ComicsVerse is celebrating the 12 Days of X-Mas by taking a look at some of our favorite X-Men holiday-themed issues! Today, we’re talking about Kitty’s first Christmas with the X-Men in UNCANNY X-MEN #143.

A lot of things change from the first X-Men holiday issue, UNCANNY X-MEN #98, to the second, UNCANNY X-MEN #143. The 1980 issue takes place post-Dark Phoenix Saga, during an emotional era when the X-Men thought Jean Grey was dead. Many characters, particularly Cyclops, are still grieving her. Thirteen-year-old Kitty Pryde is now a member (and student) of the X-Men and is learning how to be a superhero. Her trials as Xavier’s latest pupil take center stage in UNCANNY X-MEN #143. Kitty was one of writer Chris Claremont’s favorite characters, so it’s no surprise this holiday issue stars the young mutant.

What is somewhat surprising is just how dark this issue is, especially when you consider the normal tone of holiday comics. Alone in the mansion on Christmas Eve, Kitty must fight a horrific monster, that, on numerous occasions, comes dangerously close to killing her. UNCANNY X-MEN #143 carries a lot of themes, but Claremont makes the simplest and most important one the clearest: being an X-Man means risking everything every day.

UNCANNY X-MEN #143
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The Night Before Christmas

The issue starts out with a beautiful illustration of Storm by X-Men veteran penciller John Byrne. The weather goddess is fighting a herd of N’Garai who the narrator describes as “the ultimate evil.” In a bid to stop them, Storm destroys the monument (the “Cairn”) that they keep coming out of. The battle appears to be over, but, naturally, it isn’t. Years after Storm’s encounter, the N’Garai return and this time, the X-Men aren’t there to stop them.

The next few pages show normal, daily life for the X-Men. Kitty’s studying with Xavier, Wolverine’s trying to kill Kurt, and Angel is talking about some girl. Everything seems completely normal until the other X-Men go out for the night, leaving Kitty alone in the mansion. She’s understandably a little upset about being alone on Christmas Eve, so she tries to do some workouts to ease her mind. But, just when she’s hitting her stride, she hears a crash from upstairs. Although anxious, Kitty doesn’t want to seem childish, so she goes and investigates. Her fears quickly become fact when a giant, clawed monster attacks her.

UNCANNY X-MEN #143
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Kitty can phase through the beast, but only physically. N’Garai attack both body and soul, leaving Kitty weak after every attack. Still, she puts up a good fight and, when she gets too tired, she begins to think creatively. In the end, she’s able to use the Black Bird’s massive jets to incinerate the beast. The last few pages of the issue show Kitty relaxing with her parents on Christmas after having passed her first superhero “trial.”

Learning Curve

If you’ve only read the modern X-Men comics (post-2010) you probably only know Professor Kitty. This older version of Kitty has been on tons of missions and knows how to handle herself off the battlefield. She’s mastered fighting in all of its forms and knows how to operate just about every kind of aircraft under the sun. This Kitty is also a born leader, with a penchant for leading teams to victory. In short, she knows what she’s doing.

The Kitty Pryde in UNCANNY X-MEN #143 has absolutely no idea what she’s doing. She’s only thirteen in this issue and hasn’t had any experience fighting solo. While she’s honed her superpowers and her physical endurance, she still doesn’t know what’s at stake when it comes to being an X-Man. Unfortunately for her, she has to learn that hard lesson on Christmas Eve.

UNCANNY X-MEN #143
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Before Kitty finds the N’Garai in the mansion, the horrific creature kills a couple who are trying to cut down a Christmas tree. The scene is straight out of a horror movie, which quickly colors the entire issue with a sense of dread. Obviously, Kitty doesn’t die in this issue, but she comes very close. By making Kitty’s first superhero test so explicitly dangerous, Claremont is emphasizing just how hazardous being an X-Man is. The fact that this is a holiday issue makes Claremont’s point even clearer. No matter what time of the year, the X-Men are always on call.  

A Moot Point

Before her life-threatening experience with the N’Garai, Kitty casually notes how Jean Grey’s death made the X-Men’s perilous role as superheroes that much more real to her. Being a superhero seems like just a glory trip until one of your teammates doesn’t make it home. Although Kitty barely knew Jean, she still understands the meaning of her loss. She assumes that if a founding member of the X-Men can be killed in battle, so can she.

Claremont never wanted Jean to “come back to life” (or be retconned as having never died). He wanted her to serve as a symbol of the dangers of the superhero lifestyle. When Jean returns, his point becomes meaningless. Yes, this issue is dark and reveals just how insane life as an X-Man can be, even for someone as young as Kitty. However, Jean’s return signifies that death, for the X-Men, is never permanent. That same idea lives on in the X-Men comics coming out today. Kitty’s brush with death could’ve gone south and, at some point, she would have returned, revitalized and renewed.    

UNCANNY X-MEN #143
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

More Than Just a Holiday Issue

Claremont could never just give the X-Men a normal, relaxing holiday issue. UNCANNY X-MEN #143 gives readers a brief glimpse into the X-Men’s holiday festivities before turning the story to more serious themes. However, I don’t particularly miss the holiday aspect since there’s so much other stuff going on. We get great character development for Kitty and a few thought-provoking lines about life and death in the X-Men ranks. While Claremont’s overarching theme (somewhat) fails when read in a modern context, this issue still brings some interesting topics to the table.

If you’re looking for a more festive issue, the first day of X-Mas is probably more up your alley. But, if you appreciate a good Christmas-themed horror comic, I’d recommend picking up UNCANNY X-MEN #143 on your next comic shop trip.

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