Nerd Testament #4: Nightcrawler

I’m already well past my deadline on this one, so I’ll be taking advantage of the magic of Youtube, where may be seen most of one of the best ever episodes of one of the best action cartoons of my youth: X-Men.  I couldn’t find the first few minutes of the episode, but if you haven’t seen it before, all you need to know is that Wolverine, Rogue and Gambit were vacationing in an isolated ski resort in the Bavarian Alps.  The local village was abuzz with rumors of a demonic creature running loose in the area.  And when Gambit took a nasty crack to the head during an avalanche, the three X-Men ended up in the local monastery, where strange things seem to be afoot.

The key bits start at 3:55 and 5:35 into the first video, and 5:40 into the second.

This is some pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s show.  They’re not shy about showing Nightcrawler’s faith in God, or Logan’s anger and bitterness towards Him.  “God gave up on us a long time ago.”  “Don’t give me that easy answer garbage!  I’ve tried!  Don’t you think I want that?”  “What kind of God would let men do this to me?”

For a long time, religion wasn’t brought up in comics.  Superman, Batman and their ilk were rarely seen going near a church in the old days.  Superman occasionally swore by Rao, the Kryptonian sun god, Wonder Woman had frequent dealings with the Greek pantheon, and given Batman’s background it’s probably safe to assume he’s an Episcopalian (although I would bet good money that he’s an atheist, personally).  During the Golden and Silver ages, superheroes were white, predominantly male, and presumably some sort of unobtrusive wholesome all-American protestant*.  The race and gender criteria for comic book superheroism loosened up some when Marvel took off (you also saw a lot more handicapped heroes) religion was still not talked about much in comics.  You occasionally had guys like Ghost Rider or Brother Voodoo, and when Tomb of Dracula came out all the Hammer Horror rules about vampires applied, including the Cross.  But when Nightcrawler came out in the 80s as part of the revamped and pointedly diverse X-Men, his overt Christianity was something of a novelty.  And it was just one of many aspects of the character, not his sole defining trait.  Nightcrawler isn’t “that X-Man who’s a Christian,” he’s “that X-Man who was raised by Gypsies, performed in a circus, loves Errol Flynn movies, is a swordmaster and ladies man, and also happens to be a Christian.”  It came in especially handy when the X-Men had to fight Dracula (turns out that the Lord of Vampires is less than impressed by atheists holding two sticks together in a perpendicular way), but it wasn’t really played up too much.  Just every now and then, they’d be gearing up to fight an intergalactic invasion force or something, and someone would stumble across Nightcrawler kneeling in a corner somewhere, deep in prayer.  For a while, he decided to enter the priesthood, but then Chuck Austen started writing X-Men and messed that up with one of the stupidest comic book plots ever concieved.  Nevertheless, Nightcrawler remains one of the coolest Christian superheroes in the world.

*It’s loosened up since then, as more and more writers are including overt religious references in their characters.  Superman, these days, is usually written as being Christian, and given his background it’s pretty safe to say he’s Methodist.  And Daredevil, who I’ll be talking about more next week, is very definitely a (somewhat lapsed) Catholic.  For more information on superhero religion, see here.

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