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Apr 8

Excalibur #20 annotations

Posted on Thursday, April 8, 2021 by Paul in Annotations

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

EXCALIBUR vol 4 #20
“No Pity From Your Friends”
by Tini Howard, Marcus To & Erick Arciniega

COVER / PAGE 1: Rogue, Captain Britain and Psylocke are menaced by Malice.

PAGES 2-5: Flashback – the origin of Malice.

Teenager Alice McAllister is found by her mother in her bedroom, having apparently committed suicide as threatened. The suggestion here is that Alice doesn’t actually commit suicide, but rather that her astral form spontaneously leaves her body, and that she chooses to stay that way rather than attempt to return. Quite why she leaves her body isn’t clear here, since there’s nothing obvious to trigger it. It might just be her powers emerging, though she’s a bit old for that.

Alice is wearing the familiar Malice choker when she comes in, though the art largely keeps it obscure, presumably to avoid spoiling where the scene is going. It’s visible in page 2 panel 3, though.

The time frame is given simply as “Way back when”. The title of this issue, “No Pity From Your Friends”, is a lyric from “Disorder” by Joy Division, the opening track of their 1979 debut album “Unknown Pleasures”. Joy Division’s frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide in May 1980, after which the remaining band members became New Order. On the other hand, the nightclub scene later in the issue seems to vaguely suggest that Betsy and Alice were going to the same nightclubs, and Malice is compared to an angry teenager, all of which would imply this was meant to be more recent. Like a lot of things in Marvel continuity, it’s probably best thought of as conveniently indeterminate.

This is the first time it’s been clearly confirmed that Malice is a disembodied human mutant, as opposed to some sort of psychic entity. The flashback doesn’t attempt to ascribe Alice’s mental health issues to anything in particular; she’s intentionally being presented as a fairly familiar type.

PAGE 6. Data page on Malice. All of this is from previous history. Malice possessed Polaris for a lengthy stretch in the late 80s, during which Polaris served as the leader of the Marauders. Storm, Wolverine, Rogue and Dazzler were all possessed by Malice during her debut in Uncanny X-Men vol 1 #214. The necklace has always been a feature of Malice’s possessions; she disguised it by swallowing it in the previous issue. You’d have thought it would be easier just to throw it away or stick it in a pocket, but maybe that just makes it reappear or something.

Malice’s motivations aren’t spelled out directly in this issue; previously she’s mainly been presented as a malicious sadist, and obviously this story is tying all that in to deep self-hatred. An obvious point is that even though Malice persists throughout this story in claiming that she doesn’t want to be restored to a physical body, she’s spent her entire career trying to possess physical bodies, and she was trying to take over the “vacant” Betsy Braddock body in the previous issue, with no immediately obvious  agenda in mind. It’s unlikely that Malice has particularly worked through these tensions and contradictions in her own mind.

PAGE 7. Recap and credits.

PAGES 8-13. Captain Britain addresses the Quiet Council, and Malice tries to possess Emma Frost.

Mr Sinister, stirring as usual, reminds us that Isca – who “killed” Betsy during “X of Swords” – is living on the now-neighbouring island of Arakko. He describes her as “invited … to stay”, but he must be referring to the island. Given her attitude over in X-Men, it seems unlikely that Isca will be showing up at the tiki bar any time soon.

The “gala” is the Hellfire Gala which has been building for a while in Marauders, and where the new X-Men team is due to debut; Kate advises Betsy to get a gown from mutant fashion designer Jumbo Carnation, a Marauders supporting character.

Sebastian Shaw is in a wheelchair and wearing an eyepatch after being poisoned and attacked in Marauders, though he’s looking a bit healthier here – his speaking voice is back to normal, for example. His contribution to this particular discussion is perfectly sensible as far as it goes; on any view, British public opinion is something that Captain Britain ought to be paying some attention to for purely pragmatic reasons.

Saturnyne refused to speak to the Krakoans without Captain Britain as an intermediary in issue #18. She didn’t actually learn for sure that Betsy’s soul had returned until issue #19, but she probably knew in practice. The cut-in panel shows Saturnyne glaring at the Captain Britain mosaic that she assembled at the end of “X of Swords” to reconstitute the Captain Britain Corps in Betsy’s image.

