***SPOILERS AHOY, FOLKS! THIS IS THE CREATIVE TEAM TALKING ABOUT THE EVENTS OF X-FORCE #26***
Shelve your typical "dead comic book characters always come back" cynicism for a while—as of X-Force #26, Nightcrawler (Click here for a detailed look at the Elf's history), one of the most beloved X-Men characters of the last 35 years, is no longer among the living. And it's pretty sad.
"This has been our time of mourning in the X-Office," writes X-Men editor Nick Lowe via e-mail. "And it’s not over. We’ve been missing him for months and we will keep missing him for years, I’m sure."
Since his introduction in 1975's Giant-Size X-Men #1, Nightcrawler has represented a fun, optimistic, swashbuckling side often sorely needed when things get depressing for Marvel's mutants—which happens a lot. So it's ironically appropriate that Kurt Wagner died in the fifth chapter of "Second Coming," thus far a rather grim storyline where future super-Sentinel Bastion looks to wipe out what few mutants remain in the post-House of M Marvel Universe.
Nightcrawler went out a hero, saving Hope—the first mutant born since Scarlet Witch proclaimed "no more mutants" at the end of House of M—from Bastion, ending up impaled with a robot arm through his chest. With his last gasp, he's able to teleport Hope back to safe haven in Utopia. "Worth it," he declares in his dying breath. As others have said, he "went out with a bamf."
"It never for one second occurred to us that Kurt would go out any differently than he lived... a hero," writes Chris Yost, who co-authored the issue along with regular collaborator Craig Kyle. "But writing it, it was probably the most emotionally difficult thing I've worked on at Marvel."
Mike Choi drew X-Force #26, and also has his share of fuzzy blue elf blood on his hands.
"We knew from the beginning that we had to do it right," Choi writes. "When we first got the story of what was going to happen and how it was going to happen both (colorist) Sonia (Oback) and I actually got a little teary-eyed, because we could picture exactly what it was going to look like."
Choi, who has drawn many X-Men comics over the past few years including Uncanny X-Men and the X23: Target X miniseries, called rendering Nightcrawler's death scene "absolutely an honor to do."
"I spent a lot of time laying the pages out, which I do anyway, but the pressure was so much greater to nail it on this story," Choi writes. "I consciously tried to up the mystery of who was going to die in the issue by really amping the stakes of the fight between Rogue and Bastion, so it would seem to most that Rogue was the one who was going to die, and to show that by doing what he did, Kurt actually saved both Hope and Rogue."
Nightcrawler has been a fan favorite for decades, but very few of those appearances took place in X-Force. So it's a little odd to see his death take place in that title, but Lowe tells that it's just the nature of multi-part crossovers like Second Coming.
"When we get into a big story, we think of the story as a whole, and not the individual books," writes Lowe, who shares that he's commissioned more Nightcrawler short stories in anthologies than any other character. "If we can offer a little limelight to the characters regularly appearing in a book we do, but the whole story comes first. Nightcrawler’s death was the huge end of Act 1. That was the most important thing and it happened to fall in X-Force."
Fortunately, both Yost and Kyle were long-time fans of the character.
"I've been reading Nightcrawler's adventures for about 26 years, Craig I think longer," Yost writes. "We've both been lucky enough to write him here and there in the comics, but we've mainly worked with him in animation, both on X-Men Evolution and Wolverine and the X-Men. In the dark angst and drama of the X-Men, Kurt Wagner was the light. He was the fun, both in spirit and visually. And a great power. We always had a blast working with him."
Though Yost and Kyle have killed off plenty of mutants on their X-Force and New X-Men runs, Yost stresses that this one was definitely different.
"This one hurt," Yost writes. "It was an honor, for sure, but a heavy responsibility at the same time. And we took it seriously."
The next chapter of Second Coming, Uncanny X-Men #524, will show Nightcrawler's funeral, and Lowe promises that the repercussions will continue to be felt in the X-books for the near future.
"These decisions are never easy," Lowe writes. "This one was the worst. But the thing was, it seemed right for Kurt. He was a man of faith who died for that faith. I don’t think he would have any regrets in the way he went. He died to save others’ lives and, hopefully, faithfully, his species."