X-Men Vignettes, Chapter 4 (1987)
“The Big Dare”
Writer – Chris Claremont
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Tom Orzechowski
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Kavanagh, Nocenti, Shooter
From: Classic X-Men #4 (January, 1987)
Well… here’s a weird one. It’s no less important in building relationships between our new X-Men than Ororo and Jean’s shopping trip, and it allows us to see the genesis of a friendship that’s been able to stand the test of time… but, it’s weird. Not much of a pre-ramble from me this time out (lucky you!), so — let’s just get into it!
We open with Nightcrawler and Wolverine in the midst of a game of tag. We watch as Wolvie attempts to lay paws (and claws) on the Fuzzy Elf, however his acrobatic prowess… paired with his BAMFability, makes this quite the challenge. It does allow Claremont to remind us all of Kurt’s past in the Circus — it also subtly drives home the point that, acrobatics is neat and all, but — when in a confrontation it’s more sizzle than steak. Wolverine is able to catch him unawares… and delivers a wallop of an elbow to his fuzzy blue gut!
Logan then pins Kurt down and ceremonially SNIKTS to show his rival that the contest c’est fini. Worth noting, he mentions that he’s got unbreakable Adamantium-laced bones, which retroactively might be the first time he’s spilling these beans to a teammate? Heck, retroactively, this might be the first mention of it period! I think, in reality, the first time we found out about this was in X-Men #98 (which will be the lead-story in Classic X-Men #6), the Sentinels-Christmas story I looked at as part of Merry X-Lapsed, Year One. Though, when the Essentials catch up to this era, I might realize how wrong I am! Anyway, Wolvie pops the claws, Nightcrawler begs off… and readies himself to head back to the Xavier School to supply the brews.
Wolverine, however, ain’t feelin’ like any ol’ bee’a from da friggeratah — and suggests they head into town for something outta the tap. Kurt’s cool with it, but first has to engage his brand-new image inducer… ya know, to hide the fact that he looks like a happy demon. This is (just barely) retroactively the first mention of Nightcrawler having/using a Tony Stark-brand Image Inducer. The actual first mention was is X-Men #97… which will be the main-feature of the very next issue of Classix. Now, here’s where things start to get weird… ish. Wolverine kinda lambastes Nightcrawler for using something that will hide his true nature. He kinda calls Kurt out on not being proud of who he is. And yeah, I get that — but, all the same, if poor dude just wants to hit the town, grab a beer, and not be chased through the streets of Salem Center by a mob of pitchfork wielders… maybe just let the fella use his little gimmick? I dunno…
Anyway, from here we arrive at Harry’s Hideout aka. Harry’s Hideaway. Ya know, that little bar/pub the X-Men hang out at all the time… which, shockingly enough, has only ever appeared in the comics 33 times! That… seems low, dunnit? Well, the Wiki certainly wouldn’t lie, would it? Now, this is retro-canonically the first appearance of the Hideoutaway — it’s actual first appearance was New Mutants #23 (September, 1984). Well, maybe it’s not the retconned first appearance… but, it does predate the actual first appearance. Does that make sense? I dunno, I’m too flustered wondering if I need to get this one slabbed ASAP.
Anyway, we’re at the bar — where our fast friends are talking a little bit about their past. Well, Nightcrawler is anyway… Wolvie, as per usual, is keeping things close to vest. Then again, what he actually knows about his past at this point can probably fit in a thimble. The conversation comes back around to Logan shaming poor Kurt for using the Image Inducer… and so, he dares him not to. Kurt (rightly) calls Wolverine out on not being able to understand what he goes through — since, Wolverine — though, uglier than sin, especially back in the long ago — still looks like a regular ol’ human.
Ultimately, Nightcrawler is triple-dog-dared or whatever to shut off his gimmick, and since nobody can argue with nor deny a triple-dog, he does. Moments later, Harry Q. Hideaway wanders over to drop off some drinks — and, he’s completely unaffected by the fact that there’s a smiling, brimstone-smelling demon now sitting in the booth. The waitress, however, is a bit “what da hale?”, and when she points out the fact that there’s, ya know, a demon in their midst — complete with a tail, Harry comments on how handsome a tail it is. And, I mean — I know what Claremont’s trying to do here… but, c’mon. C’maaaaaaahn… are we really saying that the “normal” reaction here, at seeing a demon sat where there was once a man, is… disinterest? Like, no questions asked? Where’d the guy go? Did the demon kill him? I mean, this might just be a little too Pollyanna.
Anyway, the boys finish their drinks and head out… and Nightcrawler, still on something of a high by the fact that Harry Q. Hideaway didn’t come at him with a fire extinguisher, is kind of on cloud nine. He’s sashaying down the street, with his little derby hat and cane… as though he’s running about five-minutes ahead of schedule before his next chimney-sweep appointment. He makes sure to smile at everybody he passes… which, ya know… again, I get it — but, let’s do that stupid thing where we “real world” this. You really want a demonic critter looking you in the eyes and smiling? I mean, it beats the alternative, I suppose… but, still!
