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Sep 21

Nightcrawler vol 1: “Homecoming”

Posted on Sunday, September 21, 2014 by Paul in Uncategorized

The X-books have, for a while now, given the impression of being made – or at least commissioned – by people wrestling with the commercial challenge of how to have as many X-Men titles as humanly possible, while still trying to make them all at least somewhat creatively distinct.  Part of the answer to that problem has come in a wave of solo titles for characters who would not previously have been thought natural candidates – Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler.

Some characters lend themselves fairly easily to solo titles.  Most of the Avengers were designed to function as solo heroes in the first place, and only added to teams after the fact.  But most of the X-Men weren’t, which means that the answer to the question “what does so-and-so do when he isn’t having adventures with the X-Men” doesn’t always give the answer that writers of a solo title might be hoping for.  Wolverine and Gambit?  Sure, they’re easy to imagine spending their down time on heists and bar fights.  But for much of X-Men history, Cyclops has given the impression of a character who spends his free evenings balancing his chequebook.  This is fine in the context of a team book, where he’s the rock of stability, but not so great if you’re trying to put him in a solo title.  (And we’ll come to how his book solves the problem in due course.)

Nightcrawler sits somewhere in between these poles.  It’s not too hard to imagine him stumbling into swashbuckling adventures of his own, but it is kind of hard to imagine him choosing to fight evil as a solo act when he could just call the X-Men for reinforcements.  He’s a team player by nature; even back in the 70s and 80s, there weren’t actually that many stories where he was the focus.  The flip side is that, for a character who’s been in the X-books since 1975, Nightcrawler actually has a remarkably uncluttered back story (Azazel may be a dreadful idea, but at least he’s not a complicated one).  And a Nightcrawler solo has been tried before, with a wonky attempt to take a supernatural angle.  But it didn’t really work.

This series in fact started life as the next incarnation of X-Men Legacy, with Nightcrawler taking his turn as the focal character.  That makes a certain degree of sense; it’s possible to imagine a series similar to Christos Gage’s Rogue-centred run, which wasn’t so much a solo title as a series specifically about how Rogue fitted into the X-Men.

In fact, under Chris Claremont and Todd Nauck, a central theme turns out to be Nightcrawler trying to fit back into a school, and a version of the X-Men, that has changed dramatically from what he remembered.  The parallels here are abundantly obvious, of course.  Claremont himself is a writer associated overwhelmingly with a past era of the X-Men, one that raised the book into Marvel’s top franchise, but which is also now a quarter century in the past.  That fact inevitably casts a shadow over proceedings whenever he returns to do work on the X-books; he used to be the one who defined the X-books, but now he’s  the veteran working in the margins of somebody else’s vision.

To his credit, Claremont generally seems to try hard to play fair with other writers’ approaches to the X-books. As much as anything, he seems to be interested these days in what remains quietly unchanged through these various iterations of his concepts; not in denying the validity of today’s approach, but in finding lines of connection back to his own work and bringing out a latent sense of continuity with the past that legitimises both eras.  And obviously, that’s easy to do with scenes of Kurt trying to find his place in an almost unrecognisable school.

So we get things like the opening of issue #5, in which Nightcrawler attempts to play a game of baseball on his own (well, with the help of the Bamfs), but swiftly gives up.  This is a striking scene – Claremont is intentionally writing a failed attempt to recapture his own past glories.  If nothing else, he plainly recognises the writing challenge that the X-books now present him.

But this aside, what else does the book have to offer?  Well, it’s got nicely chirpy art from Todd Nauck, and it goes without saying that Claremont gets Nightcrawler’s voice (which he created, after all) in a way that few writers have managed since he left.  And it has a certain retro charm, if you yearn for the days when action scenes were actually constructed in such a way as to introduce characters and give them something to do.  It’s lighter on Claremont’s writing tics than some of his work has been, and it’s a little old fashioned in its construction, it’s nonetheless solid.  Besides, if you’re buying a Chris Claremont Nightcrawler series, “a little old fashioned” is probably what you were hoping for.

