Favorite Fictional Characters, #140: Nightcrawler
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
When Marvel resurrected the X-Men in 1975, they moved from the concept of teenage students to older, more seasoned mutants from around the globe. The seminal Giant-Size X-Men by Wein and Cockburn appropriated a very raw Wolverine into the X-universe, rescued Banshee from the slush pile of the original series, and gave us three compelling original characters who would prove durable mainstays of the team: Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. Of these, Nightcrawler has probably been the least appreciated and least celebrated, and that is a shame. Of all the heroes in the Marvel Universe, Kurt Wagner might very well be the most heroic.
While his origin has been retconned and reinvented many times, in essence Kurt Wagner was an orphan, adrift in Eastern Europe, born with dark blue fur, three digits on his hands and two on his feet, fangs and a tail. He found refuge in the circus, where he honed his acrobatic talents and was accepted among the other "freaks", but in time the prejudices of the German countryside found him. Because he looked like a devil, they assumed him to be one. The irony was that Kurt was the most pious of men, a devout Catholic with a deep belief in the inherent value and dignity of all people. After Professor Xavier rescued him from an ugly mob intent on doing him harm, Kurt became Nightcrawler and embraced the role of the superhero.
A swashbuckler at heart, Nightcrawler fancied hmself a latter-day Errol Flynn, a daring adventurer and charming rogue. He became the soul of the X-Men, growing particularly close to Wolverine, and his optimism and faith softened the harder edges of his more primal, more violent teammate. As time went by, Nightcrawler struggled to reconcile his faith in humanity with humanity's obvious hatred toward him. He grew at times bitter, in the manner of a jilted lover. He had given his life to save and protect those who reviled or feared him, and the adoration he sought was always denied him. Near the end of the most classic of X-Men eras, between #97 and #220 of the Uncanny title, things fall apart for the team. Storm is powerless, Cyclops leaves, Professor X nearly dies and departs, and the Mutant Massacre decimates those who remain. Nightcrawler himself is nearly killed by the Marauder Riptide, an assault so brutal that Colossus, the most gentle of X-Men, kills Riptide in response.
Nightcrawler lingers in a coma, and the team finds just how much of a northern star he is. His eventual recovery is long and arduous, and wends its way through Excalibur, his death and rebirth, and all the other silliness that modern comics have come to embrace. But I remember Cockrum's Nightcrawler, and Byrne's and Claremont's, and Romita's. I remember a man who looked like a devil, who chose to forgive and serve the devils who look like men. That Nightcrawler, who battled prejudice with love, was the most super of heroes