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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Nightcrawler was a Priest?

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

I got tired of doing these specifically about retconned deaths, so I’m finished with that series of posts (not that I won’t have future editions also involving retconned deaths, of course, just not as a series of posts ONLY about that). Today we take a look at the time when Nightcrawler of the X-Men became a Catholic priest!

Under Chris Claremont, Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner of the X-Men was always a follower of the Roman Catholic religion (if not always adherent to all of the rules, like the whole “no sex before marriage” stuff, which makes him similar to about 99% of all Catholics in the U.S.). However, in X-Men #100, celebrating Claremont’s return to writing the X-Men full-time, he opened the issue with a bit of a shocker to readers…Nightcrawler is a priest!

Nightcrawler is attacked by some bad guys and he teleports away, while they’re hunting him down. He thinks about his time as a priest-in-training…

The following issue, after finding Dr. Cecilia Reyes for assistance, Kurt discusses his path in life a little bit more (Claremont’s first issue of X-Men was supposed to follow a six-month gap between his first issue and the issue before he took over, to explain why so many things were different with the team)…

In Joe Casey’s Uncanny X-Men run, Nightcrawler mentions that he is now an ordained priest…

In the Nightcrawler mini-series from around this time, Kurt’s time as a priest is addressed, as we meet his mentor, Father Whitney.

However, in Uncanny X-Men #423, Chuck Austen reveals that Kurt was never an ordained priest. It was all a matter of some bad guys messing with his mind…

Father Whitney is revealed to have been in on it all along. It was all part of an elaborate plan that I addressed in this week’s I Love Ya But You’re Strange.

The long and short of it is that Nightcrawler’s time as a priest was abandoned and forsaked.


It’s almost enough to create a new segment called “Why No One Likes Chuck Austen’s X-Men Run”!

What Drax said + Nightcrawler as a priest was a great idea.

I’ll throw out there that one doesn’t become a Priest overnight. I suppose in theory it could happen, but the reality is that it takes nearly a decade of study with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in divinity earned in the interim. My brother-in-law is studying for it now, and I think it’s going to take him seven years total.

Granted, the “six month” gap was supposed to allow time for the wacky changes to take place, but a one-liner about how Kurt was got his divinity degree via correspondence could have helped.

I wonder why Austin felt the need to retcon it away. It fits with the character, if anything it makes him even more interesting, and he can obviously still be an X-Man. Claremont himself, who’s written Nightcrawler more than anybody else, decided it was a good idea… And it gets wiped away by Austin of all people. Maybe he felt he conflicted with his brilliant idea to make Kurt’s father an actual demon… which I really hope has been retconned at some point.

Paul, I would imagine that the retcon was editorially mandated and this is how Chuck Austen ran with it. A lot of the retcons around that time were editorially mandated, weren’t they? I seem to recall reading that here a couple of year’s back.

It was a very standard retcon, though the dialog was off on most of the characters.

I liked the idea of Nightcrawler becoming a priest – there seemed to be mileage in that idea – an openly mutant priest and what that would mean to people. I would’ve liked to see it take a bit longer – it would’ve been good to see him studying and having difficulties fitting his studies and his X-Men life together, etc.

I could see how the brand managers wouldn’t like it though – how do you justify a priest being part of the active adventuring X-Men? And Nightcrawler was at the time too popular a character to shelve.

@Paul: Allow me to answer that question with a quote from Austen’s narration boxes in the same story arc.

“More people in the history of the world have died because of religion that have ever died of cancer. And we try to cure cancer.”

If that in any way reflects Austen’s actual feelings about religion, I think it stands for itself.

And, for the nine billionth time since 2003, AZAZEL WAS NEVER AN ACTUAL DEMON. That’s an internet myth started by people who read the previews and solicits for The Draco. Somehow it never died away when the actual story was printed and specifically stated Azazel was a mutant, not a demon. His story was always that he was a Biblical era mutant improperly feared / worshipped as a devil or demon, just as Archangel’s ancestors were mistaken for actual angels. It fits into Austen’s whole anti-religious schtick, that there were no holy or supernatural beings in the Bible at all…just mutants.

