RSS Feed
Feb 10

Excalibur #18 annotations

Posted on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 by Paul in Annotations, x-axis

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

EXCALIBUR vol 4 #18
“Mad Women”
by Tini Howard, Marcus To & Erick Arciniega

COVER / PAGE 1. Rogue, Jubilee, Gambit and Rictor look mournful, while members of the Quiet Council (plus Cypher and Krakoa) are seen in the background. This doesn’t have much to do with the content of the issue, and feels like it was meant to cover an issue set before Betsy’s apparent return. The solicitation for this issue read “As the Council makes moves to protect mutants in the Otherworld, Excalibur must determine the fate of Betsy Braddock”.

PAGE 2. Saturnyne receives a petition from Krakoa.

Saturnyne has three empty wine glasses at her feet and apparently hasn’t been eating, given Ryl’s comments. She’s clearly still annoyed that her scheme to get Brian back as Captain Britain didn’t work, and that she’s now stuck with an entire corps of Betsies, as seen in “X of Swords”. It’s not immediately clear what’s littering the floor around her – it might be the shards of the mosaic she constructed in “X of Swords”, and which she used to reconstitute the new Captain Britain Corps, if she smashed it again after its work was done.

PAGE 3. A data page with Saturnyne’s reply – basically refusing to entertain any submissions unless they come via Earth-616’s Captain Britain, who she says is presently absent. We saw last issue that Betsy apparently returned to Earth, but this story suggests that it’s not her after all. It’s not clear whether Saturnyne is unaware of Betsy’s return, or aware that it’s the wrong one.

Mainly Saturnyne is just getting rid of the Krakoans. If she really wanted to deal with them directly, she would – as she did in “X of Swords”.

This is one of the better signature fonts to be used for letters, though unfortunately Saturnyne’s name seems to be mis-spelled.

PAGE 4. Recap and credits.

PAGES 5-6. Rogue and Rachel discuss Betsy.

Betsy is apparently still just standing around sullenly and looking out to sea after two days, but Rachel verifies that she does have the memories of the “real” Betsy. Rogue interprets this as a sign that it’s not the real Betsy; Rachel, the experienced telepath, interprets it as the real Betsy with mental health problems. The story seems to indicate that Rogue is right, but if so, this is a very convincing impostor.

PAGES 7-8. Emma Frost shows up to complain about being kept out of the loop.

Emma’s telepathy seems to be represented here with symbolic diamonds, which isn’t normally a thing. She’s been alerted to Betsy’s return by Cerebro, and (given Saturnyne’s response to Krakoa’s petition) wants her to do her job and approach Saturnyne. The Council’s concern, apparently, is to do with the plot point from “X of Swords” that characters who die in Otherworld can’t be resurrected; attempts to do so bring them back in a drastically changed form, effectively as alternate versions of themselves.

Quite why this is such a concern is debatable. At the end of the day, it just means that mutants can be killed in Otherworld, just like every non-mutant on Earth, and just like mutants themselves pre-Krakoa. You might reasonably ask what the big problem is, beyond the fact that it doesn’t fit with the Krakoan national narrative that they’ve conquered death. Of course, you might well want to bar people from going to this dangerous place for their own safety, but that’s another matter.

If Rictor was involved in this exchange, he would doubtless be complaining that any suggestion of cutting off mutants from Otherworld betrays the agenda of his beloved Apocalypse, who actively wanted mutants to (in effect) colonise Otherworld. Of course, Apocalypse’s interest in Otherworld was largely to do with the possibility of using it to reach Arakko, so he might well now think that its value is spent.

“Keep calm and carry on” was a poster from World War II which was rediscovered in recent years and became something of a catchphrase. Although it is genuine, and large quantities of it were printed at the outset of the war, it was intended to be used if and when matters deteriorated. While a few copies did make it to public view (there are photos to prove it), the vast majority of the print run was recycled in 1940 due to paper shortages.

PAGES 9-10. Maggie Braddock discovers Betsy and summons the Braddock family.

Self-explanatory. When Jubilee says they’re not all sure that it’s really Betsy, she seems to be referring specifically to Rogue, given Rogue’s relief in the next scene when Brian appears to agree with her.

PAGES 11-13. “Betsy” gets rid of Brian, “tags” Rogue and heads to Avalon.

