Ever heard of something called “The Draco”?
No, not the blonde guy from Harry Potter. The “Draco” I’m talking about is an Uncanny X-Men arc where Chuck Austen retconned Nightcrawler’s origin story to involve a father from an ancient race of demon-looking mutants long exiled to a hell dimension by a bunch of quasi-angelic counterparts.1
The Draco is one of the worst arcs of Austen’s already fairly shaky 2 run; and generally considered to be one of the worst X-Men stories ever. It’s the continuity equivalent of awkward makeouts at your company Christmas party: everyone does their best to politely pretend that it never happened, and if anyone brings it up, everyone familiar with the story gets acutely embarrassed by proxy.
I am telling you about The Draco not because it has any relevance whatsoever to X-Men: Evolution–it doesn’t–but so that you will understand where the bar sits when I tell you that “Shadowed Past” is my least favorite take on Nightcrawler’s origin story.
We open with Stately Xavier Manor. A single light burns in a second-story window, where a pajama-clad Rogue is on the phone, thanking an unidentified friend for lending her a book.
“I thought it was great!” she tells the person on the other end of the line. “Especially at the end, when he turned into a werewolf and nobody knew it!” Rogue and I remember Moby Dick very differently.
Kitty and Rogue both head to bed. Kitty sleeps with a tiny stuffed dragon, which is a fairly adorable nod to the comics, even if it’s the wrong color. Also, they have an impractically large guitar in their room, which has no bearing on this or any other episode but bugs me anyway.
Outside, a full moon looms. Inside, Rogue tosses and turns through what may be the most on-genre Gothic horror dream ever: a dilapidated castle looms forbiddingly over a snowy forest, green lightning crackling from a tower window as wolves snarl and prowl between the dead trees.
Between the book, the full moon, and the actual wolves, you would not be blamed for deducing at this point that “Shadowed Past” is going to be a werewolf episode–or perhaps a werewolf-metaphor episode. That is also what I deduced, the first time I watched it, and I got super excited, because there is no way that a werewolf episode of X-Men: Evolution would not be hilarious.
And that, dear reader, is how I learned that “Shadowed Past” is a vile homunculus formed from lies, false promises, and wasted potential.
A close-up of the castle laboratory confirms that it is in fact a bastion of Gothic mad science: we’ve got bubbling solutions, random monitors, and even an entirely gratuitous Jacob’s Ladder!
It’s also got a silhouetted Mystique, who yells, “What have you done to him?!” at a silhouetted someone else, before fleeing the castle in a long robe and a hooded cloak, clutching a baby.
Hovering behind and yelling for her to come back, cloak billowing in the Whaterverthefucksylvania night, is–Magneto?
This makes no goddamn sense. Is Magneto Nightcrawler’s father in this version? WHO KNOWS? NOT YOU, BECAUSE THAT QUESTION IS NEVER ADDRESSED IN THIS EPISODE OR ANY OTHER. (Remember what I said about false promises and wasted potential? Yeah.)
Mystique and baby probably-Kurt flee into the snowy woods, pursued by Magneto–who not only appears to have gone Full Dracula, but seems to have acquired a pack of wolves.
This raises a whole slew of other questions. Are they magnetic wolves? Magnets of the Night, perhaps? Or does Magneto just have wolf friends?
It’s irrelevant, because Mystique manages to evade the wolves until she reaches the genre-requisite flimsy rope bridge. There–as Magneto and his wolf pals watch–she loses her grip on the baby, which goes plummeting into the icy waters below.
Back in her room, Rogue wakes up screaming. Cue credits!
Rogue’s screams not only wake Kitty, but also bring Scott and Jean running; and I would like to take this opportunity to note that Scott tucks in his pajama shirt. Never change, kid.
Kitty and Rogue have a Dracula: The Rock Opera Musical Oratorio Whatever poster on the back of their door! Continuity!
Evan and Kurt show up shortly thereafter, whereupon we learn that both of them also tuck in their pajama tops. I had assumed it was just a “Scott is ridiculous” thing; but, no, apparently it’s just a thing people do on Earth-11052.
Tangentially, I feel so terrible for Rogue in this scene. Can you imagine having a nightmare and having ALL OF YOUR CLASSMATES show up to demand to know what’s going on? That’s the kind of thing I have nightmares about.
Also, Rogue appears to sleep in full makeup. How does her pillow not look like a Rorschach test?
BIG TWIST: Rogue somehow recognizes that Kurt was the baby from her dream!
Jean, as the only sensible person in the entire house, thinks that this can probably wait for morning, given that they’ve got finals tomorrow. Professor Xavier disagrees, because he is a terrible guardian, and calls Rogue, Kurt and Jean to the library.
