Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

It’s embarrassing that I missed this

I’ve been rereading my old X-Men — that is, the Len Wein/Dave Cockrum-created New X-Men — for a while now and recently reached X-Men #183. I remembered disliking it and still do, but it turns out I didn’t remember the worst thing about it.The Chris Claremont/John Romita Jr. story takes place right after Secret Wars. While on the Beyonder’s Battleworld, Colossus fell in love. Now that he’s home, the woman is forever out of reach but the experience has convinced him his love for Kitty Pryde was nothing of the sort.Kitty’s heartbroken by the breakup. The rest of the team are PO’d at Peter for breaking Kitty’s heart which leads to Wolverine taking Colossus out for a beer and some man-to-man talk.Wouldn’t you know, they pick the same bar where Cain Marko, AKA Juggernaut, is drowning his sorrows. He and Colossus punch each other out, Juggernaut leaves and Wolverine explains Peter’s being a dick.

I dislike the story partly because I don’t like Romita Jr.’s art. It rubs me the wrong way though I can’t verbalize what it is that bugs me about it. In this case, Claremont’s script is at least as much the problem. For starters, there’s Juggernaut. Early in his X-run, Claremont had a real flair for humanizing villains but this scene—— doesn’t work at all. Juggernaut’s not some bar brawler the guys caught on a bad day, he’s a bully and a thug who hates the X-Men. Complimenting them just ain’t his style. I’m not saying he can’t be shown changing but “he did himself proud” comes out of nowhere, completely discontinuous with his established character.

I also hate Wolverine here, and in a lot of stuff written around the same time. The way he delivers the moral message, he could be Peter’s sitcom dad, summing up the Very Special Episode.What I missed, and now find much worse than any of that, is that for all Wolverine’s outrage and the other mutants’ dismay, we’re talking about a relationship between almost-twenty Peter and 14-year-old Kitty.  Logan says she’s not a kid any more but that’s exactly what she is. If she and Peter were having sex it would be statutory rape; even without sex it’s not a relationship the team should be rooting for.

I suspect it didn’t register on first reading because in my head, Kitty was at least sixteen (that’s still below New York State’s age of consent but 16/19 in a fictional relationship doesn’t disturb me like 14/19). Even now, with the rereading fresh in my mind, my head canon insists that Kitty can’t be fourteen. Sure, she joined at fourteen but that was four years ago; Romita doesn’t draw her like a kid; and her references in other issues to the New Mutants as the “X-babies” had me thinking she must be older than them (nope. At least some of them are older). Maybe treating her relationship with Colossus as if she wasn’t jailbait influenced me too.

Claremont’s not unique. Eric Jerome Dickey had T’Challa deflower Ororo when he’s an experienced fifteen and she’s … twelve. George Lucas thought it would be more interesting if Marion Ravenwood was jailbait when she and Indy first did it (he’d have been mid-twenties). There are lots of other examples.

“Everybody is writing it!” though, is not an excuse.

#SFWApro. All images by John Romita Jr.


  1. Greg Burgas

    MightyGodKing did a fun post some years ago about what happened to the X-Men between Kitty’s 15th birthday and her 16th (I think, it may have been 16 and 17) because those dates were specifically referenced in the text, and it was … a whole hell of a lot of stuff. Maybe she was already 15? I’m just kidding, as that’s still absolutely skeevy. I’m surprised it took you this long to realize this, because it bugged me when I first read these things, in the early 1990s (I get that you probably haven’t read these in that long, so you get a pass!). I didn’t read these as they came out, but reading them in a bunch, you really get the full ickiness of the Peter/Kitty romance. That writers treated them like soulmates for so long (whether they still do or not, I don’t know) is weird and I never liked it. And this issue – which is fun in places, because the X-Men in a bar is usually fun – isn’t great, I agree.

    1. I’d like to think I’d have realized it sooner if I’d reread it sooner but this is the first time I’ve looked at the issue since it came out (not a reflection on quality, I just have more comics to read than I have time for). And no, in this one she’s definitely 14.

      1. In my teenage years I ignored much more extreme age issues, like one fantasy in which the middle-aged hero is lusting for a barely legal teenage girl. It didn’t bother me then because a)lusting for teenage girls felt perfectly natural and b)I unconsciously de-aged middle-aged protagonists in a lot of books so they’d be closer to me in age and therefore easier to identify with. When I reread the story as an adult, squick city.

