Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, has become one of the most enduringly popular characters in the X-Men universe. That’s an especially impressive feat for a mutant who has largely not been a member of the main mutant squad, standing alongside longtime standards like Professor Xavier and Jean Grey.
Whether it’s his distinctive look, his charming antics, or just his cool powers, we’re always happy to see more of the German acrobat. So naturally, we’re excited about his upcoming return to the X-Men cinematic universe in this year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. We haven’t seen Kurt in the film series since 2003 in X2: X-Men United, so some people might be a bit fuzzy on the fuzzy guy’s backstory. So before Kurt returns to the big screen, here’s a refresher course of the 12 Things You Need To Know About Nightcrawler.
Like all abandoned children, Nightcrawler got taken in by circus folk when his parents were unable to raise him themselves. His bizarre, blue-skinned appearance made him fit right in with the traveling world of oddities, and he quickly became an acrobat and a real crowd pleaser. Growing up as a performer is no doubt what contributed to Kurt’s charismatic, showman’s personality that he often exhibits when we see him in action as an adult.
Of course, as is often the case, the circus isn’t the idyllic place a child might imagine. Eventually, Kurt’s years of performing for an audience drew the attention of a less kind circus owner. Nightcrawler was drugged and captured, with plans of being placed in a freak show for people to gawk at. This led to Kurt’s first major experience of how badly humans can treat mutants, and he was soon forced to run away from the only life he's ever known.
Nightcrawler’s family history would become pretty complicated as the years went by, and eventually we’d learn he has quite a few surprise relations. It took years for Nightcrawler to find out that his real mother is actually Mystique, but he also found out that he is not an only child. As time went on we would learn Kurt has several siblings between his two parents, but the most shocking was definitely the reveal that he was related to Rogue. While Kurt and Rogue don’t actually share any blood, Mystique is Kurt’s biological mother, and she also acted as a caretaker for Rogue, so they are essentially adoptive siblings.
It’s a storyline the films haven’t touched on yet, thus far not even getting to the connection between Mystique and Nightcrawler. Rogue’s part was cut from the theatrical release of Days of Future Past, and she hasn’t been announced for Apocalypse yet, so it’s looking unlikely the cinematic universe will deal with this aspect of Nightcrawler. But word is the relation between Magneto and Quicksilver is going to be explored, so who knows what could happen with Kurt? Maybe he’ll finally start learning how much family he has.
There were always hints that Nightcrawler wasn’t simply shifting from one point to another when he teleports. Every time he disappears and reappears we always see a now characteristic cloud of ash accompany him. Characters also remark on an odor when Nightcrawler teleports, a smell that’s described as sulfuric. And Nightcrawler looks like he has pretty decent hygiene, so it doesn’t seem fair to pin this odd odor on him.
We eventually learned Nightcrawler’s teleportation actually momentarily transports him through another dimension. Based on how illogical some characters' powers can be, it’s interesting to see the level of thought put into this aspect of a character. We know Kurt’s teleportation has a range limit, and he can only transport to somewhere he sees or knows, so finding out more rules to his power makes it feel more developed. There was speculation for years that maybe the ash and sulfuric odor that accompany Nightcrawler were because he was passing through Hell. Judging by the next entry on this list, the guesses about where Nightcrawler was passing through were pretty on point.
Because no one’s father is ever actually dead in fiction, eventually it came time for Nightcrawler to learn he wasn’t the orphan he thought he was. What’s more, there was finally going to be an explanation for his demonic appearance that frightened and angered villagers in his earlier years of life. That explanation? Nightcrawler really is part demon.
An evil creature with red skin, pointed ears, and a tail already gives Azazel, Nightcrawler’s birth father, quite a resemblance to Satan. He also has the backstory of being in conflict with a group of mutants resembling angels, and being confined into a different dimension where he has a host of imp-like creatures as his servants. So apparently someone really liked the idea of Nightcrawler having a demonic side. Of course, Kurt himself is a well-known servant of God, so to say he has issues with his dad is an understatement.
Nightcrawler's Catholic beliefs have become one of his most prominent characteristics as he has evolved over the years. It likely started out as just an ironic juxtaposition between this devilish-looking character actually being quite devoted to a holy life. But some interpretations — as in X-Men The Animated Series — have him living such a religious life that he gives Wolverine a bible with passages marked out to help Logan with his inner conflicts. In the X-Men films, Nightcrawler even shows a more fanatical side, having gotten into self-scarification, or as he puts it, “one for every sin.”
In the comics, Kurt’s faith eventually leads to a storyline where he becomes a Catholic priest. It turns out his beliefs are being exploited against him, as he later learns he was allowed into that role as a plot to replace the Pope, and be labeled as the Anti-Christ once the world sees their Pope has such a demonic appearance.
Chuck Austen is the X-Men comics writer responsible for some pretty questionable storylines in Nightcrawler’s history. Nightcrawler being the literal son of a demon, and nearly becoming an Anti-Christ Pope were both storylines he introduced, as a matter of fact. Needless to say, Austen has some extremely vocal critics for his contributions to the Nightcrawler mythos. But probably the oddest contribution he’s made is starting the rumor that Nightcrawler has two penises.