With Nightcrawler’s personal rogue’s gallery being on the slim side, and an entire wing of that gallery being devoted to the unfortunate Azazel, it’s understandable that Claremont starts by focussing on his family, bringing back Amanda Sefton and Margali Szardos for the first arc.  Leave aside the eternal oddity that Claremont somehow gets away with Amanda doubling as Nightcrawler’s sister and his girlfriend; once again, the weirdness of that is simply not acknowledged in any way, as the story cheerfully treats the whole thing as perfectly normal instead.  Essentially the plot of these early issues sees Kurt being drawn back into his family by Margali, who turns out to be looking for a way to exploit his return from the afterlife to open her own portal there.

This plays into the storyline that Claremont inherits from Amazing X-Men, though it’s not altogether clear that he and Jason Aaron are wholly on the same page here.  Amazing strongly implies that Kurt sold his soul to the Bamfs in order to get back to Earth.  The actual dialogue in issue #5 is actually a little ambiguous; Kurt says that he struck a deal with the Bamfs and that it cost him his soul, but he could be speaking figuratively.  (The recap page in issue #6 says explicitly that he sold his soul, but it also says explicitly that he can never go back to the afterlife, something that’s expressly left unclear in the previous issue – so how far it should be trusted is debatable.)

If this is indeed the concept, nobody seems to have told Claremont.  Instead, he goes with another idea – one that is also explicitly set up in Amazing, to be fair – namely that having left Heaven by choice, Kurt can’t go back.  Which obviously begs the question of what’s going to happen when he dies again. There’s an ambiguity here about whether he’s barred forever or simply needs to re-earn his way in.  Either way, it’s something to work with.

And in fact, I prefer it to the “sold his soul” idea.  The problem with claiming that a character has sold his soul is that it’s far from clear what it actually means.  Not least because Kurt’s soul is plainly animating his new body right now; perhaps the idea was simply that the Bamfs get him when he dies next, but even then it’s hard to see what a bunch of child-like goblins on Red Bull would actually find to do with him, or what interest they’d even have in soul-buying.  But a story where the most religious of the X-Men has cut himself off from his god… that’s got some potential, actually.  You don’t have to be religious to see that there’s a story in there about the psychology of faith.

So there are a couple of promising themes emerging here.  That’s the long game, however, and one wonder whether the market for X-Men solo titles is likely to be all that friendly to long games.  In the short term, the reality of these first six issues is two fairly routine stories with a bunch of underdeveloped characters.  Considerable space is devoted to introducing other super powered characters from Kurt’s old circus, but none really make it to two dimensions.  The two-parter in issues #5-6 not only brings back the Crimson Pirates, some pirate-themed villains from Claremont’s abortive late 90s comeback that don’t have enough charisma to get away with being so silly, it also involves a lot of chasing after a women whose personality is barely a cipher.

Rather better work is done on introducing Rico, a mutant with the deeply unfortunate power to be basically just a giant scorpion-insect thing.  This is a character whose chances of living a normal life are precisely zero, so naturally enough Claremont wants Kurt to be the inspirational mentor figure for him.   Rico’s a nice enough sidekick, but it has to be said that Nauck sometimes seems to struggle to make him as expressive as the story really needs.  It’s not easy when you don’t have conventional body language to work with, but it feels like there should be room to do more.

The upshot is a competent book that raises some interesting long-term themes but is doing fairly routine stories in the here and now.

Bring on the comments

  1. Gerard says:

    > Not least because Kurt’s soul is plainly animating his new body right now; perhaps the idea was simply that the Bamfs get him when he dies next, but even then it’s hard to see what a bunch of child-like goblins on Red Bull would actually find to do with him, or what interest they’d even have in soul-buying.

    Wasn’t it pretty clear in AXM? They don’t have souls of their own, so when they die they Cease To Be. They didn’t want his soul for the reason Mephisto wants souls, they want his soul to make souls for themselves.

    (Similarly, the idea seemed to be Kurt didn’t *need* a soul to walk around, but would just fizzle out when he died.)

