(This is a response to the Girls Read Comics Too list of Most Memorable Moments of Marvel Women)
My introduction to the X-Men was a trade of the Dark Phoenix Saga. Not a bad place to get started, all things considered. It permanently colored my perception of what the X-Men specifically, super heroes more broadly, and comic books in general were all about: what type of stories could be told, the scope, power, and visceral impact they could have; story told both in the illustrations and the text; how to take a story from grand scale to small to big again; and how to find personal moments in scenes of mass chaos.
In the middle of all this was tucked a new character; a young, Jewish girl from the Chicago suburbs, one Kitty Pryde. As a young, Jewish boy from the Chicago suburbs, she had a great impact on me. I was probably a bit younger than her character was supposed to be at the time, but it was still close enough that I saw a lot of that and many future stories through her eyes. She was permanently set as one of my favorite characters, and I would often judge the writing of a new series or storyline by how they handled her character. If they got her right, the creative team probably knew what they were doing; if not, it probably wasn't worth my $1.25 to read the next issue.
She and Colossus were my Lois and Clark; the couple that was meant to be together, that just fit, that represented romance and hope. Granted, mostly because she wanted him, and what my girl wanted my girl got! Still, they are quite the matched pair. She the short Jewish girl who becomes insubstantial and walks through walls, and he the tall Russian boy who becomes solid and knocks walls down. (The Russian/Jewish dichotomy was also a big point both because I am descended from Russian Jews and because in the 80's when I discovered the book Russian antisemitism was a major topic in the Jewish community.)
Then, time passed; characters grew apart. Kitty and Pitor parted ways. She went to England to join Excalibur, which became my new favorite book. He stayed with the X-Men and...died. Unexpected and sad, but I could cope. Especially since by that point bad writers and storylines had ruined the character, keeping the steel shell while hollowing out the man within.
Kitty moved on, and so did I.
Then Joss Whedon took his turn with the X-Men.
If you haven't already read his run on Astonishing X-Men, it's highly worth it. The worst criticism I ever heard of the series was, "The second story arc wasn't as good as the first." Which is roughly equivalent to, "The silver medalist ran slightly slower than the gold medalist."
But back to Kitty.
The big surprise in the first story arc, after months of teasing about the re-resurrection of Jean Grey, was the reveal that Colossus was back. It had seemed he was to be that rarest of rare things - a comic book character that actually stayed dead! - so this was a truly shocking reveal. Kitty phased through a mile of alien metal to find him in a small cell. The reunion scene was...touching. I'm a big, tough man who spends his free time punching inanimate objects and hitting my friends with sticks, so obviously I didn't cry when I read it. But I could see whereas someone slightly less tough than me might have.
What followed was a beautiful depiction of a renewed and growing relationship. They fought. They reconciled. They had sex. They fought more, and had sex while still fighting. In other words, they acted like two people who love each other but are working on some complex relationship issues.
Flash forward to the last storyline, "Unstoppable".
I love authors that can set up plot lines early and subtly, throwing a ball in the air and letting it hang, only to have it drop down years later into the bucket it seemed they put on the floor at random. And sure enough, here was Kitty, phasing through a mile of alien metal to become trapped in a small cell. Only this cell was a 10-mile long bullet headed straight towards Earth!
It was ok; the team would save her. Plus on Earth all the mightiest heroes had gathered to form a plan.
And then...no. Her friends couldn't reach her in time. No one in Marvel's stable of power players could stop the bullet or get her out. Emma Frost, reaching out to Kitty telepathically, offers to make her last moments "comfortable".
"Nah," Kitty tells her, "I'm gonna see this through."
And then, where heroes, demigods, and Wolverine had failed, Kitty whispers a prayer for strength and phases the bullet through the entire earth.
Imagine that scenario for a second. The defining test of a hero is often held to be the moment when they face death - not in the abstract, but in the heart-stopping, last-breath, gun-to-the-head kind of way - and offer themselves as sacrifice to save the day. I don't know how the "my life vs. the entire planet" dynamic changes things, but to face your final moment and see your duty through without flinching is heroic no matter the case.
But Kitty didn't face death. Not directly, not immediately. She rode in an inert chunk of metal - no radiation, chemicals, or electrical malfunctions to end her suffering - with no food or water and limited air, that was moving at high speed through the vacuum of space.
Kitty's smart; definately a brains-over-brawn character, if not at Iron Man/Mr. Fantastic levels, and she'd studied. There was nothing to slow the bullet down, not until it hit something big. And given the size of space, it was likely she would starve or suffocate well before that happened.
Death. Alone. In the cold. Slow and unpleasant. Likely her body would never be found.
But that wasn't her most heroic moment.
That came a few pages earlier when her team couldn't find a way to reach and stop the bullet, and she chose to phase into it to find a way.
She chose to ride that bullet, determined to find a way to beat it, and she didn't stop until she did.
If you'll excuse me now, I have to go re-read the Dark Phoenix Saga, and meet again this young woman who would one day ride a bullet to the stars.