When Nightcrawler made his debut back in 1975's "Giant Size X-Men" #1, the team gained a truly invaluable member. Not because of Nightcrawler's mutant ability of teleportation, which was very useful, but because of his warmth, compassion and sense of adventure. Those qualities allowed him to form tight bonds with many of his teammates, making him -- in many ways -- the heart and soul of the team.
Thus, it's no surprise that the X-Men's world changed dramatically after Nightcrawler's death in 2010's "Second Coming." However, Kurt Wagner returns from the afterlife this April and embarks on a journey to rediscover his place in the X-Men and the world in an all-new "Nightcrawler" ongoing. Shepherding Nightcrawler back into the land of the living is legendary writer Chris Claremont, the legendary X-Writer who penned many of the blue elf's previous adventures. Alongside artist Todd Nauck, Claremont plans to set up Nightcrawler for a new set of exciting adventures.
CBR News spoke with Claremont about his return to the world of the X-Men and his approach to crafting a "Nightcrawler" ongoing series, his love of the title character and more.
CBR News: Chris, during your tenure on the X-Men books you wrote many stories for Nightcrawler, helping to determine the modern personality of the character. What's it like coming back to Nightcrawler? What do you love about the character?
Chris Claremont: I've always loved the character. Playing around with him and seeing what I could come up with sounded like fun. In respect to the X-Men, he's one of the least overtly angst-ridden of the group. For all his extreme physiognomy, he's one of the most human and decent members of the team. In many ways, he's the emotional/spiritual center of the group. He's the person that the X-Men, especially the ones who joined the team in "Giant Size X-Men" #1, go to as a friend. He and Logan bonded almost from the start. Opposites attract.
Because he fades so well into the background, having a physiognomy that's natural camouflage, you tend to forget that he's also the central core, go-to guy, leader of the team as we saw when Alan [Davis] and I were doing "Excalibur." Captain Britain is the guy you would expect to lead the team because he's tall, broad, beautiful, powerful and other alpha adjectives, but Kurt is the guy you go to if you need a solution to a problem.
Unfortunately, he's taken short shrift in the eyes of a lot of creators because he's not as traditionally attractive I guess. So he tends to get lost in the shuffle and I think this series is a chance to bring him into the foreground and have some fun with him; to see if he can A) go the distance and B) return to establish a new level of stature and glory for himself.
All that said, he has the other great asset like many other members of Excalibur and the X-Men in that he's newly resurrected from oblivion. That happened to Captain Britain. It happened once or twice to Logan. It happened to all of Storm's X-Men since they died and got resurrected. So it's becoming the team trope, but Nightcrawler comes to it from a unique perspective in that as a person of faith he has been through a series of experiences that one could argue totally validates that faith in the same sense as if a Norse Viking going to Asgard would suddenly realize, "Oh I'm not imagining this. The gods are real."
That same thing now applies to Kurt and the question now to ask and try and answer in this series is how does that affect him? Does that change his perception of himself, other people, the world around him, and his role as a super hero? And if so how? So there's a lot to play with.
I also imagine there's sort of a Rip Van Winkle element to the character in that the X-Men have changed quite a bit while he was away.
In that case, you have the character and the writer sort of walking hand in hand. It's totally different from any X-Men I have envisioned or written, and it's an interesting experience.
One of the things I read about the "Nightcrawler" ongoing series suggested it would almost be a buddy road movie style adventure series with Kurt and Wolverine. Is that still the plan?
When the book was going to be a new volume of "X-Men Legacy" it originally was envisioned as more of a team-up title. Since then, it's evolved out of that into its own named title. Since this is a "Nightcrawler" series, the focus is far more exclusively on Nightcrawler. At this point, we're dealing with Kurt and his new life. We're looking at what's happened to old friends, acquaintances, and relationships, and how he integrates into the new reality of the Jean Grey School and the X-Men as a whole.
Can you talk a little more about the plot and themes of this initial story? Is it mainly about Nightcrawler getting reacquainted with the world and how it changed in his absence?
I don't think the world as a whole has changed that much. The other thing to bare in mind is that while it may have been four calendar years for the reader, but if one accepts the hypothesis that it's only been seven or eight years since Charlie brought the team together, Nightcrawler hasn't been gone an excessive length of physical time.
The realities of the teams, their costumes, and their relationships have all changed markedly though. Storm was married and now she's not. Logan has undergone a chaotic series of changes with the loss of his own powers. So Kurt has to cope with things like the estrangement between Scott and Emma's team and Logan and Ororo's team and the fact that Kitty has sided with Scott against Logan. That's got to be an element of confusion for Kurt and it's something to address down the line.
