There are two times in my twenty-five plus years of reading comic books that I can remember shedding tears over the content of an issue. I have been upset, I have felt sadness and anger, but there are only two occasions that I can recall that brought out the waterworks. Each of those issues is represented above and both marked the death of a character that had been part of my comic book life since the beginning.
The first, Uncanny X-Men #303, was released in August 1993 and marked the “calm” before the storm that would be Fatal Attractions. One slight problem in that plan though: due to delays for whatever reason, #304 saw the light of day first and spoiled the major plot point of the previous issue, which was titled “Going Through The Motions,” by the way.
To drastically condense a story that had been building for decades, Illyana Rasputin (known as Magik on the New Mutants team) was forced aged in Limbo, de-aged during the Inferno story arc, and then contracted the Legacy Virus somewhere around X-Men (Vol. 2) #17-19 when the team headed to Russia. Illyana and Colossus’ parents were killed during that arc so she returned to NYC to live in the X-Mansion while the X-Brain Trust (Xavier, Beast, and Moira MacTaggert) tried to cure her.
Issue #303 was the culmination of the final (at the time) leg of Illyana’s tragic story as she succumbed to the Legacy Virus with Kitty Pryde (her best friend), Jean Grey, Xavier, and Jubilee at her side. So much of this issue just wrenched my heart and I believe the most telling aspect of my relationship to this story is that writing about right now and looking at these images…
…they still bring tears to my eyes and heaviness to my heart. The fact that Magik has returned from the dead does not change that fact nor does it lessen the impact of this story. If anything, it tells a lot about my relationship to comics nowadays that nothing has accomplished this feat, at least not to this degree, since.
Then again, to be honest, if DC had not elected to scream it from every rooftop in the world a week or so in advance, the death of Damian Wayne in Batman Inc #8 would likely have had that effect on me.
Then, there’s X-Force issue, the only other comic that brought on the tears, it is the following moment that makes a seemingly random chapter of Second Coming so moving:
One of MY original X-Men! One of the guys who I grew to love courtesy of X-Men Classic, and particularly because of the back-up vignettes those reprints contained, Nightcrawler was dead. I did not see it coming.
Marvel (to the best of my recollection) did not spoil things on the internet or in any print media. They let it be the shocking moment it needed to be. Nightcrawler, in an attempt to protect the “mutant messiah” Hope, teleports to her aid only to find the arm of the cyborg Bastion occupying the space, an arm that is now part of Kurt Wagner’s chest. As anyone who has read the character for any length of time should know, especially if you read him as done by Chris Claremont, it has been drilled into our head over decades that this is the danger of “porting blind”.
With his last actions he ports to the X-Men’s island base of Utopia, temporarily getting Hope out of harm’s way, and dies on the shores of the former Asteroid M. I cried, like a small child I cried with tears streaming down my face. My heart broke for Wolverine in particular knowing he had just lost his best friend, the guy he called Elf, the guy he got to walk down the streets of Westchester, NY WITHOUT his image inducer. Check out X-Men Vignettes Vol. 1 TPB or Classic X-Men #4 for that story:
Nightcrawler was THE X-Men, THE symbol of EVERYTHING the team and Xavier’s dream was conceived to represent. When he was introduced, Kurt Wagner was possibly the most physically obvious mutant from birth. Hank McCoy turned blue and furry but he did that to himself while Angel has wings but he could always hide those if need be. Cyclops, Iceman, Jean Grey, even the rest of the “All New, All Different” team, they could all pass as completely normal humans. Not Nightcrawler and that was a point made in his debut when, in a scene straight from Frankenstein, a mob chased him out of town due to his appearance. It was only the timely arrival of Charles Xavier that saved him from certain death and from that day forward, I firmly believe HE was the heart and soul of the X-Family.
My first introduction to him in real-time was at the close of the Uncanny X-Men portion of the Fall of the Mutants story arc in this panel:
It was probably a couple more years before I finally got the Mutant Massacre back issues that filled in the blanks for me. Sure it was a time consuming process but it was that love for back issue hunting I had as a child that really enforced my love for these characters. That need to know everything about everything X-related drove me to get every issue of Classic X-Men/X-Men Classic as well as every back issue of Uncanny X-Men that I could get my hands on. Ultimately the quest came to an end when the two series collided somewhere in the 160’s but all told, it gave me a complete picture of the development of the X-Men and, for this particular purpose, Nightcrawler.
