The Ultimate Marvel universe drastically changed the X-Men’s Nightcrawler, turning the lovable swashbuckler into a Weapon X assassin.
The world of Ultimate Marvel offered a chance to reinvent many favored Marvel characters, and that often meant darker origins for even the most fun-loving heroes. Nightcrawler may be the happy-go-lucky swashbuckling mutant of the X-Men in the 616 universe, but in the 1610 universe of Ultimate Marvel his origin was connected to the brutal Weapon X program.
While it may have been a stark departure from his mainstream counterpart, the reinvention is not totally alone in its depiction of the character. In fact, it may have contributed to the character’s big screen debut.
Nightcrawler has a reputation in the mainstream universe as a lovable blue mutant whose demonic appearance contrasts with his light demeanor. With his origin as a circus acrobat saved by Professor Xavier after a backwater village formed a mob to attack him, the classic origin for the German mutant known as Kurt Wagner could come off a lot goofier in 2001 than it did in its debut in 1975. In 2001, Mark Millar and Adam Kubert’s Ultimate X-Men #4 took a top-to-bottom approach in redesigning the character’s origins, and the result proved a lot more streamlined.
More than anything Ultimate Marvel changed Kurt’s characterization, stripping away the Errol Flynn inspiration and giving him a much darker edge. Although his circus background was maintained, this version of his origin involved him being abducted at an early age by the black ops program Weapon X, an organization most famous for their involvement in the creation of Wolverine. In the Ultimate Marvel universe, the nefarious agency ties into the origin of several other X-Men characters such as Rogue and Juggernaut, with the government agency dedicated to their mission of brainwashing and training young assassins.
Weapon X was exceedingly cruel to their recruits, imprisoning them between missions and breaking their bones as a form of punishment. But their means were still effective, and the result was a Nightcrawler much more serious – and deadly – than his 616 counterpart. He wielded assault weapons, proved skilled enough to knock out the X-Men’s leader Cyclops, and repressed severe psychic trauma that would later manifest in a nervous breakdown when he came to serve on the mutant super team.
Perhaps most noteworthy about Ultimate Nightcrawler is how he contributed to the character’s first depiction on the big screen. Played by Alan Cumming in 2003’s X2: X-Men United, the blue mutant opened the movie with a dazzling action sequence infiltrating the White House on a mission to assassinate the President. Revealed later to be brainwashed into his mission by the same shadowy government forces responsible for Wolverine’s creation in Weapon X, it’s hard to miss the similarities to the Ultimate iteration of the character.
The character’s film counterpart maintained his classic Catholic background in addition to his gentle demeanor, neither of which the 1610 version ever really had. This effectively meant that the movie fused the two major versions of the character into one, taking some of the best aspects of both and amalgamating them into a memorable and meaningful depiction.
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