I admit, there’s something about the last ‘Nightcrawler’ run that gives it a firm place in my heart; and so, as I run through my X-Men chronology, I simply can’t resist it!
INTRODUCTION To The First Ongoing Nightcrawler Series
When you read the 2002-2004 ‘Nightcrawler’ run, you read an X-Men book like nothing else in X-Men history. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa picked up the character and chose to use him in a very different way. He picked up on the religious and philosophical nature of Kurt Wagner, and he ran with it; the first six issues are basically supernatural horror, reminiscent of the movies ‘The Omen’ and ‘Bless the Child’ (it comes as no surprise that Aguirre-Sacasa has written comic adaptations of Stephen King novels). From there, he launched an introspective mystery based on Nightcrawler’s own history, and finally wraps it up in a confrontation with Marvel’s devil himself, Mephisto.
That final issue wraps everything up into a neat bow, setting up something that could well one day become a major Marvel arc. The book has that much potential, and it was a tremendous shame that it was cancelled as Marvel narrowed their X-Men range. There’s a common background assumption among many commentators that the series was conceptually so off-beat that it was doomed from the start, but lasting a full 12-issue run – especially with an awkward three-month gap between issues six and seven – was still impressive.
The art, by Darick Robertson, was simply beautiful; the atmosphere is truly haunting, and scene after scene truly feels like something of real horror. He also does the coolest teleportations I have ever seen.
Aguirre-Sacasa and Robertson worked together very closely, not least in ensuring that the first six issues are essentially a love letter to New York (as Aguirre-Sacasa described it in interviews). These first issues explore New York far more than most books, with key locations including the Dakota Building and the New York subways. The shift in location after #6 feels very much to be editorially driven, and it is worth noting that Aguirre-Sacasa discussed plans for a team-up with a non-X-Man in #12 that never materialised, making me wonder what was originally planned.
In terms of background cast, though, the book was far less original; only one new character was really established, nurse Christine Palmer, while the rest of the supporting cast were essentially just Nightcrawler’s fellow X-Men. This is particularly the case in ‘The Winding Way’, which featured Wolverine.
TIMELINE Of The Nightcrawler Series
- ‘The Devil Inside’ (#1-4): Nightcrawler is drawn into sinister happenings at Metro General Hospital, uncovering a demonic plan to infest the Earth through a group of children.
- ‘Ghost Train’ (#5-6): When sinister ghosts infest New York’s subways, Nightcrawler is called in and uncovers an old wrong.
- ‘The Winding Way’ (#7-11)
- ‘Loose Ends’ (#12): Celebrating his birthday, Nightcrawler is visited and tempted by Mephisto…
These stories are collected in two editions:
In truth, there’s only one star of this book; Nightcrawler himself, a wonderful character who Aguirre-Sacasa takes great pleasure in exploring. Nightcrawler’s reaction interplays beautifully with the horrific events surrounding him in the first six issues, and Aguirre-Sacasa has real pleasure in showing Nightcrawler’s interaction with his ex, Amanda Sefton, and with the potential love interest Christine Palmer.
‘The Winding Way’ brings Nightcrawler into head-on collision with his own personal history, and recontextualises a lot of what we’ve seen before. Aguirre-Sacasa is tremendously skilful in how he weaves his narrative into what we already knew of Nightcrawler’s past, and he makes Nightcrawler confront his own personal demons in a manner that is truly rewarding.
Curiously enough, the most interesting aspect of continuity in this run is Christine Palmer, the potential love interest. She hails from the 1970s series ‘Night Nurse’, created by Jean Thomas in an off-beat series; one of her colleagues, Linda Carter, has since made the leap into mainstream Marvel characterisation, and has even dated Doctor Strange. Given the Gothic tone of ‘Night Nurse #4’, fitting one of these characters into this series was a touch of brilliance on Aguirre-Sacasa’s part.
‘The Winding Way’ was a story that delved deep into Nightcrawler’s personal continuity, possibly more so than any individual X-Men plotline ever before or since. By the end, Nightcrawler has absorbed the Soul Sword into himself, a fact that would be revisited in ‘X-Infernus’.
The concluding issue featured a temptation that will be eerily familiar to Spider-Man fans; Mephisto tempts Nightcrawler, offering to rewrite the past and resurrect Nightcrawler’s (brother) if he will agree to stay out of a forthcoming heavenly battle. It all rings very close to ‘Brand New Day’ territory, although Nightcrawler had a much more righteous reaction to the offer than Spider-Man did:
Finally, it’s worth noting that ‘Ghost Train’ celebrates the 100th anniversary of the New York subway, and this roots the story into a set point in time. As time moves on, Marvel Time always struggles with this kind of story, but its relatively minor scale means the continuity wrinkle is minimal in size.
This Nightcrawler run was like nothing else in X-Men history. Unfortunately, as I commented on MahMuseComics, it just wasn’t quite radical enough:
A horde of demonic figures just don’t cut it as new presences in the Marvel Universe, especially when most of them are killed pretty quickly. The series adds a total of one new character to Kurt’s life, and fails completely to develop his relationships to the point where it feels like we’re treading new ground. It really is Kurt Wagner as star of Ghostbusters, with little to no character progression.