Today, Taylor and Ethan are discussing Amazing X-Men 1, originally released November 6th, 2013.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
– “Heaven” by The Talking Heads
Taylor: So sings David Byrne in describing his vision of paradise. Whatever your beliefs or disbeliefs of heaven may be, there’s no denying the power of the imagery the word or thought evokes. For some, it may be a rosy paradise full of angels strumming on harps. For others it may be a state of mind that represents tranquility. And for others still it may mean a bed full of Doritos being fed to you while Arnold Schwarzenegger movies play endlessly on repeat (or is that hell?). But what would heaven look like to a member of the X-Men? A danger room set to beyond-lethal difficulty? A utopia where humans and mutants get along? A place free of the burden of having augmented powers? In Amazing X-Men 1, we get our answer and fans are reintroduced to a member of the X-Men who they have surely been missing.
Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, is dead and that’s bumming him out. While that seems like a normal reaction to the cessation of life, if you found yourself in Heaven, you’d probably be pretty jazzed. However, for Kurt, heaven isn’t all that he’s been told as he feels he has unfinished business left on Earth. While pondering this, Kurt’s evil dad, Azazel appears with some demonic pirates and begins an attack. Meanwhile, in the realm of flesh, Firestar arrives at the Jean Grey school for her first day as a new teacher. Things are crazy because of all the mutants running around doing mutant things. Luckily Beast is on hand to take Firestar on a little quest to get rid of some recent vermin that have invaded the school. Turns out these “vermin” have built a portal to Heaven which sucks in Wolverine and Northstar, who soon realize Heaven is under siege.
When I first popped open this issue my instant reaction was a wave of exasperation. I saw Nightcrawler sitting in Heaven for one panel and I got myself upset thinking that this would be a Stranger–like escapade that dealt with demons and souls and blah blah blah. My view of Heaven aligns pretty closely with that of Bryne’s, so I guess it just seems kind of boring and dull and not a place where you want to set a story. It’s like visiting a quaint little town where there’s no crime and the streets are surprisingly clean. It may be pleasant at first, but when the sun sets and you’re ready for a good lick of fun, what do you do?
However, by conquering my technology induced reaction of judging things before I’ve given them a fair shake, I realized that writer Jason Aaron probably holds a similar view as mine. He gives his stance away through our titular character, who himself is finding heaven not to be everything he has hoped.
Kurt speaks of feeling like he has work left unfinished on Earth. As the nameless Heavenly dweller above seems to hint at, that might not be real reason why he’s having such a hard time adjusting to the pleasantness of eternal peace. Kurt, after all, fought with the X-Men. He’s seen more adventures than your average 1,000 humans combined, so his idea of Heaven may not exactly be what you or I or any regular, boring human would consider paradise.
Now, most of us have at least heard of the idea of Valhalla, even if it only be through the casual reference to Thor, the Mighty. Basically it goes something like this: when a warrior dies, he/she goes to Vahalla where they get to spend all of their time punching each other in the face and growing really cool Viking beards while drinking mead. The basic premise behind this idea is that if you spend your entire life fighting, you would probably want to spend your entire afterlife doing the exact same thing. Dubious reasoning at best, but who am I to question the wisdom of the Allfather? Similarly, it seems like Nightcrawler, given his life full of mutant adventuring, is jonsing for some good, exciting action in heaven. When this finally occurs, he only seems too pleased with the development.
Could the reason behind Kurt’s heavenly melancholy simply be that he is bored with living in paradise? One has to only contrast the peaceful heaven with the relative insanity of the Jean Grey School to quickly apprehend that Nightcrawler is out of his element in paradise. The Jean Grey School, as aptly depicted by artist Ed McGuiness, is a whirlwind of activity. A far cry from anything restful.
And it’s this life that Nightcrawler left behind when he had the misfortune of dying. While it’s not high adventure the likes Nightcrawler saw in his heyday, the school is abuzz with excitement and mystery. The juxtaposition of it with Heaven is stark and it serves to contrast the life that Nightcrawler had while alive with the…uh…un-life he has now. Used to adventures and danger the likes of which most of us can only dream, living eternally in peace must be a hellish experience for Kurt.
Indeed, despite Heaven being “a place where nothing ever happens” I found this issue to be pretty fun. While I enjoyed the humor and buoyancy of the dialogue, I found it began to wear on me by the end of the issue. However, the Bamfs did much to assuage my ire as they are just so damn cute and I simply can’t wait to see what Wolverine, who is clearly not Heavenly material, does in Paradise. What about you, Ethan? Want a Bamf for Christmas? Does Heaven seem boring to you? Could Nightcrawler’s demon heritage be the reason for his dissatisfaction with his eternal digs?