There's also the fact that the school is functioning as a fairly extensive institution of learning. All of a sudden there are a whole lot of mutant kids there and how do you deal with that? As I said, the book and the writer are ideally simpatico in this. We both have to find our way through this thicket of new reality and characters and gravitate towards the ones that appeal to us both, while at the same time treading as lightly as possible on the other series that are dancing around the same playground and people. We don't want to trip over anybody or upset anybody's apple cart.
I imagine another big element of your initial story is Kurt's discovery that Charles Xavier is dead.
It's not like it hasn't happened before.
It's a yes and no situation. Like I said, part of this is me as a writer as well discovering things that have happened much to my surprise like Charlie being dead. So we both have to integrate ourselves into the mix. Again looking at this from a perspective of a fledgling series, what that does is require a certain focus of approach and storytelling. So the more global events like characters switching sides, one group turning against another group, the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D., the expansion of the school into a broader educational facility, the death of other characters and the like are all elements that we can perhaps allude to in the initial arc, but may not be appropriate for a fast paced story that's here to introduce the title character to the audience.
My ambition here is perhaps a little old school, that I'm assuming we're dealing with an audience that has no idea who they're dealing with. So my intent is to win them to Nightcrawler's side over the course of these initial issues. If I'm successful there and the book gets to continue then I can expand in terms of approach and depth; his attitude towards what's going on and how he wants to deal with it. Right now I'm establishing the basics in the most exciting and accessible way to an audience that hopefully wants to know who Nightcrawler is and may not be aware of him.
It sounds like you're approaching this initial story as a television pilot.
Essentially yes. We want to get people coming in the door and we want to keep them there. So we'll flesh things out as we go, but we've got to get them in the door in the first place.
What can you tell us about the antagonists opposing Nightcrawler in this initial story?
We've got something old, something new, something borrowed and something slightly blue? [Laughs] No, no. They're going to evolve out of Nightcrawler's past and they'll present him with a confrontation in the present that will challenge loyalties and hopefully bring surprises for the characters involved and lead Kurt to a fairly primal choice as to where his heart and soul lies and who he will stand beside.
So, the supporting roles in the "Nightcrawler" series are pretty much a who's-who of X-Men he was acquainted with.
In the first half dozen pages I wouldn't be surprised to see Logan, Ororo, Hank and a couple of other characters whose presence is quite logical but you wouldn't expect to see them. Then we kind of get wild from there.
Kurt has also evolved since the old days too. He's connected with the Bamfs and to a certain extent he's got to figure out what their place is in both his personal and the global scheme of things.
Let's start to wrap up by talking about the work of Todd Nauck. What do you feel he brings to this book as an artist?
His approach to the characters and the storytelling and the trust of his editor. It's as much a learning experience for me working with him as it is working with Kurt. The basic response though is so far, so good. The design sketches look great. The first issue looks great
Finally, as you said, your immediate concern is getting people excited about the series so you can tell more stories. What kind of plans do you have for the future of the title later down the line?
I have some thoughts, but I'm waiting until I get a more definitive word before I actually go hog wild on it. There have been too many cases where I plan out two to three years of continuity and then walk into an editor's office and they decide they need a change for what they consider the good of the book or the good of the line that invalidates the whole lot. I suppose experience is a cruel teacher and this time I'm inclined to take slightly more restrained steps.
We'll be opening up with two three issue stories as opposed to one six issue story. As I said, you'll see Kurt interacting with characters from his past; both his personal life and his heroic one.
I do have some ideas about how it might or might not be time for him to make some emotional commitments. The other challenge is to get a more comprehensive version of the landscape and see what foundations other writers have laid for the character, and what's considered appropriate or cool by the editors in terms of where to go from here.
The reality of Marvel and the X-Office in the second decade of the 21st century is light years removed from the reality that existed back in my day. It's like being the new kid on the block with a half dozen or more other writers playing with the various series and characters with Brian [Bendis] defining the core of the cannon in his books. When you're the new kid on the team, you have to balance your instinct to go for the long ball and show off and prove that you're a real hotshot with learning how the plays are put together and learning what everybody else is doing. That way I can see if I can build off of the foundations that already exist rather than charging in and doing what I feel like, much as I might love to.
At this point, it's a matter of, "Give it a shot and if my instincts are right you'll want to see what happens next." In the first issue I can guarantee some romance, some tension, some angst, hopefully some surprises, and your basic, "Oh my God, I've already died once am I going to have to keep trying it again until I get it right?" moment. Hopefully that will entice readers to come back for more.
And if the series does continue I think it would be fun to do an Excalibur non-reunion reunion. It would be fun to do Kurt retracing some old steps and discovering that there are some elements of the reality around him that aren't as specific as he once thought. And obviously at some point in time he's got to deal with the fact that his mom [Mystique] is not a nice person and is working with Sabretooth.
"Nightcrawler" #1 hits stores in April.