Kurt then spies a damsel in distress… a woman who’s bobbling her bags of groceries. And so, he saunters on up… helps her out… then, kisses her on the cheek? I mean, I know this isn’t “current year”, but you’d figure had something like this happened today, there’d be at least a half-dozen REEEEing twitterers trying to stoke this into something. Even back in ye old 1986… it’s weird, no? And, well — perhaps the oddest part is the fact that this damsel didn’t, ya know scream her head off — but, instead, actually seemed a bit into it? She refers to the smoothing satan as an “extraordinary young man”.
From here, Kurt chats up a couple of science fiction fans… who have just seen Star Wars — Kurt tells them that his favorite character is Chewbacca… which, might just be the least believable thing said this entire story! These two British (?) children then scamper off to tell Mummy and Duddy that they just met a real-life alien. Oy.
You might be asking yourself… if there’s going to be any actual conflict in this story… or, will it just be Kurt Wagner Dick Van Dyking down Main Street for another couple pages? Well, here comes the conflict — in the form of a meathead who doesn’t take kindly to Kurt’s… uh, well — I don’t even know what. Because the meathead initially believes that Kurt’s face is just a mask. Maybe he just doesn’t like Germans? Maybe he didn’t like that Kurt kissed that broad? Maybe he hates Chewbacca? Whatever the reason, they very nearly get into it.
Then, quick as a cricket, Wolverine spears the baddie out of his boots… err, sneakers. He then, as he’s wont to do — especially back in the long ago, pops his claws. Nightcrawler is able to regain control of the situation, BAMFing them both to the rooftop of a nearby building so his buddy might calm down a bit. We wrap up with Kurt thanking Wolverine for shaming him into taking his dare (his words, not mine) — and, thus, a bond is formed.
Well, there ya have it!
A weird one, right? And, as I said a few times during the spoilery-synopsis, I get what Claremont was going for here — and it truly is a very sweet story, with a valuable message — however, in practice? It just doesn’t fly… at least it doesn’t for me.
To properly lose ourselves in this story, we need to accept that the normal Salem Centerer… Westchesterer… Upstate New Yorker, wouldn’t be freaked out at the sight of a demon walking down the street. Okay, like I say on the show(s) — we are in the fantastical Marvel Universe, so there’s at least something of a precedent for weirdness. But, the message here (well, one of the messages here) — and, it’s a good one — is that we, as a people/species/whatever ought to accept everyone, regardless of our differences.
Fair point, no? Judging others, not by the way the look or appear — but, by the content of their character. It’s a good message… it’s the right message — but, I mean — we’re dealing with a demon! That’s not to say I wanna see our man chased outta town by a mob of torch and pitchfork wielders — but, I feel like we’re going way too far in the other direction. I think we’re supposed to think that, if we were to see a demon walking down the street — our gut reaction should be indifference and unquestioning acceptance.
As if to say, and to be fair — the story does NOT say this… but, if you were to feel a twinge of discomfort at the sight of a demon trompin’ down the mall, you’re not a good person. I might be thinking way too hard about this… which is something I almost never do (right?), but I think the proper reaction to seeing… again, a friggin’ demon… is, at the very least — cautious curiosity? Having Harry Q. Hideaway not even bat an eye… then to comment on how the tail he just saw on the back of what he thought was a regular ol’ human being was “handsome”? Like I said above: c’maaaaaaahn.
The other “message” at play here… is another important one. It has to do with not being ashamed of who or what you are. Another excellent point, yes? This is very important stuff… and easy for all of us to relate to. No matter what we look like or who we are — we’ve all got differences that cause us to stand out. They may be physical characteristics… mental, lingual or motor differences… the differences can be big or small. The message here is to not be ashamed — it’s to embrace who and what you are — and, it’s a sweet sentiment, right?
I’m all for Nightcrawler being the Fuzzy Elf smiling at every passer-by, and having a nice day out. But… the thing is: I/we know Nightcrawler. We know that he’s a good person, with a good heart — we know he’s a hero, who would never do anything to harm another. The rando on Main Street, however – especially this early on – hasn’t the foggiest idea. And, here’s the thing, Nightcrawler’s so good a guy, that he knows that — and seems as though he uses the Image Inducer more to keep those around him comfortable rather than for himself.
Wolverine kinda misses that point… and instead, turns this into some sort of Mutant Pride mission. He doesn’t do that by reasoning with his pal, either — instead, he shames him into it. That… I don’t so much dig. And, again — I get what this story is trying to do — it just feels more like Wolverine’s trying to force Nightcrawler into doing something he isn’t quite ready to do. Sure, the end justified the means, but still — I’m left feeling, I dunno, a bit bad for Kurt. It’s like he was forced into putting on a show just to get Logan off his back.
I really don’t know where I land with this one — it’s beautiful to look at, the facials by Bolton really just got to be seen to be believed — the story has a few very important messages… it’s just told in so heavy-handed a way that, I dunno… it kinda takes the oomph out of itself.
Agree? Disagree? Wanna just tell me to shut my hole? Please, comment below!