Dial H for History: NIGHTCRAWLER, Conscience of the X-Men
Dial H for History: NIGHTCRAWLER
SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANOTHER LINE OF THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T READ X-FORCE #26 AND DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED!READY? SPOILERS AHOY! It was a sad day for X-Fans yesterday, as one of Marvel's Children of the Atom met their end in the pages of X-Force #26. For those of you who haven't read the issue -- or our review on the Mothership -- feel free to check out one of the many other articles and columns Newsarama has to offer. Because this column is SPOILERS AHOY. But for all your True Believers, get ready to Dial H for History, for a true fan favorite X-character...
Kurt met his end at the hands of Bastion in X-Force #26, when the robotic mutant hunter shoved his arm in the middle of Kurt's teleport stream. Yet Nightcrawler didn't give up -- despite having Bastion's arm lodged through his chest, he had the will to make one last jump, carrying the Mutant Messiah Hope back to Utopia and disabling Bastion... at least for a little while.
While Craig Kyle and Chris Yost focused on this last issue on the religious side of Kurt Wagner -- with his final words being "I believe in you" -- that's far from the character's only facet. In many ways, Kurt has been the heart and soul of the X-Men for 35 years. He has been a comedic foil, a man of faith, the moral compass for a team that has occasionally been prone to bending the law. But where did he begin? Believe it or not, the character was almost born in the 30th century.recalled. "He was nasty, vicious and animalistic. He ran up and down the sides of buildings... he came and went in bursts of flame and brimstone--I kept that part, later on--and he had a prehensile tail. He was a very frightening character."
Yet after Cockrum learned of Jack Kirby's character The Demon, Nightcrawler got a slight revision in 1973, as the artist hoped to bring him into the Legion universe. As opposed to being a demon, Nightcrawler was now an alien named Balshazaar, who came from another dimension. Although he "wasn't quite as nasty as the original Nightcrawler," the character in this incarnation was not meant to be, Cockrum recalled in an interview with Fantagraphics, as Legion editor Murray Boltinoff said Nightcrawler was "too weird looking."
While it might been stinging for Cockrum at the time, it proved beneficial two years later, when another struggling team needed a little bit of Wagner in their lives. In 1975, the Uncanny X-Men weren't so uncanny. Sales had slumped for Marvel's merry mutants to the point where the series had been in reprints for years, and interest in the team was nil. And at that time, Cockrum, along with Len Wein, were able to introduce a brand-new band of mutants, bringing together Cyclops, Wolverine, Banshee, and Sunfire, and introducing to the world Colossus, Storm, Thunderbird and -- you guessed it -- Nightcrawler.
And that potential ran deep. Within six months, Len Wein had left the title, and his co-writer Chris Claremont took the reins, ushering in one of the most popular runs of the X-Men of all time. And out of all the charsacters, Nightcrawler was the one who got the greatest personality makeover -- initially a combative, brooding type in his first appearance, he ultimately became the comic relief, a jester in demon's clothing, a swashbuckler who tried to laugh his problems away, even if had more reason than any to feel awkward and ugly. In other words, he was a character with whom many readers could relate -- as well as could his creator. "Frankly, Kurt was me in the X-Men," Cockrum recalled. "He was my opportunity to vicariously live the adventures in the company of a great bunch of characters. I always figured if I was blue and athletic as hell, I'd behave just like he did. So you see why I take it personally when somebody messes with him."
Through those halcyon days, Nightcrawler served as a member in good standing with the X-Men, as they battled the Hellfire Club, the Shi'ar Empire, and, eventually the Dark Phoenix herself. And while Claremont had played up Nightcrawler's comedic sense, he also began to bring up the question of faith -- when the X-Men battled Dracula, Nightcrawler wielded a cross on the Lord of the Vampires. While Wolverine had previously tried that to no effect, Nightcrawler managed to win out, shouting "I believe!" In a later arc, when the X-Men were impanted with embryos from the Brood, Kurt prayed for strength. While his colleague Wolverine said "I believe in nothin' -- never have, never will," Kurt replied "I never realized how utterly, inescapably alone you must be." In many ways, Nightcrawler and Wolverine were the ultimate odd couple -- the sinner and the saint, the killer and the hero, and the best of friends.
Adventure came calling for Nightcrawler soon, however, as he, Rachel Summers and Shadowcat joined Captain Britain and his girflriend Meggan on a mission in the UK to fight the Technet. The sword was drawn, and in 1987, the team Excalibur was born! While the series originally played on Captain Britain's alternate universes and Chris Claremont and Alan Davis's British heritage, the series began to have struggle after Claremont left the book. But as writers switched and the book began to jettison Captain Britain in favor of the former X-Men, Kurt Wagner became front and center, eventually succeeding the Captain as the team's leader.
Yet Excalibur was never able to maintain its sharpness -- or its sales -- and by 1998, on the series' 10th anniversary, the team disbanded. Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Colossus rejoined the X-Men, who battled a rogue Cerebro. The status quo would change quickly, however, as Chris Claremont returned to the X-Men, jumping the team ahead with a six month gap. In that time, Nightcrawler's faith became his defining characteristic, as he studied to become a priest. Like any dramatic change, however, there were plenty who were not happy -- including Cockrum himself. "I didn't approve when Chris Claremont turned him toward the religious business, but by that time I was off the book and didn't have any say any more," he recalled. "I hated the whole priest business, both because it offends my personal beliefs, and because storywise, it won't work. A potential priest has to spend years in a theological seminary first. When did Kurt have the opportunity? And is there anyone out there who believes the Catholic Church would ordain someone who looks like Kurt? I think not."said later to Comic Book Resources. "And we failed. [laughs] No one died."
Ironically, since that time, Nightcrawler has had less and less screen time among the X-Men. Joining Storm's team of the Uncanny X-Men, he served in the team in good stead until the X-Men moved to San Francisco. Yet the character's popularity never really faded -- allegedly even Dan Slott had requested to use the character for his Mighty Avengers team. But in many ways, Nightcrawler's appearances were less and less frequent, as Matt Fraction took over the book for the Manifest Destiny storyline. With Kurt's role as a teleporter being largely taken by new character Pixie, his appearances became more infrequent, even as he served on a team of X-Men who battled the hordes of Limbo during the X-Infernus event. Finally, in Second Coming, Nightcrawler met his end, as he saved the Mutant Messiah at the cost of his own life.