Kurt Wagner: Irony at its Finest

Nightcrawler. Kurt Wagner. Demon. Elf. Several ways to name this member of the second class of X-Men. Though not as popular as his teammates, Wolverine and Storm, Nightcrawler is a character that is typically appreciated and enjoyed by just about anyone.

If there’s one thing I like about Kurt, it’s that he shows how he opposes every assumption and expectation that’s given to him in order to be heroic and kind hearted. I also enjoy how he seems to be a walking irony. Irony is a term that generally has a difficult time explaining itself, which can sometimes result in misusing it in daily situations.

Irony: When someone says or does something that is the opposite of what is norm. A literary device where contradictory statements or situations coincide when it normally wouldn’t. A humorous tool depending on the situation/statement.

Defining irony is hard. As is having a proper example. I had to look at several explanations so I could properly define it as simply as possible. The problem with defining irony and expressing it is that people may use irony incorrectly in place of coincidence (two coworkers wearing the same shirt on the same day, running into someone several times at the supermarket, etc.). Not intentionally I would presume, but it happens. Both have very similar executions, but coincidences are merely unexpected turn of events, where as irony is usually a literary technic or situation where the exact opposite of an expectation happens in a singular instance.

Some easy examples include, a. A fire station burning down, b. telling a quiet group to not speak all at one, and c. delivering bad news with “good news…”

With the definition of irony now kind of set, you might be wondering…

What Does X-Men’s Nightcrawler have to do with Irony?

It has to do with the character himself. Anyone who is familiar with Nightcrawler will know that he typically exhibits the following traits:

  • His appearance: blue fur (as opposed to Mystique, who’s blue hue is her natural skin tone), three fingers and two toes, fangs, yellow irisless eyes, and a prehensile tail.
  • He grew up in the circus
  • He was born and raised in Bavaria, Germany
  • He’s had multiple romances, including Ororo Munroe (Storm) and Wanda Maximoff (Scarlett Witch)
  • His mother is Mystique, the iconic shapeshifter and known adversary to the X-Men
  • His father is Azazel, a demonic mutant
  • Rogue is his adopted sister
  • He is often referred to as a demon among non-mutants, but to people who know him, as saintly and kind hearted as they come
  • He’s Catholic

There are two ways that this fuzzy blue elf fits into an ironic architype. That being his demonic appearance vs his Catholic roots and the fact that he comes from two morally questionable parents, yet is seen as one of the purest characters.

The Irony of Being a “Demonic” Catholic

“What does it look like?” -Kurt “Incongruitous. I guess I never figured you for the religious type.” -Logan

Uncanny X-Men #164 Binary Star (December 1982)

While Kurt would be categorized as a mutant (though how they define Azazel’s whole biblical demon shtick can get a little murky at times), there has been multiple instances where people would call him a demon. For instance, when he first met Charles Xavier, he was being chased by a mob who thought he was a demon.

As the series would go on, readers would find out that Kurt Wagner is a devout Catholic, who took the last name of a priest who protected him when he escaped the circus. This would become one of his defining traits and he never uses it as a way to make himself feel like he’s better than anyone else. In fact, it’s one of several differences that he has with Logan, his best friend, and they have a mutual understanding and respect for why the other believe what they believe.

His religious beliefs, coupled with his appearance would be a perceived irony as well as a literal irony to some degree. Because he looks demonic, people might not expect that he is particularly religious, least of all a Catholic (or similar). A general observation/assumption would be that demons wouldn’t be known for practicing any form of faith, yet, Kurt shows that such perceptions can be false.

This is something Logan kind of notes when he finds Kurt praying. He didn’t really care, but he notes that he didn’t see Kurt being particularly religious, and seeing him pray felt out of place . Kurt, wondering if it had to do with how he looks goes on to mention how he doesn’t get to church often, more than likely because of how he appears, but finds comfort in pray and his beliefs.

“Why, don’t I look the part? I’ll admit I’m rarely seen at a church — but I draw comfort from my beliefs and from prayer. Such comfort is dearly needed — by us all…” -Kurt

Uncanny X-Men #164 Jan. 1983

Logan doesn’t question it, but does tell Kurt why he isn’t particularly religious when Kurt suggests he tries praying. Like his friend, Kurt accepts Logan’s position, but notes how it must be lonely. Logan says he isn’t lonely, he has Kurt.

This scene shows how ironic/odd Kurt appears as someone who looks like he does while being Catholic as well as giving a respectful approach to their differing religious beliefs.

The Situational and Genetic Irony of Kurt’s Morality

If there is one aspect in Nightcrawler’s character that I would like to delve into has to do with his spirit and never falling to his past trauma. He is a character who, despite being given the worst deck in X-Men, manages to stay strong and not fall into darkness. If there is one thing that people seem to enjoy about Marvel and its characters, it’s the relatability and complexity characters have. While the same can be said for DC characters, it may be easier to enjoy or relate to a character. X-Men is a series that plays on that a lot, because the concept of unity and acceptance is something that people can relate to and each character has their own individual struggles alongside that. Even characters like Magneto may be considered antagonistic, can be easy to understand.

With that in mind, Kurt’s parents acts as both a struggle and an irony. Because both of his parents are more antagonistic, that would create some tension. And the face he wasn’t raised by either, shows how he may have had a better chance at making his own choices.

Mystique abandoned him as a newborn, throwing him over a cliff in some cases. She would later adopt Rogue. And despite coming around to him to some degree, she isn’t exactly winning any awards for being the best mother, even if her reason to abandon him had some validity to them. For her and Kurt, there isn’t much of a familial bond.

Azazel, on the other hand, only really wanted children to expand his legacy and return to Earth from the Brimstone Dimension (that little pocket dimension Kurt goes to when bamf-ing). For Azazel, Kurt’s existence was to justify his need. And while some sources say that Mystique was the only woman Azazel loved, where Kurt fits is anyone’s guess.

Of course, this is about irony and not Nightcrawler’s family quarrels. However a little context never hurt.

What makes Kurt and his family dynamic ironic is when you consider both parents would be considered morally suspect and Kurt being the exact opposite. One might think the old saying “evil breeds evil” would apply to this situation, or at the very least, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mystique and Azazel’s child was corrupt.

So when their child ends up being one of the least corrupt characters in the franchise, it says a lot. While readers could look at this as two negatives creating a positive, which I could see as well, I think irony suits their morality dynamic very well. And while his upbringing with a mother who wasn’t Mystique, this kind of genetic/situational irony could work in an instance where he was raised by Mystique.

One example that came to mind was Kovu from the second Lion King movie. He was raised by Zira to follow in Scar’s footsteps. She spent years raising him to hate Simba and to take him down. Becoming like Scar and taking over Pride Rock was a big driving force for his character. Yet, as he infiltrated Simba’s pride and connected with Kiara and Simba, Kovu ends up not becoming like his adopted father and instead becoming his own lion and a better character.

Kurt becoming the opposite of what his parents were, much like Kovu, is a notable example of irony in a situation/genetic irony setting.

In Conclusion

Irony is a hard thing to define or give example of. It’s tricky and confusing, but with enough practice, something that can be made easier. Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, is a perfect example of irony. His evil appearance matched with his Catholic upbringing and kind hearted nature coupled with him becoming the opposite of what his parents are on the morality scale are great examples of it.

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