  2. Frodo-X says:

    Unfortunately some of the Claremont tics will be reemerging soon. I see that in the most recent solicits Shadow King will be appearing in the second arc.

    Which is exactly why I didn’t start reading the book. I want to support Claremont, but I am so tired of mind control stories and he always goes to that well.

  3. The original Matt says:

    I gave the first few issues a shot, but Claremont’s writing style just doesn’t work for me any more. Not too say that it’s bad, if you like that style then he is doing it and you’ll likely like it, but I’m buying enough comics that I don’t need to be spending the money on a light hearted nightcrawler book that’s a throw back to yesteryear. All the best to the book, though. Hopefully it can carve out a niche audience.

  4. Cory says:

    There’s something weird about Claremont’s stories in a modern context. Everyone dresses weird and acts weird and talks weird and well… it’s all just a bit too unnatural and hamfisted sometimes. I wanted to like Nightcrawler, but I couldn’t quite get over his story telling and dialogue.

  5. Kenny says:

    It’s entirely possible that I will drop this book later on (as I have with a LOT of Claremont’s recent works), but up to this point, I’m actually quite enjoying how fun and refreshing this series has been, and I fully expected not to like it!

  6. K says:

    The last paragraph of the review seems to be cut off?

  7. Tim O'Neil says:

    Only in the context of the X-Men could Nightcrawler ever be even remotely described as having “a remarkably uncluttered back story.” Every time I see the name “Margali Szardos” appear I feel the need to take a drink, and I don’t even drink.

  8. JG says:

    Weird is not the same as cluttered!

  9. halapeno says:

    “I fully expected not to like it!”

    May I ask… why did you buy it in the first place if that’s what you believed?

    Not to be rude, but I genuinely don’t understand this sort of thing as I’m not in the habit of doing anything that I fully expect I won’t enjoy. Well, apart from spending time with my wife, I suppose, but it’s not as though I have a choice in the matter.

  10. Si says:

    “They don’t have souls of their own, so when they die they Cease To Be”

    So having no soul makes you an atheist?

  11. Luis Dantas says:

    No, it makes the atheists right.

    While we are talking about soulless X-Men, isn’t that the case with Guido as well?

  12. Cory says:

    Uh oh… Strong Guy and Nightcrawler: The Search for Soul! It may be the best or worst odd couple team-up the X-Books have seen in a while. Written by Peter David or Jason Aaron?

  13. Leo says:

    My guess would be that Nightcrawler gets to keep his soul while he is alive, unlike guido. Though I would read a title like that.

    I haven’t been keeping up with this title, though I do plan on reading it. Too many x-books are being published currently and that’s a serious strain. I can’t keep up with all of them and i guess all peripheral titles had to go.

    Generally I do like Claremont’s writing but the problem is that he is being put in inconsequential titles and isn’t allowed to do any long term storylines, which is his strong point. Despite his flaws (too many mind control stories for example), i usually feel like i’m reading a fulfilling issue, unlike when i read a Bendis comic where i reach the final page and think “that’s it?”. Claremont comics need time to properly enjoy. I believe he could do great if he was allowed to direct a big event. As it is though he is being wasted.

    Marvel should be supporting him financially regardless is he’s writing any comics for them or not, considering that he’s the one who made the X-men as popular as they are now. But I guess that’s better than nothing

  14. Thom H. says:

    Don’t the mind control stories eventually get old even for Claremont? I mean, you’d think that whatever he’s working through with those stories, he’d reach some kind of catharsis by the 10th run-through.

  15. errant says:

    Marvel IS supporting him financially whether he’s writing for them or not. There was a story a year or 2 ago that he’s been on contract this whole time, but they weren’t giving him anything to write. I suppose this is better than nothing. X-Treme was probably the best set-up since his return. Editors clearly don’t want to go where he wants to go, but he had his own team of real X-Men doing his own thing off in the fringes. I’d be all for him getting that kind of book again. (Not that Excalibur or New Excalibur or Exiles – some real X-Men).

