Giant-Size X-Men #1: Nightcrawler takes us back to where it all began with ghosts haunting Nightcrawler as he and his team try to figure out what’s causing anomalies at the former X-Mansion’s gate.
Giant-Size X-Men #1: Nightcrawler
Alan Davis (art), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Carlos Lopez (colourist), VC’s Cory Petit (letterer)
March 25, 2020
I walked into this comic expecting something more. Something else. Firstly, the cover reveals a shadowed face from the past that made me very excited about the prospects of this book. John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird, was a member of the X-Men when I first joined the team, but his existence was short-lived. According to creator David Cockrum, Thunderbird was one of two “obnoxious loudmouth” characters, so he got the short straw and was killed not long after his 1975 debut in Giant-Size X-Men #1. As much as the world loves us a Wolverine, I look back sadly at the missed opportunity to have allowed the Indigenous character to survive to tell his story over the decades.
With Krakoa and The Five in place, I thought this book was the chance to revisit a character that deserved better. We may still see John Proudstar back, but for now, the image we see on this cover is merely a ghost haunting Westchester Mansion.
Joined by Illyana Rasputin, Trevor Hawkins, Lockheed, and Doug Ramsey, Nightcrawler and his small team have been sent to investigate access failures at this gate. The gates regularly deal with humans attempting access, but there’s more to this access failure because Krakoa has indicated the presence of a mutant attempting but denied entry for some reason.
It’s a walk down an overgrown memory lane, lushly illustrated and coloured by Alan Davis and Carlos Lopez. The mansion is unrecognizable, with trees and shrubbery covering almost every corner, exploding through rooms and stairways, but with the alien mechanics still untouched beneath. Illyana opens the issue with a reminder that this place is home. Though abandoned now, it’s fitting and somewhat comforting to see it embraced wholly by Krakoa’s vines, with promise that it will be cared for long into the future.
Trevor speaks of the creepiness of the setting, and Davis and Lopez work in harmony to create a sense of eerie stillness. The colours remain bright and entrancing, but the sense that there is always something lurking in the shadows pervades.
The shadows we see on the cover do indeed make an appearance, with Nightcrawler chasing after them to discover the heart of the mystery. And while the technicalities revealed are interesting in terms of how the many pieces of these new X-stories will be told, the heart of this story falls short for me, particularly after experiencing Nightcrawler’s point of view throughout the Crucible in X-Men #7. This book seems to take place before the events of the Crucible. While I didn’t necessarily expect this book to be a direct follow up to his proclamation that he was going to start a new mutant religion, I… okay, I kinda did hope for that. But, at least considering the particular ghosts Nightcrawler is chasing here, I had expected more introspection from a character that can offer so much depth and insight. I guess I wanted a more personal character journey, much like what we got with Giant X-Men #1: Jean Grey + Emma Frost, but instead, this skimmed over character building to focus on worldbuilding details.
What Hickman continues to do well is choose his teams wisely. He clearly has done his research and deploys teams with specific abilities to suit the task. Here, when the nature of the task changes, the members acknowledge their shortcomings and adjust their strategy and consider retreat options. It’s a callback to the good old days of Chris Claremont’s overly wordy action descriptions, without requiring all that wordiness. And Hickman’s vast x-knowledge and subtle yet fiery callbacks are also evident in the reactions of certain other characters to what they discover in the heart of the mansion.
Giant-Size X-Men #1: Nightcrawler didn’t turn out to be the book I wanted it to be, but it certainly has its merits in the grand scheme of things. My expectations based on what I know of the characters and their histories are tempered by the subtle ways in which Hickman continues to acknowledge the history of the X-Men, even as he shapes their future. With so many team books in play with rare opportunities to focus on individual characters, the Giant-Size series is a chance to take a breather with some of our favourites, calling back to the Classic X-Men kind of interludes that made me fall in love with these characters in the first place.