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Nightcrawler: The Winding Way by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

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All hell is out to get NightCrawler and he doesn’t know why. Well, all hell is out to get him but only some of hell shows up in this volume, enough to keep things interesting but not enough to overwhelm Kurt or overload the reader. To fight off the demons, the ones Kurt must fight are inside himself as well as the ones in the outside world, he needs to discover what they are after and this quest takes him back to his roots, to the only family he knew.

There is as much action in NightCrawler’s internal debate as there is in the external pyrotechnics. At issue is a talisman known as the Soul Sword. The external demons seeking this sword believe they can find it through Kurt, either in the present or in his past. The chase forces NightCrawler to return to the land of his youth, to the memories of his childhood, and to the step-mother, step-brother, and step-sister he has left behind.
The story opens with NightCrawler recovering from an infection received when he was bitten by Vermin in a previous episode. A fever masks the disorientation Kurt is feeling, the many paths his mind travels trying to make sense of things. In the real world of Xavier’s School’s ER, The Beast, Iceman and Emma Frost work to save his life. The Beast and Iceman beat the fever but Emma has to go in and psychically pull Kurt out of himself. 

The demons he deals with while the others are trying to physically heal him, take Kurt back to his childhood, to the circus in Winzeldorf and an elusive sword. This is a brilliant sequence, stream-of-thought from one connection to the next, darting back and forth in time. From the confessional with its memories of children dying, to Mystique making an appearance. From his brother encouraging him to take the sword from the stone, to the Fates appearing to predict his death. From a Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean salute because of the sword, to a black stallion leading him on to a locked trunk. This winding way through his memory provides all the elements of the mystery in terms that will make so much sense but, at this point, yield no certain conclusion except for the certainty of the turmoil in NightCrawler’s mind.  You come away knowing at least one source of his misery -- the death of his brother -- but you do not yet know what that death means. What must be most appreciated is that the creative team takes the time to do this sequence justice, to make it true to the total story. In the end, NightCrawler knows he has something buried deep that is connected to whatever is going on. He also knows that something is pushing events towards a goal he cannot make out but he knows he and his family are the keys to mystery.

Accompanied by Wolverine and Christine Palmer, a would-be love interest, NightCrawler travels to Winzeldorf. Still haunted by memories of his step-mother, Margali Szardos, and his step-siblings Amanda and Stephen, NightCrawler spends a night in the forest replaying encounters with brother and sister. His step-brother, fearing demonic possession, asks NightCrawler to kill him if such a thing should happen. He saves his step-sister Amanda’s life, which leads to the realization of how much they care for each other. Their kiss is interrupted by the death of everyone around them. The next day they come upon the circus, under attack and burning. This issue tests Miller’s coloring to its limits as the penciller and inkers have produced such spare images the coloring must come to the story’s rescue. Another device the penciller employs is a scruffy beard for the present-NightCrawler and a clean shaven face for the remembered NightCrawler. Unfortunately, Robertson has one male face and one female face that he decorates with hair and wrinkles but you are always looking at the same face.

Chapter 3 or Issue 9 opens with Margali Szardos striding the halls of Limbo. Her daughter, Amanda, the one we last left kissing NightCrawler, has now replaced Margali as Custodian of Limbo but she is nowhere to be found. As Margali hunts, we learn she is searching for the Soul Sword and that the Winding Way is also a term for the path that a sorceress must follow to attain greater power. What she finds is Amanda captive to Nightmare. Meanwhile, NightCrawler and friends have discovered all but one of the circus are dead. They call for Cyclops and his Blackbird aircraft to airlift the survivor to Munich. In the process, the survivor tells NightCrawler the bad guys were looking for him to discover where he had hidden the Sword. He also warns NightCrawler the bad guys are moving on to the circus in Florida where Kurt had spent some time. NightCrawler, Wolverine and Christine ‘borrow’ the Blackbird and head for Florida to find Mr. Jardine, the owner of that circus. Jardine had kept NightCrawler drugged in order to use him as an attraction but another mutant boy had helped Kurt to escape. In the process, NightCrawler had threatened Jardine punishment if that one did not release the rest of his captives within two weeks. But NightCrawler became distracted by the death of innocent children and the murder of his step-brother and never made it back. Even as we discover this, Margali has subdued Nightmare, freed Amanda, and they interrogate their captive to learn he may or may not be a pawn himself.  From the conversation we know Amanda hid the Soul Sword but we don’t discover where before the walls of Limbo begin to shake and crumble.

Jardine is surrounded by flies apparently due to lack of basic hygiene or so NightCrawler believes.  While they talk, the sound of slaughter comes to them. Man Thing, Gator Grant, Carrion, and a raging horde of zombies are slaughtering the camp. NightCrawler and Wolverine do battle. While the battle rages, NightCrawler realizes the bad guys are looking for the SoulSword. Having made that discovery, all the bad guys suddenly stop fighting and become inert. The reason is the arrival of Margali, Amanda and Nightmare, the latter responsible for putting everyone else to sleep. Discussion establishes the history of the SoulSword as an occult weapon passed down through time. Turns out that Margali must prove Amanda hid the Sword in NightCrawler. When she does, Jardine of the Flies turns out to be Jardine being possessed by The Hive, who departs Jardine and takes possession of Wolverine figuring Wolvie has a better chance of separating Kurt from the Sword. Art wise, the only way you can tell the difference between Nightmare and NightCrawler is that NightCrawler is blue and Nightmare is lots of colors but blue. Another faux pas:, that beard ploy, the artists forgot what they were up to and for the last half of the story, which takes place in the present, NightCrawler is clean shaven.

In the conclusion, we first learn the details of step-brother Stephen’s death and how NightCrawler apparently snapped his brother’s neck to keep him from killing again. During the fight with Wolverine/Hive in the Fun House, Hive goes back to that story filling in small details such as the fact Hive was the demon possessing Stephen, and maybe it was Hive who actually killed him and not NightCrawler. NightCrawler knocks Wolverine unconscious, temporarily immobilizing Hive. He goes back to Margali to discover Amanda healing Christine Palmer. Nightmare goes into Wolverine’s unconscious to tell him what’s happening and to be prepared to regain control of his body. Margali convinces NightCrawler he must use the SoulSword to kill Hive. Wolverine will be in no danger as the SoulSword only affects supernatural beings.  During the final battle, NightCrawler realizes that Hive could not be the one behind this. Hive confirms the real battles has been developing for a long time; that Hive is just a pawn, and the battle will happen whether he lives or dies. NightCrawler does the deed.

The anticlimax shows NightCrawler returning to Xavier’s place attempting to return to a normal life. One evening he becomes unsettled, can’t find anyone about until he walks into the kitchen and a surprise birthday party for himself.  The party still doesn’t explain his unsettled feeling so he wanders around the mansion until he discovers Mephisto, come to recruit NightCrawler and the Soul Sword for the final battle, offering to return Stephen to life in exchange. NightCrawler declines and finds himself right back at the party. No one had noticed he’d been gone. As the party draws down, Christine Palmer tells him she’s leaving. She’s finally realized it is never going to work out between them. But the story ends with a passionate embrace and kiss. Kurt doesn’t believe their story is over.

It was a truly winding way from Vermin’s bite to Mephisto’s offer, as much a way of individual growth as Kurt dealt successfully with his personal demons, and a path to discovery of the impending battle. It was a path from possibly choosing to leave Christine Palmer behind, to her decision to leave him behind, to the question mark of their kiss. Well written and – except for the nits I mentioned – well scripted and drawn. A worthy addition to the NightCrawler story.

Dan Bieger © 2006


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