Nightcrawler and Chris Claremont mark their return to the main Marvel universe with “Nightcrawler” #1, which finds the fuzzy blue elf fully returned to life and back in action. Both Nightcrawler and Claremont feel a little out of sorts with the X-Men’s current state of events, but that quickly gets lost in the wonderful character moments and boundless fun that Claremont slips into this debut issue. Likewise, Todd Nauck incorporates a slew of personal touches that reinforces Claremont’s writing, culminating in an issue that truly captures the spirit of the character.
If you’re not a fan of Claremont’s early “Uncanny X-Men” run, this issue is not for you: “Nightcrawler” reads like it’s come right out of the ’80s, complete with a heavy-handed narrative style and constant over-explanation. While this works on the opening page to successfully orient the reader to the character, it’s overbearing throughout the rest of the story; for instance, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who couldn’t recognize Wolverine right off the bat these days, making the extended description of his character seem a little much. Similarly, Claremont explicitly narrates the action already happening on the page; he simply needs to trust Nauck with the visual storytelling. Although this — Claremont’s signature style — isn’t entirely unexpected, it feels outdated and could easily become frustrating for readers used to modern comics.
However, Claremont peppers the issue with fantastic little character moments that ultimately define the book. He makes sure that Nightcrawler gets a one-on-one moment with some of the major players in his life, including Storm, Rachel Grey, and — to a lesser extent — Wolverine. All of these play off as natural and help resituate the character in a world that’s changed so drastically since he died. From the outset, Claremont makes it abundantly clear how out-of-place Nightcrawler feels through Wolverine’s angry outburst and his subsequent talk with Storm, which transitions nicely into his visit to step-sister/ex-girlfriend Amanda Sefton in his search for something constant. Although I’m not a fan of the pairing, Nightcrawler’s winding path from the Danger Room through the Jean Grey School to Amanda’s Manhattan apartment makes absolute sense and feels organic. What’s more, it gets Nightcrawler right back where he fits best: on a swashbuckling adventure with his best girl. Although his method is old-fashioned, Claremont’s plotting is structurally sound and carries great potential for upcoming storylines.
In that same vein, Nauck offers his brilliant touch on the issue. He has an amazing grasp on the layout of the Jean Grey School, leading Nightcrawler from the Danger Room through the winding corridors in a clear, competent manner. His rendition of Nightcrawler’s loft is an absolute treat; from the old “Uncanny X-Men” and “Excalibur” posters on the wall to his swords to the bamfs peeping out of the darkness, Nauck makes it clear how much thought went into every minute detail. His figures carry their personality through their naturalistic body language, from Beast’s easy posture in the Danger Room to Nightcrawler and Rachel curling up comfortably on the couch together to Nauck’s throwback to Paul Smith’s amorous Nightcrawler panel. Although his characters lose important details like noses as the focus pulls back, Nauck’s closer panel work is spot-on. His bamfs are particularly enjoyable; in addition to keeping with the adorable McGuinness-style bamfs, he manages to infuse personality into each individual one. Likewise, Rachelle Rosenberg makes Nightcrawler’s world bright and energetic with wonderfully sharp colors.
Although the execution could certainly be stronger, “Nightcrawler” has just enough energy and fun to hold readers steady. Where many of the X-books have had a darker tone lately, Claremont and Nauck breathe life and joy back into the X-Men and they couldn’t have picked a better character with which to do so.