X-Men Unlimited (1st series) #49

Issue Date: 
August 2003
Story Title: 

Bill Willingham (writer), Kelsey Shannon (illustrator), Kelsey Shannon and Guru EFX (colors), Randy Gentle (letters), Joshua Middleton (cover), Stephanie Moore (assistant editor), C.B. Cebulski (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Bill Jemas (president)

Brief Description: 

A young girl, Sally White, is trapped in a cave-in in New Mexico and two X-Men, Cyclops and Nightcrawler arrive to try and rescue her. Realizing that his optic blasts might do more harm than good, Scott decides not to use it, so Nightcrawler volunteers to make a semi-blind teleport using detailed maps of the caves. He teleports underground and discovers a lunch box belonging to Sally which has a blowgun dart lodged in it. He further discovers a couple of guards belonging to an unknown subterranean race and takes them out using his fighting skills. He then follows their tracks and comes across two more men in an ancient, derelict city, one of them being Tharkaris, the High Tharen of their race. Kurt is forced to fight off some soldiers before being shot with a drugged dart, which renders him unconscious. Later, when he awakens, Tharkaris’s daughter explains to him that Sally was taken in order to provide their race with a new princess who will help keep their bloodlines strong. She and Kurt argue their relative viewpoints about the kidnapping of young girls before she informs him that he is to die in combat with her father. Kurt has other plans. Asking to see Sally before he dies, he tells her that she will be fine once he’s defeated his opponent. As the battle begins, Kurt teleports to Sally, grabs her and teleports above ground and into the arms of her worried mother. Later at the mansion, Kurt explains to one of the students that there is a time and a place for heroics. Sometimes, it is better to simply get the job done and not to let scoundrels dictate the terms of honor to you.

Full Summary: 

(New Mexico)

Workmen scurry around a cave as a vehicle powers a lighting rig. The early evening sun is fading with each passing minute. A pert-looking blonde news reporter for Action 11, Clara Trinidad speaks to the camera, pointing behind her as a plane prepares to land. She says that she has breaking news in the continuing saga of Sally White, trapped for more than eleven hours now in the deadly cave-in at Hasperos Canyon’s Mustang Cave complex. Action 11 has just learned that an unnamed team of superhuman agents has arrived to aid the ongoing operation. It is unknown whether the new arrivals are super heroes or mutants.


On America’s east coast, it is already dark in Westchester County as a group of students at the Xavier mansion watch events on television. Seated on a sofa, one asks if she thinks that those are mutually exclusive terms. The guy seated next to her replies, “Why assume she can think at all. She’s just another dumb news twinkie.” A redheaded girl shushes them as she’s trying to listen as a fourth kid says that Kurt and Scott will get the job done. Nobody’s powers are better suited to getting a kid out of a cave-in than Cyclops and Nightcrawler’s.

(New Mexico)

Scott and Kurt exit the plane and meet with the rescue coordinator. He tells the two X-Men that there are thousands of tons of loose shale between them and the first open chamber. It’ll take them all night to dig through it but he doubts that Sally’s got much time left. Cyclops tells him that he could easily punch through in a few seconds but, if the rock’s as unstable as he says, he can’t guarantee he won’t bring the rest of the cave down on her. Another engineer says they should forget it then; they are there to rescue a live girl, not a dead body. Kurt smiles at Scott and says that it looks like it’s up to him then. “A blind teleport? That’s too dangerous Nightcrawler,” replies Scott. Kurt says that it isn’t if these men can provide him with an exact distance and direction to the center of the main chamber, well clear of the caved-in area. The coordinator tells him that isn’t a problem; the Mustang Caves are some of the most thoroughly charted systems in New Mexico. His colleague says that the caves have some pretty steep descents and starts to gather some climbing ropes and other gear for him.

