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Jan 15

Excalibur #5 annotations

Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2020 by Paul in Annotations

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

PAGE 1 / COVER: Rogue in her bed of flowers, with Apocalypse standing over her.

PAGE 2: Recap. For some reason the recap says that Brian is “possessed by an evil sorceress” – he’s been corrupted by Morgan le Fey, but he isn’t really possessed by her in the normal sense of that term. The recap also clarifies that Coven Akkaba were telling the truth last issue when they claimed that Shogo’s dragonfire had damaged the fabric of Otherworld and allowed the invasion of mythical creatures which we saw there. In the previous issue, it was at least ambiguous whether this was actually a Coven Akkaba plan that they were trying to blame on Betsy to undermine here; here, it’s much clearer that they’re taking advantage of a genuine collapse of the boundaries between Earth and Otherworld, brought about by Shogo thanks to the manipulations of Apocalypse.

PAGES 3-4: Rictor rescues Gambit.

When we left this plot thread, the druids had decided that Rictor was just awesome, and thrown Gambit into a pit, with Rictor’s powers conveniently choosing that moment to play up. Being the hero, Rictor dives after Gambit and apparently uses one of the magic stones to power himself up so that he can save Gambit – maybe these things don’t require any magical training to use, or maybe Rictor really is just attuned to them in some way because of his earth-based powers.

(It’s worth pointing out here that Excalibur seems to be writing Rictor as if his mutant power was something to do with controlling the earth. Traditionally it’s just been the ability to create destructive vibrations.)

PAGE 5. Credits. This is “Verse V: Panic on the Streets of London.” We’ll come back to the title in a moment.

PAGE 6. Rictor and Gambit return to the surface and discover the invading monsters.

“Panic on the streets of London” is the opening lyric from “Panic” by the Smiths, which was a number 11 hit in Britain in 1986. “Panic” is a song that was often accused of racism even before Morrissey’s more recent comments on right wing politics (such as his endorsement of For Britain). Taking the song in isolation, I’ve never found that a particularly convincing reading of the song, which seems more like a general whinge about apolitical music as the opiate of the masses. Nonetheless, Morrissey is not an especially fashionable figure in Britain in 2020. I’m not entirely convinced I buy Gambit as a Smiths fan; I suspect he would always have seen Morrissey as painfully self-important and over-serious.

“My coven.” Apocalypse has unilaterally decided that Excalibur are his “coven” and simply expects everyone to play along with this. You might argue that he’s being unrealistic in ignoring Gambit’s attitude… but then in practice Gambit has been doing what he wished, at least on the surface. Rictor does query it, but is met with a promise to discuss it in “another of our long talks” – we still haven’t found out what was actually said in the first one, but Rictor emerged from it fairly convinced of Apocalypse’s agenda.

Apocalypse spells out pretty explicitly here that the invasion from Otherworld is all part of his plan, giving him the energy source he needs to create a permanent gate to Otherworld (which he apparently wants to colonise with mutants). He leaves just enough wiggle room for it to be a happy accident, but it’s fairly obvious even by this point that he’s engineered everything to date in order to undermine the barrier between Earth and Otherworld and enable him to establish his beach head there – though as we’ll see later, Gambit has screwed it up by accelerating the scheme.

PAGES 7-8. Captain Britain and Pete Wisdom take refuge in his flat, and he points her towards the gate to Krakoa.

Self-explanatory, really.

PAGES 9-11. Rogue has her own version of the dream with the fire dog.

We saw Captain Britain have a version of this dream in issue #2. Rogue appears not to remember anything after the point where she fell into a coma, so presumably she’s only just started dreaming as she begins to wake up. The dog is identified later in the issue; we’ll come back to that.

Rogue sees what appears to be a stone circle where the stones are giant Sentinel heads. It’s presumably meant to echo both Stonehenge and the Easter Island statues. For whatever reason, standing in that circle and “listening” leads Rogue to realise that Apocalypse did something to her to put her into a coma in issue #1; an image of Apocalypse appears and tries to shut this line of thought down.

PAGES 12-13. Excalibur fight the monsters.

