Saturday, July 19, 2014

Favorite Marvel Characters #5 - Nightcrawler

Character: Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner)

Creators: Dave Cockrum and Len Wein

First appearance: Giant Size X-Men #1

First encounter: Nightcrawler #4. I didn't pick up that reprint of the X-Men's run-in with Doom until sometime in the early '90s. The first X-Men comic I owned was Uncanny #202, but Kurt's not in that. But in the same batch of comics that landed me that book, I got the final issue of the four-issue mini-series Dave Cockrum did back in the '80s. So it must be that.

Definitive writer: Chris Claremont or Alan Davis. It probably ought to just be Claremont, but I really like Davis' portrayal of Kurt during his stint as writer on Excalibur.

Definitive artist: Alan Davis! That sleekness Davis gives almost all his characters works really well for Kurt. Also, Kurt's an expressive guy, and Davis is very good at conveying that.

Favorite moment or story: Kurt's got a lot of good moments, from single-handedly protecting the heir to the throne of some kingdom from Arcade, to just managing to stay alive against the Wendigo that one time. Hey, Wolverine barely managed any better, you have to grade on a curve a little. He punched Mephisto right in the chops once (that was in his previous ongoing series, Aguirre-Sacasa/Darick Robertson one). I'm fond of the brief period where Technet was stuck on Earth and Kurt, laid up with a busted leg (thanks Captain Britain), turns them into a cohesive team, and uses them to stop a creature stealing mystical artifacts for a big bad. It showed Kurt relying on his wits, leadership abilities, and his skill connecting with others. That's from roughly Excalibur #45.

Why I like him: For starters, teleportation is a really cool power. I've always been a fan of those powers that make it quicker, easier, or just cooler to get from one place to another. Super-speed, heightened agility, intangibility, flight obviously, and teleportation. Maybe because I'm one of those folks who struggles to embrace that idea about it being the journey, not the destination. If I'm going somewhere, I want to get there now, not later. Plus, it makes for a lot of fun in fight scenes, letting Kurt wreak havoc attacking all over, turning enemies' attack against each other.

Kurt's got a cool look, for another thing. With the yellow eyes, the fangs, the two toes, the three fingers, the tail, the blue fur, the red, white and black costume that contrasts nicely with the fur. Throw in the distinctive style of his teleportation, with the explosion of smoke and the "BAMF" effect, he's well-designed to get a kid's attention. I've said it previously, but I think it really helps a character's chances to get the reader's attention if they're eye-catching, then the reader pays attention long enough for their personality to shine through.

Beyond that, there's the fact that Kurt looks scary, but generally he isn't. Oh, he can get angry, just like anybody else. One moment I considered mentioning above is from Excalibur #62, when he has to defend an unconscious Cerise and Shadowcat from a host of "warpies", only his powers have been blocked. Kurt's already feeling down because the Phoenix Force has dashed off into deep space with Rachel Summers and he thinks he should have done something, and now two more friends (or more than friend in Cerise's case) are in danger. So he unloads on those poor suckers. Those periodic badass moments are always appreciated.

But really, Kurt's a pretty gentle guy. Yes, he's handy with a sword, and quite willing to sock someone in the jaw if he thinks he deserves it (that warpie storyline ends with Kurt satisfyingly uppercutting Britain's version of Peter Gyrich), but he's pretty restrained. It's what makes the moments where he cuts loose more noticeable and effective, because he normally turns the enemy's strength against them. Let one bad guy hit another with an attack intended for Kurt. Use a judo toss and turn their momentum against them. All else fails, grab 'em and 'port them around until the strain conks them out. Kurt enjoys fighting, and he's good at it - hardly surprising given his powers and training - but I think it's less about hurting people, and more about the physical challenge it presents.

And the opportunity for dashing heroics, of course. Because Kurt fancies himself a swashbuckler, in the fictionalized form, anyway. I thought it was a good idea of Cockrum in that '80s mini-series to let Kurt spend some time with real pirates, as kind of a reminder they aren't all "yo ho ho" and good times. Still, Kurt's more the dashing rouge than the scalawag, which is the best way to go. It means you get a character who enjoys the challenge, enjoys saving the day, certainly enjoys impressing pretty ladies, and isn't likely to turn into one of those grim heroes who is all about the job, and can't take any real positives from it.