  2. conrad1970

    I think this era of X-Men was the last time I actually liked Romita’s art.
    To be fair it was a big step down after Byrne and Paul Smith’s work, but his more recent art work is just bloody awful.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I bailed on the book when Paul Smith left. Hated Romnita Jr’s newer style, compared to Iron Man (was Bob Layton cleaning it up that much or did he try something new?), but I was also tired of Claremont, especially after the way he just killed Wolverine’s romance, with Mariko, after he literally put his life on the line for her. So, I missed all this stuff and am not sorry I did. I don’t have problem with the age thing, because Kitty wasn’t being written as 14/15 and age in comics is rarely reflective of real life. Also, comic book writers have a tendency to ignore anything that gets in the way of their story, which can be good or bad, depending on what they are ignoring and how good the story. I was never fond of Claremont’s handling of relationships as they were always dysfunctional and more about longing and turmoil than joy and sharing. Sure, it’s the drama of it and the precedent that Stan set; but, it isn’t realistic, anymore than a guy turning into living metal. So, I give the age issue a pass. Personally, when we are talking about the couple in question being younger than 20, I don’t think you can have a rigid standard as to what’s appropriate or not, especially if they are less than 5 years apart. Emotional maturity is one reason why. I was a naval officer and saw many a young sailor, under the age of 25, who were still teenagers, emotionally. That’s part of why insurance premiums remain high for young people, until they hit 25. It also seems to me that Claremont suddenly decided they were intimate, when I don’t recall anything before that to suggest they did anything other than kiss and hold hands. It’s all too murky for me to say their relationship was inappropriate until the excerpts here and it mostly consists of bad Claremont dialogue about how Peter devastated Kitty, but treats Peter’s feelings for someone he loved who is gone. I recall Will Jacobs & Gerard Jones’ The Comic Book Heroes talking about Claremont writing strong women; but, I think they missed the critique that he wrote weak men. Whether that is a reflection of himself or just the style he employs, I don’t know; but, his males, in relationships, are mooning puppies, while the women are mature and smart goddesses.

    The X-Men, to me, have always felt like adults, both the original team and Claremont’s. Kitty’s initial appearances and first year on the team was the first change to that; but, after that she was portrayed, more and more, as an older character. You could chalk it up to their adventures maturing her at a faster rate or just the inability of Claremont to write for a teenage girl.

    So, skeevy? I don’t think we are quite in that territory. If Kitty looked, acted and was presented as 15 or under, consistently, then I would say you have a stronger case; but, she was portrayed as a mature young woman and roughly of similar age to Colossus, who never seemed like a teenager, just a naive hick. I chalk it up to Claremont just writing bad relationships and then crushing them with bad ideas.

    1. Portrayed as mature, yes, but still fourteen, so still squicky for me. If Colossus was a little younger I wouldn’t fuss so much, but he’s not.
      Claremont’s women are a mixed bag. On the one hand, strong; on the other hand, constantly struggling to control their vast power/dark side before it consumes them and barely managing.
      I agree yanking Mariko out of Wolverine’s life was annoying. Sean/Moira and Charles/Lilandra are the best relationships to date.

        1. Edo Bosnar

          Just in general, it seemed for the most part that Kitty had a crush on Peter (perfectly normal for a 14/15 year-old girl) and he was maybe flattered but mostly kept her at arm’s length. Then pretty much out of nowhere – mainly in this issue if I’m recalling correctly – it’s implied that they were maybe actually ‘going steady.’ Huh?

  4. DarkKnight

    I loved Romita Jr’s art during this time and he gets even better when he starts on Daredevil though I’m sure a lot of that has to do with being inked by Al Williamson.

    This is one of my favorite eras of X-Men but I never liked the Kitty/Peter relationship and not just because of the age difference but also because I always felt like they had no chemistry what so ever. Now Kitty and Rachel Grey that’s where it’s at but Marvel still won’t pull the trigger on that relationship.

      1. DarkKnight

        Yeah would think that because of how close they are but Claremont has said he had plans for them to get together and wrote them as coded in Excalibur. Fast forward to today and Rachel is currently in a relationship with Betsy Braddock.

  5. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, I remember this issue… and not liking it, for similar reasons. This was really the beginning of the end for me as far as X-men was concerned. I was not only no longer excited by the book, but actively starting to dislike it. I limped along on automatic for a while afterward (superhero comic book fans can be such creatures of habit), but bailed sometime in the 190s.

      1. Le Messor

        My collecting was sporadic, but I’ve now got 1 to the ‘cancellation’ at, what 534.1 or something.

        Around about 200 is a good time to have quit.

        1. This was back when I’d never quit anything — they’re bound to get good eventually, right? Even if part of the series sucks, I’m going to want a complete run, right?
          The naive optimism of youth, where does it go?

  6. Alaric

    Going by memory, I’m pretty sure Kitty was 13 when she joined; I believe she celebrated her 14th birthday while on the team. And, yes, I agree with you completely about how disturbingly wrong that whole relationship was- I thought so at the time, too.

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