What started off as a review and introspective for Nightcrawler’s most controversial/hated story, somehow turned into several different discussions. A review. An introspective. Nightcrawler’s family dynamic (coming soon). A summary of Nightcrawler and why he’s such a great character (also coming soon). And this.
So as some of you may know, I recently got into Marvel comics. Specifically the X-Men comics. And like anything with an ensemble cast, favorites will be picked. For me, that’s Nightcrawler a.k.a. Kurt Wagner. He was the character I was drawn to and I remember thinking his X-Men Evolution version being an enjoyable character.
While I was looking into the character’s background and comic recommendations, I came across his father, Azazel. Now I already knew that Mystique was his mother, but the identity of his father never really occurred to me. I wasn’t the least bit curious and, nor is it something I really cared to explore… until I got into the comics.
Quick disclaimer: I know that Azazel doesn’t have the best reputation in the X-Men fandom, and I can respect that people dislike him. You may hear me reiterate that several times throughout this, so I don’t come across as attacking or disrespectful. I also know that not all long time X-Men fans hate the character. It would be reckless to do so, and I’m sure there are long term fans who may either like him to some degree or are indifferent. I’m not trying to generalize, so when I say long term fans, I’m typically referring to readers/fans that have been enjoying the franchise longer than I have and may have more cause/reason to dislike the character.
In this blog, I am merely making a case for Azazel’s character, from the perspective of someone who got into the X-Men comics later in life when compared to some. As well as someone who has a slightly different perspective on the character because I stepped in later and learned about the character prior to reading his debut and other appearances.
I’m going to start off with a little bit of context, since I feel that may be necessary to better understand where I am coming from. Firstly, when I started getting into Nightcrawler and his comics. I wouldn’t have gotten into X-Men or interested in Azazel without him. I will also go over how I was introduced to Azazel, and when I learned about the controversy because how I came across it may be a little bit different then others.
After that, I will start making a case for the character. I will briefly address what I like about Azazel. From there, I will hop into what I feel could make him a good character/concept. And I will conclude with what I feel should be changed or tweaked to make him a bit more likeable, or at the very least, less of an issue.
Because I was, and still kind of am, interested in Nightcrawler centered comics, I decided to look for recommended reads. As a new reader, finding a good place can be challenging. With reboots, relaunches, and crisis level restarts, it can be hard to figure out where to start. For general X-Men, I’ve start from the very beginning and will try titles like House of X, Dawn of X, Way of X, and X-Men Gold. For Nightcrawler, it’s a bit different. Whenever I get into a character, I’ll often want to read what is considered their best stories or what people would recommend.
I’ve done the same with Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood, Aresenal, Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Deathstroke and Ra’s al Ghul. All DC characters I still enjoy and could probably give someone some recommendations if asked. I also have my own set of recommendations for Jericho (Joey Wilson) and Talon (William Cobb). So the concept of recommended character reads is not new to me, just starting anew with Nightcrawler.
I remember coming across a few suggestions: The Giant Size X-Men (the very beginning), Excalibur, both the 2004 and 2014 Nightcrawler solo series, I want to say Wolverine #6 (the one with them at the bar, but more notably for having the published cover that notoriously escaped censors), his four issue mini solo, and I think Age of X-Men: Amazing Nightcrawler. Amazing X-Men (2013) and The Draco were also mentioned somewhere from what I remember.
Age of X-Men: Amazing Nightcrawler was my first Nightcrawler story since it was the one I got my hands on first. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. Just kind of in the middle for me. As I waited for a few other titles to come to my library, I did some digging into Nightcrawler’s character. That way I could better understand the character and get familiar with him.
And that’s what I did. While I knew I was going to be reading up on the character, I didn’t think it would hurt if I refreshed my memory by doing some internet browsing. Nightcrawler may have been an X-Men that stood out to me, but I wouldn’t say I knew a lot outside of a few basic facts. I knew what he looked like, that Mystique was his mom and Rogue his adopted sister, and powers (teleporting/BAMF-ing), but if you asked me a few months ago, who his best friend was, where he goes wen he BAMFs, how he became an X-Men, or the name of the child he and Scarlet Witch had in an alternate universe, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.
It was during this research period when I learned about Azazal. At the time, I don’t think I heard a lot about the controversy towards him at the time. The most I heard was that some people thought how his revival happened went against Nightcrawler’s religious background and maybe his good nature. I also hear a case for how his father nearly ruined the character.
And when I say I didn’t know about the controversy, I didn’t think that many people disliked him. I thought maybe it was a few people. Liking him or not it’s all a matter of opinion, but how much he seems to be disliked is another matter completely.