The idea that deaths in Otherworld leave characters permanently changed upon resurrection was established in “X of Swords”. We’ve seen Rockslide rebooted as a new character in X-Factor. We haven’t seen Gorgon since his resurrection but we’ve been told before that he was resurrected.

The Council are weirdly preoccupied with the gate to Otherworld as one of the biggest threats to mutants (though Xavier does at least specify individual mutants, since the bigger concern for mutantdom as a whole is post-humanity). The concern is simply that mutants who go to Otherworld and die can’t be resurrected, but this hardly seems sufficient reason to shut down the gate entirely, as opposed to limiting the number of people who can go through it. To be fair, the latter is basically what Excalibur propose, and it establishes a clear remit for the group.

Attacking Emma Frost in the Council chamber seems staggeringly ill advised. Yes, Malice waits until most people have left, but there are still two A-list psychics in the room to her knowledge. Maybe she’s trying to get caught.

Betsy correctly points out that Malice hasn’t technically broken any laws, although since Krakoa only has three of them, that’s not really saying much. Professor X more or less tells them outright that Krakoa deals with security threats anyway, and anyone who tries to attack a Council member needs to be dealt with. He reminds us of the Hole, which was established in House of X #6 and keeps getting periodic mentions. As he says here, it’s supposedly a form of suspended animation without unconsciousness, which in some unfathomable way is meant to be preferable to prisons. Psylocke – hardly the voice of ethical purity – points out how little sense that makes. It certainly doesn’t work if the idea is that it’s more humane. The logic would have to depend on prisons being too visible or not threatening enough, or something of that sort.

PAGE 14. Data page – a string of text messages from Pete Wisdom trying to remind Captain Britain to pay attention to the Clan Akkaba subplot. For some reason, she seems to be completely ignoring him. You’d think she’d at least ask one of her teammates to call him back.

PAGES 15-16. Kwannon visits the lighthouse.

The dresses that they wind up burning were presumably ordered by Betsy when she was in Kwannon’s body. They don’t fit Betsy in her own body, and they don’t fit Kwannon’s style.

Kwannon wants to help Malice in order to set a precedent “for those of us separated from our bodies”. Presumably Betsy’s interest is similar. Betsy was never discorporated for any extended period, in the way that Malice was, but Kwannon was effectively bodiless after Betsy’s body died from the Legacy Virus; stories seem a bit vague about what happened to her then, and whether she just floated around for a while or returned to her own body as a subordinated personality. At any rate, you can see why Kwannon might have some sympathy for Malice – though she’s behaving rather more empathetically here than she tends to over in Hellions. Of course, she’s not trying to keep a bunch of villains in line here.

PAGES 17-19. Betsy speaks to Alice in the nightclub.

The nightclub is fictional.

Alice describes Betsy’s copied body from the previous issues as “just some empty body that was useful to me”, but glosses over the question of why it was useful to her. From the look of it, Alice is very resistant to dealing with others as herself rather than through the persona of someone she’s possessing.

PAGES 20-22. Malice re-enacts X of Swords.

Malice is rather clumsily trying to throw Betsy off guard by re-enacting her “death” at the hands of Isca in issue #14 (hence the repetition of the shattering motif from that scene). This isn’t Malice’s usual sort of psychic warfare anyway, and she’s not getting very far before Kwannon intervenes.

PAGES 23-24. Malice is resurrected and Professor X is persuaded not to exile her.

In the short term, Malice seems to view this as more of a punishment than just being banished to the hole, since it involves having to actually interact with others as herself. Betsy and Kwannon appears to be sympathetic to Malice’s predicament as a disembodied entity; Emma seems to be claiming a more general sympathy for “those who had it hard when they were young”, which in this case presumably means mental health.

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: BREAKING UP.


Bring on the comments

  1. Jon R says:

    I liked this more than most of Excalibur, because I liked where they went with Malice. The parts in the Council with Professor X felt very heavy-handed though.

