In Which I Psychoanalyze Nightcrawler (‘cos that’s just what I do)
Let me start this off like a third grader: Nightcrawler is my favorite character, ever. He is was blue. He was awesome. He was a mutant in the Marvel comic book universe, a member of the X-Men, and part of the Holy Blue Trinity that consists of him, the Blue Beetle (II & III) of DC Comics, and Abe Sapien of Dark Horse’s Hellboy.
He also should have been fairly psychotic, if you look at him from a psychological standpoint.
Before you rush down to the comment box and furiously type up some raging remark about how I’m defiling our loveable Elf’s memory, hear me out!
Let’s forget everything we know about Kurt Wagner and start from scratch. We have a blue, very literally blue, mutant boy with pointed ears, a spaded tail, and glowing yellow eyes. He was born into a world that, for the most part, considered him an abomination. His biological mother, a super-villain, abandoned him. His biological father wasn’t even present for most of his life, except in some stories where he was – oh, let’s see – Satan. That alone does not do well for a child’s self esteem. If we go by developmental psychology’s model of infant attachment, foster parents’ nurturing matters more than genetics. Kurt had a good, caring foster mother. Still, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, a person is going to be just a little upset if he finds out his parents are evil people, and he may well feel he has a right to follow the same path. Kurt’s mother, though caring, also raised him in the unstable environment of a circus. A circus seems like the ideal place for a mutant that can’t hide his appearance, right? Unfortunately, becoming a performer that lived through a farce could only damage Kurt’s self-esteem. He could have come to feel that he needed to pretend to be someone else in order to be worth anything at all, because his real, blue self could never be tolerated outside the world of make-believe.
Kurt’s life was then plagued with further drama. His foster brother became incredibly violent, and Kurt accidentally killed him in trying to stop him. The guilt and anxiety this act produced haunted him until his death. Coupled with the various forms of public hatred he received because of his appearance (including the wrath of an entire town and an attempted burning in the 90’s cartoon), we have the makings of what should have been a traumatized man with a justifiable dislike for non-mutants. In psychology, he would have been a prime candidate for the diagnosis of a personality disorder, which is defined as being “traceable to adolescence or childhood; bearing an enduring pattern that did not show up ‘overnight’” (sourced from my very own college lecture notes).
Yet, Nightcrawler was one of the pacifist voices of reason on his team. During the recent Second Coming comic arc, he adamantly opposed the killing of enemies and any extreme forms of violence. He took the traumas he experienced and turned them completely around – he didn’t want any of it to happen again, to him or anyone else, and he didn’t want to become anything like his genetics said he should have been. That decision and resolve took an incredible amount of mental strength. His battle with the anxiety alone, which Kurt likely did do with his own brand of humor, was a feat.
Kurt, the most demonic in appearance of the X-Men, was possibly the most human at heart. During his last moments in Second Coming, he did the most human thing of all: he sacrificed himself for another. He recognized his own self-worth and measured it against the value of another person. He decided the other’s potential was greater, and died to let her live. That, my friends, is as human and noble as it gets.
Now you can understand why, when I said Nightcrawler was “awesome,” I meant it. He had all the reason in the world to side with Magneto and turn his back on the humanity that betrayed him. Instead, he embraced every shred of his own humanity and spent most of his life trying to protect the very people that shunned him. In psychology, he is an anomaly. In comics, he is a hero. For me, he will always be “my favorite character, ever.”