated the mansion's creepy-crawly basement.  This is all very reminiscent of the time Kitty faced off against a N'Garai demon by herself, but provides another, very convenient way for Kitty to present her case.  And out of all the things Kitty's tried, it's the most effective, because she gets to showcase a number of her intrinsic capabilities and all those extra things she's learned so far from people like Xavier, Cyclops, Storm and even Wolverine.  Yeah, as if Wolverine knows anything about fighting.

Claremont, Smith, Wiacek

And that brings us back to the cover, because fighting these bugs is how Kitty ended up in the bruised, ripped and still defiant pose I first saw after slipping the comic out of the wrapper.  Colossus turns up just in time to save our gutsy Kitty, but she's finally made her point.  Professor X puts her back on the team, with a probationary proviso which Kitty sensibly agrees to.  She also gets a pet dragon, which is like the ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy.  Imagine for a moment what it's like to be Kitty Pryde.  You're young, you're a genius, you're spunky and heroic, you've got hair so shiny people in shampoo commercials turn weepy with envy, you get your fondest wish... and you get to have the coolest pet ever.

As an added bonus, you also get your own fan page:

Uncanny X-Men #168 (April 1983):  Alliteration sometimes leads to adverse accidental acronyms

Nobody did all that for me when I was 14!  Oh well, shoot, after all that, she deserves it.

No comments: