According to Urban Dictionary.com, “old school” is defined as:
“Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect. Can be used to refer to music, clothing, language, or anything really.”
And if I was going to use a single phrase to describe the new Nightcrawler series Marvel launched last month, that would be it. This book has old school written all over it and the main reason for that is because the one and only Chris Claremont is writing it.
For those unlucky few reading this who are saying “Chris who?”, Chris Claremont is pretty much the father of everything that is cool about the X-Men family of titles. Long before Brian Michael Bendis came along, Claremont spent the better part of 17 years chronicling the adventures of Marvel’s mutants, writing some truly classic X-Men stories, including “The Dark Phoenix Saga”, “X-Tinction Agenda”, the first Wolverine limited series, “Lifedeath”, and “Days of Future Past”, which is being released right about now in movie theaters everywhere.
Now, after years away from the franchise he made a bestseller, Claremont is back at the keyboard with Nightcrawler, a title spinning out of the character’s recent return in the pages of Amazing X-Men. The series sees Kurt Warner trying to adapt to the changes that have happened since his death, including the murder of Charles Xavier, a schism within the X-Men and the generally darker tone of the world around him.
And that is something that I loved right out of the gate with this book; despite the fact that the X-Men titles have become a pretty grim place as of late, Nightcrawler is a fun, lighthearted romp that is easy to enjoy. Claremont was never one to write unnecessarily dark stories, his books always had a sense of hope about them that has been sorely missing in my opinion since he left. And with Nightcrawler it is back from almost page one.
Plus you get that distinctive way of writing dialogue that Claremont has, the pacing of the words and the way the word balloons are laid out. It took me years to get used to it and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I read the first issue of Nightcrawler.
Speaking of dialogue, the one complaint I’ve heard about the book from people who have checked it out has been the fact that it is a very wordy read, with lots of extrapolation to explain who characters are and their motivations. Coming back to this being “old school,” this is the way comics used to be written. The idea was that this could be someone’s first comic and that all the information they need should be present so they can enjoy the story. Frankly, if more comics were written this way, maybe we would have fewer people reading comics via trade exclusively.
As far as the artwork, I don’t think they could have picked a better artist than the criminally underrated Todd Nauck. One of the big issues I’ve had over the years with the way artists interpret Nightcrawler is that most just make him look like any other man, but blue with a tail. Nauck instead makes Kurt look like the demon he is; there is nothing “cute” about his features, or the way he carries himself. Nightcrawler may be a hero, but Nauck gives him enough nuance that you’re never quite sure what he’s thinking. It’s a subtle but effective touch that makes the art in the book stand out.
Then there’s the fact that Nauck is a great storyteller, with a style that can depict action just as readily as softer character moments. When you then add in Rachelle Rosenberg’s coloring, which is bright and, yes, old school compared to today’s comics, you have the perfect compliment to the stories Claremont is trying to tell. It’s a great example of a creative team all working together towards the same goal and the finished book being that much better for it.
If the track record of solo X-Men titles is any indication, Nightcrawler is going to have an uphill battle to find an audience and make it past 12 issues; which, would be a real shame since this book is like a breath of fresh air to the X-Men comic franchise. Marvel needs more titles like Nightcrawler on the shelves and should do everything they can to promote and get fans reading what is a great book.
As I said at the beginning of this review, Nightcrawler is a throwback to a different way of making comics. It’s “old school,” and I had forgotten how much I missed it.