Kurt says he won’t need them. The man offers a water bottle and medical supplies instead but Kurt, checking out a map of the caves, replies that they’d only slow him down. Once he reaches her, he intends to have her out the next second, into the care of much more qualified medics than he. Exasperated, the man asks if he can at least take a light but Kurt, wandering off, asks him why, when even the deepest darkness is like high noon to him. With that, Kurt teleports away, leaving the man stood in a swell of foul-smelling smoke. The coordinator tells Scott that he doesn’t care much for his partner’s attitude and asks if that was all bluff and bravado or whether he can really get the job done. “Both actually,” replies Scott.

Once inside, Kurt manages to arrive safely in the main chamber and immediately calls Sally’s name, telling her, in case she’s listening, that she shouldn’t be alarmed. He knows she can’t see very well but he can see just fine and he’s headed her way. He jumps again, heading down a tunnel leading further underground and calls her again, receiving no reply. He tells her that, if she’s injured, he realizes how much it might hurt to yell out right now, but it would really help him if she could. Again, no reply is forthcoming, so he continues his entry into the caves. Tiptoeing across some stepping stones, he keeps talking in order to help keep Sally calm. He says that he knows she told her brother not to mention to anyone where they went to play, but she needn’t worry. He got out fine and neither of them will get into any trouble.

Across the small stream, he spots a pink ‘My Mystery Pony’ lunchbox and empties it, telling her that he admires her taste in cartoons and it’s a perfect place for a refined young lady to carry her crayons and other essentials. He turns the box over and discovers something stuck in it; removing it only to discover what appears to be some sort of blowgun dart, drugged or poisoned if he’s not mistaken. He leaves the dart behind and, using his agility, bounces down the cave in search of the missing girl.

He slides further underground, wondering whether the cave-in wasn’t so much an accident as a way of covering up a kidnapping. He finds adult-sized footprints, and more than one set of them. As he drops into a clearing below, he remarks to himself that Billy White mentioned the strange figures they’d often see when they snuck in there to play but everyone assumed he was describing imaginary playmates. “Shame on us,” he comments to himself.

As he lands, he sees a couple of men in the distance, dressed in what appears be medieval or oriental clothing and each carrying a spear and dagger. Kurt now knows that those people are not so imaginary after all. The two men are in mid-conversation, recalling an earlier event. One says that he didn’t realize it was women’s hour yet, so he had wandered into the Grotto of Pools just in time to see the High Tharen’s daughter bathing. “Nude?” his friend asks, to which he replies, “Oh yes.” He asks him if she saw him but he replies by asking, rhetorically, "Would I still be alive to tell you if she had?"

Kurt looks at them and determines that they must be another offshoot of the subterranean races. He has no time to be subtle and teleports himself between them, elbowing one in the face while punching the other and drop-kicking him into unconsciousness after he calls him a demon. “Words hurt fella; try to show a little compassion,” he says to now deaf ears. He continues his investigation and quickly picks up the trail, finding footprints leading into another chamber. He tells his unconscious foes that he’ll try and remember to send one of their friends back to free them after he’s had a sharp word or two with them. Soon, Nightcrawler finds himself in a huge chamber with the ruins of a great city lying derelict, spreading into the distance. Voices echo from within.

The dread Tharen tells his assistant, Stennis, that they will make camp there, among the bones of this great city of their past. Torches are lit all around them, lighting the Tharen who sits cross-legged on three cushions. He reminds Stennis to post extra guards as the surface dwellers, despite having never ventured this far below ground, can’t be counted on to remain silent now they have taken one of their own. As he sits, almost meditative in manner, he asks about their prize and Stennis replies that she is quiet… finally. The High Tharen reminds him to treat her well, on pain of his own life. He must give her every luxury and grant her every wish, save freedom.

Suddenly, Nightcrawler makes his presence felt and says that is what he is here to talk to them about. The High Tharen rises and holds a dagger before him as Stennis grasps his sword. They are surprised at the stealthy approach Nightcrawler has made and Stennis asks him what sort of thing he is and how he managed to appear amongst them. Hands on hips, Kurt replies that his appearance wasn’t so sudden. He has been listening to them and among his many gifts is the ability to fade to near-invisibility in shadows, and they sure have plenty of those down there.