The “Coven Akkaba freaks” were attacking the lighthouse in the previous issue, and apparently just went home in deference on being presented with someone who appeared to be Captain Britain – even someone they didn’t really recognise as such.

Because Brian isn’t a mutant, Betsy has to walk him to the gate to Avalon. But apparently she doesn’t have to go through it with him – introducing him to the gate is enough.

It’s entirely unclear why Betsy goes to the trouble of waking Rogue before leaving, but Rogue reasonably infers in the next scene that Betsy wants her to follow.

PAGE 14. Excalibur make plans.

A rare example of Avalon’s insane ruler Jamie Braddock actually being referred to in dialogue as “Monarch”, his supposed codename.

PAGE 15. Gambit meets with Jamie.

Jamie seems genuinely unaware of Betsy’s return, which is plausible enough given that Brian didn’t know either.

He immediately takes seriously the idea that this isn’t the real Betsy. The “extras” that he made in the past are presumably the pocket universe versions of Excalibur that he used to start creating a heretical divergent Captain Britain Corps, as seen in issue #10.

The “extra” Betsy he refers to is the clone that he asked Mister Sinister to make in the previous issue (cashing in the favour that Sinister owed him following the Hellions tie-ins to “X of Swords”).

PAGES 16-17. Rogue and Rictor discuss mutant magic.

Rictor continues to push the magical analysis that Apocalypse was advancing in earlier issues. Various series have shown groups of mutants using their powers in synergy to achieve more than they could do alone, including New Mutants and S.W.O.R.D. – Apocalypse, and now Rictor, claim this to be literally an example of a coven. The argument seems to be that the combination of superpowers allows the impossible to be achieved, and therefore superpowers – when deployed in the right way – are indistinguishable from magic, and therefore are magic. Rictor specifically makes the claim that this allows mutants access to magical power without having to pay any of the price that human sorcerers normally have to pay (“to [humans], magic only comes from what they sell their souls to”). This sounds suspect. Rictor is essentially claiming to have discovered the mystical equivalent of a free energy device.

Rogue seems entirely unconvinced by any of this, and behaves as though she’s indulging her friend’s questionable new religion. She rightly points out that Apocalypse’s approach was simply to manipulate them all without inviting them to join in his schemes; Rictor rationalises this away as teaching, but this seems wildly unconvincing.

PAGES 18-19. Gambit and Monarch in Castle Avalon.

This is the base which Apocalypse established after installing Jamie as his puppet monarch in issue #6. The prisoner is Morgan Le Fey, who they deposed. She was promised free passage, and betrayed. Gambit doesn’t seem to pick up on that aspect, but does seem to recognise that imprisoning Morgan will have caused more harm than good. On the other hand, he seems oblivious to the fact that she’s apparently being tortured.

The obvious implication is that the missing Betsy is the one that resurfaced on Earth at the end of last issue. If so, that begs the question of what happened to “our” Betsy when she seemingly travelled back to our world in the previous issue. It’s possible, of course, that our Betsy did return to the clone body that Jamie had waiting for her, which is why it’s escaped, and that the woman who appeared at the lighthouse was something else entirely.

PAGES 20-23. The new Betsy tries to stop Rogue and Rictor from getting near Apocalypse’s will.

Asked who she is, the new Betsy describes herself as one of Rogue’s “oldest friends”. This isn’t something to do with Mystique, is it? At any rate, the current Psylocke (Kwannon) shows up to offer her assistance.

PAGE 24. Cypher’s translation of Apocalypse’s will, which is pretty straightforward. Apocalypse makes clear that he’s making the will not because he thought he could die, but because he expected to be “leaving soon”, presumably for Arakko. He claims that Rictor’s connection with the Earth makes him particularly well suited to deal with magic (and that the importance of Krakoa makes that connection to the Earth particularly important).

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan is meant to read NEXT: PSYLOCKE, but it actually reads NEXT: PSTYLOCKE.



Bring on the comments

  1. Diana says:

    It’s getting to the point where I can’t tell the difference between meaningful plot and typos. Sure, Pstylocke might be a thing, who even knows anymore

  2. Rob says:

    How is Maggie a toddler but Shogo is still an infant? He’s been around for 11 years!

