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Jul 2

Age of X-Man: The Amazing Nightcrawler

Posted on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

Considering that Nightcrawler is also starring in the Age of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men miniseries, it seems odd at first that there’s no apparent interaction between the two books.  As it turns out, there is a reason, of sorts: the plot of Nightcrawler’s solo book pretty much rules out the possibility of him coming back to the X-Men to talk about.  I’ll get into why later on, but anyone who’s been even vaguely following Age of X-Man will have spotted that there’s quite a lot of mind-wiping going on.  So fair enough, that turns out to make sense at the end of the day.

Amazing Nightcrawler is still a curious book, though.  There’s a certain same-iness to the Age of X-Man minis, in as much as they tend to fall into two main plots: fighting the forces of social conformity within Nate’s strange little world, or characters starting to recover their normal sense of identity.  Nightcrawler basically does that too, but its starting point is that Kurt is having a rather lovely time in this world, where he is indeed getting to live out his dream of movie stardom before an adoring audience.

Once you decide to go more for the broad social conflict than the mind cops, Age of X-Man doesn’t really lend itself to conventional superhero tropes, and instead becomes more of a vehicle for exploring the characters in a bizarrely changed culture.  So Seanan McGuire’s a sensible choice of writer for a series which turns out to be more of a character study than anything else.  And while artist Juan Frigeri works in a more typical superhero idiom, that works out fairly well here, since Kurt is a movie action star, and the point of his set-up is that he’s living as a role model who keeps up appearances of the inspiring hero.

All that granted, it’s a bit obvious that the first issue opens with a scene of action and tension and what do you know, it’s a movie shoot.  But the book gets to the point soon enough.  Kurt is the A-list star, Meggan is his on-screen partner.  This obvious harks back to their Excalibur days, and it begs some questions about quite how their pairing actually works in a culture which isn’t meant to believe in romance – it’s never entirely clear what relationship their on-screen characters have.  Meggan seems to be sexing herself up a bit on camera, too, which is a bit puzzling in terms of how audiences are supposed to be responding in a world where people are repulsed by sex and romance.  (There’s a poster in Kurt’s room which suggests that he and Meggan starred in a version of Titanic and… what?  Even allowing for the fact that X-Man’s world is meant to be a bit ropey around the edges, this is surely a bit too much in plain sight.)

Incidentally, the series keeps using the full name “Meggan Puceanu”, which jars a bit, because I can’t shake the feeling that it’s an error.  The name seems to come from a couple of lines of dialogue in Captain Britain & MI-13, and as best as I can figure it is indeed a genuine Romani name – but as transliterated into Romanian.  Which looks wrong.  But I digress.

Also helping out with the movies are the Stepford Cuckoos, and as a hive-mind, they really, really don’t get on well with this world.  Kurt’s noble and tolerant intervention allows a couple of them to hang around as PAs but they’re still being as individual as they can, in a world that treats even sibling relationships as perverse.  The idea seems to be that the creative industries are more tolerant of difference than the public in general… but only relatively speaking.

Naturally enough, this all leads to a romance between Kurt and Meggan – because as seems clear, Nate has done a rather better job of embedding social attitudes than actually removing human urges.  (Or perhaps he genuinely believes that these aren’t innate human urges, so that changing the culture is all he needs to do.)  Now, for Kurt more than any other character, this is a genuine utopia, even if it’s not working out so well for others.  And that’s the basic drama of this series: his dilemma between pursuing his feelings for Meggan and chasing down a mysterious girl who may or may not be his daughter, and holding on to his status now that he’s finally living a life of (for want of a better word) privilege.  Tied in here is Kurt’s belief that he’s doing some good by being an inspirational figure for others, even though that seems to boil down to promoting the status quo.

Since something needs to actually happen, in order to keep the book vaguely within the parameters of the superhero genre, the book reaches for a bit of padding by setting up a feud with a rival studio led by Lady Mastermind (who I guess qualified to answer the “all available X-Men” call on the strength of Mike Carey’s run).  This doesn’t add much beyond getting some random fight scenes into the middle chapters.  But it’s much more interesting when it’s doing things like having Meggan drag a desperately uncomfortable Kurt to an underground romance club, which everyone treats as if the scenes of hand-holding were deeply scandalous.

The central idea of all this becomes clearest in the final issue, where Kurt singularly fails to make the expected heroic choice.  The Cuckoos, it turns out, have been desperately intervening to try and keep him on the straight and narrow so that he won’t bring the studio down with him, and this is only the latest time round.  The obvious anticlimactic ending would be for Kurt to get whammied again while trying to resist.  But instead, he wants to be reset again, so that he can go back to being happy and stop having to think about awkward things.