Thanks for the answers, guys. While I’m working on getting as complete of a set of X-Men comics as I can, I skipped over Austin’s run after reading one or two issues.

Wolverine and the X-Men has been hinting that Azazel is coming back soon. I trust Jason Aaron more than anyone to do something good with him.

(if not always adherent to all of the rules, like the whole “no sex before marriage” stuff, which makes him similar to about 99% of all Catholics in the U.S.).

I like the new feature! Reer! With Brian Cronin


I agree that Kurt as priest had some legs. As far as it being a problem with him going on adventures with the X-men, chaplains commonly travel with the military. A talented writer could have made it work. Although for that matter, a talented writer could have at least come up with a better retcon.

The worst part is that Austen retconned it for no reason. It made nothing better, and helped nothing. It did not improve the story. Further, he did it in the cheapest way possible – someone messed with your mind!

The exploding communion wafers story was terrible, but at least it undid Priest Nightcrawler. I hope it never comes up in conversation again. Even if you can accept the Catholic Church embracing a blue demon looking mutant in a world where they haven’t even warmed up to gays and birth control yet…. it’s still too hard to believe he became a priest in less than six months.

Max hits on one of the biggest problems I had with the idea of Nightcrawler as a Catholic priest, I don’t see the Catholic Church as accepting him.

As a joke I was going to send a one liner about Claremonts and Austens retcon takes as a hidden Homage or rivalry with Chris Priest the writer.I’ll save everyone from that. I have to say though this was clearly an era of Marvel’s penchant for endless dialog that took up endless pages with everyone standing around doing nothing. What happened to “it’s Clobbering Time !” Considering the revelations involving the church and it’s misdeeds and mismanagement over the last 30 yrs or so maybe Austin did the right thing dumping this whole direction for Nightcrawler.

This will go over like a fart in church, but I’ll take Chuck Austens run over Grant Morrisons run any time.

And now I duck for cover…

I’m not exactly a fan of Kurt being a priest, but that’s a dumb, cheap retcon. If Austen wanted him not to be a priest anymore, Kurt could just renounce the priesthood for whatever reason. Why have him do just that AND introduce a unnecessary and convoluted plot to make it so that he was never a priest at all? I don’t get it.

IDK, Priest Nightcrawler never really worked for me; just because he’s religious doesn’t mean he has to become a priest. On the special features for X2, they actually interviewed Austen and he explained why he reverted Nightcrawler to not being a priest, his intention being to return to the happy-go-lucky Nightcrawler from the earlier issues of Uncanny the claremont wrote, since he liked the impish jokester more than the morose version that seemed to dominate after he became a priest. I can sympathize, I never really cared for NC after he got darker, so I actually appreciated Austen’s move; plus, I think NC was one of the characters he wrote pretty good dialogue for… most of the time. Did he have to retcon his priesthood to make NC lighter? No, but I think he flet he needed a clean break from the priest stuff to pull it off.

And I hate how people casually dismiss his run as crap; Whedon pulled a couple of stunts like this and didn’t do it as well either, with it padded out over a half dozen issues and sometimes with even worse explanations and lame villains. But he gets a pass because… Buffy? Cassaday? “Cinematic” scenes like the one where Wolverine sniffs out that Kitty and Peter did it? I don’t think I’ll ever understand why Whedon gets so much praise for his run while Austen is one rung up from Liefeld in the internet hate department despite both their runs being pretty close quality wise.

All that being said, that is one fantastic picture of a gargoyle.

Glad it’s gone. I don’t like reading about religion and it does nothing for me for Kurt’s character. I just glossed over any blather of it from him in the books.

The Church’s stance on mutation would probably go according to a case-by-case basis. They’d likely be more concerned about the moral USE of those powers. Charles Xavier and his penchant for manipulating people telepathically would probably run more afoul of Church teaching than Nightcrawler’s physical appearance and teleportation.