I continued to learn more about the character, his reception in the fandom and the critiques towards him. I began to realize how much Azazel was disliked. There are fans out there, which I’ve experienced through things like fanwork (mostly art) of the character and I remember coming across a text saying how the poster liked Mystique and Azazel and would have liked to see the. However, people may be more inclined not to like him.
I don’t want to say it’s strictly long time readers, but I’m sure a chunk of people who dislike him are. That could contribute as much as his terrible written debut, people who may not have been a fan of Chuck Austen in general, and/or people who knew about the original plan for Nightcrawler’s parents (Mystique and Destiny) and readers maybe not liking that they didn’t go with that.
Again, I am not trying to lump everyone who’s been a long time reader, aware of the Mystique-Destiny parentage plan, and people who hated The Draco into a negative box. I am merely considering possible reasons for people to not like the character.
I also don’t blame people for disliking him, and they have valid reason to hate him. Whether it be any of the previously mentioned issues, how Azazel being essentially a demon almost ruins Nightcrawler’s character, giving the mob that tried to kill him just cause, taking away from the Destiny and Mystique as Kurt’s parents plan, and/or feeling Azazel is just a poorly written and/or executed character. Those are all fair criticisms, and I won’t discredit them. I merely have a difference of opinion.
I decided to skim through the first few issues of Amazing X-Men (2013) before The Draco. I was kind of avoiding The Draco at first. Not because of Azazel, but because of the reputation it has as a terrible comic. Plus, I did not really feel inclined to hop into when picking out what titles to read after Age of X-Men: Amazing Nightcrawler. I wanted to read a . So I went with Amazing X-Men.
When reading through it, I found Azazel to be kind of an interesting character in it. He certainly brought in an interestring angle to Nightcrawler’s origin and it was certainly interesting to see how he impacted Nightcrawler’s revival. He also introduced the BAMFs, little imp-like creatures that follow their master in exchange for blood or something of similar value. Which I later found out were originated years before this and were creatures that Kitty Pryde made up for a story and existed in another universe.
I also found it pretty neat how Azazel is kind of a foil to Nigtcrawler in the sense that, despite their similarities in abilities and appearance (just dyed red and blue) and a love for pirates/swashbuckling, they are complete opposites morally and personally.
Because I read Amazing X-Men before The Draco, I think that’s part of what helped me like Azazel. I could still have hated him, sure, but I don’t. Azazel in Amazing X-Men is a lot better than the Azazel that was introduced in The Draco.
Another story I kind of looked into was X-Men First Class, the 2011 movie. It had certainty been a while since I’ve seen it, and I don’t recall if I watched it in it’s entirety (I just remember the scene where Charles ends up paralyzed). So learning that they used Azazel in it was kind of a revelation, and another not The Draco appearance for me to kind of latch onto.
I can’t say I’ve heard a lot about his reception in this film, so I’m not sure if this version is one people enjoyed more, still disliked, or felt neutral on. Or even forgettable since this was his only non comic appearance. What I have seen, however, is criticisms on how Azazel, an immortal mutant, was killed so easily off-screen (confirmed in Apocalypse), as well as people discuss how First Class, Apocalypse, and Dark Phoenix missed an opportunity to explore Mystique, Azazel, and Kurt’s family dynamic. X2 did the same with Kurt and Mystique.
I’ve also seen fanart that seems to prefer this look for Azazel. There are others, in fans own style or referencing some part of a version, but I feel like this is the version people may prefer. I’ve seen a sort of what if scenario where fans will use the prequel/alternate future versions of Mystique and Nightcrawler with First Class Azazel. Said what if seems to involve them being a family. While Mystique and Azazel are both villains, the fan-works I have seen seems to have them just being a family. A happyish looking family.
I will be revisiting First Class eventually for a full watch. Do I think I will like this version? Probably. Do I think it was a missed opportunity to not even allude to or discuss Kurt and his parents like what X2 with Mystique and Kurt did? I do.
Now that I have contextualized my introduction to the X-Men comics and how I came across Azazel, I’ll now briefly go over my thoughts on the character. Some reasons will get more in depth in a moment, but I’ll state them here. I’ll also go over what elements I dislike. No character is perfect, and even I can see flaws in a character I like.
Why do I Like Him?
As I jump into what could make Azazel a good character, I briefly want to go over why I like Azazel. As I mentioned previously, I read Amazing X-Men before The Draco. That was one part of why I like him. I’ve narrowed it down to three main reasons.
- Getting into the Comics Later: Because I got into the X-Men comics relatively late, I might not have had the same connection to some of the canon as others. Granted there canon is always subjected to change, barring a few exceptions (ex. the Wayne’s deaths), and I am not opposed to changes when necessary. Realistically, I’m certain that not all long term readers dislike him and not all newcomers will like him. However, I do believe that because I got into the X-Men comics later than the average comic fan, and researching the character before reading the comics, I would be easier for me to enjoy a character. Maybe not always, but it’s not improbable.