It’s an unexpected take – once in a position of relative comfort, Kurt will rationalise his way into finding a justification for staying there.  As written in this series, Kurt is what some people would call a centrist, and they wouldn’t mean it as a compliment.  McGuire’s script is more sympathetic to him than that, seeing it more as human weakness that he loses sight of his principles when he’s no longer fighting from underneath; he remains a fundamentally decent person by inclination, but doesn’t follow through on it properly.  Whether this really rings true as a take on Kurt, rather than a more morally flexible character, is debatable – it would be more obvious to do this story with someone like Gambit, but a bolder and more interesting decision to do it with Nightcrawler.

The bigger issue is that the plot struggles to fill five issues and meanders around killing time instead of fully exploring the themes.  It’s not a great series, but it’s at least an interesting one – if only because it turns out to have the courage of its convictions instead of just following the obvious route.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    Maybe it’s a version of Titanic where a lower class boy meets an upper class girl and they go on to have a professional platonic relationship. Posing for a furniture diagramme, having a philosophical discussion in a car, and at the end they reservedly agree that it would be most practical if Kurt stayed in the water and died, while Meggan grew old without regret.

  2. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Huh. I read the ending as a more traditionally heroic one – yes, Kurt asks to be reset, but he specifically offers himself up as a trade for the Cuckoos letting Meggan and TJ go.

    Also I can’t quite grasp the mechanics of Meggan unwittingly becoming Mystique.

  3. Suzene says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran

    Yes, that was my take too. Kurt made a sacrifice so that Meggan and baby TJ could escape with their memories intact. Given some of his earlier actions in the comic, I think a case could be made that Kurt had some subconscious motivation for falling on his sword, but the book did seem to be presenting it as him sincerely protecting his loved ones.

    re: Titanic – I laughed in delight at that poster, actually. It didn’t seem unlikely to me that Nate had something like a Hays Code in place, and the Cameron’s Titanic is a great example of a film that could be used to illustrate why romance is a bad thing. For ages, there’s been a comical argument that Rose and Jack’s insipid little romance (her goading the bigwigs into speeding up the boat, the two of them frolicking on the deck distracting the lookouts until was too late) is what actually caused the boat to sink in the film. Make that a bit more explicit and heavy-handed instead of just incidentally bad writing, and you’ve got a morality tale about how two peoples’ oblivious self-absorption ruined thousands of lives.

  4. KayTee says:

    I am SO done with this “event”. I get it – the X-office hates aromantics & asexuals and thinks only conceived-via-sex biological family has any value. They’ve made as much clear on their social media. They don’t need a whole drawn out series of minis to hammer it home that we’re somehow a worse threat than actual hate movements.

    I’d hope Hickman’s arrival means a cleaning-out, but last I heard, the editor behind brilliant decisions like this & Rosenberg’s UXM (which is just brimming with awfulness) & Grace’s unreadable OOC Iceman book is still going to be in place. So nothing of substance is going to change.

  5. JCG says:

    Hickman was brought in by Dan Buckley himself to “try stuff”. I would guess he pretty much has carte blanche in creative choices.

  6. Chris V says:

    KayTee-I’d say it goes a lot deeper than that.
    First of all, it’s a world without love. It’s not a matter of being asexual, as a person who has no interest in sexuality can certainly (and still does) love.

    Also, this world is forced upon the individual.
    People aren’t making a free choice to avoid sex and families, but are being forced to do so by X-Man and through authoritarian measures.

    It’s a world of enforced individualism, outside of the idea of just relationships or families.
    There was also commentary in the comic about how things like Communism are completely anathema in the world that X-Men has created.
    In some ways, some of this can be read as a satire of Ayn Randian individualism.

    Just as 1984 took the concept of collectivism to its ultimate zenith (where people are treated as ants), this can be read as taking the opposite to its ultimate ludicrous ends.

  7. Jason Rubinstein says:

    @Si are you…. are you Simon Spurrier

  8. Joseph S. says:

    When TJ was first introduced, my first thought was that Age of X-Man would end up (re)introducing a version of Nocturne into the 616. We’ll see, I guess.

    In any case, this was fun enough. It was nice to see some chemistry between Kurt and Megan after all these years. The rest of the supporting cast was pretty rando (Lady Mastermind) but seeing characters like Magma, Kylun, the Cuckoos, Surge, etc interacting was enjoyable. Especially since their powers and personalities all seem well suited for the film industry. Has Kylun’s sound mimicry power ever had a better use?

  9. Si says:

    @Jason Rubinstein: No, I’m Simon Fuller. I’m nobody important.

  10. Voord 99 says:

    I can’t tell if that’s a joke or not…

  11. Karl_H says:

    I don’t get TJ at all. Everyone in this world is either (a) an X-person who answered the call and got sucked into Nate’s little world, or (b) basically a Nate-designed NPC. Why would Nate design a character that represents everything he’s trying to abolish?

    For that matter, why would anyone other than the people in group (a) ever behave against Nate’s design? Why are NPCs like the non-X-men X-Tracts, or the pregnant couple in X-Tremists, acting like real people with suppressed desires?

  12. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Nate’s subconscious sabotages his own design? Triumph of id over superego?
    Somebody didn’t read the brief on the event’s basics?

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