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Nov 12

Excalibur #14 annotations

Posted on Thursday, November 12, 2020 by Paul in Annotations

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

EXCALIBUR vol 4 #14
“X of Swords, chapter 15”
by Tini Howard & Phil Noto

COVER / PAGE 1: Apocalypse, Captain Britain and Magik offer moral support to a terrified Cypher. This bears no resemblance to anything in the story, but Cypher does at least appear prominently.

PAGE 2. Epigraph from Apocalypse. Obviously he’s referring to his relationship with Genesis, but the parallel here is the unlikely pairing of Cypher and Bei from later in the issue.

PAGE 3. Betsy psychically checks in with Jubilee.

We last saw Jubilee and Shogo in issue #11; they’re staying with the Priestesses of the Green while Shogo recovers from the injury he suffered in issue #9.

PAGE 4. Isca talks to Betsy before the fight.

Nine of Swords. This is the card that Betsy received from Saturnyne in X of Swords: Stasis. It’s curious that Isca, from Arakko, seems to know something about tarot iconography (which didn’t emerge until the 15th century), but hey, magic. Recall that although the card Betsy received claimed to be a nine of swords, its image was the one traditionally associated with the ten of swords, i.e. a body with swords impaled in it. The nine of swords is more about having things hanging over you.

PAGE 5. Credits.

PAGE 6. Recap.

PAGES 7-11. Captain Britain battles Isca.

As we’ll see, each of these contests – and I use that term loosely – is being held in a different realm of Otherworld. This one starts out in the most conventional form. Betsy’s shattering at the end – and her reference to “breaking” – seems to be a callback to issue #10, where it was associated with Jamie splintering realities in order to artificially create more Captain Britains. Obviously, this one falls under the category of “if you don’t see a proper body, they’re not dead”.

Saturnyne seems to be deliberately trying to wind everyone up, though as usual, it’s unclear what he gets from that. Wolverine reminds us that he already tried fighting Saturnyne directly in Marauders #14-15, and it was a waste of time.

Apocalypse seems a lot less fazed by any of this weirdness than the others, but maybe he’s just better at maintaining the front.

PAGE 12. Data page. Jim Jaspers’ newspaper reports the fight we just saw. Jamie bet against Betsy, we’re told, on the logic that if she died, at least he’d get some money.

PAGES 13-14. Cypher and Bei are dragged off for their forced marriage.

PAGE 15. Data page on Bei. Basically, she has Black Bolt’s powers, but most people can understand her through telepathy. Some quirk makes Cypher an exception to that, making her the one person he can’t understand when everyone else can. (Presumably she could just write things down, but then that was always the problem with Black Bolt.)

PAGES 16-26. Cypher and Bei’s wedding; Jubilee and Shogo gatecrash.

This is where the book spirals off into Alice in Wonderland territory. Broadly, the idea seems to be that Saturnyne has presented Cypher and Bei with a challenge that she expected them both to fail (though it makes no difference to the outcome if they both succeed), and Cypher at least is playing along through a mixture of relief that it isn’t a sword fight, and fascination at someone he can’t understand.

We’ve seen relatively little of Bei so far – she appears briefly in Stasis, where Summoner addressed her as “Great Bei, slayer of serpents of both sea and air, speaker of the hidden words, destroyer of hope and the all-consum[ing]” something or other, before getting cut off. She didn’t seem to care what the contest was about, and she signed up on the basis that it was “combat of some kind” and she had “men to kill”.

While it’s not flagged up here, Bei’s sword is called Seducer, and her prophecy verse in Stasis read: “From silence beckons blade’s sweet hiss / Quiet temptress says nothing and still gets her wish.” None of which should be particularly encouraging for Cypher, although she does seem to be trying to protect him once the dragon shows up. Also, remember that Cypher has a much more obvious counterpart among the Arakkii, in the form of Redroot, the interpreter for Arakko.

Presumably Bei can understand Cypher, and she notices the heavily caveated nature of his improvised “vows”. He specifically treats this as a sham marriage for the duration of the contest: “I swear to uphold my vow to you for the duration of this challenge.” Though he’s clearly fascinated by her, he says nothing whatsoever about any feelings towards her. Bei, on the other hand, responds with a melodramatic spiel about the power of love and her devotion to protecting him – not directly threatening by any means, but hardly something that suggests that she’s on the same page as him.

Beyond that, it’s more or less self-explanatory (which is fine), but it’s all wildly far removed from any sort of normal human behaviour and rather difficult to get invested in unless your quirkiness threshold is set considerably higher than mine.

PAGE 27. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: FOR YOUR LIFE.

