Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nightcrawler: "Show me the way to go home ..."

Switching gears here because I ran across an old, forgotten super-hero gem in my bookcase last night, and I just HAVE to share it.

I was an X-men fan back in ye olden days, during the time of Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne, long before most people even knew who the X-men were, and long before the comic book series degenerated into "The Wolverine Show." My favorite X-man was Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, and he was my favorite for various reasons: He was a swashbuckler (hey, I took fencing in college); unlike the Thing, he wasn't hung up on his unusual appearance (in fact, he reveled in it); and he was downright adorable for a blue, yellow-eyed demon with a pointy tail.

Over the decades, many artists have done a fantastic job of depicting Nightcrawler, but none better than the man who designed him -- the late, great Dave Cockrum. That's who drew the story I'm covering here.

"Show me the way to go home ..." is an odd little tale, done deliberately for laughs, that appeared in the Marvel magazine Bizarre Adventures, #27, way back in 1981. Before the four-issue Nightcrawler mini-series done by Cockrum in the early '80s, and even before "Kitty's Fairy Tale" in Uncanny X-men#153, this story, in glorious graytones, placed Nightcrawler in an oddball interdimensional setting that served as a sort-of precursor to the stories and settings of the later, original Excalibur series.

The story begins in Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters, where Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, and Cyclops are all sitting around watching a Zorro movie on TV. Nightcrawler claims it's his favorite movie, but Wolverine is getting on his case about it ("I just don't see the point of watching a movie when you've already seen it so often you know all the dialog by heart.")

Suddenly, the X-men's mutant detection machine, Cerebro, goes off, interrupting the movie. Nightcrawler teleports ahead of the others to see what set off Cerebro. Turns out Cerebro has detected ... half a mutant? Yes, half a mutant has just appeared in Poughkeepsie, New York. ("Is there really a city with such a name?" Nightcrawler asks. "Unglaublich!")

The X-men take an aircraft to Poughkeepsie to investigate. Sure enough, they find half a mutant. The Vanisher, a bad guy who's also a teleporter like Nightcrawler, is sorta hanging in the air and apparently split down the middle, with one half of him disappearing into a pool of Darkforce. (The writers supply this helpful text: "Months ago, after his defeat at the hands of the now disbanded Champions team, the Vanisher tried to escape by his own style of teleportation. The heroine Darkstar stopped him literally halfway, using her mysterious power, the Darkforce." Okay. Gotcha.)

The X-men stand around the Vanisher (the half that they can see, anyway), at a loss over what to do. Finally, Nightcrawler gets a little impatient and TOUCHES the Vanisher. AND ...

The Vanisher and Nightcrawler are flung into a sort-of interdimensional vortex ...

That's right, Nightcrawler is surrounded by gorgeous, scantily-clad babes of apparently many different alien races.

"You know, he's really cute!" says one woman.

"I don't suppose you'd like a job as a god or a king or anything, would you?" the apparent leader asks Nightcrawler. "We've got an opening for one."

Of course, Nightcrawler doesn't MIND the position he's in -- but, darn it, he has a responsibility to find out where he is and what happened to the Vanisher. So, he tells the leader, "Liebchen, I'd love to stay and be your god, but sooner or later, I'll have to go ...!"

"And not too far away," the Vanisher has also landed, and also found himself surrounded by gorgeous, scantily-clad women. Unlike Nightcrawler, though, the Vanisher doesn't appear to appreciate his position AT ALL.

As it turns out, the Vanisher is COVERED with Darkforce, and he decides to try using it by forming a sword to chase off the babes.

"He won't last long. They never do." Sounds ominous, right? But don't worry, kiddies -- Nightcrawler isn't going to die from a heart attack brought on by the, er, attentions of a bunch of bodacious babes (much as he'd probably like to). However, that certainly appears to be the danger as we catch up with our hero, who is now sitting in a veritable banquet hall full of women. The women are explaining their situation to him:

"We have a rotating theocratic monarchy with a high turnover in figure heads ..." says one.

