Thursday, January 30, 2014

X-MEN Episode Fifty-Three - May 13, 1995

Written by Len Uhley

Summary:  While on a ski trip in Germany, Gambit, Rogue, and Wolverine hear rumors of a local demon.  After Gambit is injured skiing and brought to a local monastery, the X-Men discover the “demon” is Nightcrawler, a mutant living as a monk.  A fellow monk, Brother Reinhardt, rejects Nightcrawler and incites a mob that soon invades the monastery.  As the monastery burns, Nightcrawler saves Reinhardt’s life, teaching him a lesson in forgiveness.  Later, after talking to Nightcrawler, Wolverine says a prayer in a church.

Continuity Notes:  Nightcrawler makes his first full appearance on the show.  Mystique also appears in a flashback to his birth, in a scene obviously inspired by the infamous X-Men Unlimited #4.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  The quaint villagers in this tiny German town have laser guns instead of hunting rifles.

Review:  There was once a rumor that FOX didn’t want to air this episode due to its religious content, but didn’t have much of a choice as very few episodes were ready for air at this point.  I have no idea if this is true, but I’ve always wondered why exactly FOX would’ve been shocked by the religious material -- surely the script was approved at various stages before the episode was finished.  Unless there were numerous internal changes at FOX, it’s hard to hard imagine that no one knew what was coming.  Regardless, the open evangelism is kind of surprising in retrospect.  I remembered Nightcrawler speaking of a generic belief in God in the episode, but totally forgot that he actually hands Wolverine a copy of the Bible at the story’s end.  I can’t imagine that making its way to air today on a major network.  Okay, NBC did air VeggieTales on Saturday Morning a few years ago, but I think most of the religious content was edited out.

Whether or not you think Nightcrawler’s faith is an integral aspect of his character probably depends on when you were introduced to him.  Dave Cockrum and John Byrne have always dismissed Nightcrawler’s Catholicism as a retcon, one they tried to talk Chris Claremont out of during their stints on the book.  Cockrum always seemed particularly adamant, as a man without religious faith himself, that Nightcrawler wouldn’t associate himself with religion.  I can understand why Claremont forged ahead, however.  A person feared as a demon, yet one with a strong faith in God, is one of those “simple yet brilliant” ideas that superhero comics allow you to explore.  I think it also helps to round Nightcrawler out as a character.  Swashbuckler, team mascot, acrobat, romantic, Catholic.  Claremont made it work.  This specific episode is less successful in truly presenting all of Nightcrawler’s personality, but I think the target audience still received a decent idea of who Nightcrawler is supposed to be.  

While the references to Christianity are certainly present, and that final image of Wolverine reading the Bible can be viewed as either touching or just bizarre, the story focuses more specifically on the concept of forgiveness and the desire to make peace with the past.  Wolverine wants to believe that he can be forgiven for his past, but says he’s seen (“and done”) too much.  Gambit dismisses the concept of belief, declaring that we’re alone in this world.  Rogue isn’t sure what to think.  (This would’ve been a good time to recall Rogue’s own past as a criminal, but the show almost always chose to ignore it.)  Cal Dodd delivers one of his strongest performances as Wolverine during the show’s run, creating a portrayal of a lapsed believer that far exceeds anyone’s standards for a Saturday Morning TV show.  Adrian Hough’s Nightcrawler also feels genuine, and thankfully subdued given the show’s history with foreign accents.  Not that the episode is free of clichés, of course.  The German villagers are straight out of the 1800s, a laughable mistake that unfortunately imitates Nightcrawler’s first appearance from Giant Sized X-Men #1.  There’s also a phony cliffhanger that has one of the monks proclaiming Nightcrawler to be his “brother,” only to reveal after the commercial break that he meant it in the “ecclesiastical sense.”  That’s just cheap drama, and it was just as annoying the last time the show pulled that stunt with Storm’s “son” back in Season Two.  Ignoring those hiccups, it’s hard to deny that this is an ambitious episode that has some of the series’ strongest character work to date.

Credit to for the screencaps.


Matt said...

I agree that Claremont made Nightcrawler's faith work well alongside his other traits, but -- as he often did -- Claremont took things too far when he had the swashbuckling, skirt-chasing Nightcrawler become a priest during the "Revolution" event. I hate Chuck Austen as much as the next guy, but undoing that mistake was one of the best moves he made while on Uncanny (the other being finally restoring Angel's original skin color).

As far as the episode itself, I think I only ever saw it when it first aired, and I recall being impressed even then (at age 16) that a Saturday morning cartoon had such a strong religious overtone. I'd never seen anything like it before.

The fact that this relatively sophisticated religious message exists in the same episode with, as you note, peasants with laser guns, makes the whole thing seem kind of surreal.

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

@Matt: I hate Chuck Austen as much as the next guy, but undoing that mistake was one of the best moves he made while on Uncanny

Agreed, though the way he went about it wasn't the greatest. :)

"Peasants with Laser Guns" is my new band name.

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