Bring on the comments

  1. Evilgus says:

    I echo Krzysiek and Matt C’s thoughts from the other thread. This issue lost me with its abrupt tonal shift from portentous melodrama (which I do love in my X-Men comics) in the build up… To wacky comedy adventures.

    I assume it’s a play on light hearted classic Excalibur issues, but it doesn’t fit. If we’re meant to care or believe Betsy is dead, this isn’t the way to do it. Characters stand about saying “oh no!” then jolly off to a wedding…?!

    The dead hand of Howard’s confused plotting strikes again!!

  2. Evilgus says:

    (I will say though – I like the art, and I’m sure some scenes in isolation will resonate as little character moments. Why Shogo gets so much prominence in this issue is beyond me).

  3. Jordan says:

    There’s a panel in Marauders #14 in which Bei speaks to Cypher. He doesn’t respond but his expression implies he understands her. Continuity error or am I reading too much into it?

  4. Daibhid C says:

    It’s curious that Isca, from Arakko, seems to know something about tarot iconography (which didn’t emerge until the 15th century)

    Only in reality. In the Marvel Universe, the tarot was invented by Storm’s ancestor in Ancient Egypt, as revealed in Mystic Arcana: Magik.

    Mystic Arcana? Anyone? Starring everyone’s favourite Sorcerer Supreme wannabe Ian McNee? No, McNee. He was… actually, never mind.

  5. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I think I wouldn’t mind the tonal shift. We’re following Cypher and seeing events unfold from his perspective, so this fever dream like quality makes sense. Cypher is disoriented and so are we, the readers.

    What bothers me most is how everyone else gets swept along and there’s not a reasonable human reaction to be seen anywhere from the X-Men. They are just part of the manic scenery. It adds to the confusion, so, hooray for that – but that would only work if Cypher was the main hero we were following. But he’s not, we’re supposed to care about the others too, which is difficult when they’re being… well, manic scenery.

  6. Chris V says:

    I do remember finding the Marvel Tarot handbook-like comic as being really entertaining.

  7. Ben says:

    So… Warlock?

    Not important at all I guess?

    Actually I guess none of the swords were important?

    Or the other Otherworld dimensions?

    How completely bizarre.

  8. Michael says:

    The swords being entirely unimportant seems like a huge shift. Besides characters not acting like humans, or themselves, or like they’ve been acting in any running x-book right now… why did we need 10 issues of sword gathering if the swords don’t matter?

  9. Chris V says:

    It was all about needing to fill an extra nine chapters of the story.

  10. Jeff F says:

    Yeah, I don’t know about this one. I was kind of looking forward to some sword fights. I think the tone shift works a little better in the Wolverine issue, but I agree with everyone here that no one is acting in any sort of remotely recognizable way. I also don’t care about Shogo at all. I think the shift to insanity would have worked better in chapter 5 or 6, I don’t know about Chapter 15 though.

  11. MasterMahan says:

    So Saturnyne can just assign points however she likes and do random stuff make people get married (for a point each, making it meaningless)? This isn’t a tournament, it’s more like American “Whose Line Is It Anyway” – everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. The outcome is whatever Saturnyne says it is, because she can assign 50 points to Gryffindor for whatever she wants.

    But if it’s not a tournament, then who cares? Presumably Saturnyne has some devious plan to stop the invasion without anyone the readers care about dying (or maybe 1 token death), but that means we’ve got 22 issues of Saturnyne tooling with everyone. That’s not very interesting.

  12. Stephen says:

    Wait, wait, wait. Far more important than the X-Men, in British “Whose Line” is not everything made up? *Do* the points matter?

  13. Taibak says:

    More like Clive Anderson did a much better job of keeping up the pretense than Drew Carey ever did.

    Which, admittedly, wasn’t hard.

  14. Bengt says:

    Yeah this (including the Wolverine issue) just feels like Sat is janking the X-Men’s chain for whatever reason (to force Brian to do something?).

  15. Luis Dantas says:

    This feels like a very disruptive crossover that really ought to have been a miniseries of its own. The sort of “event” that capitalizes on the desire to be aware of the latest happenings in continuity without losing anything, but at the price of daring readers to stop caring.

  16. Adam says:

    I didn’t think much of this issue either, but what I didn’t like was the execution and tonal shift rather than the idea of the duels not being as straightforward as we thought, which I quite like.

    Betsy’s fight felt anticlimactic and Cypher’s wedding was, as so many commenters have said, devoid of anything resembling human psychology to ground it.

    Also any appearance by Jubilee and Shogo is a turnoff for me. The direction of Jubilee is in the running for my Least Favorite X-Book Development of the 21st Century. It’s like they keep trying to figure out how to fix her and just keep making it worse.