  3. The Other Michael says:

    Well clearly, Shogo is was affected by vampires so he ages extremely slowly, while Maggie has spent time in Otherworld where time runs differently.

    At least that’s my comic book logic for you.

    Howard’s characters honestly don’t act right most of the time and it’s bugging the hell out of me. Especially Rictor, who has experienced a full personality transplant in order to fill this new role as earth druid or whatever.

  4. Mikey says:

    I hate that Rogue is forced to be the shout-y voice of reason in this book, when she’s allowed to do anything.

    Mike Carey wrote her as cerebral and observant. Kelly Thompson brought back her more playful side. This is… what is this?

  5. Si says:

    There’s a lot of babies about in Marvel right now. Shogo, Maggie, Cannonball’s kid, Spider-Woman’s kid, Tigra’s kid, Cage’s kid, probably a few more I’m forgetting right now. They’re going to cause all sorts of problems with anyone trying to nail down a coherent timescale.

    On the other hand, a Baby Avengers book would be amazing.

  6. Taibak says:

    Presumably Pstylocke is from Spider-Ham’s reality.

  7. MasterMahan says:

    Once again, Excalibur remains the “characters doing things for unclear reasons” book. Seriously, why did the cast just decide to hide imposter Betsy for two days? If it’s really her, they should tell people. If it’s a potential imposter, they should tell people.

    But no, inexplicably they keep her secret and people show up to yell at them for acting inexplicably.

    I did like the diamond effect for Emma, at least.

  8. Jon R says:

    This issue really dragged with Betsy. The jumpcut from last issue to this felt like we were missing a half-issue or so. Fine, the evil coven left. That seems silly but it at least fit with their whole “we can destroy the tower because none of the owners around” ridiculous line from last issue.

    Betsy’s not being Betsy suffered badly from the missing time though. I had a hard time getting into that when it was essentially all reactions to her behaviour off-camera between issues. Then mostly keeping the focus on the people around her might have been meant for mystery, but I just couldn’t connect.

  9. Alan L. says:

    I understand the complaints about this issue, but I read it directly after reading the X-force and S.W.O.R.D. issues for this week, and it was like a cool breeze blowing through my heart. Stuff was actually happening––lots of stuff. It wasn’t another “character reflects on the drift of the issues since the title started” story, or another “character gets a few anonymous character beats in the middle of a crossover” story––boring examples of which this week had in spades. True, we don’t know the reason things happen the way they do at all times in Excalibur, but that is a far cry from the action seeming unmotivated, or even on auto-pilot (the other books this week felt like the authors had in each case pushed “cruise control” and then took their foot off the gas). I appreciate this about the book; it presents itself as being on the frontier of the new status quo, and it keeps pushing ahead and mapping out that territory. The fact that story events are hard to be clear about in that respect is a reflection of the characters feeling their own way through that frontier, proceeding on instinct. Gut feelings and intuitions rule their every decision-–the formation of the team is based on that sense of anti-logic, and the narrative the book proposes moves in a similar fashion. For myself, I enjoy the elliptical story editing between issues, the way in which a story emerges out of a nagging feeling in the back of a character’s brain, and I even appreciate that the outcome of a lot of these adventures isn’t wholly clear-cut. Rogue being summoned to a game of tag by the false Betsy is a fun turn that made the issue more lively, and seemed both a little surprising and yet wholly apropos of that moment in the story, when the mystery of whether or not it was the real Betsy reached a bit of a peak. I don’t feel like the characters are not true to type––for one thing, they relate to one another in a way that for the most part recalls their past history––something Hickman will never learn to do in his own stories. And everything moves at a brisk clip, with a nicely propulsive energy to it. Personally, I’m slowly accepting the existence of this very frustrating post HoX/PoX status quo; I appreciate at least one of these writers getting up to some adventure and high spirits within it. I had more fun with this issue than with the other two this week put together.

    Though I would like Marcus To to add that belt to Rogue’s costume that used to be there. If she must wear the ugly Jim Lee costume again, that belt goes a long way to balancing it. She looks weirdly naked without it.

  10. So after all that time and effort getting Betsy back into her original body, they are pushing her into another body swap story?

