Comics feel different to me now. There’s an honest excitement I’m experiencing that I haven’t felt in what feels like a very long time. Things are looking up at the end of 2013, leading me to be optimistic about the future. So what could possibly have gotten me so hyped up in the last week that I’m actually writing an upbeat column this go-round?
X-Men fans know what I’m feeling. Nightcrawler’s back, and things are about to get awesome.
“Amazing X-Men” #1 by Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines and Marte Gracia teleported into stores last week, bringing with it a level of swashbuckling derring-do that’s been unseen in a Marvel comic since the character’s death in the summer of 2010. Even as Kurt Wagner got into a pretty serious fight against his devilish father Azazel to protect Heaven — legit high stakes, everyone — I couldn’t help but smile. It feels like the big book was finally closed on the last three years of schisms and battles and in-fighting, and the X-Men feel fun again.
I do recognize that it can come across as hyperbolic to pin such a massive, positive tonal shift on the return of a lone character, but what I’m feeling right now has made me realize just how important Nightcrawler is to the X-Men. Rogue is still my favorite mutant, but I actually think that the fuzzy elf is now the most important one. After all, Nightcrawler is apparently a powerful enough figure to completely revitalize my excitement for comics following a ten-page action sequence in “Amazing X-Men” #1. But why?
Hear me out: killing Nightcrawler in the “Second Coming” storyline was the X-Men equivalent of killing Captain America. Yeah, it was that important. It’s obvious that Captain America represents an ideal larger than himself. When Americans feel jaded in real life, the Captain America comics feed off of that and incorporate it. Sometimes it means Cap going rogue, sometimes it means Cap getting killed — but the larger metaphor is clear when he does those things.
It’s not outwardly apparent that Nightcrawler is that important to the X-Men, but he is. No X-Man represents the comic’s central minority metaphor as accurately as Nightcrawler. He’s a character that can’t hide in a crowd — he’s obviously a mutant. The anti-mutant hysteria tends to hit him first and it hits him hardest. The very first time we see Nightcrawler, he’s being chased by literal villagers with pitchforks — all because of how he looks. While he does wear an image inducer to hide his appearance from time to time, there have been a few stories that point out how wrong it is that he has to wear one. With Nightcrawler, writers have told stories about the dangers of assimilating into the norm instead of celebrating your differences. Bryan Singer even touched upon this in one of the best and must uniquely X-Men scenes in 2003’s “X2: X-Men United.” Nightcrawler asks the shape-shifting and equally blue Mystique why she doesn’t just change her appearance to fit in, to which Mystique replies that mutants shouldn’t have to. Nightcrawler’s mutation allows writers to tell stories they can’t tell with Kitty Pryde, Iceman, or Jean Grey.
But if that was the only aspect of Kurt’s character, he’d be pretty one-note, right? If every Nightcrawler story ended with a lesson learned, he’d feel more like a teaching tool than a superhero, right? The great thing about Nightcrawler is that creator Dave Cockrum instilled in him an unbridled sense of fearlessness and joy that seems completely at odds with how the outward, hateful world perceives him. Nightcrawler is a character that kinda has every right to be super angry and super vengeful 24/7 (remember the villagers with pitchforks?), and instead he’s pretty much a buffet of positivity, serving up never-ending helpings of compassion, fun, loyalty, and humor. He’s a character that gives people that feel like they don’t fit in anywhere — AKA the X-Men’s target demo, and AKA adolescent me — and gives them reason to cling on to and embrace the positivity in life. He’s absolutely the best role model that’s ever existed in the X-Men universe. And he’s back.
I’ve loved Nightcrawler for nearly as long as I’ve been an X-Men fan. Since he was never a main part of the ’90s cartoon, my gateway to Marvel, I had to discover him in the comics. Thankfully he had an awesome guest spot in “Uncanny X-Men” #300 by Scott Lobdell and John Romita Jr., one of the first ten superhero comics I ever bought. I loved that issue; I loved it so much that nine-year-old me recorded a dramatic reading of the issue on my sister’s boombox, horrible German accent and everything. I became a Nightcrawler fan specifically because of that issue and the issues of the reprint series “X-Men Classic” that I started devouring.
Nightcrawler felt like a deep cut to me as a kid; he wasn’t used on the cartoon until well into its run, so me being a Nightcrawler fan meant that I did more than just watch the TV show. I dressed up as Nightcrawler for Halloween twice — once when I first discovered the character and again when I was a junior in high school. I even got into a car accident while dressed as Nightcrawler, meaning I had to talk to police officers and stop by the ER while covered in blue face paint. So yeah, I’m a big Nightcrawler fan.
I can’t pinpoint the character’s 2010 death to any larger cultural shift the way one can with Captain America’s death post-“Civil War.” I can say that the X-Books haven’t felt the same since he sacrificed himself to save Hope Summers. After his death, Wolverine and Cyclops began >a never-ending feud, splitting the X-Men in two. The mutant-hunting Sentinels have come back with a vengeance. A Phoenix-possessed Cyclops murdered Professor X. The original five X-Men are now hanging out in the modern day. Colossus has gone AWOL with Cable’s X-Force team, and Kitty Pryde has turned her back on the rest of Nightcrawler’s surrogate family — Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, and Rachel Grey. The X-Men have been through dark, dark days.
Nightcrawler is not about darkness. Even when Rick Remender added an alternate reality Nightcrawler to his Uncanny X-Force team, the whole point of that character was to show how disturbing Kurt Wagner is when he’s more devil than angel. Now that Nightcrawler’s back, it feels like X-Men fans can hope again. It feels like we’re gearing up for a rollicking adventure, one that I’m sure will do a number on my feelings.
I’m just saying, Jason Aaron, that if you put a scene with Nightcrawler and Wolverine drinking beers together post-battle in “Amazing X-Men,” you will make me a happy, teary mess. Please do.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).