Apocalypse acknowledges planning it all, which Gambit had already figured out; however, Gambit has messed things up by getting another telepath (represented by the fire dog) to wake Rogue. This is, apparently, a problem for Apocalypse because his plan depends on an alignment of something or other, and Gambit is rushing it.

PAGES 14-16. Rogue’s dream continues.

The fire dog is identified as Prestige (Rachel Summers), who was Phoenix in the original Excalibur. She changed her codename in X-Men Gold. Evidently Gambit asked her to wake up Rogue, and the implication of this scene is that Prestige has been working very carefully to do so without causing any damage, given whatever it is that Apocalypse did to her. Presumably, the fire represents her long-time connection with the Phoenix force, and the dog is to do with her role as a mutant-hunting Hound in her home timeline (though this is a rather more dignified dog).

The dog leads Rogue to a throne, which she sits on, causing two suns and two moons to appear in the sky. The significance of this is – kind of – explained on…

PAGES 17-18. Data pages, both extracts from Apocalypse’s grimoire.

The first is about Apocalypse’s mystic conjunction. It involves the sun and moon being present at the same time, together with “conduit arrival twins” (whatever that means), lined up to form an X across a circle (the X-Men’s symbol, in other words. The centre of this circle is apparently the “apex conduit”. The data page seems to indicate that the suns and moons are supposed somehow form a square (don’t they do that already…?), at which point the conduit will form a quincunx. A “quincunx” is just five things arranged in a cross. You know the pattern of dots that represents 5 on a dice? That’s a quincunx. It’s also an astrological term, where it’s to do with the angles between heavenly bodies.

The second is a note by Apocalypse on astrology. Essentially, he says that astrology can’t be used to predict individual lives (which are far too trivial for the stars). He says that humanity has a romantic attachment to the night sky as a universal experience, despite the lack of community in the real human world. Apocalypse’s theory seems to be that a mutant “inherently seeks quincunx alignment for higher power formation”, i.e. mystical empowerment. He seems to believe that mutants are able to do this because they are better able to survive the experience, and (for some reason) have an “increased ability to exist as a communal organism with shared interest”. We’ve seen quite a bit about the supposed communal mutant society of Krakoa but relatively little so far to justify the claim that mutants are psychologically and socially different from humans in that way. They never have been before.

The suggestion here seems to be that the X symbol somehow connects mutants with the quincunx pattern – either because it’s so associated with mutants as to give it some mystical significance, or because a pre-existing connection led mutants to adopt the symbol.

PAGES 19-25. Gambit and Apocalypse fight, and the ritual is seemingly completed by Rogue absorbing and killing Apocalypse.

Things continue to go wrong for Apocalypse, as Gambit keeps fighting him, and he realises that one of the crystals has already been used up by Rictor, leaving him short of power. Apocalypse apparently considers trying to get the power out of Gambit (though it’s not clear why that would work, since the energy didn’t go into Gambit, it was expended in the course of saving him). At any rate, Apocalypse apparently figures out that the sacrifice of any sufficiently old mutant energy will do, and that the way to complete the ritual and permanently open the gate to Otherworld is to let Rogue kill him.

Apocalypse seems to be saying that he engineered matters so that Rogue would use her powers to absorb the energy from the boundary between Earth and Otherworld, presumably making her a power source that he could use to complete his ritual. It’s unclear whether his “death” here is genuinely intended as a sacrifice for the benefit of mutant kind, or whether Apocalypse is simply reasoning that he will live on within Rogue (as Carol Danvers’ persona did) – or maybe just that the Krakoans will restore him from back-up, so what the heck. In the short term, he does indeed seem to have been absorbed by Rogue, but the only symptom is a change in her appearance which she doesn’t notice (no mirrors being on hand).

Rogue tells us that Apocalypse’s plan was to conquer Otherworld and make himself King, so it seems unlikely that we’ve seen the last of him (to put it midlly). Also, he’s on the cover of the next issue.

Note, by the way, that we don’t check in with Morgan, or Coven Akkaba, or the plot thread about Betsy as a controversial figure in Britain, at any point in this issue; the series is juggling an awful lot of plot threads.

PAGES 26-27. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: REVELATION.