    Considering Malice’s initial reaction way back when to being stuck in Lorna, her reactions here worked for me. She likes being in a body, and an empty body means no risk of the real personality kicking her out, but the idea of being bound to anything upsets her. All the way back to Dazzler she seems to like enjoying a body for a while if she has her druthers.

    About the timelines, I assumed that it just meant that there was a long period between Alice-the-teenager and when we first saw Malice, which fit. Malice never emotionally grew up as the years went on, because why would she? It’s not like she had to face any permanent consequences until she got bonded with Lorna for a while.

  2. Si says:

    I imagine all the self-loathing and spite for the world stem from going through life named Alice McAllister.

  3. Joseph S. says:

    As usual, a lot of good ideas and character moments here, but some trouble with the execution.

    One of the promising avenues opened up by Krakoa Is For All Mutants is a humanizing villainous characters who have tended to have fuzzy motives, like ^A^ in this book or what Ayala is doing with the Shadow King in New Mutants. Malice makes sense thematically here, but aside from giving her a bit of a goth/punk back story, the story fails to give her any actual personality or motives. This is an especially unfortunate failure, since it is at least thematically a story about self-harm and suicide (enough that it warrants the inclusion of the Suicide Prevention Hotline on the final page). Alice isn’t just playing into familiar tropes, she’s just a caricature of a depressed teenager. Howard really needed to do better than this, maybe we don’t need trauma porn, but even some vague gestures would have been better than this. Everything we learn about her comes from her mother or Betsy, which is fine if the point is that M/Alice is cut off from everyone around her, but the reader really needs some more insight into her personality.

    Of the “suicide” scene itself, it seems it might have been sold better if coloring had been different. Mum appears with tea, and some time has passed, noticeably more sun than in the 4am scene, but the prior page of Alice storming off to her room is already colored more lightly.

    There’s also a lot of like about the scene with the clothes, but for a scene like that to work the art has to really sell that these are women with different body types, and To doesn’t do that. All the characters are literally showing off their long legs in a panel where they’re complaining they’re not leggy enough. Leah William’s X-Terminators did some nice work with Betsy and her struggles with her body image, establishing that she felt more free and confident in Psyloche’s body (this despite having been canonically a model in her original body). So seeing them talk about having different body types when being drawn with nearly identical bodies seems like another real failure. Jubilee at least is depicted as more petite, but Rogue, Betsy, and Kwannon all have basically the same body. Still, it is a nice call back to the scene in the Australia era when Jubilee meets, I think it was, Rogue, Betsy, and Black Widow, asking Wolverine is he only hangs out with super models or something like that.

  4. Joseph S. says:

    @Si, Malice McMallister is a definite improvement

  5. CJ says:

    I liked this a little more for trying to flesh out (haha) Malice a bit. Everyone being so eager to help her seemed uncharacteristic. Psylocke and Betsy maybe, as Paul mentioned. But Rogue? Emma Frost?

    And yes, Professor X’s “unmoving with the joy of life” line was bizarre. His line about Otherworld being such a great threat to Krakoa rings a bit hollow too; I thought that was Orchis/Nimrod? Or the Children of the Vault? or XENO who’s actually slaughtered people on the island?

    I’m still not convinced about this overall direction of this book, but it was interesting to see something being done with Malice.

  6. John Wyatt says:

    The way Malice just popped up out of nowhere last issue makes me wonder if the editors changed the arc midway through. Over at AIPT, Tini Howard said Rogue was going to play a central role in this arc, but that didn’t happen. (Team-member Gambit wasn’t even in this issue.)

    I thought the handling of suicidal thoughts was very tone deaf. Malice is established as suicidal, so Captain Betsy and Psylocke kill her, resurrect her, and tell her to suck it up and get used to life?
    Krakoa needs better therapists.

  7. Bengt says:

    I got the impression her powers were emerging in the initial scene since she doesn’t know that she is invisible. Or at least the first time they triggered, she could have been able to leave her body without knowing it for some time.

