In a Nutshell
The truth about the relationship between Mystique & Nightcrawler is revealed.
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Richard Bennet
Inker: Steve Moncuse
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
In Washington, Mystique kills a general allied with Graydon Creed, hoping to send Creed a message. In France, Creed receives some information about his heritage that so enrages him, he kills the man who delivered the information. Later, Nightcrawler arrives in America at Forge's request, and with Rogue, attends the general's funeral. There, Mystique sets off a bomb and, teasing Nightcrawler, tells him that if he wants answers about his own heritage, he'll need to go to Mystique's home. Creed proceeds to visit Forge in DC, threatening him, after which Rogue & Nightcrawler meet with Forge and are tasked with apprehending Mystique. Rogue takes Nightcrawler to the house in Mississippi where she lived with Mystique. Nightcrawler finds Creed inside, and he reveals the new information he recently acquired: that, like Creed, Nightcrawler is the son of Mystique. Just then, Mystique arrives, and Nightcrawler uses his image inducer to trick Mystique into confirming Creed's information. Just then, an attack helicopter arrives, called by Creed. In the ensuing fight, Mystique & Nightcrawler are thrown off a cliff, and Rogue is forced to let Creed go in order to rescue them. But Mystique lets herself fall to ensure Rogue saves Nightcrawler, for reasons known only to her. Rogue & Nightcrawler fly off, with Nightcrawler unsettled by everything he has learned about his family.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue confirms that Nightcrawler is the son of Mystique, and reveals that information to Nightcrawler as well, uncovered by Graydon Creed as he investigated his family tree. Here, it is said that Nightcrawler's father is an unnamed German baron, and that when Mystique gave birth to a demonic-looking child (and revealed her true form briefly as a result of the strain of childbirth), she was cast out and pursued by an angry mob. In order to protect herself, she morphed into one of the mob and threw the infant over a waterfall. Aside from continuing to depict Nightcrawler as coming from a 19th century Europe (with landed nobles living in castles and angry pitchfork-wielding mobs) rather than a modern one (which was true even in his first appearance), Mystique's casual disregard of her infant son to save her own skin isn't quite consistent with some of the earlier hints at the relationship betwen Nightcrawler & Mystique (specifcally that in Arcade's simulation in issue #177, she had an easier time killing Rogue than Nightcrawler).
And, of course, later stories will reveal that Nightcrawler's father is the demonic Azazel, who had an affair with her while she was married to the baron for Chuck Austen-y reasons.
Forge announces that the whole "Mystique is going crazy plot", which led, in part, to his leaving the X-Men in Uncanny #289-290, was such a ploy on Mystique's part to get access to his government files.
The climax of this issue is notoriously laughable; Lobdell attempts to create a parallel situation to when Mystique sacrificed the infant Nightcrawler, but in order to do so, he has to basically ignore how the characters' powers work, as well as geography. The idea is that Nightcrawler and Mystique are hanging over one of the numerous waterfalls that line the Mississippi River as it runs through Mississippi state, with Nightcrawler somehow conscious enough to hang onto a branch but not conscious enough to teleport. Nearby, Rogue is attacking Creed, who tells her she'll have to let him go in order to save both Nightcrawler & Mystique, despite the fact that Rogue is superstrong and can fly fairly fast. So even ignoring the waterfall, and Nightcrawler not teleporting, we still have Rogue not just bringing Creed with her, grabbing Mystique in her other hand, then having Mystique grab Nightcrawler. Or flying fast enough to drop Creed on shore then save the others, or...
Then, when Rogue stupidly does let Creed go in order to save Mystique and the not-teleporting Nightcrawler, he just orders his massive attack helicopter to fly away (instead of, you know, shooting the mutants), basically because he's caused them all emotional pain by revealing all this information, and for this demagogue who hopes to eradicate mutantkind off the face of the planet, that's apparently good enough for now.
The issue ends with a Nightcrawler/Mystique gallery, featuring pinups from Matthew Ryan, Tom Raney, and Richard Bennet.
Richard Bennet, continuing his seemingly-random tour of the X-books, pencils this issue.
The Chronology Corner
Nightcrawler appears here between issues #75 and #76 of Excalibur (and references in-story the events of issue #75). Rogue appears here between issues #30 and #31 of X-Men, and Forge between X-Factor Annual #9 and his appearance in X-Force #35.
A Work in Progress
This issue acknowledges that Mystique's identity as Raven Darkholme, DARPA employee, has long since been blown (it's been a while since we've seen her use that identity, though the name has, and will continue, to stick around).
A footnote points to the events of X-Force #77, and I'm not even sure what it's trying to reference (since there's obviously no issue #77 of X-Force at this point). Maybe X-Force #24 (when the Friends of Humanity kidnapped Rusty & Skids)?
