In recent years, bringing beloved characters back from the dead has become more overused than the “To Be Continued…” teaser at the end of a TV show. It is not as much as a foundation for a good story as it is a marketing gimmick. Killing characters and bringing them back seems to be a quick and easy way to boost sales. Stories like Death of Spider-Man and Blackest Night have proven that as shameless as this gimmick may be, it still works. However, that doesn’t mean that a beloved character can’t be brought back in a way that’s compelling.
When Marvel announced that Nightcrawler was returning in a new series, Amazing X-men, it had all the characteristics of a gimmick. This is a beloved character who has been dead for over four years now, which in comics might as well be two decades. And it could be argued that his death was fitting, having died a hero during Second Coming in a way that had an impact that reverberated for years to come. But there’s no getting around the appeal of Nightcrawler. His story still ended abruptly, leaving many fans to debate endlessly on message boards what he would think of the current state of the X-men. Now Amazing X-men #1 promises to begin a new chapter in Nightcrawler’s story while also beginning the post-Battle of the Atom era of X-men.
It’s clear from the beginning that Nightcrawler truly did die during X-men Second Coming. There’s no time travel, cloning, or magic involved. For once, a character actually died and went to Marvel’s version of Heaven, which for some reason looks like it was ripped from Avatar. And being a man of faith and humility, it should not surprise anyone that this is where Nightcrawler went after he died. In another concept that seems so novel when it really shouldn’t be, a hero was actually rewarded for their good deeds. In an era where good deeds are as fleeting as the next relaunch, it’s very refreshing.
But as fitting as Nightcrawler’s afterlife may be, even he echoes the sentiment of many fans in that his story ended too abruptly. There are still things he left unfinished in his life and battles he had yet to fight. It’s as if Marvel was actually reading the sad letters and emails from Nightcrawler fans after he died. But even in Heaven, conflict seems to find him and this conflict involves his demonic father, Azazel. Given the setting and circumstances, it’s very appropriate. While Azazel hasn’t shown up since Chuck Austin’s infamous run on Uncanny X-men, his clash with Nightcrawler is akin to a clash between Heaven and Hell. It’s a holy crusade without Knights Templar conspiracy theories. It’s also much more entertaining in that it shows Nightcrawler fighting in the distinct style that has been missing in the X-men comics for too long.
But Nightcrawler’s afterlife is only part of the story in Amazing X-men #1. This is also the first X-men comic since the big shake-up in X-men Battle of the Atom. Kitty Pryde and the Original Five X-men have left, leaving the Jean Grey Institute in need of a new teacher. That brave teacher happens to be Firestar, a character who has not had a major presence in the X-men comics for quite some time. In fact, some fans may only know her from reruns of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. However, she enters this story as someone who feels like she belongs in the X-men. She’s still understandably overwhelmed by what she sees in the Jean Grey Institute, but that’s to be expected of anyone who visits a school that has a living island on its front lawn.
Through Firestar, there’s a keen insight into the workings of the Jean Grey Institute that has been missing from recent comics. Everything from the diversity of the student body to the current relationships between characters is explored. It’s both a refresher course and a hint at what Firestar will have to deal with. And before she can even teach her first class, she gets roped into helping Beast uncover a plot with the bamfs, the miniature Nightcrawlers that have been plaguing the Jean Grey Institute since it opened. And through this plot, the X-men at the Jean Grey Institute are in a position to meet up with their deceased friend.
The dynamics here are perfectly crafted, capturing the subtle personalities amongst the X-men and Firestar. It also finally explores the nature of the bamfs, which in many ways is so overdue that it should be subject to late fees. These dynamics give the plot depth that goes beyond just seeking out a deceased friend. Time and energy is actually spent setting up the characters so that the emotions involved in meeting a deceased friend don’t fall flat. The strength of any story that involves death or resurrection comes from the emotional impact it leaves. Stories like the Phoenix Saga build up to that impact, so much so that the story resonates for generations to come. But that story took place over the course of many issues. This story is just beginning and the impact can only trigger so many emotions without becoming melodramatic.
None-the-less, the impact of this story triggers all the right emotions. It’s entertaining and humorous, the voice of every character sounding distinct and appropriate. And while the action may not be on the same scale as the final issue of X-men Battle of the Atom, it still feels epic in a way not unlike a Rocky Balboa fight. Amazing X-men #1 was primarily billed as the issue that brought Nightcrawler back to the X-men. It did that and so much more. It re-established all the dynamics that make the X-men at Jean Grey Institute such a fun story to follow and did it in an entertaining, concise way. It’s a story that appeals to both Nightcrawler fans and X-men fans of every kind.