The funny thing about it is that Nightcrawler wasn’t even in the first issue of X-Men that I bought- Uncanny X-Men #202. His first mini-series was being published concurrently so Nightcrawler was given a short break from the main title. But, when I finally met the character, he quickly became one of my favorites.
I like that he enjoyed his powers. Especially in the X-Men, a large number of characters view their powers as a burden or even a curse. But not Nightcrawler. He enjoyed surprising his friends with short teleports. He laughed off complaints about the smell of sulfur that his teleports left behind. He had fun climbing on walls and was pleasantly surprised when he learned he became almost invisible in shadows. He swung through Danger Room exercises with delight. In doing so, Nightcrawler reminded us that being a superhero is supposed to be fun. That’s one of the reasons why we read about them, after all, especially when we’re young. We want to be superheroes. We want to fly and run fast and beat up the bad guys. Nightcrawler embodied that attitude. He was able to do incredible things that no one else could do and he had fun doing them.
I like that he made jokes. More than that, I like the kind of jokes that he made. Nightcrawler wasn’t the class clown, cutting up all the time whether or not it’s appropriate. And he wasn’t mean-spirited, making fun of other people instead of having fun with them. He was simply good-natured. He kept things light. He smiled even in the midst of dire situations. And he helped others feel better. This was true of both other characters and readers who appreciated his positive outlook on life and his sense of humor.
I like that he wasn’t ashamed of who he was. When Nightcrawler joined the X-Men, Professor Xavier borrowed image inducers so that mutants who didn’t look human would be able to go about unmolested. At first, Nightcrawler treated it like a game. He didn’t come up with some anonymous alter ego. He walked around looking like Errol Flynn. He drew attention to himself, instead of hiding from it. Eventually, Nightcrawler rejected the need for an image inducer at all. Although it meant that he was occasionally left outside as sentry or back-up, Nightcrawler refused to pretend he was something other than what he was. He wasn’t embarrassed by his three fingers, blue fur or tail and he saw no reason why someone else’s discomfort should impede on his freedom. That’s a powerful example. The X-Men have often served as models or metaphors for those who feel out of place, particularly teenagers and minorities. By being comfortable in his own fur, Nightcrawler showed us that we could be comfortable with who we were as well.
I like that he made friends. Nightcrawler was personable. He was able to get along with just about anybody. He hung out with the surly Wolverine and brought out the best in him. He hung out with the quiet Colossus and brought him out of his shell. He patiently overcame Kitty’s initial fear of him and eventually became one of her greatest friends. He meshed well with the stoic Captain Britain and the emotional Rachel. He was often the first to befriend new members, such as Kylun and Douglock. He also held on to friendships for a lifetime, such as childhood friend and intermittent lover Amanda Sefton. He was kind to those with very different backgrounds and attitudes, such as Stacy X. Even in his solo title, Nightcrawler made a new friend in Night Nurse. Maybe that’s why he was so beloved by fans. It was easy for us to imagine being his friend as well.
I like that he was a man of faith. As a Christian, I’m used to seeing negative depictions in popular fiction. However, Nightcrawler was a shining example of how faith can have a positive impact on someone’s life. He was the exact opposite of so many religious stereotypes: accepting instead of prejudiced, joyful instead of dour, intelligent instead of dim-witted. His faith was a source of his strength of character and jubilant personality, not an impediment to it. Kurt Wagner was a wonderful public face for Christianity, without being a commercial for it.
I like that he became a leader. There’s a well-known aphorism: some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them. Nightcrawler was not a born leader. In the circus, Kurt Wagner was the acrobat, not the ringleader. Yet he stepped up into leadership roles when he needed to and gradually grew into them. His first leadership experience came when both Cyclops and Storm were absent from the X-Men. At that time, he wasn’t yet confident in the position. Yet, when Nightcrawler later helped found Excalibur, he naturally rose as the team’s leader. He successfully steered Excalibur through numerous challenges and changes. He even put together a substitute team of “N-Men” when his regular team was out of commission. Even so, Nightcrawler didn’t have Cyclops’ innate need to be a leader. When he returned to the X-Men, he willingly took supporting roles, allowing Angel to serve as squad leader and stepping in later only when called upon. It was nice to see Nightcrawler change and grow. It was also nice to see that a leader didn’t have to be stoic and gruff.
I even like the way in which he died. After all, in addition to all of his other traits, Nightcrawler was also a hero. He pushed himself to be better. He refused to accept limits- working on teleporting over greater distances, with greater frequency and with more passengers. He risked his own safety to save his friends and his own life to save the world. In the end, he sacrificed himself to save a young girl named Hope. That’s a fitting legacy. Having dedicated his life to protecting the world, Nightcrawler died to preserve hope.
I like to think that Nightcrawler and I have a lot in common. That’s one reason why I’m so attached to him as a character. He’s also a better version of me, reminding me to be both joyful and unashamed. He’s both who I am and who I aspire to be.
Nightcrawler was a lot of fun to read about and a lot of fun to have around. I will miss seeing him in X-Men stories, though I can always go back and read my favorites again. And yet, I have hope for there is always the chance that we will one day see him again. Until then, good-bye fuzzy elf, my favorite fictional friend.