Bring on the comments

  1. SanityOrMadness says:

    Paul> At any rate, Apocalypse apparently figures out that the sacrifice of any sufficiently old mutant energy will do, and that the way to complete the ritual and permanently open the gate to Otherworld is to let Rogue kill him.

    Of course, we’re just meant to forget that this Apocalypse is a clone (created from a sample of his blood in the run up to Blood of Apocalypse, after the original was killed in Search for Cyclops) who’s only a few years old.

  2. Moo says:

    “(It’s worth pointing out here that Excalibur seems to be writing Rictor as if his mutant power was something to do with controlling the earth. Traditionally it’s just been the ability to create destructive vibrations.)”

    Well, it’s not too much of a stretch. In X-Factor 1 (third series), the then-recently depowered (and suicidal) Rictor said the following:

    “People think my whole thing is, I could make the ground shake. But that barely begins to… I could… I was attuned to the planet, man. We were two… but one… like she was my mother and I was the baby in her belly. I felt the rain seeping through her dirt… the shifts in tectonic plates… the life force in her… from every ant to every growing seed…”

  3. Michael says:

    Yeah, the current Apocalypse isn’t that old, unless it’s supposed to be some sort of weird metaphysical/metaphorical thing. He’s died more than once, so there’s no direct line of continuity for his bones to be thousands of years old or whatever.

    This story is so weird. I know the X-Men have always played in a wide variety of genres, but this still seems far afield for them.

  4. Alan L says:

    “We’ve seen quite a bit about the supposed communal mutant society of Krakoa but relatively little so far to justify the claim that mutants are psychologically and socially different from humans in that way. They never have been before.”

    It occurred to me while reading this that maybe one of the purposes for making this mutant island––which really separates the X-men from the other superheroes in the Marvel Universe––would be to lay the groundwork for such a separation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea that mutants are hated while the Avengers and the FF are beloved works in comics because the comics need only have this quasi–interrelation with one another (which is why the comics in any given line are always stepping on one another’s toes in terms of continuity––they’re only coordinated up to a point). In the movies it would be hard to differentiate the X-men from the Avengers––and to insist that one group was hated and feared and the other not––unless there were readily–apparent grounds for making such a differentiation. So the X-men having their own culture, their own language, their own place they live, accessible only by portals that screen whether or not you’re one of them, are then made alien and “othered” for the intents and purposes––at least according to my hunch––of the MCU films. The X-men fighting the singularity, the Reavers, etc., in the comics, means in the movies they can have sci-fi villains differentiated from those of Avengers, with an idealogical objection to the mutants that is made clear by the mutants’ clear separation from human society.

    That’s of course assuming that Marvel uses the comics as a proving ground for movie concepts, which I think they often do. One of the reasons they’ve raided the Ultimates so hard for the Avengers movies is that the Ultimates proved that a more grounded, pseudo–realistic approach to the spandex superhero could work on the comics page––then they based their movie empire on that model, to a large extent, and their faith in that model was repaid with success. Superhero costumes have been completely transformed in the films, because of groundwork laid in the Ultimates. And Hickman’s Avengers miniseries Infinity seemed like the taking–off point for the MCU’s take on Thanos. So I could easily imagine when they were putting together this relaunch that one of the remits was going to be figuring out a realistic–seeming way––realistic in terms of where the movies are headed, anyways––of differentiating X-men from Avengers, providing not just tonal differences between the stories and differences of lore (which they don’t rely on to sell tickets much––they’re more concerned with questions of whether the audience will buy this costume or that character’s on–screen motivations), but reasons within the narrative explaining why the mutants are regarded as different from other super–powered humans. It wouldn’t surprise me if that goal of a clear differentiation of the “mutant condition” from the human one wasn’t a big motivator behind some of the creative decisions in this relaunch, with the end goal being to establish a beachhead in fandom and a comics testing–ground to prove how their X-men might work on film.

  5. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I still enjoy Excalibur, though my hopes that the book will resolve some of its issues with plot progression and, well, coherence so far remains just a hope.

    But the inherent magical power of X and all that mystical stuff are interesting additions. Though considering that all of it is new information and we’re supposed to pretend Apocalypse has always been about magic – considering all that, I feel the book could use a previously established magical mutant character to tie it all together. Illyana was off-limits due to New Mutants, sure, but nobody’s doing anything with Pixie. Who’s mutant, magic, descended from a fairy or something like that (I don’t actually remember Pixie strikes back all that well) and Welsh. She would be perfect for Excalibur.