Considering the Church doesn’t have any major objections to evolution (there are some caveats and open ended questions…), the issue of mutants would probably be dealt with closer to that question than homosexuality.

This is why the analogy of the X-Men for “gay rights” doesn’t really work— it’s not the same. Questions of how one uses talents like super-strength is not the same as questions about the meaning and purpose of human sexuality.

Absolutely disagree–I never liked Nightcrawler as even religious, let alone a priest. (Are gypsies and cirus folk traditionally Catholic? Then how…)

Of course, I’m being selfish, since I far prefer “fun” Nightcrawler. Come back soon, Kurt!

Cocnur with Anthony–I can’t figure anything in Catholic theology (or really, ANY major religious theology) that would prohibit a mutant from becoming a priest. The issues on homosexuals and birth control specifically relate to the Church’s view on human sexuality, wheras Nightcrawler is just “a guy with powers.”

Part of me would like to see more real-world religion applied to comics. Over at DC, there’s sometimes covert, sometimes overt religion thrown all over the place. I’ve always been curious how, for example, the Vatican would take to the existence of the Spectre given that he’s an angel walking the Earth. John Ostrander’s run toyed with the concept, but never got deep into it, but that’s the most I can think of. On the other hand, part of me realizes that comics need to have a certain “universality” to them–if you make a comic too overtly ANYTHING, it might turn off a broader audience. Peter Parker and Steve Rogers are likely Christian, but it’s never been heavily explored and I’m OK with that.

Oh, well. There’s always the Confessor arc in Kurt Busiek’s ASTRO CITY. I thought that dealt with the concept of a superhero priest pretty well, again without getting overt enough to alienate anybody.

I’m pretty much neutral on the priest thing, but this was a lousy retcon. And I do think showing the Church open to mutants could have been interesting.
However, I am puzzled why Nightcrawler would think someone might be shooting at him just because he’s a priest. Not that it couldn’t happen but terrorists attacking mutants happens a lot more in the MU than terrorists shooting priests, or am I missing something?

I love the people who think being religious (or a religious leader) AND having a fun personality are mutually exclusive traits.

I liked religious Nightcrawler…it was an interesting contradiction to his appearance…it gave them kind of a moral center. I really like how they portrayed him in X2 the movie…it added to his character. The X-men are lacking in christian characters anywayl…it wouldn’t hurt to have one.

@ MZ

I’m pretty sure I addressed that….

I really wish that they went farther with this. There aren’t too many Catholic heroes and I would love to see more. There aren’t too many priest superheroes, and I think people would like to read more about them.

Firebird is the only other one who immediately comes to mind (though I know Death told Captain Atom way back when that he must have had some Catholic schooling as his afterlife included Purgatory).

In other words, in the Marvel Universe you can worship a Norse God, or an African God or even a Spider God…but you can’t worship a Christian God, right??
A good example is the character of Kitty Pride. When she was introduced her Jewish background played a role in who she was, but she’s now as Jewish as mayonaisse and white bread sandwich.
Growing up Kansas, Clark Kent would been in church every Sunday morning. You can’t say that wouldn’t play a part in his adult life.
There would have been so much potential in Nightcrawler being a priest in the Marvel Universe. Would his church serve as asylum?? Would he take confessions from heroes and villians?? Would he perform Last Rites when needed for heroes and villains?? And would his church become sort of a Little Church Around the Corner for the superhero and supervillain community??
And as far as not being lighhearted or a swashbuckler as a priest, you’ve never seen Bing Crosby in Bells of Saint Mary, have you??
So much potential lost with that retcon..

Agreed, tallrobert.
I have fond memories of the Seraph in the Global Guardians. Rabbi and super-hero with divinely-gifted power. Well done.