They ask what it is he wants, calling him an evil creature. Kurt balks at the name-calling and asks what it is with these people. He informs them that he has been sent there by those surface dwellers they spoke of to bring back Sally White. As he speaks, soldiers faithful to the High Tharen approach him from behind, each carrying a sword. Spotting them, he says that he doesn’t suppose they will be willing to simply hand her over. He has hopes that they can talk things through like civilized men, avoiding violence. Stennis begins to remove something from his belt, telling the High Tharen that he openly admits cowardice. He replies that it’s obvious he is no warrior; what sort of man goes unarmed in public? Nightcrawler leaps, performing a backward flip, telling them that he can always get weapons when he needs them. The types of people he deals with tend to have them in abundance. As he lands, he takes out two soldiers, removing their swords with effortless grace and stands before the High Tharen in a much better bargaining position than a few seconds earlier. He asks if they are ready to show him some respect.

The High Tharen orders his soldiers to “Kill this beast,” but Kurt says, “I guess not,” as he hurls a sword towards them in order to confuse them, telling them they will not find him so easy to kill. More soldiers appear to defend their master but Kurt uses not only his athleticism, his circus agility and his guile, but also his prehensile tail to take each opponent out of the fight. During the action, he takes issue with the High Tharen calling him the beast, though it is an understandable mistake which many make; after all, they’re both covered in blue fur which drives the frauleins wild. However, he is considerably slimmer, less shaggy and at the risk of blowing his own horn. He is at least thirty-seven percent more dashing in that all-important Errol Flynn sort of way. As he speaks, soldiers trip over each other, punch each other. As he teleports, they miss with embarrassing ease and Kurt uses his skills to outwit them. Stennis tries to use a blow dart to take him out but the High Tharen removes it from his lips, opting to deliver the poison himself. He fires a dart into Kurt’s neck, which instantly knocks him unconscious.

Even as he falls, the soldiers begin to praise his efforts, saying that he was incredible, fighting with the fury of the unleashed tunnelstorm. One asks the High Tharen what they should do with him to which he replies, “Kill the thing. Chop its head off and mount it on a pike for all to see.”

(nearly seven hours later)

Back on the surface, Clara Trinidad, wearing the shortest of mini-skirts, can see her career trajectory taking off. She tells her viewers that it’s now been nearly seven hours since the lone rescuer was lowered into the Mustang Caves in search of Sally White. Just how the individual was able to enter the caves is unknown, she says, but Action 11 News has just received exclusive information from a high-placed rescue official who spoke to them on the condition of anonymity. They confirmed that the alleged lone rescuer is a mutant associated with the shadowy extra-governmental organization known as the X-Men. Though some have described the X-Men as a super hero team, there is some evidence that the group might actually be a terrorist organization. Rumours have already begun, she continues, that the cave-in might have been caused by mutants as part of some larger conspiracy.


The students at Xavier’s are watching the report with resignation as Clara concludes by saying that it is unknown at this time whether Sally White is just an innocent victim, or if she might actually be a mutant herself. One boy remarks that she should admit that she’s run out of facts and so has begun to make things up.

(New Mexico)

Some time later, Kurt slowly regains consciousness, his visuals kicking back into gear as he says something in German. A woman’s figure slowly appears and the vague shape transforms into a young woman with red hair and a green dress. With Stennis looking on, she says that she can’t understand what he said and he apologizes, telling her that he said his head hurts. He rubs his forehead as she says that the darts do that. Kurt asks how long he has been out and, as she provides him with a saucer of water, she informs him he’s been gone a few hours. He nearly didn’t wake at all she adds, as Tharkaris, her father, ordered him killed. However, others objected, claiming it would be dishonorable to kill a warrior of his skill and courage. Kneeling before him, she says that now there is a crisis over what to do with him. If he were of their race, by custom, they would offer him a place in their clan or at least, allow him to fight a duel to try and win his freedom.