Most of Mystique's actions in this issue stem from the fact that she's pissed about Graydon Creed sending Sabretooth to kill her in the Sabretooth limited series.
Mystique says that she has no interest protecting mutants, which isn't quite consistent with her past actions (her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants/Freedom Force, while never entirely good nor selfless, seemed an attempt, however extreme, to stick up for mutants).
Mystique references the time she told Nightcrawler to ask his foster mother about her (in X-Men #142), noting that apparently, he never did.
Forge considers that he may be sending Rogue after Mystique in an attempt to appease his guilt over the role he played in Destiny's death (why he doesn't just tell Nightcrawler about his relationship to Mystique, which Forge clearly knows in this issue, is unclear).
A flashback depicts Rogue's first encounter with Mystique, though its not consistent with previous mentions of their past together (for one thing, Rogue ran away from home when she put her boyfriend Cody in a coma, something that happened to her as a teenager, yet here, she is depicted as much younger than that upon meeting Mystique).
Also, it seems like Mystique might have an easier time getting Rogue to trust her if she hadn't included the little skull on her forehead when she showed Rogue her true form (then again, Rogue went home with her, so what do I know?).
Mystique says that she genuinely cares for Rogue, because where Rogue can't be touched physically, Mystique struggles to be touched emotionally. Which seems like a stretch, but Lobdell gets points for trying.
Upon learning the truth about his parentage, Nightcrawler refers to Graydon Creed as his step-brother, when they are in fact half-brothers (same mother, different fathers).
At the end of the issue, Nightcrawler uses his image inducer to appear as Creed, in order to trick Mystique. For some reason, after this, Creed is occasionally depicted as wearing Nightcrawler's costume, as though Richard Bennet got confused about how image inducers work or something.
The Reference Section
Nightcrawler exclaims "Stanley Lieber", the given name of one Stan Lee, in what I think it supposed to be a kind of "hubba hubba" moment when he first encounters Rogue in this issue, which like most of it, doesn't really work/make sense.
In a flashback to Nightcrawler's time in the circus with Amanda Sefton, the seeds of their (still a little creepy) future relationship are depicted as she says that sometimes she wishes he wasn't her foster brother.
It's in the Mail
The letters page teases a Longshot appearance in an upcoming issue, but that never comes to pass.
It's hard for any issue to live up (down?) to the reputation this one has, and reading it again (for probably only the second or third time since it first came out), I'm comfortable saying it's not as bad as that reputation would suggest. Which isn't to say it's good, because it's not. It's pretty terrible. It's just not historically terrible. It's readable, it's just not an enjoyable read, featuring loud, 90s art and loud dialogue, a paper-thin plot, and characters that just barely resemble themselves.
Ultimately, the best thing this story has going for it is that it ties off a plot thread that's been dangling since 1980, confirming once and for all that, as Claremont intended and had hinted at (both in-universe and in interviews), Nightcrawler is the child of Mystique. Of course, in doing so, it honors the spirit of Claremont's intentions but not really the letter of them. Aside from ditching entirely the idea that Mystique is Nightcrawler's father (and Destiny his mother), in its depiction of Mystique's reaction to Nightcrawler's birth (tossing him off a waterfall), it contradicts what was implied in Claremont's teases (the idea that Mystique has some affection for Nightcrawler). But still, this issue puts this particular dangler to bed, and for the most part, it does so in a way that tracks with what's come before.
Beyond that, there's little to recommend in this issue. It's way too long, making it the first issue of the extra-long Unlimited series where the page length was really felt. Mystique is back to being a borderline raving loon, arguably more psychotic than she's ever been depicted. Graydon Creed continues to be a one-dimensional villain afflicted with 90s Angry Saliva Strand Syndrome, and most of his actions in this issue make little sense (why kill his flunky for delivering bad news? Why threaten Forge just for shits and giggles? Why let Rogue & Nightcrawler just fly off at the end?). Richard Bennet's art, which wasn't terrible in Uncanny #303 or X-Men #27, seems particularly sketchy and Image-y here, perhaps letdown by some combination of the inks and the higher quality paper. And while Lobdell takes pains to create a thematic parallel in the ending, putting Mystique and Nightcrawler in a similar situation as when Nightcrawler was an infant, it's all predicated on a pretty flimsy explanation for why Nightcrawler isn't just teleporting himself out of danger (and a huge ignorance, willful or otherwise, of how the Mississippi River works).
So, definitely not great. But is it monumentally bad? A poster child for the worst excesses and attributes of the 90s? A worthy representation of all that was wrong in X-comics of this era? Not really. It's just a pretty crappy issue in a series that was already extraneous, from a time when the poor characterization, borderline-incoherent plotting and sloppy, Image-esque art on display was, unfortunately, becoming more and more the norm.
Tomorrow, "Child's Play" continues in New Warriors #45. Then Cable goes to Scotland in Cable #9. Next week, Uncanny X-Men #311.