Friday, February 25, 2005

Kindred spirits

Today's comic art moment is brought to you by the letter "S."

This charming scene pairs two generations of superheroes: The Spirit, the late Will Eisner's seminal character from the Sunday newspaper supplements of the 1940s, and Shadowcat, the youthful costar of such Marvel series as X-Men and Excalibur. (I've written at length about the Spirit previously — check out this post if you missed it.)

Shadowcat — whose "real" name is Katherine Pryde but is universally referred to as "Kitty" by her peers — has always been one of my favorite characters in the latter-day X-Men, because her playful nature harkens back to a more innocent time when superhero comics weren't so grim as they are today. Introduced early in the run of the "new" X-Men in the 1970s, Kitty started out as something of a "little sister" to the rest of the X-Men (she was only 13 when she first appeared) — rather like an updated version of Mary Marvel, another favorite of mine. As the character matured, she usually retained a good deal of her adolescent exuberance (depending on the writer handling her adventures). She even adopted a pet dragon named Lockheed, reminiscent of the super-pets that populated the Superboy/Supergirl stories of the '50s and '60s.

For those of you who only know the X-Men from the movies, Kitty is the "little girl who can walk through walls" Professor Xavier mentions to the President near the end of X2: X-Men United. We see her exercise her powers briefly in both films, though she's played by a different young actress in each picture: Sumela Kay in the original X-Men, and Katie Stuart (who starred in the TV miniseries A Wrinkle in Time) in X2.

Why these two characters together? The common elements here are a bit subtle. In her early years in the X-Men, Kitty changed code names and costumes practically every other issue. For a brief while, she called herself "Sprite," a word which (you're way ahead of me) is derived from the same root as "Spirit."

Also, Kitty and the Spirit are two of the surprisingly few Jewish characters in mainstream comics — surprising because many, even most, of the prominent creative forces in the Golden and Silver Ages of comics were Jewish. Kitty Pryde openly declared her heritage some years ago, and even sports a Mogen David occasionally when not in costume. Will Eisner always said he never thought of the Spirit as Jewish specifically, but I'll accept the testimony of comics writer and historian Jules Feiffer, who assisted Eisner on The Spirit for many years. Feiffer says he always identified the Spirit as Jewish: "His name may have been Denny Colt, but you knew it had been Cohen at some point."

For this marvelous piece of art, I'm grateful to the talented Brian Douglas Ahern, who signs his work "Briz." For several years, Briz wrote and drew the monthly calendar feature in Wizard, the bible of the comics industry, as well as a popular cartoon, "The Adventures of Bumpkin Buzz," which appeared in the Comics Buyers Guide.

Briz's lighthearted cartooning style is perfectly suited to these two heroes, and he did a delightful job in bringing this scene to life. He even incorporated Eisner's famous trope of working the name of his hero into the landscape of his opening panels — you can see "Spirit" spelled out in the swirling litter in the background, and "Kitty" etched like graffiti into the brick wall. Trés cool.

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Chawunky offered these pearls of wisdom...

Now that's pretty damn cool.

3:33 PM  

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