  11. Rybread says:

    @Jonn R: The jumpcut thing seems to be a staple of this series and I’m not sure why. Pretty consistently, plots are started, advanced or resolved entirely “off-screen” in-between issues. It’s a really weird tic of Howard’s.

    @Alan L: Everyone has different tastes and I’m glad someone is enjoying this series, but I just don’t see it. To me, everything in this series DOES seem unmotivated. Characters make decisions not only inconsistent with how they’re traditionally written, but inconsistent with how they’ve been written in this series as well. Characters and plots appear and disappear seemingly at random.I commonly find myself asking “but why?” as I read an issue of Excalibur.
    I get finding SWORD and X-Force too slow, but I still think we should be asking for a better quality substitute than Excalibur. Stuff happens, sure, but it’s all so arbitrary, confusing and unsatisfying. And I think saying that Howard is doing it deliberately to reflect characters acting on gut instinct and being generally confused by the magical aspects of the plot themselves is giving her too much credit. It doesn’t read that way (and nothing else she’s written for Marvel conveys much of a sense of competency either)

  12. joshua corum says:

    And now Howard is getting a second book!? Very disappointing for this X-Fan. I’m hoping, with her penchant for writing characters completely unlike themselves, maybe Howard will be able to salvage all the madness Archangel’s been through over the past decade.

    Unfortunately, I’m fully expecting X-Corps to be as much of a mess as Excalibur and X of Swords 🙁

  13. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Ah. Well. I was waiting for the X-Corp book – honestly, I thought it was canned – but I have to say, I was hoping it would be somebody else writing it.

    I’ll still check it out. Who knows, I might be surprised.

  14. Alan L says:

    @Rybread: Personally, I’d rather not have any of this relaunch; it does very little I want from X-men stories; while I find the premise baseline intriguing, I think virtually every writing decision so far has done more to lock out whatever potential was there, rather than develop it. So as far as expecting better from the X-men, sure, I’d like to; but here we are, hostage to the interests and disinterests of a “visionary”––Hickman––whom I feel has done very little to make the transition of the X-men to this new status quo feel believable. All of the books are in one way or another compromised for me, because the central concept of Krakoa is such a uniquely exasperating creation. It’s such an hermetically–sealed fantasy Hickman has constructed that it seems to mean that none of the books in the line can connect to reality in any meaningful way, and I imagine reading the individual books years later will be a very daunting prospect.

    In that context, I like the narrative flow of Excalibur from one moment to the next, the sense that they are dealing with and reacting to a series of uncanny events, or at least, schemes where they know too little to really be on top of––and it comes through very clearly to me that the characters in this group are there not because they’re the most likely group to form a new Excalibur, but because their connections to one another motivate them to plunge in and help each other. I think Howard does a decent job of underlining that in the casual way the characters talk to one another, and in the way they react to the presence of a subtle-y different Betsy, for instance––a very similar thing was done in X-factor last week, where the team came together to suss out Lorna’s hypnosis-fueled undermining of their investigation––that coming together happened off-panel, and our clue that it was happening was in how the characters related to one another on the page. And I think Howard does this pretty well, also. Throughout the series there have been consistent themes relating to Betsy that come from some of her earliest comic appearances: the idea of her being an imposter as Captain Britain, or not up to the task, the notion of that undermining her sense of identity, and her subsequent adventures leading her to a more fragmented sense of self, complicated by her inhabiting the body of another person…and in the series her attempt to assert herself as Captain Britain is complicated by accusations and concerns directly related to that. In X of Swords she is literally shattered and reassembled out of separate pieces––a corps of Captain Britains all drawn from different fragments of her. And now the search for the real Betsy involves her friends, who have assembled into Excalibur, and also the woman whose body she “appropriated” after going through the Siege Perilous. All of this is drawn from either Betsy’s previous appearances in the X-men franchise, or from a critical reading of it (the imposter idea is very much part still there in her early days in the X-men, and the appropriation narrative is really drawn from readers reaction against her becoming a sexy Japanese ninja), so I don’t think of it as unmotivated. This is one of the only books in the franchise right now (X-factor as well) that bases some aspects of its plot around the idea that these characters existed before HoX/PoX, and had issues of their own before it. The other characters in Excalibur bring issues of their own, but the subject of the book is very clearly whether Betsy will be able to reconcile her ambiguous and multifaceted identity with the demands and expectations people have of a Captain Britain; the other members of Excalibur gather around her because of their relationship to her, and their support of her (Apocalypse not so much, but his presence helped to get the ball rolling, and it’s very within Betsy’s previous character to ally herself with someone like Apocalypse––throughout her X-men career she is consistently portrayed as more pragmatic than many of her more idealistic peers). So to me there’s a very clear story, and a reason why each character is there––which is all the more reason to fracture the narrative with a sense of surrealism––which I think helps the book feel fresh and entertaining. Personally, I enjoy having to make these leaps of narrative understanding––I don’t see them as dizzying so much as a challenge to unpack and interpret. And while Hickman makes a lot of arbitrary moves with his stories, Howard’s do not seem so arbitrary for me, precisely because she’s making decisions with character motivation in mind––and Hickman doesn’t do that, at all. And while the pace of the X-force and S.W.O.R.D. issues this week is slow, what I object to most about them is the tiredness of them, the feeling that energy has been sapped from those books; the sense that they are drifting until the next event realigns the X-men status quo. Excalibur, by comparison, feels like it has places it’s going. That makes it, to my mind, more dynamic than these other books (X-factor is good in this way, as well, though in terms of personal taste, I appreciate that Excalibur has a somewhat larger sense of ambition behind it); it’s a book with ground to cover, and an approach to covering that ground that is its own. So, I mean, I don’t hate it. Reading all of these books (except Wolverine and Cable, because, I mean, there’s tiresome and then there’s tiresome), Excalibur is the main one I have a consistently good time with. That’s maybe getting a little deeper into where I am with this book and what I’m getting out of it.

