First Impressions – AMAZING X-MEN #1

AMAZINGXMEN_1_COVER

Because we didn’t already have enough X-Men books. It’s AMAZING X-MEN #1, and the return(?) of the furry blue elf himself. In days past, Nightcrawler gave his life for the good of his species. Now he’s in Actual Heaven. But is his work yet finished? What are the machinations of his demonic father, Azazel? And what’s the deal with the Bamfs that dwell in the Jean Grey School, anyway?

Kurt Wagner, alias Nightcrawler, is one of the more well-known and well-regarded X-Men characters. Created in 1975 out of an idea previously devised for DC’s Legion of Superheroes (really), Nightcrawler is the blue-furred, demon-looking mutant with the ability to teleport (or “Bamf” as it were). He’s an acrobatic, swash-buckling, devout Catholic elf. And everyone loved him.

Then he died during the X-Men: Second Coming event. Fans have lamented his loss ever since.

So naturally, it’s only been a few years, and Marvel is already teasing about bringing him back in today’s new series. A series that’s going to be amazing. Apparently.

AMAZING X-MEN #1 begins as all good comic books, in heaven. Like, Actual Heaven. Despite his deep faith, Kurt Wagner’s soul is troubled. Actual Heaven is awesome, as any inhabitant will attest, but Nightcrawler can only sit on the edge. He feels he could have done more in the world. That his well-deserved rest came too soon.

Luckily his ungrateful self doesn’t have to ponder this any more, because trouble came to him – in the form of his own father Azazel. He’s a demon. That’s a retcon I’ve always disagreed with, by the way. Nightcrawler’s whole schtick is his appearance not being a measure of who he is. That he only looked like a monster, an appearance that belied a bright, jovial soul. But nope, he’s of infernal descent, rather than just being a strange-looking mutant. Kind of takes away from the message when he’s revealed to always have had demonic heritage.

While Nightcrawler buckles some swash in the land of the heavenly host, the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning receives a new teacher: Angelica Jones, aka Firestar. A canon immigrant from NBC’s animated series Spiderman And His Amazing Friends, Firestar can generate and manipulate microwaves, giving her heat powers and flight. She’s been around a while, and I even have the first issue of her origin story, but other than that my personal knowledge of the character is limited. Regardless, her first day of instruction is cut short when Hank McCoy, the similarly blue-furred Beast, decides to once and for all eliminate the infestation that plagues the school.

The vermin in question are the Bamfs, head-scratching little blue elves that resemble Nightcrawler. As a race they’ve appeared in various spots, mostly as a race from another dimension. Since the opening of the Jean Grey School, they’ve infested the building. But apparently these Bamfs are not the same as the ones from the previously established dimension, though their true origin was never established…until now. As it turns out, the critters were gathering machine parts – including a coffee maker, the cause for Beast finally aiming to purge them – to build a dimensional portal.

One that’s active, and seems to have some connection to Nightcrawler. It’s very presence forces a large number of X-Men to study it in case of dimensional cock-ups. This impromptu “team” includes Beast, Warbird, Angel, Iceman, Storm, Rachel Grey, Wolverine, Northstar, and the newly arrived Firestar. Between them, Nightcrawler, the Bamfs, Azazel, and HIS group of red Bamfs, this is going to be a very crowded book.

The writing on this book is solid. Jason Aaron’s dialogue is punchy; very amusing yet grounded in character personalities. There are a lot of subplots running around – as stated, AMAZING X-MEN promises to be a crowded book. From the awkward romances(?) between Wolverine and Storm or Warbird and Iceman (in the former case I can only speculate, in the latter it’s very one-sided), to Beast’s anger at the Bamfs conflicting with his sentimentality due to their resemblance to a fallen friend, to even Firestar’s desire just to get to her job being interrupted by yet more X-Men shenanigans. But most important is the depiction of Nightcrawler. It balances the many elements that embody him, from his faith to his acrobatics, his Errol Flin styled swordplay, his noble spirit, his faith, and his need to be where the action is. It’s probably a good thing AMAZING X-MEN #1 is dense like a Bronze Age comic. If the modern conventions of decompressed storytelling were adhered to, barely a fraction of the plots touched upon would be established.

Which is bad for a first issue. Getting readers up to speed as quickly as possible is paramount.

Ed McGuinness meanwhile presents great pencil work. All the characters exhibit a range of facial expressions, and movement seems dynamic and flashy. I’ve seen the Bamfs in other X-Men books, most recently in the Battle of the Atom, where they’re depicted as smaller versions of Nightcrawler. Here they’re more super deformed, with baby-like proportions and cute little faces. Yes, even the red ones with perpetual malicious grins. They’re adorable. Speaking of color, inker Dexter Vines lends deep, rich colors, all important in this particular comic. It’s sometimes baffling how some artists assume that comics need to be washed out to be taken seriously. When I want furry multi-colored people jumping and teleporting around, I want a rich rainbow of hues, not paint one would choose for the walls of a nursery.

The operative question AMAZING X-MEN raises is whether Nightcrawler is truly returning to life. Ten years ago, I would have doubted it (assuming I read comics ten years ago, which I did not). Ten or more years ago death really meant death. Nowadays, Marvel brings anyone they feel like back from the dead with no compunctions. Although Kurt is in Actual Heaven, so at least Marvel is making the stand that yes, he really is dead and will presumably come back from it directly as opposed to not really being dead. He’s dead, and in the afterlife. It’s kind of refreshing to see comics show the great beyond. If it were Hell, it’d be a different story. Marvel (and DC for that matter) send characters on visits to the Inferno frequently, with demons and devils having a heavy influence on the world at large. But Paradise crops up in comics rarely.

Although there was that time Reed Richards built a portal to Heaven so he could take up an issue with God. God as played by Jack Kirby. No I’m serious, the Marvel version of God is Jack Kirby.

As for AMAZING X-MEN #1, it has a hearty recommendation from yours truly. It’s a series that looks to be a labor of love, one deserving more than a passing glance. Marvel might need another X-Men book like DC needs another Batman title, but at least they don’t put it out half-baked. It’s going to be an…amazing ride.

At least something at Marvel is Amazing. Unlike Spiderman, who is merely Superior (not that it’s a bad comic or anything).

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