Kurt passes the saucer back, replying that it is not his freedom he is concerned with. He came there looking for Sally White, the girl her folks took from the surface world. She asks why he would want to do that. Kurt, with some frustration tells her that it is because kidnapping is wrong, because her parents want her back, because they don’t allow people to steal their children and get away with it. “Pick one!” he adds, “I’m amazed you’d even ask such a question.” The young woman is equally surprised by his response, telling Kurt that she will be raised as a princess among their people; given every honor and luxury until she is old enough to marry into the noble class - a prince, a Tharen or perhaps even the High Tharen himself. She says that it is their tradition which dates back thousands of years. Once every generation, they take a surface woman to keep their bloodlines strong. Stennis interjects, spitting his words out, adding that they do it to keep from degenerating into small, trollish things like so many of the other subterranean races.

Kurt tells them that it’s too bad they won’t get to keep this girl. Stennis replies that it is their highest honor; these are their ways and he should respect them. Kurt is feeling well enough to teleport and jumps between them, saying that what they say is nonsense; no civilized society allows for the kidnapping of children, for any purpose. Cultural diversity be damned. He teleports again, leaving his shackles hanging in mid-air as he reappears a few yards away. He tells them to calm down as he’s not going anywhere; he was just getting cramped tied up like that and wants to talk to them as reasonable people. He asks what they have planned for him; have they decided anything yet? The young lady bows her head and replies that he is still doomed to die. Her father’s position as Tharen of their clan has been threatened by this incident. He has decided to solve the crisis by killing him in public, in a formal duel.

This is fine with Nightcrawler and he shrugs his shoulders, asking what happens if he wins. She tells him it is not possible. No matter his skill, her father’s is greater and he will win. “Unless you attempt to use your magic to escape,” adds Stennis. Kurt fixes them with a stare, saying that he would never do that. They have their own warrior traditions up above. He will fight her dad without teleporting but it is important that Sally be there to see it. She asks why and Kurt blatantly lies, saying that it is vital that she see that he dies in her service, still fighting for her, otherwise he’ll be denied his rightful warrior’s place in the next life. “That seems honorable,” she replies.

Soon, Kurt is led to a large circular chamber, which is populated by members of the subterranean race, eager to see some action. Tharkaris calms himself as an assistant prepares to place a shackle on his wrist. Nightcrawler looks around as Stennis points out to the audience that the rules of this duel have been announced and agreed by both warriors. Once begun, it can only end when one of them lies dead. Kurt turns to Tharkaris’s daughter and asks if there is any chance he can say goodbye to Sally before they begin. She agrees, providing he doesn’t try any of his tricks. “I wouldn’t think of it,” he replies.

She leads him to a small cage covered by a green sheet, which is now raised, revealing Sally White crouching inside it, a tear running down her cheek. Kurt kneels before her and introduces himself, telling her that he was sent down there to bring her home. He tells her that he knows she is scared right now, but to try and be a brave girl for just a little longer. He assures her that everything will be fine as soon as he takes care of the mean looking fellow behind him. Her parents are looking forward to seeing her again real soon. As he stands, the young redhead chastises him, telling him that it was cruel to make such promises; she is confident that he can’t win against her father. Confidently, Kurt asks her not to be so sure of that.

The referee asks if Kurt is ready and he holds out his arm, asking him to hook him up. A shackle is placed on his wrist which links him to Tharkaris. Before entering the center stage, he kisses the young woman, who, instead of pulling back, hooks her arm around his neck and reciprocates the gesture. He holds her and tells her that she is some kind of cutie and be sure to look him up if she’s ever upstairs. Tharkaris yells at him in anger, asking how he dare take such liberties against his daughter. He’s going to kill him for that. Sarcastically, Nightcrawler replies, “As opposed to the reasons you were going to kill me a few seconds ago? Are you ready, scarface? Let’s do this.” Facing each other, tethered by a chain about three meters long, they each hold a dagger as Tharkaris agrees that they should begin.

