(Note: Isaac and I are doing a blog-through of the classic Marvel limited series Kitty Pryde and Wolverine. His first segment is here.)
It wasn't the good candy store. It was down the strip a bit, away from the elementary school. The candy store right by the school, next to the Key Foods, that was the good one, well-stocked, shiny plastic toys and the good magazines and a few comics. It was a kid's paradise, always full of loud children and stern clerks.
But the other one...that one was a little weird, out of the way, down by the Methodist Church, past the flower shop. No toys, a sad array of snacks. The clerk was indifferent at best, barely ever looking up from some lurid tabloid or other. But that one always seemed to have more comics. That was the one I went to for my X-men fix.
Like Isaac, I had an older brother and picked up the things he discarded. By the time we moved from Brooklyn to Jersey, he'd moved past comic books and into the world of real art. I was still a kid, ten years old, husky and suddenly the only brown face in my class. WTF? What the hell am I supposed to do now? Read comic books. And read them, I did.
I can still remember the first issue of the X-men I bought. It was the issue after Cyclops married Madelyne Pryor (I have provided links just in case you kissed a girl in high school). You don't really expect a comic book to open up with a splash page of a kiss, but there it was. The X-men is quite possibly the most complicated, intricate, and confusing comic book in the history of everything. Seriously, not just mutant super powers, but multiple alternate universes, timelines, dimensions, and versions of characters kicking around. You basically needed to be an eleven-year old to follow all the switchbacks and retcons. But that just added to the mystery and engagement.
My real thing was The New Mutants. The X-men was always a less than subtle metaphor for race relations (and sexuality and class and whatever else you want to throw on the pile) so it was an immediate attraction. Then you mix it with teen angst and unfortunate love affairs? Teh awesome. It made me feel older and cooler instantly. If there was anything ten year old me could relate to, it was the feeling of suddenly leaving your entire life behind, being thrust into a brand new family, new world and having to figure out who you are now. That's what the New Mutants were all about.
Kitty Pryde was the original New Mutant. They added her to up the youth quotient and it worked like gangbusters. She was cute, smart, brave and, as Isaac notes, accessible in a way that other comic book girls and women weren't. She really felt like a real girl. And yet, somehow, they made it not creepy when she hooked up with Colossus. It was cute and charming: big metal Russian guy and little chick from Chicago. Awesome. And then they busted it all up. With Secret Wars.
Okay, I won't go into the whole long saga of the Secret Wars. We can geek out about that another time. Let's just say that, at the end, Colossus and Kitty Pryde broke up, and we were all simultaneously psyched because we had a shot and heartbroken because she was. She was down, a sad, mopey teenager again.
Then came Kitty Pryde and Wolverine.
Kitty started off as a normal 13-year old girl, given the twee codename Sprite. Four years later, she was a young woman, had saved the world, fallen in love and had her heartbroken. It was time to grow up. And in the world of X-men comics, that means sending her to Japan to save her father from the Yakuza, getting abducted and re-trained by a ninja master and nearly killing her best friend. You know, coming of age, comic-book style.
But it landed at the right time for a pre-teen boy. The story had every thing: mysterious gangsters, kung fu fighting, ninjas, a pretty girl and Wolverine. But mainly it was about becoming an adult. Kitty moves from a world of good guys and bad guys you can differentiate by the color of their costumes into a much more complicated place. At first she thinks her father is being framed or being coerced into working with the Yakuza, but it turns out he's a lot more willing than she thought and weaker than she could have imagined. She is basically kidnapped by the mysterious Ogun, but learns fighting and meditation under his tutelage. The final image of the comic is of an excited teenager about to dig into a sundae, seemingly normal, but we know that underneath she's not the same. After this series, she left behind the codename Sprite and became Shadowcat, and a leader in her own right. It was a turning point for the character. And for her fans. Who were all facing some turning points of their own. Thank God, we had the other candy store. You know the one. By the flower shop. Across from the Methodist Church. The one with the good comics.