Why Jean? Who knows. She doesn’t actually do anything in this scene. Maybe it’s a punishment for having common sense.
Downstairs, Xavier reads Rogue’s mind, by which I mean that we get a flashback to the dream we literally just saw Rogue have, but now with Xavier and Rogue’s ghostly faces superimposed.
This time, though, we get visual confirmation that the lady on the bridge was indeed Mystique. We also get to see what happens to the baby, who not only manages to survive the 100-foot fall, but also proves buoyant enough to float his way downstream to a scene of rustic bliss, where a generic peasant man3 fishes him out of the water.
This dude is so happy to have found a river baby, too. He immediately calls his wife, who is equally elated about their catch. They are also both entirely unfazed by the fact that the baby is blue and furry. Does Whateverthefucksylvania have a large Muppet population or something? I’m gonna go ahead and say yes.
Professor X claims that this is not actually a dream, but a repressed memory. Kurt, meanwhile, is annoyed that someone else is having dreams that he is pretty sure should be his. Kurt, you were a baby. Your memory of this incident is probably just a bunch of blurry colors and maybe, like, peeing on someone.
Kurt, however, is convinced that he holds the key to unlock this not-actually-a-mystery. “Read my mind! Read my mind!” he urges the professor. Nobody wants to read your mind, Kurt.
The next day, Professor Xavier heads to Bayville High to confront Principal Powerbutch Sigourney Weaver Mystique.
“What were you two up to in that dreary castle?” Xavier asks. Well, Chuck, given that a baby was apparently the result, I bet you can work that one out for yourself.
AHAHA NO JUST KIDDING. instead we get another dream flashback. That’s the third in roughly seven minutes, for those of you keeping count.
Mystique, who has no patience for recycled footage, kicks Xavier out of her office. He leaves, but only after a backhanded comment about how Kurt turned out okay. Also, it turns out that he was only there in the first place to pick the castle coordinates out of her head. Charles Xavier is the goddamn worst, y’all.
Thus enlightened, X sends Logan off to check out Castle Magnet Lab, because if you’re going to have someone investigate a location with ties to Magneto, why wouldn’t you send the one dude with a metal skeleton?
Back at Bayville High, Rogue catches up with Kurt, who’s in a hurry to get home in hopes that maybe the professor will finally want to read his mind. Spoiler: No.
If I weren’t already annoyed enough at this episode, we then get a scene in which two adopted kids repeatedly use the phrase “real parents” to mean “birth parents.” I bet Evolution got a lot of angry letters about that, as well they should have.
“My adoptive parents were great, too,” Kurt qualifies, “but I always felt they were keeping something from me. Whenever the subject of where I came from came up, they were always vague.”
Kurt, the grand sum total of what your parents know about where you came from is “upstream.” Also, your origin story sucks.
But Kurt is not satisfied. No, he must know the truth at all costs; to which end he TURNS OFF HIS FUCKING IMAGE INDUCER IN THE SCHOOL HALLWAY AND TELEPORTS OUT.
Somehow, no one notices except a random kid who turns out to be Mystique anyway.4
Moved by Kurt’s determination to find out where he comes from and her own nebulous guilt, Mystique gives Pietro a manila envelope to sneak to Kurt in the Xavier mansion. Inside is a letter, which reads, “If you want to know the turth, came to the new mall canstruction site at sundown. Came alone!”5
“Why not?” asks Kurt, who has the common sense and survival skills of a sack of peat moss.
Apparently that trait runs in the family, given that Mystique thought it would be a good idea to trust Pietro with confidential communication. Pietro, like the sneaky fucker he is, not only reads the letter, but stops on the way home to call Magneto and tattle.
Magneto, who believes that familial relationships should be built solely on a foundation of lies and manipulation,6 is horrified. He orders Pietro to gather the Brotherhood and intercept Kurt before Mystique can tell him a secret he already basically knows.
Seriously, I really don’t get Magneto’s motivation, here; or what outcome he’s trying to avoid. The revelation that Mystique is Kurt’s mom seems like an ideal opportunity to soften Kurt toward the Brotherhood, and maybe destabilize the X-Men by planting some seeds of suspicion about his loyalties.
There’s the possibility that what Magneto is actually concerned about is Kurt discovering Magneto‘s role in the whole mess; except that the subject of what Magneto actually did and why he’s so gung-ho to keep it secret will be dropped unceremoniously after this episode, never to come up again.
Which, in turn, leaves two remaining options: Either a) the Brotherhood is hell-bent on sabotaging its own recruitment efforts, which would also go a way toward explaining the shit they pulled with Rogue; or b) this episode is nonsense.7
Speaking of nonsense, meanwhile in Whateverthefucksylvania, Wolverine is busy scaling a sheer cliff to get to a castle that not only has a perfectly reasonable road access, but whose front door has been left wide open.