Nightcrawler now decides to play his hand. He asks Tharkaris if has ever heard the saying, “All’s fair in love and war and rescuing little girls from butt-ugly subterranean whack-jobs? Translation: pardon the deception but I won’t be duelling today. Auf wiedersehen.” With that, he teleports away and appears in Sally’s cage, asks if she’s ready to go home and then teleports away instantly, appearing above ground and near Sally’s mother. “My baby!” she cries as she dashes to hold her. Once she has her daughter cradled in her arms, she thanks Kurt profusely and he says it was his pleasure. An onlooker congratulates him as Clara Trinidad strides towards him, carrying her ever-present microphone. She gets the interview she desires and soon, Nightcrawler is on television and in front of the nation (or at least Action 11’s viewers).

Clara: Are you a super hero?

Kurt: Sure.

Clara: But you’re a mutant.

Kurt: That too.

Clara: You’re not ashamed of that?

Kurt: Why should I be? Are you ashamed of being born blond and blue-eyed? Okay, you might not have been born blond, but you know what I’m getting at.

Clara: Well, you look like some kind of devil. Are you the devil?

Kurt: Only to pretty girls on our third date.

Clara: I’m trying to be serious here sir.

Kurt: But Miss Trinidad, we only just met. It’s too soon to get serious yet.

Clara then tries to continue the interview despite Kurt’s levity and obstinacy.

(Westchester, sometime later)

Kurt is sat with another of the school’s young students watching the interview being played. He asks Kurt how he can be that way. The newswoman was being so mean to him and saying all those bad things about them, about mutants, but he kept laughing it off. He asks how he can be so cool in public. He couldn’t do that, not when so many of them hate them.

Nightcrawler tells him that the world at large won’t come to accept them until they get used to them, and they can’t do that if they hide away. And believe me, he continues, he knows all about hiding; it’s almost as if he were designed to do it. He is made for lurking in the shadows, even disappearing into them, and, if that doesn’t work, then with his teleportation he has the ultimate getaway power. It was a big step when he decided to live his life out of the shadows. The young boy looks up to him and asks, “And you’re not scared?” Kurt replies that he is scared all the time, but he’s not about to let his fears choose the course of his life. Maybe, someday, that will help show the world how not to let their fears rule them.

The boy says that he did run away. He didn’t fight that underground guy like he promised. Of course, he replies, it was the only honorable thing to do. Long ago, his first fencing instructor warned him never to let scoundrels dictate the terms of honor to you; they’ll always use it to manipulate a good man into doing stupid things. He asks the boy if he understands and he replies that he isn’t sure. Kurt continues, telling him that his one duty down there was to rescue Sally White, and risking his life to fight a duel would have been a betrayal of that duty. He is free to risk his life when that is all there is at stake, but he wasn’t free to risk hers. Now she is safe he may indeed return someday and give the fellow his fencing lesson; personally teach him not to kidnap surface girls. No hurry though, he adds, let him stew a bit. The boy says, “Cool. Want to watch your interview again?” Kurt says sure, asking him to rewind the tape while he rounds up more popcorn.

Characters Involved: 

Cyclops, Nightcrawler (both X-Men)

Tharkaris (the High Tharen)

Tharkis’ daughter

Stennis, Tharkis’ assistant

Citizens of Tharkaris’s race, including several soldiers and the fight referee

Clara Trinidad, Action 11 reporter

Action 11 cameramen and crew

Site rescuers and engineers

Sally White and her mother

Unnamed students at Xavier’s

Story Notes: 

The story has no actual title.

We never learn the name of Tharkaris’s daughter or the name of this insular subterranean race. Other subterranean races include the Moloids, Tyrannoids and Lava Men.

A manga-style pin-up by Gurihiru appears on the last page, featuring Jean Grey, Iceman, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Storm and Wolverine.

This issue was nothing more than a reminder of Nightcrawler’s abilities, pointing out his invisibility in shadows, teleportation, humor and agility in saving a damsel in distress. It is written in a style open to younger children and drawn in a similar fashion.

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