Nightcrawler #1 sees the return to the X-Men Universe of both Nightcrawler, the teleporting fuzzy elf who first debuted in Giant Size X-Men #1 back in 1975, and Chris Claremont, the writer responsible for putting the X-Men on the map during his fifteen plus years writing Uncanny X-Men from the late seventies into the early nineties. Neither has fared well of late: Nightcrawler was killed off during 2007’s “Second Coming” story, offered up as that storyline’s requisite bit of event fodder before being recently resurrected in the opening arc of Jason Aaron’s Amazing X-Men spinoff title. Chris Claremont’ latest significant return to the X-Men, X-Men Forever was met with both mediocre sales and fan reaction. It’s hard to call this issue a triumphant return for both, simply because that’s not quite the energy it’s going for, but it is nonetheless a solid beginning to this new chapter for both character and creator.
Claremont is known by fan and critic alike for a variety of tics – dense, occasionally purple, prose, large chunks of narration describing what the art is showing, a fondness for mind control stories, and repeated catchphrases. His writing here is surprisingly restrained. Nightcrawler sounds like Nightcrawler, of course, swashbuckling, gallant and self-assured, but the narrative captions – even the first person ones – are kept to a minimum, and rarely step on the toes of the art. Claremont comics are often verbose reads, but this one is downright brisk, striking just the right balance between being too heavy and so slight as to feel disposable.
Art comes from Todd Nauck, perhaps most well known for his lengthy run on DC’s Young Justice. There, his work tended towards the exaggerated and cartoony, but here, Nauck strikes a nice balance between the exaggerated and the real. His Nightcrawler is reminiscent of both Paul Smith’s and Dave Cockrum’s (in fact, Nauck directly homages one of Smith’s pages in this issue), with a knack for body language and clean, easy-to-follow action sequences.
While the story told in this issue (of Nightcrawler reintegrating himself at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, followed by a reunion with his sweetheart Amanda Sefton and a battle with an armored goon that kicks off the series’ first story arc) is complete enough to make for a satisfying single issue, there is some concern that there’s enough here to hook a casual reader to come back for more. There’s a mystery behind who sent the armored opponent after Amanda, but the antagonist is too generic to be interesting, while Amanda herself is a relatively deep cut even for diehard fans, even if she absolutely deserves a place in a Nightcrawler solo series. As a limited series or annual story, this might be okay (and diehard Nightcrawler fans will find plenty to enjoy), but anyone hoping to find a new and different take on the character as part of the Marvel NOW initiative may be disappointed.
But Claremont may yet have some narrative tricks up his sleeve for anyone who does come back for issue #2 and beyond, and for now, this is a solid enough and surprisingly pleasant return to form for two X-Men stalwarts. Though there may not be enough here to hook a large audience, for any fans of Nightcrawler or Chris Claremont, this is a fun and enjoyable start to the series.
The Claremontisms in this issue are in surprisingly short supply, but his penchant for abbreviating proper names is on full display: Ororo is “‘Ro”, Cecelia Reyes is “Cece” and Amanda is “‘Manda”.
Amanda Sefton, a flight attendant and powerful sorceress, is Nightcrawler’s long time love interest and, in one of Claremont’s more dubious plot turns, also his step-sister. It’s been quite some time since she was last involved with the X-Men.
Nightcrawler is joined in this issue by several Bamfs, small, impish versions of himself from an alternate dimension which first appeared in Nightcrawler’s original 1985 limited series by Dave Cockrum (and who were in turn inspired by similar creatures that first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #153, as part of the well known “Kitty’s Fairy Tale” story). These Bamfs played a role in Nightcrawler’s resurrection in Amazing X-Men.