Also, it’s full of lasers and electric traps. Of course it is. I take some slim solace in the fact that Wolverine seems about as done with this bullshit as I am.
Wolverine manages to evade the overzealous security system by flipping around like a lemur, and eventually makes his way to the remains of what’s supposed to be a trashed laboratory, but actually looks more like a high-school A/V storage room. He sniffs the air and declares it to have been some sort of “DNA lab,” and even ridiculous terminology aside, I am 100% calling bullshit on his ability to tell that by smell.8
We only get a moment to imagine the subtle and rich aroma of DNA, because there’s detonator on the wall, its clock almost at the end of a countdown! OH, NO! There’s no time to spare, except for the moment Wolverine spends politely informing Charles that he needs to sign off, which takes up roughly a third of the nine remaining seconds on the countdown.
I guess you can afford to be polite in the face of disaster when you have a healing factor.
While Wolverine is presumably digging his way out of the rubble, Professor Xavier sends Scott and Jean to search Kurt’s room, even though we know that the prof knows full well that Pietro was there that afternoon and hasn’t bothered telling anyone. I guess he just couldn’t be arsed to read Pietro’s mind and see what he was up to?9
Anyway, Scott and Jean find Mystique’s note, gather the rest of the team, and head for the construction site for a touching family reunion and/or superhero fight; which, to be fair, is basically how 90% of family reunions in the Marvel Universe end up going anyway.
Mystique meets Kurt at the construction site, inexplicably dressed in the same cloak and robe from the dream. Has she been saving them all this time? Or did she have to go out and get replicas? DISCUSS.
Kurt, for his part, totally fails to recognize the cloaked woman is Mystique, despite the fact that her very blue chin is visible even under the hood.10
“You already know me… son,” Mystique tells him.
“No! No! It’s impossible!” Kurt cries, despite the fact that he has already had this spelled out for him repeatedly, with visual aids.
Unfortunately for Kurt, before he can get any answers, the Brotherhood attacks. Mystique orders them off, but they tell her that they’re acting on “higher orders” from Magneto or I guess maybe God.
The Brotherhood efficiently knocks Kurt out, then stands back to admire their handiwork. “That was easy,” Pietro says.
“Wrong,” yells Scott, who has inherited the porn-dialogue torch. “It just got hard.”
Then they all fight and it’s boring and pointless and I don’t care, although there’s a pretty entertaining moment involving Blob, a cement mixer, and a rare moment of Cyclops sass.
“I’m afraid it’s too late for answers,” Mystique says, despite the fact that there are like three and a half minutes left in this interminable episode. Then Rogue tries to drop a wrecking ball on her, and Mystique turns into a bird and flies away, which has apparently become her go-to “fuck you” move.
Later, Logan, Scott, Jean, and the professor sit down for some denouement, in which they conclude absolutely nothing interesting or useful.
“So, when are you going to tell Kurt about all this?” Scott asks.
Logan and Xavier decide that Kurt doesn’t need to know, demonstrating once again that they learned absolutely nothing from “Turn of the Rogue.”
Outside, Rogue and Kurt sit on a balcony and bond over the fact that they’re both pretty sure the professor is lying to them about something, and also that water is wet.
We cut from Kurt brooding on the balcony to Mystique brooding in her office as she watches mothers drop their not-blue kids off at school.10
No one is happy, including me.
1. Nightcrawler also turned out to have a bunch of half brothers, none of whom have been mentioned since. One of them was from New Zealand and named Kiwi Black. I swear to god that I am not making this up.
2. Remember that time Angel and Husk hooked up and also Angel’s blood could cure cancer and also this sexy nurse had a psychic affair with a comatose Havok that kind of took place in the mind of her six-year-old kid? Good times.
3. In the comics, the part of the rustic peasant dude is played by Margali Szardos. Other comics-Kurt background notably absent from Evolution Kurt’s backstory includes a circus, a shitton of murder, some body-swapping, and a whole lot of quasi-incest.
4. Literally every incidental character in this show is Mystique. All of them. The population of Bayville is roughly 99.7% Raven Darkholme.
5. Sincarly, Your Prnicipal
6. Also maybe some light coercion and the occasional Hanukkah.
7. Alternate theory: the whole castle scenario was an elaborate Dracula role-play that went way, way too far, and Magneto’s just really embarrassed.
8. I double-checked this with my friend Shannon, who works in a genetics lab, and she confirmed that it is in fact bogus as hell. SCIENCE, MOTHERFUCKERS!
9. Ha, no, just kidding. Why would Xavier use a common-sense solution when he can instead make teenagers invade each other’s privacy?
10. Please take a moment at this point to imagine Mystique as the world’s angriest soccer mom. I know, right?