Meet the new fuzzy elf, same as the old fuzzy elf.
A few months ago on the show, Joe and I reviewed Amazing X-Men #1 written by Jason Aaron with art by Ed McGuinness. This was Aaron’s new X-project after putting a bow on his Wolverine and the X-Men run and the vehicle to bring Nightcrawler back from the dead. Great news for fans of the fuzzy-blue-elf, right?
As a lifelong Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner) fan, I can say I was excited as anyone for his return and a little bummed with the way he died in part 5 of the X-Men: Second Coming storyline. I’m not going to relive the whole thing here, but a character named Bastion killed Kurt while he was saving Hope (a character whom no cares about anymore). So, why after reading the first 4 issues of Amazing X-Men am I feeling so empty?
I loved Aaron’s run on Wolvie and the X-Men, I love McGuinness’ pencils and I love Nightcrawler. Trifecta! Right? Apparently not. Here’s what we got: Nightcrawler is dead, in heaven, and it’s a boring place. That is until his father Azazel (an evil red version of Nightcrawler that may or may not be a/the devil) shows up with a pirate ship to steal souls from heaven. So Nightcrawler enlists the help of the Bamfs (little cartoon versions of himself and his dad, red/blue) who build a portal to the afterlife to bring the X-Men to fight Azazel and his band of dead pirates. And after they beat bad dad, Nightcrawler gets to come back to earth with an army of cartoon baby Nightcrawlers that he made (I guess) off panel. Cool!
No, it’s not cool. It’s lazy. Aaron is borrowing material from a much-reviled story by Chuck Austen that revealed Azazel was Nightcrawler’s father and Mystique was his mom — because, hey, she’s blue. This was a time in the ’90s when the writers decided the X-Men weren’t interesting enough so they started developing secondary mutations and dumb new origins (Nightcrawler’s dad is a/the devil, Wolverine is from a long line of dog-men, etc.). Now add in the Bamfs, a race of gremlins that Chris Bachalo couldn’t resist drawing into every panel of Wolvie and the X-Men. Don’t get me wrong: I love the guy. He’s easily one of my favorite X-pencilers and the Bamfs were there in the same way that dude draws lizards all over his panels for unexplained reasons. Now that they’ve been explained and crushed into both this title and the new Nightcrawler series, I couldn’t hate them more. It’s cute-core BS and it adds nothing to Kurt’s character. And the plot here, Azazel and his pirates in the after life stealing souls to become, more powerful, I guess? How’s that work? Does he eat them like Popeye ate spinach and — POW! — godlike power? It’s just dumb and lazy.
There’s a million ways characters have been brought back to life, but this ranks down there with some of the worst and it leaves open plenty of other questions. For Example: If you’re in the afterlife grabbing a buddy, why not grab them all? I’ll bet Banshee and Thunderbird were thrilled to hear their old friends came to the afterlife and didn’t even bother to say hi let alone bring them back to Earth. And if Kurt is a Christian, wouldn’t he have some questions for God, who’s letting souls get stolen from heaven? And really, anyone who wants to leave heaven can just jump out? And why can Firestorm burn Hell? What the hell? Literally!
On this past week’s show, I reviewed the new Nightcrawler #1 written by Chris Claremont with art by Todd Nauck, and, like his return in Amazing X-Men, I have to say the issue fell flat on its face. I was more excited for the Age of Apocalypse version of Nightcrawler that showed up in Rick Remender’s X-Force run than this. Claremont has Kurt and his band of bouncing, blue, cartoon babies jumping right back into his old swashbuckling ways only, for some reason, he’s using Escrima sticks (like what Nightwing carries) instead of swords, and jumping right back into a relationship with his ex, Amanda Sefton, which doesn’t seem to jibe at all with the way their relationship ended. Here he shows up, says “I’m back baby” and everything is hunky-dory. No question as to how, or why, or if it’s a good idea that he escaped the afterlife, which you would think a magic-user like Sefton would ask. Just pointless adventure.
Is it just me or was there no plan for this character? Look, I loved ’80s, swinging, lady-killer Kurt and I even started to like the Catholic Crawler of the ’90s. But flinging the character back to his 1980s status quo feels, and I know I’m using this word a lot, lazy. Marvel could have used the return of Kurt to bring the X-Men back together. Use this solo Nightcralwer series to show Kurt trying to patch up the differences between Scott and Logan. Make his return important and reestablish Kurt as the soul of the team. Instead, we get the same old Kurt back for what seems to be no good reason other than to sell another solo X-title for 8-12 issues before it gets canceled.
I’m not putting all the blame on Claremont here either. The guy wrote some of my favorite X and Nightcrawler stories … but that was a long time ago. There are so many new and exciting talents coming to Marvel every week, why pick Claremont? I know the guy still sells comics and has fans. Again, I’m not bashing his work, but is he really the right creator to reintroduce Nightcrawler in a Marvel Now U full of fresh takes on old characters? This feels like a missed opportunity. We all know the X-Men are going to come back together so why not use Kurt Wagner and his solo title to show us that story. That’s a Nightcrawler comic I would read. That’s a comic that would put Nightcrawler back to A-list-X-status. Say what you will about the return of Moon Knight and Iron Fist. At least those first issues we’re ballsy. Nightcrawler’s return has been safe, mediocre at best, and — yep, you guessed it — lazy.
Matt Baum is the producer and co-host of the Two-Headed Nerd Comic Book Podcast. He is short and loves to talk.