I watched him grow, as I said, into the heart and soul of the X-Family and even in the darkest moments, he was also the one who provided some levity to the proceedings. Swashbuckling is a word often associated with his personality and it is dead-on, particularly given his love for Errol Flynn movies.
Over the years, he grew into a man confident in his true appearance. He found love with Amanda Sefton and made the most unlikely of friends in Wolverine. His faith in both Xavier’s Dream, as well as in God, hardly waivered in spite all of the awful things that fell on the heads of Wagner and The X-Men. Things that may shake the foundation of most people’s faiths, like the existence of The Beyonder and the god-like beings the X-Men encounter did not shake the resolve of Nightcrawler. In fact that faith actually produced one of the most poignant moments between Wolvie and the Fuzzy Elf:
I can’t remember specifically where that moment came from but I believe it was during the Brood arc that preceded the debut of The New Mutants based on the Paul Smith art.
I admit I did not follow Nightcrawler over to Excalibur when that title kicked off but that was as much due to the budgetary constraints of a 10 year old as anything else. In the years since I have made an effort to grab back issues here and there but, since the run is far from complete, I am holding out hope for a huge Excalibur Omnibus or two in the future.
I was overjoyed when he, Kitty Pryde, and Colossus returned to the fold after the cancellation of Excalibur and was amused by the logical progression Chris Claremont took upon his return to the books when he made Nightcrawler a priest. I made a choice to pretend that anything Chuck Austen did with the character never happened but after the X-Men: First Class movie made Azazel a thing again it became hard to disavow Austen’s place in the history of X-Writers. Suffice it to say, his tenure on the book is the ONLY time in 25+ years I ever considered purging my pull list of Uncanny X-Men.
Still, Nightcrawler and I survived the reign of Austen, but I was a bit saddened in that the time prior to his death because I felt Nightcrawler fading into the background as scores of new mutants were introduced. Ultimately this became a plot point during the migration to San Francisco that took place during the Manifest Destiny labeled stories as Kurt opened up a chapel on base and took on a less active role as the mutant Pixie became the go-to teleporter for the team.
He nearly died saving the baby who would be Hope in Messiah Complex when the Marauder Scalphunter shot him. Coincidentally, or not, it was another Marauder named Riptide who put Kurt on the shelf way back in Mutant Massacre prior to my first discovery of the Elf. Then it would all come full circle in Second Coming when ‘Crawler sacrificed his own life to save grown-up Hope from Bastion with his last words to Hope essentially being “I believe in you”.
As I said before, I bawled and I am sure it was not a pretty scene but that is how much Nightcrawler had come to mean to me over the years. He had become something more than just a drawing on a page and his death, while not exactly like losing family, was not too far off from that experience. That may seem ridiculous but it is hard not to have such a strong bond to someone, be they factual or fictional, that was a part of your life for decades and represented everything good in the world.
I was glad in that issue above that Wolverine got to say his goodbye in a fashion truly indicative of the bond between him and the Elf. The fact that it was written by Jason Aaron is not lost on me either in light of the recent publication of Amazing X-Men #1…
I must admit that, just as when Magik came back, I was initially not happy about the idea of Kurt Wagner returning to life. Although, as I said, her return did not lessen the resonance of her death, I had this fear that the return of Nightcrawler could somehow have that effect. My fears were somewhat assuaged when I read a little more about the conceit beyond Jason Aaron’s story and discovered that Kurt was, in fact, still dead. My biggest fear was that there would be this “he was alive the whole time” shtick like the one Joss Whedon pulled with Colossus in Astonishing X-Men.
That would not only render the sacrifice Kurt made somewhat pointless but it would also go against every belief I have about who Kurt Wagner is if he purposely avoided letting the X-Men, particularly Wolvie & Kitty, know he was okay.
Luckily my fears were pointless and it was to my ecstatic joy that I opened up that first issue of Amazing X-Men to see my Fuzzy Elf back in action! It was only then that I realized how much I truly missed his swashbuckling presence in my X-Books.
If I had cried this time, it certainly would have been ones of joy! There is a life to Nightcrawler, even in death, that no other character possesses and a joy that no other X-Men remotely touches, especially in the uber-depressing post-Schism world. He brings light to a dark place, a genuine humor to books primarily filled with the gallows variety, and as Brett White posited on CBR in his great piece on the subject, perhaps an end to the rift between the teams.
He may be in heaven because he died saving Hope but perhaps, in the end, it’s Nightcrawler who will be the true hope for the X-Family.