I’m not even a religious person and yet I loved the idea of Nightcrawler becoming a priest, even if I was also surprised by the strange speed of his ordaining process, that could’ve been explained if Austen hadn’t allowed his biases to wash it all away. As I said, I’m not very religious and don’t necessarily like being preached to, but the existence of deeply religious people is a reality in our world – and IMHO a bigger representation of deeply-religous characters would be just as beneficial to these fictional universes as a bigger representation of minorities. And don’t tell me that it can’t be made to be cool, Astro City’s Confessor and the Crossbreed have proved that it can work perfectly well. Let’s see more superheroes who are devout followers of their faiths, why not? The revelation that the Thing is jewish only added dimension to that character, and Daredevil’s deep catholic guilt has been occasionally explored in interesting ways. There are so many heroes out there whose personalities are generic that adding a little color can only help. Let the Flash be a devout churchgoing christian who feels guilty about leaving sermons in superspeed to save lives! Let Scarlet Witch be a practicing wiccan! Let’s have a mormon superhero! Let even the recently-created muslim Green Lantern actually ACT like a muslim at some point, like stopping in space to ask the ring which way is Mecca because it’s prayer time!


…OR we could just wipe away a character’s whole religious experience because “religion kills more than cancer” or some facile nonsense. It’s probably safer if they all behave like interchangeable units that can only be differentiated from one another by their fake accents.

Yeah, I don’t want to just echo others’ comments, but I don’t get it. It was definitely an interesting direction for the character. Why abandon it? And I REALLY don’t get the people saying “I’m not religious so I don’t care” or “I don’t like reading about religion”. Your opinions aside, it is a lifestyle that a lot of people practice. That’s like saying “I’m not gay, so I don’t want gay characters in comics”. There’s enough superheroes/villains/whatever in comics that OF COURSE some of them would be religious. Ignoring it is absolutely nonsensical.

When did Nightcrawler, who was raised by a witch in the circus, become deeply religious anyway? I only remember him praying a few times whenever he thought he was going to die, like during the Brood Saga, and maybe an alternative universe Father Wagner during the Cross Time Caper.

Willie – regardless of where or by whom Nightcrawler was raised, why couldn’t he just have found religion? It happens all the time. Even among people raised in the circus.

Carnies can be quite religious–I knows a minister who goes to big carnie conventions every year to provide them with counseling (as they don’t really have a fixed church to attend).
I agree Les that religion can be good for stories and character—while I hated Jim Starlin’s Infinity bilge crossovers with a passion, his handling of various characters’ faith was interesting. But DC and Marvel would probably get more flak tackling religious topics (no matter what they do) than avoiding it so I’m not surprised they don’t.
Plus, of course, questions of faith would be a lot weirder in a comic-book universe. How do you function as a monotheist when you have proof that multiple polytheistic pantheons (and even other monotheistic deities) share cosmic space with yours?

Here’s a whole website that lists out superheroes’ religious affiliations. I’m skeptical that the Hulk is a Catholic, even a lapsed one, as I think Peter David made his atheism pretty apparent in one issue, and I can’t recall it coming up elsewhere. The again, Betty’s Catholic, so who knows.


And, sheesh–I forgot Dagger of “Cloak and…” He Catholicism was always pretty overt from what I remember of their series.

I don’t doubt that it is possible for Nightcrawler to be Catholic. I’m just curious when he went from occasionally praying to wanting to be a priest.

I’m also a little curious about how Kurt’s “intimate knowledge” of witchcraft affects his faith.

I definitely remember Kurt as being pretty religious back in the original Claremont run, just not making a big deal about it most of the time. But I do agree that he’d have to find an unusually tolerant church to take him in, less because he’s a mutant than because he looks like the devil. At least with Daredevil everyone knows it’s a costume.

But hey, if they ever want to revisit this, I hear the position of pope is open.

Loved the first half of Austen’s UXM run.

Bringing the original Angel back, Juggernaut onto the team, Northstar (with an unrequited crush on Iceman) and a brand new human point of view character, something that had been missing for a while. Bringing Havok back was great but unfortunately he then brought Polaris back as well. Too much baggage as a pair, keep em separate and they function much much better.

But by far the worse thing he did was anything involving Nightcrawler and the church. Horrible. *WHEN* Nightcrawler comes back hopefully it’ll turn out he’d been abducted and replaced from a point before Austen ever got his hands on him thus undoing all the trash here. Austen seemed to have an axe to grind about religion and took it out on Nightcrawler.