  16. halapeno says:

    “Generally I do like Claremont’s writing but the problem is that he is being put in inconsequential titles and isn’t allowed to do any long term storylines, which is his strong point”

    I don’t know why so many readers seem to think think this because I just don’t see it. The Proteus storyline was only a handful of issues. Days of Future Past was a mere two issues. God Loves, Man Kills was a graphic novel. These are among his best X-Men stories and they’re hardly the result of long-term plotting.

    The Phoenix Saga qualifies as a long-term storyline, sure, but much of the power of that storyline came from how it ended, which wasn’t Claremont’s idea.

    Otherwise, left to his own devices, Claremont’s long-term plotting usually consists of aimless meandering.

  17. Jamie says:

    “Aimless meandering.”

    This. Exactly this. Does no one remember the Silvestri and Lee days? Those were fun comics, but my god, they were pointless. There was hardly an “X-Men” in the stories, just a lot of random people running around the world.

  18. Those “aimless meanderings” are still probably my favourite comics. I started reading X-Men regularly just after the Massacre and there was a sense that things were happening – slowly, unpredictably – you had no idea where the next issue would bring you. Then there was pretty much a decade of the same thing, over and over, no real change.

  19. David Tarafa says:

    I agree with Donnacha, Claremont’s “aimless meanderings” were and still are dear to me.

  20. Luis Dantas says:

    Whichever strengths Claremont may have as a writer, I don’t think they play very well with the editorial policy of today’s Marvel.

    Claremont had trouble coordinating with Louise Simonson during Inferno, when he pretty much owned the general direction of the line. How harmoniously can he interact with the current climate of perpetual event mode and diminished author freedom?

  21. halapeno says:

    @Donnacha and David – I was only disagreeing that long-term plotting is Claremont’s strong suit. He’s always been a make-it-up-as-you-go guy. Nothing necessarily wrong with that provided you can produce some decent material along the way, which to be fair, he did.

    But he should have handed off to another writer after #200. Roger Stern would have been a good choice from that period.

  22. wwk5d says:

    CC just needs a strong editor to make sure he wraps up his long running plotlines.

    And a better place for him to leave would been once he wrapped up Fall of the Mutants, since he pretty much set-up a status quo anybody could have run with at that point. And it should not have been Stern, if only because Stern would have probably instantly reverted Magneto to boring mustache twirling Silver Age psycho with no depth as soon as he got the title.

  23. Jamie says:

    Yeah, no one’s saying the Australia/Siege Perilous stuff was bad, just represented a complete lack of longterm plotting (or appearing that way). I mean, plotlines would eventually tie up (Legion was addressed, the Shi’ar were checked in on, Prof. X came back, Rogue and Magneto hit it off), but none of that suggests plotting, just checking in on various characters after extended breaks.

  24. Jamie says:

    It felt organic due to the fact that characters were doing their own thing on all corners of the world, and there was no urgency to maintain an actual ongoing plot in the meantime.

    But that doesn’t mean Claremont is good at longterm plotting. More likely he was bored and wanted to switch things up, kind of like why he took the X-Men into space in the first place.

  25. Luis Dantas says:

    Claremont used to be good at long-term plotting, but it seems to depend on having full creative control. He is not good in rolling with editorial demands in the same way as Peter David is. His long-term plotting until around #180 was good. But after the New Mutants came to be he shows a clear loss of long term view.

  26. Jim M says:

    He was becoming a victim of his own success. Marvel wanted more x-books, more crossovers, more more.
    Hard to make long term plans when the editors and if I recall, the artist all have their own ideas on how to do things.
    That being said, I’ve always pretty much enjoyed all his work and Nightcrawler is pretty much the only Marvel book I’m buying at this time (well that and Alan Davis’s little Hulk mini).

  27. Walter Lawson says:

    Claremont was getting a lot of editorial interference at the end of the X-Men’s Australia period. He’s a very good long-term plotter, but even in the glory days more than one long-term plot got sidetracked by editorial.