  17. K says:

    The difference between these issues and comics with “human psychology” is: in a comic about human psychology they would spend a whole issue being confused and trying to resist the weird rules and magical logic, but not getting anywhere.

    What the story demands will still happen but you get filler of a different kind in the process.

  18. Loz says:

    I am rapidly running out of patience with all this. Unlike a lot of people I liked Hickman’s Avengers run and some of the titles of his X-Men run were good, though Excalibur wasn’t one of them. But this just seems to be intended to drive people away. Most of the jokes don’t work and the grimdark characters are dull Nineties escapees. I can accept Covid screwing everything up but this needed to be a lot shorter and a lot more over. Why bother putting this out in Marauders if none of the cast are in it? Why not stop all the titles for a few months and put out a weekly ‘X of Swords’ comic, 12 parts over three months and get it done?

    I’m thinking that ‘HoXPoX’ was all the story that Hickman wanted to tell. Maybe all the open ideas left at the end of it are there for other writers to play with if they want. Maybe we’ll get kid Cable dealing with Moira. Maybe the Phalanx will be a two-and-a-half page throwaway gag in Excalibur issue 18. And when the first Disney X-Men movie gets green-lit someone at Marvel will panic and hastily get Bryan Hill or Tini Howard to write an Omega issue which says it’s all a dream caused by Charles getting drunk after reading the Age of X-Man crossover so we can reset to the mansion for that sweet sweet tie-in movie money.

  19. Chris V says:

    I feel very much the same as you, Loz.

    I read an article that was published last year where Hickman said he didn’t want to work on the X-titles anymore.
    It could have been Hickman joking, but the article said that it wasn’t meant as simply a joke.
    I have begun to believe that Hickman didn’t really have major plans going forward after House/Powers. He set up a new premise for the X-Men with Krakoa, added a few other ideas that writers could play around with, but that he really didn’t have a grand design for an endgame with Moira.

    The timeline involving the Phalanx, the end-point took place a thousand years in the future.
    So, maybe Hickman figured he didn’t need to worry about the loose ends involving Moira’s plan and the rise of post-humanity and the Phalanx.
    It would be a writer’s problem in the future, if/when Marvel editorial decided they didn’t like the Krakoa direction anymore.

  20. Thom H. says:

    That doesn’t sound like the plan that’s been announced elsewhere, but things do seem to be in flux as sales dictate longer runs of spin-off series, etc.

    Do you have a link to that article? I’d like to read it.

  21. CJ says:

    One “tone-shift” battle would’ve been fine. But at this point, there have been several, so it’s really impossible to know what the stakes are.

    “Isca beats Gorgon, but because ‘G’ comes before ‘I’, Krakoa gets a point!”

    As a silly Excalibur two-part story, I guess that would be okay. As a 22-part disruptive crossover that began with the (irrevocable?) death of Rockslide and higher stakes? No.

    Add me in the column of people who have zero interest in Jubilee (and less in Shogo).

  22. Chris V says:

    Thom-I tried to copy and paste twice, but this site doesn’t seem to like my links.
    The article originally appeared on Bleeding Cool from last November.
    Try a web-search for: Jonathan Hickman wants to resign from X-Men, that should give you at least three web-sites carrying the article.

  23. Col_Fury says:

    It was a tweet from a year ago (when all the first and second issues were coming out), saying he’s trying to get fired. It was a jokey “look at all this wacky shit we’re doing, how could they possibly put up with me?!” type message. His editor Jordan D. White responded “I wish he were joking.” That’s the entire story.

  24. Chris V says:

    Oh. The article on Bleeding Cool took it out of context, to say that Hickman was already tired of working on the X-titles.
    They pointed out that Hickman may be joking, but then posted the response from Jordan White, saying that it seemed that Hickman really was trying to get out of the X-Men job.
    I guess this was an example of that “fake news” stuff I’ve been hearing so much about.

    Hickman’s performance on the books for the past year convinced me that the article was probably on to something….

  25. Col_Fury says:

    Yeah, jokes don’t always translate in print.

    No harm done. 🙂

  26. Dave says:

    I found it odd that Noto was on art here when he’s the regular artist on Cable. Is he on the next issue of that?

  27. Alan L says:

    It looks like they’re mixing things up a bit, right? The Wolverine issue is drawn by the artist from X-force.

  28. Thom H. says:

    Thanks for the explanation, you all. And wow — Bleeding Cool really took that joke tweet and ran with it, didn’t they? The article ends up turning into another “Rob Liefeld said this controversial thing!” story. They are seriously desperate to break a scandal, even if they have to concoct it themselves.

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