MZ–Actually, that is a valid point! A character could be written as religious and fun-loving and adventurous. And a strong female character could also just wear a bikini all day. It’s possible, just not likely. Either through bad writing or page-time constraints, Kurt was never given room to be both…and I’d still prefer fun!

@googum: I think the problem is that there’s this idea that when you’re religious that’s ALL you are. Just once, just ONCE, I’d like to see a writer allude to the fact that a character belongs to a specific religion, believes in it fully, and yet does NOT spend all day quoting scripture or telling his friends to pray for help whenever something bad happens. I mean, I’m religious and junk but unless you specifically ask you could hang out with me all day and never know it. The same could (and should) be done with fictional characters.

Charlie Ward: I agree 100%. There’s a lot of things comics handle that way. And even if the writer him/herself doesn’t do it, everybody else will. Remember when the new Batwoman came out and you couldn’t read a single preview, review, etc. about it without someone making a big deal about her being a lesbian?

For most people, things like religion, sexuality, ethnicity, et al. is just a normal part of our lives. Most Christians don’t mention God in every sentence, and most Latin-Americans don’t speak in Spanglish for no other reason than to remind you that they speak Spanish.

@Charlie Ward

It’s not only possible, it’s been done. Kitty Pride and Ben Grimm are both Jewish, but that isn’t they’re one and only charachter trait.
The problemwith Nightcrawler is that, over the time, the alusions to his faith became a little too heavy-handed.

Nobody seems to have mentioned that Daredevil is Catholic. It’s a big part of his history, but it doesn’t come up every day. Which I’m sure is true for a lot of people

Hmm, no mention of the fact that this idea was done (sort of) in the 90’s animated series, where he’s a member of a monastery?

[…] Wagner has been a lot of things. He’s been a circus perfomer and a priest (or at least he thought he was a priest). As the hero known as Nightcrawler, he’s been on many different X-Men teams and a […]

That the X-Men survived Chuck Austen should be considered a miracle.

Part of the problem with this storyline was that, for a long time before Austen’s run, Kurt had incorporated his dog-collar into his costume. He once went to Paris with the X-Men and started talking about the fact he was a priest while there (and, I think, did deliver last rites, but I’m not sure).

Then, suddenly, the X-Men have never heard of him being a priest?

Also, as has been mentioned, the reason for the ret-con is said straight up at the beginning of the issue – to feed Austen’s bigotry. “Religion kills more people than cancer.”
(For the record, after Linkara’s review of this issue, I looked up cause-of-death records, comparing anything that could be caused by religion to cancer; cancer was more than two-thirds of deaths, and things that could even remotely be attributable to religion, about 10%.)

@Charlie Ward
“I think the problem is that there’s this idea that when you’re religious that’s ALL you are. Just once, just ONCE, I’d like to see a writer allude to the fact that a character belongs to a specific religion, believes in it fully, and yet does NOT spend all day quoting scripture or telling his friends to pray for help whenever something bad happens.”
That’s just stereotyping. It happens to everybody.
People see something about a person (character) that’s different to themselves, and start assuming everything in their lives is based on that.
One of my favourite examples is in an episode of Friends, where one of Phoebe’s boyfriends, a fireman, breaks up with her because she lit candles in a park. “You had an open flame in a forested area?”

I’m not saying this to in any way defend it. It sucks.

But… Chuck, you were never an an X-men writer. There is some psychic residue of someone tampering with your mind.

I don’t mind the idea of Kurt being a priest or being very religious. I do think it was a bit ridiculous that he became a priest in only 6 months. It might have been better had CC revealed that during the 6month gap Kurt had begun studying to become a priest, and that was his long term goal.

But Austin’s retcon was just horrible, much like everything else he did during his time on Uncanny, pretty much from start to finish. Even the stuff he did with Juggernaut was pretty bad, it just looks better in retrospect because everything else around just sucked so much.

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