- I Don’t Think Azazel Being a “Demon” Entirely Ruins Nightcrawler: I’ll get into this more in a bit, but in my opinion, what people hate him for is something that can make him enjoyable. He just might need a few tweaks.
- Being Introduced to Azazel as a New Fan, and Not Reading The Draco First, Gave Me a Slightly Different Perspective: This is probably the biggest reason for me. Because I am just getting into the comics and I found out about Azazel from external sources before reading the comics, I’ve come to view Azazel as a character from a slightly different perspective. That’s not to say long time comic readers can’t see him differently outside of disliking him, I’m just saying that that’s why I do.
Do I Think Azazel as a Character has Flaws?
Indeed I do. He could have been planned out better. While I may not think the demonic mutant is bad, I do think it could have been done better. The Draco in general is a hot mess, but it didn’t do much of anything to make Azazel as compelling or threatening as he could be. His whole shtick in The Draco does feel questionable and the whole needing offspring to visit Earth is faulty at best. If he wanted to have as many kids as possible, that would be fine. Being able to sense them is to. But needed them to stay on Earth, when he could teleport to meet women and have kids makes no sense in hindsight.
I have a few reasons why I think Azazel is actually a good character in concept, even if he isn’t executed the best at times. One has to do with genetics, another with what he is and what it can actually add to Nightcrawler’s looks can be deceiving theme, and lastly, what Kurt and Azazel’s similarities could do for exploration as well as foiling Angel’s more angelic mutation.
Firstly, nothing is inherently wrong with Azazel having a more demonic appearance and have similar powers to Nightcrawler. It would give Kurt a biological reason to look the way that he does with the only thing he really gets from Mystique is his color, and even then, it’s fur as opposed to skin. It could also help explain why he only inherited being blue from Mystique and not her shapeshifting. Because of that, I feel like Kurt was going to need a parent who would give him his abilities and his physical appearance aside from color, and it just happened to come in the from of Azazel. Yes, technically speaking, Kurt’s powers could have spawned without having a mutant father with similar abilities.
However, every now and then you will get a mutant who comes from two mutant parents. Think Cable, who’s parents were Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor (the clone of Jean Grey). The point is, Nightcrawler getting one trait from Mystique and others from Azazel isn’t a bad thing. It makes sense that he would inherit traits for both. Because while it might not be necessary, it could prove realistic/worthwhile that Kurt inherited his mutant traits from both parents. Just like any child inherits traits from both parents in the real world.
Secondly, I would say that it adds an additional layer to what Kurt is meant to represent. Kurt will always be a symbol of not judging a book by its cover and how looks can be deceiving. I think he still gets that with Azazel as his father, just with a little more depth (or unnecessarily if one so choses).
Also, since Azazel is a demonic mutant, Kurt becomes a little more ironic. He already was, considering he merely looked demonic, but was a devout Catholic. With Azazel, and by extent the nature of being a Neyaphem mutant, it really reiterates it. Irony at times is hard to define or give examples of, and I feel like this exemplifies that perfectly.
In addition, I feel that since both of his parents are considered antagonists, it a) adds to how looks can be deceiving and b) how evil doesn’t always create evil. For the latter, think a quasi/pseudo opposite to the concept of evil breeding evil, where two antagonistic characters did not create an antagonistic child (ex. Cassandra Cain a.k.a. Batgirl/Orphan who is the daughter of Lady Shiva and David Cain). Alternatively, one could look at it as two negatives multiplying to create something positive, like math taught us, just with people instead of numbers.
In this case, Azazel would provide a literary expansion for Nightcrawler. While I can see how it could almost ruin the character to some, it can be looked at as adding depth to an already complex character. If someone were to look at it as a it being a case of irony or how it can connect to Nightcrawler being a character that rebels against what people think he is, one may find that Azazel helps drive that theme. Also, having Azazel be that character that hammers home the idea that he and Kurt are the same, it could create a conflict where Kurt shows that he is nothing like his father.
Side Note: I won’t discredit Mystique when it comes to parenting Kurt. Even before Azazel was brought into the picture, she was not winning parent of the year considering she literally tossed Kurt aside to escape. However, I wouldn’t say that’s a primary theme for Mystique. She is by no means a perfect or even good parent, having abandoned Kurt as a newborn. That said, I feel like she has, in a way, made up for it to a degree by raising Rogue. Plus she has been shown to love both Rogue and Kurt in her own way.
I just don’t think being a bad parent, or being similar to Kurt, is Mystique’s main theme. Rather, being an outcast and a sense of belonging seems to be. She feels like she has to hide who she really is or else she will find herself being a target for anti-mutant individuals. To the point, like she would say in the X-Men Animated Series, that she feels like an outcast to even her fellow mutants because of her abilities.