    Also does cutting of the medallion and throwing it in the fire kill Malice? And how did they get the DNA to make a copy of her original body? It doesn’t seem like anyone would know about her before it was dead and buried, though I guess it can some kind of Sinister ex machina. What is going on with her hair colour on pages 23-24?

    Emma is hilariously tiny when Magneto holds her in the background on page 13.

  8. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I see two No-Prize explanations – one being that since Malice was a Marauder, Mr Sinister went to the trouble of finding out who she was and exhuming her corpse to get a DNA sample. Which is a thing Sinister would happily do if he thought it might someday come in handy. Also he had the hypnotic compulsion to gather the DNA of all mutants, as per HoXPoX.

    Another solution is that she’s not actually in ‘her’ body – just like Proteus is, apparently, using up redundant Charles Xavier bodies, Malice could have been downloaded into an unspecified body, made to look like her original one (Proteus is right there, after all; it also wouldn’t be a big stretch for Elixir to be able to sculpt flesh in such a way). There might be an issue with the ‘wrong’ mind being in the ‘wrong’ body, but – well, it’s not a problem for Proteus, and anyway possession is 9/10 of the law… and 10/10 of what Malice does.

    By the way, I’m still waiting for that ‘wrong mind in the wrong body’ problem to come up. It’s been flagged up as a story hook way back in HoXPoX and so far… nothing.

  9. Drew says:

    “…just like Proteus is, apparently, using up redundant Charles Xavier bodies…”

    I never really thought about it before, but that’s a bit of an Oedipal nightmare, isn’t it? I know Xavier isn’t Kevin’s dad, but still. Would you really want to use the body of your mom’s ex-boyfriend?

    “These are the same lips that used to kiss mum, these are the arms that used to hold her tenderly, this is the AHHHHHNONONONONO!!!!!”

    Maybe he just tries hard not to think about it.

  10. Karl_H says:

    Xavier making backups of Malice implies a much greater ability to find and identify her than I would have expected — “she could be anyone on Krakoa!” at least turned out not to be a major plot point. But I do like the idea behind the story a lot. What are her current mutant abilities supposed to be, though? Something like Jericho from the old Teen Titans?

    (The discussion about identical leggy female bodies reminded me of a recent back issue I read while following the Jay and Miles podcast — Jubilee’s terrible depiction by Roger Cruz in Generation X #7, although not the worst in that issue, is way, way off her design.)

  11. The Other Michael says:

    Now we can debate the ethics of granting a body to someone who doesn’t want one. “You’re getting a body whether you like it or not!”

    Maybe Malice can go visit Masque if she realizes the body she got (default husk? or something based of her original form, courtesy of what I’d assume to be Sinister’s DNA library?) doesn’t reflect who she really is now.

    I wonder if she can still possess people now that she’s been put back into a body, or if she’s stuck. If she can use her powers, is it like a Karma situation where she has multiple forms to keep track of, or does she move out altogether and leave behind an empty shell? What happens to the shell in her absence–does it still function or does it risk dying?

    Ah, the questions that come with random story developments. Who ever thought we’d spend this much time and energy on a character like Malice?

  12. SanityOrMadness says:

    Really, Proteus should be using Changeling “husks”. Betsy knows about the whole Morph-Proteus thing from Exiles, after all.

    Paul> Kwannon was effectively bodiless after Betsy’s body died from the Legacy Virus; stories seem a bit vague about what happened to her then, and whether she just floated around for a while or returned to her own body as a subordinated personality.

    Fallen Angels pretty much said she was in her body, but subordinated to Betsy the whole time. (Which fits with Rosenberg’s Uncanny, where that Kwannon couldn’t even speak English, while Revanche could. It strongly implied to me that Revanche was a separate copy from this Kwannon)

    Bengt> Emma is hilariously tiny when Magneto holds her in the background on page 13.

    Also, look at Malice’s arm shortly after she’s emerged from her egg. I think “withered” just about covers it.

  13. Alice McAllister would work better in the old Gaelic – Alice Mhic Allister (Alice, daughter of Aliister).

    Wondering if the Otherworld didn’t factor in any of the previous timeliness, which is why Charles is particularly worried about it.

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