    Failing that, the original Excalibur series had its share of magical characters who could pop up here and connect the mutant magic with other magics presented in Marvel comics – and this Excalibur to Excaliburs past. Amanda Sefton, for example.

  6. Karl_H says:

    Re: the recaps, I just listened to a Duncan Trussell podcast interview with Donny Cates, who as an intern at Marvel wrote a bunch of recap pages, so in case it wasn’t well-known or obvious, those pages aren’t usually done by the main writers.

  7. Karl_H says:

    Gambit being a fan of the Smiths (despite it being out of character) because the writer is apparently a fan of the Smiths is a small echo of Apocalypse being heavily into magick and astrology (despite it being all kinds of out of character) because the writer is apparently heavily into those things. As above, so below, I guess.

  8. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    For what it’s worth, Howard is hardly the first writer to transfer their interests to an already established character. (I added the ‘already established’ so we don’t drag Claremont into it). I wince every time Gambit references sci-fi (or is upset somebody would think he wouldn’t get the reference). Which, admittedly, hasn’t happened many times, just a few. Which actually is precisely why it grates.

    And anyway, what with Hickman steering the line and the Krakoa/Arakko/Otherworld stuff he threw into X-Men#2, and the way he is seemingly rewriting Apocalypse (‘older than time’, etc), I’d wager the whole ‘Apocalypse is into magic’ thing isn’t even Howard’s idea.

  9. Chris V says:

    Hickman didn’t mention an Otherworld connection with Krakoa/Arakko until after Howard was writing Excalibur though.

    Also, being “old as time” doesn’t equate to being a sorcerer.
    Hickman mentioned that Apocalypse and his original Four Horsemen fought off a demon invasion in prehistory, in order to save Krakoa and Arakko.

    Besides which, Apocalypse is only a sorcerer in this series.
    Every other appearance by Apocalypse since House of X portrays him as the character he has always been written.
    Hickman just wrote him normally in the pages of X-Men, when he showed up at Davos with Xavier and Magneto.

    This series reads very much like something that Tini Howard came up with.
    She has a distinct writing style, which is fine when she’s writing her own characters.
    However, it doesn’t work when she continues to always use that style of writing even though it does not fit with the established characters she is writing.

  10. Evilgus says:

    I desperately want to like this series – I love the characters, it has vibrant art, it picks up in Otherworld… But it really has lost me.

    Too much is trying to happen at once; the art can’t keep pace with the plot, or vice versa; characters seem to teleport between locations; and the scripting just feels off (Wisdom basically sex praying Betsy? He’s better than that). And just what are Betsy’s powers these days…?

    It either needs to slow down, or reintroduce captions. They could help with so much of the heavy lifting!!

  11. Evilgus says:

    *Wisdom sex pesting Betsy, even! Darn predictive…

  12. Arrowhead says:

    (Wisdom basically sex praying Betsy? He’s better than that)

    I agree, the karaoke performance of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was excessive, especially the sexy nun outfit

    …you know what, forget baseball, I want a downtime issue where the X-Men hit a karaoke bar. KARAOKE IS FOR ALL MUTANTS.

  13. Chris V says:

    You can’t spell Karaoke without Krakoa!

  14. K says:

    The thing about fictional characters’ music tastes is that is it almost always used to contrast character X who knows band A and character Y who doesn’t know band A. Just like in this issue.

    Which means it can come off as wrong to both real readers who know band A and real readers who don’t know band A. There’s just no reason to subject your story to that.

  15. Arrowhead says:

    Tying everything together, I can very easily imagine Gambit performing a super-earnest Cajun-accented cover of “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” while Rogue coughs awkwardly and tries not to make eye contact.

  16. brokepope says:

    My assumption was that mutants are more suited to communal living because mutant powers let people fill unique functions within a society…? Maybe?

  17. Jpw says:

    “Quincunx” sounds dirty to me. I did some investigative googling, and Paul’s explanation checks out, but i dunno…

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