"There are no males native to this planet," says another, "and we have to keep the population up."

"Surely you can understand the classic craving of the primitive culture for religion?" still another woman asks (while a woman in the background yells, "YAY, GOD!").

"A high turnover rate, huh?" asks Nightcrawler. "How many gods have you had?"

"A few," says the apparent leader. "They come and they go."

(Yeah, I'll bet they do.)

Some of the women take Nightcrawler outside, where they encounter lots of weird noises ("Skreek, skreek, skreek! OOGA!") -- and the entrance to the Oracle's home.

Nightcrawler walks into the Oracle's abode and encounters ... a television set?

Nightcrawler then asks her how to get home.

Ah, but the catch is, in order for the crater to work properly, Nightcrawler has to leave with everything he brought with him. That means he has to track down the Vanisher and get him to leave as well.

Nightcrawler thanks the Oracle and turns to leave, but she yells a warning at him: "Not so fast, Gainsborough! ... This is a great dimension, but it has a few drawbacks. If you're smart, you'll watch your tail till you get safely home."

Meanwhile, the Vanisher is lounging around in a banquet hall of his own, and even though he's pretty much got it made, he can't resist pickpocketing the babes of their gold and jewels. He quickly gets the bejeezus scared out of him, though, when Nightcrawler emerges from the shadows and confronts him about getting home.

The Vanisher then makes the mistake of grabbing a sword ...

Of course, Nightcrawler kicks his butt. The Vanisher then exploits an opportunity to run for it. He escapes outside, with Nightcrawler in hot pursuit, and with the girls yelling after them:

"God, you mustn't go out after dark! It's dangerous!"
"Come back again, unless you get killed!"

Nightcrawler tackles the Vanisher and hauls him toward the crater that the Oracle described. The Vanisher doesn't want to go ("You can't expect me to jump into that! I'm philosophically opposed to dying!"), and he decides to try using the Darkforce power again, to stop Nightcrawler.

The two are about to get into a serious tussle, when suddenly, a big monster shows up!

The Vanisher doesn't need any more convincing to leave the alien dimension, and he and Nightcrawler both jump into the crater without hesitation. They very quickly reappear back in Poughkeepsie.


Story by Mary Jo Duffy and Bob Layton; Art by Dave Cockrum and Ricardo Villamonte. This issue of Bizarre Adventures also features a Jean Gray/Phoenix story by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, and an Iceman story by Mary Jo Duffy and George Perez. All stories are in graytone/black-and-white.


SallyP said...

Oh goody, I have this, but I haven't read it in the longest time. It was a nice little Nightcrawler story, and I loved Cockrum's black and white rendering, it looks as though it was just done from pencils, doesn't it?

Nightcrawler was always a fun character because in spite of his appearance, he WASN'T all brooding and angsty, he was cheerful, and swashbuckling and a bit of a rogue with the women. And he and Logan had beer-drinking contests all the time.

googum said...

I still would really, really prefer if Nightcrawler was written like this all the time. Does his job, has fun, leaves the brooding to the rest of the X-Men. I'd be willing to accept a Skrull in a lot of stories, to get back Fun Nightcrawler.

FoldedSoup said...

Hey! I own this too! Thanks for the reminder!

Sea_of_Green said...

Sally -- I always did love Cockrum's art, better than Byrne's. At its best, Cockrum's art always seemed to have more weight and substance to me.

Googum -- I agree completely! A big part of Nightcrawler's appeal was that he WASN'T all angsty about his appearance or his lot in life. That's probably why he was removed from the team in the mid-'80s -- the creative team was going for ALL ANGST, ALL THE TIME, and Nightcrawler just didn't fit anymore.

Ah, but at least we got the original Excaliber issues out of the whole thing. Those are some of my favorite comics of all time. :-)

MOCK! said...

Great synopsis of a great issue!

Pete said...

I'd just like to say the artwork in that issue was fantastic rarely do you see artwork like that in todays comics.