That's maybe the best thing about Kurt, his largely positive attitude. Sure, he gets frustrated, doubts Xavier's mission, doubts himself. Who wouldn't? He's watched friends die, or lose their powers, watched he and the other X-Men scrabble and fight and struggle to protect this world that continues to hate and fear them, him in particular. But he eventually resolves to go on, even if he isn't sure why, he sticks by his friends and hopes the reason will present itself in time (I think it's interesting that even in Uncanny X-Men #188, when he seems incredibly frustrates and angry, he's still on-board with finding young mutants and helping them learn to control his powers. He hasn't given up on that, he's just tired of protecting assholes like Gyrich from the Blob or whomever).

And his appearance prompted a lot of ugly reactions for a long time. Xavier found him being pursued by the stereotypical torch and pitchfork wielding mob. When he was gravely injured fighting Nimrod in Central Park, the response of the dock workers was not, "hey, this guy needs medical attention, let's help," it was "Get that stinkin' mutie!" His mother threw him off a damn waterfall to save her own neck. She's been more of a mother to her adopted daughter than she's ever been to him, to the extent that when they did Age of Apocalypse, one of the things they did to show how different this world was from the normal Marvel Universe was give Kurt and Mystique a close relationship, where she actually seemed to care for him. Then again, given Mystique's shitty track record of parenting with Rogue, Kurt's probably better off without her in his life.

And yet, here's Kurt, still finding things to enjoy in the world, still hoping he can make things better. He's still charming, friendly, funny, drinking beers with Logan, sword-fighting skeletons alongside Rachel or Kitty in the Danger Room, and apparently charming practically every lady he meets. I will readily admit the fact that Kurt is a character with a, let's say "unusual" appearance (because he's probably quite conventionally attractive without the fur and tail), who still manages to be incredibly successful with the opposite sex in part because of his personality is part of his appeal. Anyway, Nightcrawler seems like someone who would be a lot of fun to hang out with. Shoot some pool, help me brush up on my German, entertain me when he brings Logan along and they inevitably end up fighting a bunch of ninjas on my front lawn (though Logan would surely try to leave without helping to clean up the mess).

I feel a certain amount of similarity with Kurt. He's a lot more outgoing than I am, but he frequently only shows his positive emotions. When he's around his friends, he's all too willing to share in any revelry, to play the jokester, the one who keeps things lighthearted. But his doubts, his concerns, his fears, those he tends to tamp down, keep to himself. I'm not sure if he's trying to deny them, or if he just wants to sort everything out on his own, but that's my tendency as well. When the Phoenix takes off into space with Rachel, Kurt gets a little more angry, a little more brusque. Kitty keeps trying to talk to him about Rachel, and he keeps changing the subject or teleporting away. Whatever his feelings (he blames himself), he doesn't want to confide in others.

Likewise, for a long time, Kurt isn't comfortable being a leader. He's forced into it for a time after Storm is depowered and leaves the team, but he isn't comfortable in it, and doubts himself constantly. He seems better by the time Alan Davis is writing Excalibur, but he still second-guesses himself every time a snag crops up. Rather than adjusting and moving ahead with a new plan, Kurt is spending time worried he's made a mistake. That's because he cares deeply about his teammates and doesn't want to have put them in danger, but it also shows a certain lack of trust in his judgment (not to mention his teammates' abilities and experience). Even so, if you need a leader, Nightcrawler's willing to step up and give it a try, which is my feeling. I'm OK if presented with something I can do solo, where I'm boss and crew, but I'll issue commands only if nobody else is taking charge and there are things that need doing.

I haven't mentioned Kurt being a religious fellow yet. In truth, the swashbuckler was much more interesting to me than the priest. Especially because when writers start delving into Kurt's religious beliefs, they have a tendency to write a mopey, navel-gazing Kurt. While appropriate in small doses, it's not the Kurt I really want to see. I do appreciate the idea that the Elf believes in helping others, in love and compassion for those different from him, in spite of the fact he's seen precious little of that directed his way in life. It's nice, the same way that Steve Rogers was the right guy to get the Super-Soldier Serum because the man without power understands its value and potential for abuse, the guy who receives mostly hatred and scorn for being different understands how valuable it is to offer love and forgiveness.


SallyP said...

Like Blue Velvet indeed.

CalvinPitt said...

I feel like Davis used that more than once when writing Kurt. I wonder what the appeal was.