They say the only three certain things in life are birth, death, and change. When it comes to comic books those things are also certain as they come in the form of retcons, reboots, and resurrections.
For our purposes retcons are elements that are retroactively added into a character’s history after the fact, reboots are either big full change revivals of a character/title or are extensive changes to their canon, and resurrections are characters making the return from death or character limbo.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
Out of all the members that joined the All-New All-Different X-Men team born out of Giant-Size X-Men #1, it was Logan/Wolverine that got a fair bit of attention for a mysterious past over the years and decades. Despite the fact that he was far from the only one that had a lot of holes in their past.
The blue devilish-looking teleporting swashbuckler Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler had a past that was just as mysterious and full of questions as Logan’s, and one could argue the eventual retcon revelation trumped much of what was learned about Logan’s past at the time.
Just like Logan though, the path to the truth of Nightcrawler’s past is full of retcons upon retcons, changing plans, and revelations that were never to be.
What Was It?
Saved by Charles Xavier in the streets of Germany as he ran from an angry mob, Kurt Wagner always filled the role of being a mutant that looked “devilish” or “evil” despite having a kind heart and being a piously religious man. Unlike most of his team, he could never hide (at least until the introduction of Image Inducer tech), and his appearance long hinted that there was probably something deeper about his past.
According to reports, as soon as Chris Claremont took over the series following the departure of Len Wein after Giant-Size X-Men #1, he expressed interest in really diving into the backstory of Kurt. One of the failed pitches for that backstory would have made the Doctor Strange villain Nightmare the father of Nightcrawler.
Doctor Strange writer Roger Stern didn’t really dig this idea one bit. In Back Issue #29, as part of a story called ‘Nightcrawler’s Two Dads and the Owl That Could Have Been,’ Stern revealed that he put a stop to this “And I replied with something like, ‘No, he’s not. I’m not going to let you appropriate one of my character’s major villains.’” Shortly afterward, in September 1978, Stern became the editor of X-Men and continued to say no until Claremont moved on in his plans.
This led to the 1980s Uncanny X-Men Annual #4, where the pieces of Kurt’s backstory begin to come into focus. This is where he was revealed to have been found abandoned (at the time said to be by his dead mother, which was later retconned twice) by the sorceress Margali Szardos who raised him alongside her own children Stefan and Jimaine as part of their traveling circus. Eventually, Kurt fell in love with his adopted sister and swore a blood oath with his adopted brother to stop him should he give into dark impulses. When Stefan did turn and commit multiple murders, Kurt was forced to kill him but then was blamed for the crimes and was set upon by the mob that was after him when Xavier saved him.
Claremont’s full plans had him turn to the shape-shifting character Mystique that he had a hand in creating during his time writing Ms. Marvel. Their paths would cross in 1981’s Uncanny X-Men #142, part of the famous ‘Days of Future Past’ storyline when Mystique and the new Brotherhood of Mutants tried to go after Senator Robert Kelly. When they fight and Mystique, who was disguised as Kurt at the moment, semi drops her form to reveal part of her true form Kurt speaks about how similar they are. From there Mystique calls him by his real name and insinuates that he should really speak to Margali about his actual origins.
This was not really picked up on till Uncanny X-Men #177 when Kurt speaks with Jimaine, now going by Amanda Sefton the identity she took on that led to her and Kurt ending up in a relationship, who tells him that their mother Margali told her that she found Kurt as a barely alive newborn next to the dead body of his father in a roadside shelter. Despite all the hints and pushes, it would not be until Claremont was gone from the books that this relationship was confirmed and added.
Unlimited X-Men #4 from Scott Lobdell and Richard Bennett fully confirmed that Mystique was Nightcrawler’s mother as her other child Graydon Creed (the human son of Mystique and Sabretooth) tried to get back at his mother and his half-brother and their adopted sister Rogue.
Here Mystique revealed to Kurt that his father was the German Baron Christian Wagner, and when the townspeople found out she was a mutant and her child was too they chased her through the woods. Choosing her own life over that of her child, she changed shape to look like a farmer who claimed to have killed “the woman” and then threw the child over a cliff edge into a raging river below.
While this is the version that saw print, it was revealed by various individuals from Claremont himself to collaborator John Byrne and even Lobdell that Claremont’s original plan had Mystique as Kurt’s father and her wife Destiny as his mother. Marvel predictably at the time shot this down, because of the close-minded nature of many regarding LGBTQ individuals (which still continues today) but they blamed the Comics Authority Code at the time. This is a company where the two didn’t weren’t explicitly referred to as a couple till recent years and didn’t get an on-panel kiss until 2019’s History of the Marvel Universe #2 which was a flashback since Destiny is still dead.
Instead, it fell to Chuck Austen to retcon in who Kurt’s father really is. During the 2003 storyline called ‘The Draco‘, running through Uncanny X-Men #428-434, Austen decided that Kurt’s devilish appearance could not just be a physical mutation but had to be something he inherited from a father who was said to be an actual devil. Enter Azazel.
He was the leader of a group of demonic mutants known as the Neyaphem who were banished from Earth to the Brimstone Dimension (the same one Kurt’s powers have him travel through) by a group of angelic mutants known as the Cheyarafim. Despite this banishment, Azazel was able to leave for brief times and traveled the world fathering children with various women as a means to one day be able to escape fully thanks to their powers being similar to his own teleportation powers.
Most of the backstory of Mystique being married to Baron Wagner stuck with this retcon, but instead of it being Christian that fathered Kurt it was Azazel (masquerading as a business partner of Christian) who had an affair with Mystique and led to Kurt’s creation. Mystique was said to be falling in love with Azazel, who came back to her once she was pregnant and turned her down, and she killed Christian once he began to suspect that the child was not his. This led to the original part where she had to run with Kurt from the townspeople and threw Kurt into the river below leading him to Margali.
The X-Men of course stopped Azazel’s plan and sealed him in his domain, and it would be almost a decade before anyone, in this case, Jason Aaron, decided to take another crack at Kurt’s demonic father.
Aaron’s story came a few years after Kurt died in ‘Second Coming‘, and found Azazel using their connection to wage war on Heaven and Kurt brought the X-Men to the afterlife to help. Kurt used Bamfs (a small race of beings that resemble Nightcrawler in appearance) and his connection to Azael as well as selling his soul in order to return to life on Earth, which brought Azazel to Earth too and sealed him from being able to attack the afterlife ever again.
Mystique has of course been seen a lot through the years and is a member of the Quiet Council on Krakoa currently (looking to burn it all down soon for her wife), Azazel hasn’t been seen since a brief background appearance in ‘House Of X‘. Which indicates he heeded the call from Professor Xavier that most former mutant antagonists did to come to Krakoa.
Was It Good?
Depends on which part one means.
The reveal of Mystique was overall a good one as it has provided a lot of juicy at times drama, and has translated well to other mediums like the animated X-Men: Evolution series. It also gave a nice sibling relationship, albeit one that the comics rarely refer to these days, with Rogue. These days Mystique and Nightcrawler interact but not much is brought up about their relationship, but that could change soon with ‘Inferno‘.
The storyline of Mystique and Destiny being Kurt’s birth parents would have been fantastic, and it’s a damn shame that we didn’t get that retcon instead.
Because The Draco is truly one of the worst X-Men stories, and making Kurt’s father an actual devil was just uninspired. It has added nothing to any of the stories, because Azazel has mostly been a one-note overall boring character. There are like fifteen Devil antagonists at Marvel and they all are too close in style more often than not, making it so that they all have less and less impact.
Next Week: The ever-changing saga of a clone, but not the one you’re thinking about.