  15. Chris V says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to judge SWORD yet. It is on its third issue and is forced in to a line-wide crossover.
    Al Ewing is the most talented writer Marvel has currently.
    I am willing to cut him some slack for phoning in a plot after getting stuck with an editorial edict by issue #2.
    The first issue of SWORD was the most excited I felt about a X-title since Powers of X ended.

    Granted, part of that is simply disappointment with the line, as it failed to properly follow up on any interesting ideas Hickman introduced in House/Powers.

    Tini Howard doesn’t get the same pass from me as Ewing, because I haven’t enjoyed any of her work for Marvel yet.
    Plus, I gave her a number of issues on Excalibur and I found the book annoying. Swords of X was even more problematic.

  16. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Well that’s a shame, I was looking forward to X-Corp as an idea.

    I guess I’ll give it an issue or two, but Excalibur and Strikeforce do not make me hopeful.

  17. John Wyatt says:

    I binge-read Tini Howard’s short-lived Strikeforce not too long ago, and it has a lot of the same shortcomings of Excalibur.
    The lineup doesn’t make sense (Winter Soldier and Son of Satan, why not?), and the story also involves the characters participating in a mystery that don’t understand and isn’t explained to the readers.

    I must admit I found it much more fun and funny than Excalibur.

  18. Uncanny X-Force says:

    I agree with you, I think it had the same baffling plotting issues but was more likable than what I read of Excalibur.

    I liked the goofy cast.

    Give me more Angela, Winter Soldier, Spider-Woman, Blade, and Spectrum any day.

  19. neutrino says:

    @Alan L
    “… the other members of Excalibur gather around her because of their relationship to her, and their support of her (Apocalypse not so much, but his presence helped to get the ball rolling, and it’s very within Betsy’s previous character to ally herself with someone like Apocalypse––throughout her X-men career she is consistently portrayed as more pragmatic than many of her more idealistic peers).”

    The trouble with that interpretation is that except for maybe Rogue, they don’t really have much of a connection to Betsy. She isn’t so much an ally of Apocalypse as a lackey. It’s hard not to see why the doubts about her being a worthy Captain Britain aren’t justified.

  20. Evilgus says:

    You can make somewhat of a case for Rogue and Betsy being close. But I think in terms of friendships, Betsy was shown as being closer to Storm, Dazzler, and (latterly) Rachel. Also Beast and Gambit.

    Jubilee is also interesting. She’s always been wary of Psylocke. Jubilee herself is Asian, and was there for the first body swap in Acts of Vengeance. She’s well positioned to ask the meaningful questions. But at the moment, she’s so much background.

Leave a Reply