  28. halapeno says:

    “Claremont was getting a lot of editorial interference at the end of the X-Men’s Australia period.”

    And rightly so. I’m no Bob Harras fan, but he did the right thing by insisting the X-Men go back to it’s traditional set-up. Claremont was wandering. The book during this period read more like a companion series to a core book when it in fact was the core book. It wasn’t crap, but it wasn’t a team book anymore.

  29. Jim M says:

    I think the X-men are now completely off the rails.
    Claremont kept things moving forward unlike those who followed who kept recycling over and over and over.
    Which at the time was a common complaint if I recall correctly.

  30. halapeno says:

    Seems whenever there’s dissatisfaction with the line, readers start looking backwards to Claremont. Well, Claremont had his chance to “save” the X-books and he blew it. His Revolution stuff was terrible. Then they give him the opportunity to take a set of X-Men characters in a genuinely new direction with a different premise (X-Treme X-Men and the hunt for Destiny’s diaries) and he ignores his own set-up in favor of more space opera and another visit to Australia (just move there already, Chris). He eventually returns to Uncanny where he sets up his team as officially sanctioned mutant cops and proceeds to ignore this as well in favor of more Shi’ar/Phoenix stuff, more Hellfire Club, Mojo, etc.

    This is not moving forward. This is recycling and Claremont is just as guilty of it as anyone who succeeded him.

  31. Jamie says:


    I don’t know why they keep giving Claremont work. Yeah, people pine for the old Claremont days, but those days are long gone.

  32. Jim M says:

    Each to their own. ‘shrug’

  33. wwk5d says:

    “Seems whenever there’s dissatisfaction with the line, readers start looking backwards to Claremont.”

    Yes, but when people say “looking backwards towards Claremont”, they mean during his original on Uncanny, I mean, duh!

    “I don’t know why they keep giving Claremont work.”

    Because he can still write a decent story every now and then, and it’s like not he’s been writing a major or flagship title in a while now, he mostly has been doing fringe books. So…no biggie if he is writing a SOLO NIGHTCRAWLER TITLE.

  34. halapeno says:

    “Yes, but when people say “looking backwards towards Claremont”, they mean during his original on Uncanny, I mean, duh!”

    Two things:

    1. No need to be an ass.
    2. The quote below is from another poster within this very thread…

    “Claremont comics need time to properly enjoy. I believe he could do great if he was allowed to direct a big event. As it is though he is being wasted.”

  35. wwk5d says:

    Two things:

    1. No need to be so sensitive.
    2. OMG, one person quoted something that contradicted what I said. Oh nos!

  36. halapeno says:

    wwk5d, (and I can’t believe this requires explanation) this community is not the entirety of the X-Men fanbase. So.e guy here opining that Cla

  37. halapeno says:

    (Whoops. Hit submit before I finished what I was writing.)

    Ahem. So, as I was saying, one guy here opining that Claremont still has what it takes to spearhead the line or at the very least be given a core title again, doesn’t make him the ONLY reader who feels this way. Claremont still retains an army of loyalists who feel similarly. It is this segment of X-Men fans I was referring to.

    As for my “sensitivity”, I guess I’m too optimistic in hoping that a guy who argues with “duh” and “Oh noes” could, you know, debate a little less childishly.

  38. wwk5d says:

    Obviously it’s not the whole fanbase, I mean, duh! (Oops, too childish for you). But again, one quote or saying that he still has a large fanbase blah blah blah isn’t really evidence to support your theory. Most CC fans I know, while still enjoy his work, don’t think he should be given the keys to the kingdom the way Bendis or Geoff Johns (sp?) has. If you’re going to make blanket, somewhat inaccurate statements, be more specific. One segment of his fans does not include all of us.

    It’s not about being childish, it’s about having a sense of humor. Maybe if you weren’t so anally uptight you wouldn’t be so butt hurt over this.

  39. halapeno says:

    Blanket statements like this?

    “…they mean during his original on Uncanny, I mean, duh!”

