Our Own Superhero: A Matter of Pryde


By Michael Green

Published May 26, 2006, issue of May 26, 2006.
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Bar mitzvah boys can be divided, if you crunch the dataset right, into two groups: those who wished over their bar mitzvah cakes for superpowers, and those who wished to meet their favorite girl with superpowers: Kitty Pryde.

Granted this might be limited to the subset of bar mitzvah boys who know what a dataset is, but everyone I knew fell madly into the second category. We loved Kitty Pryde, the Marvel Universe’s first unabashedly Jewish citizen.

Yes, Kitty Pryde, who kicks butt for the X-Men as “Shadowcat,” is a comic book character, one with the ability to move herself and anything she touches through solid objects. “Phasing” they call it — nothing so flashy as eye-beams or telekinesis.

Those who didn’t grow up reading about Kitty will have a chance to meet her in movie theaters this week, with the release of “X-Men: The Last Stand.”Audiences got brief glimpses of Kitty in the first two film installments. The third promises a more prominent story for her (explaining her being re-recast with the far more substantial Ellen Page).

Now, to make clear the significance of all this, let’s take a moment to review the comic book basics:

The whole point of reading comics, all the more of writing them, is to escape the doubtlessly boring conditions of one’s life by imagining problems more fantastical and dire than one’s own — and, of course, more physically astounding ways of solving them.

This is why so many classic superheroes are invented by Jews. Legendary comic creators like Superman’s Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, Batman’s Bob Kane and Spider-Man’s Stan Lee: All were Jews dreaming up their more powerful, more effective, more attractive — more everything — and presumably Protestant doppelgangers.

And, by extension, this is why all those great characters are not Jews — so that they could deal with challenges more compelling than petty alimentation and allergies and mothers who plan dinner during lunch.

So given all that, why in 1980 did Marvel’s Chris Claremont and John Byrne unveil a superhero who was Jewish? Didn’t this defeat the purpose?

After all, on paper she’s marginal. Her power is limited, passive. While all her female teammates were busting at the bustline, Kitty had a figure skater’s slightness. Her friend Phoenix’s costume was painted on and bared it all; Kitty wore a puffy shirt.

Yet despite all this, she shined.

So why did she shine? Why did — who are we kidding? — why does everyone crush on Kitty so hard?

Well… because she was pretty, but attainably so. She was descended from Holocaust victims and survivors, and she fought evil in their memory. She was a genius with a computer; she was plucky in a fight. Also, she had a pet dragon.

She was drawn adoringly by artists who adored her as we did, rendered delicate and sylphlike in a world of globular breasted, fetish-wearing dominatrixes.

She was our fictional Natalie Portman, before we knew that girls like Natalie Portman could actually exist.

Yes, her phasing powers were passive, but they were cool. They let her be the perfect thief and spy. Plus, we never had to worry that she’d get hurt; bullets passed her by like high school sex passed by those reading X-Men comics.

In a way, Kitty’s selective intangibility itself seems an apt metaphor for the Jew in the modern Western world. She was both of and not-of this world. An embodiment of the immigrant’s wish to be present and still unaffected by one’s surroundings. There and participating, yet untouchable when need be.

And then there was that Star of David around her neck.

Remember, this is the world of superheroes, where religious assignations rarely get deeper than Thor’s hammer giving him away as Norse. But our Kitty, she led with her necklace — going so far, in one memorable moment, as to flash it at an attacking vampire to the same burning effect as a cross.

Like those who grew up reading about her, Kitty Pryde came of age when Jews were comfortable being Jews. Parents were trading in the old practice of shortening their last names in favor of naming their new daughters Aviva and Yaffa and Ariela. These girls grew up wearing their religious affiliations around their necks proudly, wrought in gold, never once considering any possible negative repercussions.

And so did Kitty Pryde.

No wonder we loved her so. She was like us, only with a pet dragon.

These days, a good 26 years after her introduction, it’s the guys who grew up obsessed with her who have begun to draw her fate. Little surprise, then, that, as written by Jewish day school-educated Brian Michael Bendis in the present run of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” Kitty Pryde has become the love interest of none other than a young Peter Parker.

Yes, now even Spider-Man has a thing for her.

He’s in good company.

Michael Green is a screenwriter living in Santa Monica, Calif.

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