Ethan: I’m suddenly wishing I’d named my cat Bamf! Taylor, I really like your musings on Kurt’s musings about how there’s nothing to do in Heaven except muse. It’s a great contrast to everything Kurt likes to do, which is joking around with his friends, carving up people/things with swords, and saving the world. How fortunate that Heaven is in need of saving! From enemies that fight with swords!
Honestly, this issue and, by extension, storyline seems to be one giant excuse for Kurt to do some acrobatic slicing. Which is mostly ok because he’s been out of the limelight for a while, and it’s a fun, silly way to bring him back into the fold (unless you’ve been following his jaded, alternate-universe doppelganger who’s been doing plenty of hacking and slashing over in Uncanny X-Force). In a medium (superhero comics) that’s typically dominated by energy blasts and telepathic mind-duels, a little swashbuckling is a fine change of pace. Which is even more fun when you add a little teleportation into the mix. I love the panels showing Kurt and Azazel’s Extreme Fencing: where typically any fight Nightcrawler finds himself in involves a lot of bamfing all over and around his opponents, attacking from unexpected angles and dodging lethal blows, the fact that his father has the same ability flattens the fighting in interesting ways, reducing the typically huge advantage of teleportation to a more restricted sort of exchange – like a submarine surprised by an enemy sub after taking risk-free pot-shots at lumbering supply ships. McGuiness does a great job of using the twin brimstone clouds of exit and return to show the unusually instantaneous movement of the fight between two bamf’ers.
Speaking of Nightcrawler’s dad, how the heck is he sailing around Heaven abducting people? How did he get out of his pseudo-Hell prison dimension? At first, it sounds like he’s on a quick snatch-and-grab expedition: “Shanghai every soul you can find, boys! And be quick about it. We want to be nothing but puffs of sulfur by the time any archangels know we’re here.” And yet, by the end, he’s calling himself a “new lord of Heaven.” Where are these archangels who would kick them out? For that matter, where’s God? Judging from Book VI of ol’ Milton’s Paradise Lost, I’d have expected some fellows in wings to be broadsiding Azazel’s ship with a mountain or two by now. Where’s Michael with his sword from the “Armorie of God” and his shield “of tenfold Adamant?” Where’s Jay-Cee and his “Chariot of Paternal Deitie”? This is an oddly empty Heaven, indeed.
Not to mention, what kind of eternal paradise is this that you can create an artificial portal to travel there? If this is the place “good” Marvel characters go after they die, why not just ‘port ‘em all back as soon as they cross over rather than having to resort to all kinds of fuzzy cosmic forces and mystic rites? Why get depressed when this or that hero dies if they can just fire up the Stargate and pop back to Earth? While the prospect of getting Kurt back as a regular character pretty much outweighs any problems I have with the fuzzy logic of this issue, it still begs the question. The Marvel Universe has always been full of portals to different dimensions and – lately now more than ever – means of zipping forward and back through time, but when someone dies, it’s still a big deal. Sure, some characters seem to kick the bucket and come back swinging every other week (Jean, Thor, I’m looking at you two), but as much as we like to make fun, they’re an exception. Most of the B- or C-listers have to treat mortality like the rest of us: you get one shot at the Alive thing, and when it’s over, it’s over.
Taylor, I’m glad you mention of Valhalla, because it brings up the multiplicity of options we see in comics and in reality when it comes to trying to think about what happens when your time’s up. For some, the idea is that you really do end up in a place where the strife and necessity of mortal life is just something of the past. In the words of Kurt’s nameless companion “I’ve been here for a thousand years, and it still takes my breath away. Or at least is would, if I still breathed.” It’s a silly reminder of the Otherness of Heaven: typically not breathing is a very bad thing, but on the Floating Island of Happy, it’s the norm. For others, you’re reborn into the conventional reality, like Thor. You’re out of the “scene” for a bit, but you come back hale and hearty, ready to pick up where you left off. For still others, it becomes a fuzzier kind of trade-off: take the case of Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man #2, who first gets blown up, then gets rescued by his time-traveling daughter Cassie, and THEN has to watch as his daughter is killed in the line of superhero duty.
Whether you’re in the camp that says the world will end in fire, or you say it’ll end in ice, I’ve always preferred the kind of piecemeal dissipation of consciousness you find in Robinson Jeffers’s crazy, weird, epic poetry: “… the brain-cells And rent fragments of cells finding After their communal festival of life particular deaths. In their deaths they dreamed a moment, the unspent chemistry Of life resolving its powers.” So, maybe we get warped to a floating island where there isn’t much to do, maybe we get frozen into one, horrific time-space location that can only be escaped by trading our life for that of one we love, or maybe death is just a transition from tight, ordered will and ego into an incomprehensible field of a billion guttering stars.
Either way, welcome back Kurt! Try not to die again too soon, we’ve missed you.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?