    Forgive me, I didn’t realize you were the ambassador to “they.”

    But you’re correct in your assertion that some fans prefer the Claremont of then to the Claremont of now. I’m one of them. I’m equally correct that some fans still believe that he SHOULD be given the keys to the car. This isn’t some crackpot theory I’ve cooked up. You can see it

    And yes, you do have a sense of humor. Of a juvenile. The comment I made in regards to your Champions post on the other thread was tongue-in-cheek. I could tell Nu-D realized it, but it looks like it flew over your head based on your response.

    So as not to exclude you, the next time I take a stab humour, I’ll be sure to spell things out and maybe throw in the occasional fart joke or two for your benefit so you don’t get all “butt hurt”, oh noes!

  40. wwk5d says:

    Apparently, you don’t mind being the ambassador to “they”, since you seem to enjoy making comments like that. And my “blanket statement” that you quoted seems to have gone over your head, it was just a humorous response to your initial blanket statement, but I guess you just really are too sensitive?

    “I’m equally correct that some fans still believe that he SHOULD be given the keys to the car. This isn’t some crackpot theory I’ve cooked up. You can see it”

    Which I agreed with you, but that seems to have pole vaulted over your head as well.

    “And yes, you do have a sense of humor. Of a juvenile.”

    Wow, you are really butt hurt. Must be hard to walk around, but hey, if it works for you…

    “So as not to exclude you, the next time I take a stab humour, I’ll be sure to spell things out and maybe throw in the occasional fart joke or two”

    No need, whenever you make attempts at humor, a comedy angel doesn’t just lose it’s wings, it keels over and dies. Fart jokes might work for you, but they’re not my style. Perhaps I should be more like you, Colonel Killjoy, and adopt a condescending pseudo intellectual snobbery with all the humor of wet paint drying. The comment you made in regards to my Champions post I got, I was just making an additional point. In any case, please give me your mailing address, so I can send you a check to buy a ladder so you can get over yourself 🙂

  41. halapeno says:

    This is going to be my last post in response to you here.

    Two people responded to my earlier remarks about Claremont before you chimed in with your dazzling wit: Jamie, who agreed with me, and Jim, who did not.

    Neither of them took my “readers look backwards” line to mean “every single X-Men reader on the planet” Only you did that. So, it seems you alone need things spelled out, I shall therefore edit my original statement:

    “It seems that whenever there’s dissatisfaction with the line, SOME readers… not all, but some (and certainly not including any of the readers wwk5d associates with), look backwards to Claremont. ”

    Okay? All clear now?

    Finally, at the risk of offending your sense of humor, using “duh” when you’re debating someone’s point isn’t all that funny. Hold on. Let me read it back again just to make sure I’m not mistaken.

    Nope. Still not funny. But I admit I could be wrong. Maybe you ought to poll it? Or perhaps work it into your stand-up routine at the club. See if it gets a laugh.

    Here’s how a more rational (but less funny) person might have countered my point…

    “I don’t see any evidence of that. That may have been true some years ago, but today I think most Claremont fans agree that he’s better suited to fringe titles than he is flagship books. Especially given the way the books are being handled these days.”

    I know it’s not as scathingly hilarious as “That’s not what they mean! Duh!” but I’m no Will Farrell.

  42. wwk5d says:

    “I know it’s not as scathingly hilarious as “That’s not what they mean! Duh!” but I’m no Will Farrell.”


    And a debate? Seriously, let me restate again that you get over yourself, or a least, try not to twist your ankle once you dismount off of that high horse of yours. This is an internet discussion forum, try not to take it and yourself so seriously. You’ll be more relaxed and probably live longer, and oh the timed buzzer for our “debate” just went off, and the referee won’t let me continue. Oh well.

  43. CleV says:

    I only read this site irregularly, but I was browsing the comments and was delighted to see at least one (and maybe more?) familiar names from the old r.a.c.m.x. newsgroup. I used to be a regular there (although only posting irregularly) – so wanted to give a shout-out to everyone who remembers the good old days 😉

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