I had high hopes for Excalibur heading in to Dawn of X, and through two issues was still caught up in the potential of a book exploring magic in the world of mutants. Talented creators Tini Howard and Marcus To have been playing with Apocalypse as a wizard, a previously untapped look into how a mutant this ancient might have explored the supernatural, while simultaneously moving the Captain Britain mythos forward once again towards Betsy Braddock.
Nonetheless, apart from Fallen Angels, Excalibur has been the most disappointing comic in the Dawn of X, and with one full story arc under its belt has only trended down since launch. There will be fans of course, much as there are for Fallen Angels, but for me, reading this series is an increasing exercise in missed opportunities.
My Notes From the Review!
Today I’ll answer:
+ What went wrong? Why hasn’t Excalibur lived up to the promise of Dawn of X?
+ Is there a future for Excalibur as an ongoing in the Krakoa era?
Please note spoilers for the discussed issues may follow.
Before digging in, I will call out the elements I enjoy because again, these are talented creators and it’s not like I think Excalibur is devoid of ideas and craft.
At its best Excalibur calls into question the mutant nation of Krakoa’s role and involvement with forces of magic, time travel, and alternate realities. Sure, Krakoa has a newfound hold over Earthbound territories, but what of Otherworld, Hel, Asgard… what’s Krakoa’s role in those far out reaches of the Marvel Universe? Are they conquerors or allies?
I also love what Tini Howard has done with Excalibur’s data pages, really expanding the idea of Apocalypse the wizard with poetry, text, and Grimoire entries that, while confusing, create that sense of magical mystery the book is aiming for. Too many data pages in the Dawn of X have been little more than excuses to write prose, and Howard has been more inventive than that.
In terms of Excalibur’s failings, it primarily boils down to one key question: What is this book’s story and why do we care?
The answer is simultaneously complicated and painfully straightforward, and therein lies the problem – each member of Excalibur’s oddball roster is dealing with their own loosely related set of problems.
On the surface, the hook for Excalibur is that it’s the book exploring magic and alternate realities, and this has been Apocalypse’s primary role, with mysterious manifestations seemingly bent toward opening Krakoa to other magical realms like Otherworld.
The remaining team members are all impacted by “magic” in some way. Betsy Braddock’s brother Brian, the former Captain Britain, is imprisoned and transformed by the Otherworldly magic of Morgan Le Fay. Jubilee’s son Shogo magically transforms into a dragon when he enters Otherworld. Gambit is super cranky because Apocalypse magically put Rogue in a sleeping beauty coma. And late entrant Rictor is… welcomed with open arms by magical Druids due to his earth powers.
Big picture, apart from Apocalypse and Betsy, it remains unclear why this is the Excalibur lineup aside from “these characters were available.”
Now I know Excalibur is going to be plenty of X-fans favorite comic. That’s great, and I welcome that diversity of opinion around comics. That said, I’ve found so little to grasp onto with this book.
The threats facing Excalibur seem to change from issue to issue. The book opened with Morgan Le Fay as a threat from Avalon, but since then there have also been threats from the Coven Akkaba, Apocalypse (of course), Druids, racist UK leaders, and a host of magical creatures.
The effect is an Excalibur with a hook (Apocalypse wants to conquer alternate realities on behalf of Krakoa, and well, himself) that keeps getting more and more weighed down by comparatively less interesting threads. The challenge of an all-new Excalibur was to sell readers on this particular lineup and the purpose of this series. Excalibur has not done that.
All of this muddled magical mayhem builds to an influx of Otherworld creatures invading Earth, most specifically London, where Captain Britain and Pete Wisdom were in the process of convincing some arm of the UK govt to… accept Betsy as the new Captain Britain.
This ties to one of the biggest problems I’ve found with Excalibur, in that this type of demonic and mythical invasion of Earth could have happened any time in X-Men history! As a matter of fact, it has (shouts to Inferno)!
The recent turn of an X-Men conversation around “too many series” has helped me isolate the absolute most appealing aspect of new X-books in the Krakoa era: A hook and purpose very specific to the new status quo of the X-Men post House of X. So when X-Factor is announced with the hook about exploring “The Five” and the process of resurrection, I’m instantly on board and excited.
Excalibur has lost that connection. Demons from otherworld invade London is not specific to the Krakoa era. There are elements of the new era, of course, like Krakoan gates playing a role, and to a degree Apocalypse working together with lifelong X-Men, but in general, this Excalibur story could have happened any time in the last 20 years. That’s the ultimate disappointment to me; that’s a failure of part of Dawn of X not living up to the promise of something genuinely new.
I don’t think these characters are particularly well suited by the story, either. Rogue and Gambit were way more fun in the Kelly Thompson written Mister and Mrs. X (I’ll grant here that Rogue in a coma doesn’t help matters), and Jubilee had way more purpose in the Christina Strain written Generation X.
Indeed, the best Apocalypse moments are found in the Hickman written X-Men #2 and X-Men #4, where the ancient unpronounceable symbol advances the story of Krakoa and Arrako, and then wears his finest suit to flex in the face of world leaders.
I love this idea of the centuries long scheming magical Apocalypse, but too much of his plan is taken for granted in order to serve other team members who simply don’t fit into the narrative.
Even Betsy’s “new” role as Captain Britain isn’t really explored in enough depth. Excalibur #4 tackles the idea of Betsy “The Pretender” most thoroughly, but there are too many spinning plates to worry about to really dig into what this change means for the character.
In many ways, this is where Excalibur falls apart the most. There’s a Captain Britain or Apocalypse solo series hidden with this title, but there’s very little that brings them all together as Excalibur. You could make a similar case for the Chris Claremont and Alan Davis original Excalibur for Nightcrawler, Kitty, and Rachel Summers, but I’d argue back that those characters all fit into the cross-time capers with some degree of purpose.
Excalibur #6 does do a better job of honing in on the purpose of this series, resolving Apocalypse’s grand convoluted plans for Otherworld. The major twist – that Apocalypse was in league with Jaime Braddock and looking to instill him on Otherworld’s throne – works, but it also reveals the simplicity of the plot. Likewise, it’s truly strange that Excalibur #6 spoils this outcome on a page 2 data page!
Questions that remain:
Who was the white witch?
What’s the point of Coven Akkaba?
Why did it take Apocalypse thousands of years to get to Otherworld? Betsy, Gambit and Jubilee visited within these six issues?!
Is there a future for Excalibur as an ongoing in the Krakoa era?
I talked about this hope when I reviewed Excalibur #1, but my greatest hope for the series is still predicated on the idea of Apocalypse using Krakoan gates to access a variety of alternate realities and worlds. If his plan was just to conquer Otherworld and install Jaime Braddock on the throne, then I don’t expect the series’ second arc will win me over.