The rumor supposedly comes from an interview where Austen was asked to reveal a secret about Nightcrawler that only he knew. So Austen allegedly stated that since Nightcrawler has two fingers on each hand and two toes on each foot, that he also has two digits elsewhere. While most claim that Austen was just joking around when he said this, it’s a rumor that has endured over the years. And perception is reality, after all. Just like Nightcrawler was perceived as a demon for years after his origin, only for it to finally be revealed that it is canon that he is a legitimate demon. So if Nightcrawler is perceived as having two penises, and some new X-Men writer comes along and decides to treat that as canon, well…
Whether you prefer DC or Marvel is still one of the most contentious issues in the world of comics, so you can still be hard-pressed to find fans with allegiance to both companies, let alone heroes with connections to both groups. Yet Nightcrawler is one of those rare heroes who actually traces his roots to Marvel’s opposition. Dave Cockrum, Nightcrawler’s creator, originally pitched Kurt to DC as a part of their team, The Outsiders, but his inclusion ultimately wound up being rejected. One man's garbage is another man's treasure, and the blue-skinned mutant instead made his debut for Marvel in May of 1975.
When Cockrum started working on the X-Men comics, Nightcrawler’s appearance, which might have been off-putting for an ordinary hero, suddenly made for an intriguing mutant the rest was history. While we’ll never know what could have been, it’s certainly interesting to think of the sort of stories Kurt could have been involved in with DC if things had worked out a bit differently.
As we’ve seen, Kurt has some really unusual family history to deal with, though he's probably grown used to it since it was something he had to acclimate to from childhood. While Nightcrawler was still being raised in the circus, he had an adoptive Gypsy mother who took care of him named Margali. Margali also had a biological daughter who would later become known as Amanda Sefton, so Amanda and Kurt are siblings in a similar way that he is with Rogue. Except that Nightcrawler has had a romantic relationship with Amanda.
While it’s understandable that they’d have a lot in common with their circus backgrounds, as well as both being superheroes, it’s definitely an odd choice that Kurt would choose to pursue a relationship with Amanda, even though they aren’t biologically related. Amanda also seems to be one of the more compatible partners for Kurt, with them continuing to work together even after they called off their initial romance, and still having some underlying tension when they do get together. Of course, after everything with Azazel, Nightcrawler’s bond with Amanda almost seems normal by comparison.
Even most casual fans know that Mystique is Nightcrawler’s mother. The blue skin is a pretty big give away, after all. But fans might not know that Azazel wasn't originally planned to be his father — Mystique was.
No, you’re not crazy, Mystique is a woman. But she can also shapeshift into different people, including men. So while in the form of a man, Mystique was meant to impregnate her lover, a female mutant named Destiny. Whether it was the time period (and Marvel imply didn’t feel comfortable featuring a lesbian couple as parents at that time), or whether they just thought the idea would be too much for fans to swallow, the idea was nixed before it came to fruition. So if fans thought it would be too odd for Mystique to get a woman pregnant, no worries, because it’s now firmly canon that Mystique was simply impregnated by a literal demon. Yeah, that’s far less weird.
The “bamf” sound effect has become synonymous with the sound of Nightcrawler’s teleportation, but something the X-Men movies haven’t shown yet is that Bamfs are also the name of living creatures. Nightcrawler’s adventures eventually lead him to encounter the Bamfs, an imp-like race resembling miniature versions of himself. Their mischievous nature and their apparent connection to Nightcrawler eventually pave the way for yet another revelation in Kurt’s life, one that brings things back to Azazel once again.
Since Azazel is mutant Satan, it’s only natural he’d have minions at his disposal to assist in his evil plots. The Bamfs are literally creatures from Hell who align with Azazel after he finds them and nurtures them with his own blood. Once Nightcrawler learns of the nature of the Bamfs, and what his father intends to do with them (attack Heaven), he persuades them to work against Azazel instead. The conversion from evil is so great, it even changes the Bamfs color, making them go from Azazel’s red skin to the blue of Nightcrawler. So Nightcrawler thwarted his father and gained a host of helpers at the same time. Not too shabby.
It’s probably no surprise to hear a superhero has another version of himself. By now, it feels like just about all comic heroes deal with alternate realities, time travel, and bizarro worlds, so clones and alternate versions of heroes are pretty commonplace nowadays. But it’s not often you hear about heroes who have a Nazi counterpart in another reality like Nightcrawler does.
In the Earth-597 universe, a world where the Nazis won World War II, Kurt’s counterpart is indeed a Nazi. The Nightcrawler in the principal continuity was part of a group called Excalibur at the time, whereas his Earth-597 counterpart was part of a similar group called the Lightning Force. An interesting point is that the Nazi Nightcrawler was actually stronger than the one we’re familiar with, and was able to defeat him in a fight. When characters like Spider-Man have so many heroic counterparts, it’s always interesting to see evil ones come along, especially one that's stronger than our hero while simultaneously tarnishing the image of his German background.
Poor Kurt Wagner. For a guy who values his faith so much, he sure does have it tested a lot. First he looks like the spawn of Satan, then he finds out he literally is, then he finds out people would only want him as Pope so he could fulfill the role of the Anti-Christ, and to top it all off, he loses his immortal soul.
After Kurt died, it seemed like he might actually be one of those rare heroes who stays dead. We saw him hanging out in Heaven, and enjoying some rest from battles with robots and other mutants. But even in paradise, Kurt wasn’t free to rest. Just like his connection to his dad Azazel allowed Nightcrawler to teleport through Azazel’s world, Azazel shared that link, and was able to go where his son was. And what else would the mutant equivalent of Satan like to do than to attack Heaven itself? The conflict ended with Kurt’s mortal life being restored by his voluntary exile from Heaven to stop his father from having access to the eternal paradise. But Kurt’s heroism carried a cost, and amid celebrating with his friends after his resurrection, we also learned Nightcrawler’s actions had left him without a soul. Bummer.
What else do you feel is crucial to know about Nightcrawler? If you know any other interesting facts about Kurt Wagner, tell us about them in the comments!
And be sure to check out Nightcrawler’s latest appearance coming up in X-Men: Apocalypse, due out in theaters on May 27, 2016.