Lastly, Azazel’s genetics and abilities could be used to expand on, not only the character, but the dichotomy of good vs evil. Starting with character building, they could use his abilities to explore the powers that he and Nightcrawler share and possibly expand on the abilities of Neyaphems. Or maybe use it to show readers what Nightcrawler’s capably of with further training. Azazel could be used to expand on and see if Nightcrawler can or should learn the same abilities. For instance, if he could learn to shapeshift or if improving his teleporting is possible. Or if it’s morally okay for Kurt to learn how to minutely manipulate people’s minds.
As for the good vs evil theme, Azazel would embody what Nightcrawler could have been had things panned out differently. Azazel could symbolize that just because they are similar, they are not alike. Kurt isn’t an evil character, despite being born from it. While Azazel relishes a more antagonistic path.
And it could be used in a similar fashion to other heroic/villainous family dynamic. Be it like Luke and Vader, Raven and Trigon, or Magneto and Scarlett Witch/Quicksilver, Azazel could be used to explore familial good and evil.
All and all, there can be uses for Azazel in X-Men. Several of which could be used in conjunction with Kurt.
Just because I like the character, that doesn’t mean I think he’s a perfect character. Even I have a few tweaks that I think would make him better. Or at least it would make him less controversial.
Mainly, how they present the whole Neyaphem concept. On paper, I don’t think the initial concept of Neyaphems, is inherently a bad idea. It being a way to explore a demonic looking, or demonic in nature mutant subclass is an interesting idea. It also coincides well with (Warren Worthington III) Angel/Archangel’s angel mutation, which would earn the classification of Cheyarafim. With that in mind, it only feels natural that these would be opposing mutat subclasses. Neyaphems being the Yin to Cheyarafim’s Yang.
The problem comes in the form of how it’s executed. The reason readers seem to be up in arms about Azazel’s demonic thing, is because of how Chuck Austen presented it. Azazel was presented as a literal demon despite still being a mutant. How in his long life he went by the titles of Satan and Beelzebub. Basically, with how Austen executed Azazel, Nightcrawler becomes less of a demonic looking mutant and more of a literal one. That is a reasonable qualm, and its something that could have easily been altered. They could have easily gone with something similar to Trigon, who was a demonic based, but unlike other demons in DC, he’s technically more alien in nature.
I also feel like he shouldn’t have to rely on kids for him to come to Earth. If he wants kids, that’s fine as is being able to track them, but needing them to come to Earth is unnecessary and contradictory since he can teleport to Earth to have kids. A simple fix: Azazel wants kids to expanding the Neyaphem bloodline. It’s that simple.
And since he’s immortal, and can shapeshift, have him act as historical figures as opposed to his other aliases. That way, Azazel can have aliases without having to over involve the literal demonic cue that Austen tried to push. And it might also alleviate some of the critique towards the literal nature of the demon part of Kurt and hopefully remove some of, if not all of, the mob’s cause.
For an example of playing on the historical figures notion, look no further than Vandal Savage from DC. Since Vandal is an immortal, he not only used aliases of historical figures, but acted as them. With Cain, Genghis Khan, and Blackbeard being examples.
I think a good chunk of the disdain could have easily been avoided if somebody tweaked a few things conceptually. Azazel could be a character to be a foil to Nightcrawler. Being an example of what Nightcrawler could have been had he gone evil as well as a way to give Nightcrawler a reason or contemplation into whether he should improve his powers. And instead of trying to make Azazel a literal devil/demon, they could have done something similar to Trigon or Nightcrawler and have it be a case of Azazel looking demonic in nature, but not, and straying away from the literal/biblical emphasis on the demonic part. As well as having Azazel shift into historical figures to blend into the “normal” people, like Vandal Savage, since he is immortal and bound to raise a few eyebrows if he never changes his fake persona.
Azazel has the potential to be a great character with the right writing. He makes for a great foil for Nightcrawler, the Yang to Kurt’s Yin, and can be used as a means to expand on Kurt’s abilities. He could be a means to expand on the mutation that he and Kurt share and show the genetic side to mutants. He could also be a great villain for Nightcrawler with the occasional challenge to the X-Men as a whole.
That said, with a few tweaks and maybe a small retcon, I feel like Azazel could have a better chance. He can be demonic appearing mutant persona without overselling it to the point of it becoming literal, as well as tweak how to approach his immortality and aliases.
But now I turn it to you. The reader of this here introspective. What do you think? Are you a fan of Azazel or not? Do you think the character can be salvaged with a few tweaks? Or should he be thrown back into the fire from where he came? Do you think he could have been a good character had he not been introduced by Chuck Austen? How would you change the character if you were given the chance?