RSS Feed
Jun 12

Excalibur #21 annotations

Posted on Saturday, June 12, 2021 by Paul in Annotations

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

EXCALIBUR vol 4 #21
“Don’t Feel Like Dancin'”
by Tini Howard, Marcus To & Erick Arciniega

COVER / PAGE 1: Rictor storms out of the Hellfire Gala, leaving earthquake-related chaos behind him. It doesn’t happen quite so literally in the issue itself.

PAGE 2. Excalibur prepare to head to the party.

As we’ll see later, Rictor’s basic objection to the Hellfire Gala is that he sees it as another example of how everyone has moved on and forgotten about Apocalypse. When, clearly, everyone should be spending their days brooding about Apocalypse like Rictor does. He does have a point that nobody else appears to be especially bothered about Apocalypse’s departure, and you can see that by this point he might well be reading that as a personal insult too – not only has Apocalypse’s interest in mutant magic been sidelined by everyone else, but what must they think of Rictor’s attempt to keep it alive?

The butterflies hovering around Betsy’s dress reflect the butterfly image that appears over her face when she uses her telepathy.

PAGE 3. Recap and credits. As with all “Hellfire Gala” tie-in issues, the layout has been altered to vaguely resemble an invitation. And there’s a big red circle, for reasons that will become apparent in this week’s X-Men.

PAGES 4-5. Shatterstar approaches Rictor.

Apparently Betsy has been absent from the public eye for “months”, which is part of the reason that Clan Akkaba are giving for sidelining her. Although Betsy only went actively missing at the end of “X of Swords”, she spent several issues before that on Otherworld affairs, and she’s done very little public in Britain (that we’ve seen, at least) over the course of this series. The last storyline to take place in the real world was the Cullen Bloodstone two-parter in issues #6-7, and even that was largely in private. So the British public will have seen little or no evidence of Betsy actually performing the functions of Captain Britain.

Like everyone at this gala, Betsy’s dress is designed by Jumbo Carnation, the mutant fashion designer from (principally) Marauders.

Shatterstar and Rictor were a couple for a long time (though admittedly, a lot of that was when they weren’t actually appearing anywhere regularly). Shatterstar just returned to Earth over in X-Factor #9, after a lengthy stint as an unwilling broadcaster in the Mojoverse. In particular, he’s come direct from his fight with the Morrigan in that issue, which is why he’s covered in blood. Rictor seems to misread this as a fashion statement.

The fight with the Morrigan  ended with the Morrigan doing something unspecified-yet-magical to Shatterstar and the absent Rictor. This might well have something to do with Rictor’s mood in this issue. X-Factor #9 indicated that the Morrigan arc would be continued in X-Factor #10, another Hellfire Gala tie-in and the final issue of that series.

PAGE 6. Excalibur congratulate Rogue on being elected to the X-Men.

This evidently comes immediately after the scene in X-Men #21 where the new X-Men are announced. Rogue is joining the X-Men and is effectively written out of the series, which is a little awkward given that her husband Gambit is staying. We’re told here that Gambit (and their pet cats) will be maintaining a home with Excalibur as well as the marital home on Krakoa.

PAGES 7-8. Pete Wisdom brings Betsy up to speed.

“Rogue’s smart little lie to get Coven Akkaba off your ass while Miss Malice was in charge…” In issue #17,  Rogue got Coven Akkaba to leave the lighthouse alone by pointing to the apparent return of Betsy Braddock. As we found out in issue #19, this was actually a duplicate body created by Jamie Braddock, temporarily possessed by Malice. Despite what Pete says here, Rogue doesn’t seem to have been lying in issue #17; she had obvious doubts about whether this was the right Betsy  by the start of issue #18, but that’s about it.

“Ridiculous mutant fashions.” Pete has consistently refused to have anything to do with Krakoan culture in this series. Frankly, even the costume he’s wearing is far too over the top. For this line to work he shouldn’t be wearing anything more elaborate than a conventional tuxedo (preferably hired).

Pete is rather vague about who exactly nominated Clan Akkaba to a position of authority. In previous issues Howard seemed to be saying that decisions in this area were being taken by the Queen herself. But she also seems to be suggesting here that getting appointed as an ambassador gives Brousseau the ability to make foreign policy, which is very much Not How It Works. It’s all rather hand-wavey, but I’m not sure the practicalities of how Brousseau has achieved political power, and who exactly he’s influencing, can really be glossed over to quite this extent if the plot is going to work.

As we’ll see later, Pete was asked to accompany Clan Akkaba on this event because they’re planning to sacrifice him later. (He’ll be fine. They’ll resurrect him.)

PAGES 9-11. Brousseau repudiates the UK/Krakoa deal.

Again, there’s a fundamental problem in presenting this as a decision of Brousseau himself, rather than a decision of the UK Government under his influence. It seems to be a Brexit allegory, but nothing about it really shows any real understanding of the political forces at work on the British right. Unfortunately, we’re coming back here to one of my fundamental problems with Excalibur, which is that the plot demands to be about “what representing Britain means”, and by extension what Britain means.  But the book seems largely oblivious to modern Britain and to the questions of nationalism and identity that have dominated British politics over the last five to ten years.

Arthur vanished from Avalon somewhere before issue #1, for reasons which have never been clearly established. It’s by no means clear that he “abandoned” his post as Betsy alleges, and it’s far from apparent what basis she might have for that allegation. Obviously, there’s a parallel here with Betsy furiously rejecting the same allegation when directed at her.

PAGES 12-13. Meggan and Nightcrawler.

This is reprising the Captain Britain / Meggan / Nightcrawler triangle from the original Excalibur run. Meggan is very obviously pregnant and Brian must be staggeringly slow on the uptake if he can’t see it.

Nightcrawler was also drunk over in Hellions #12, though that scene presumably comes later in the night.

PAGE 14. Betsy and Rachel.

“Back when Malice had you taken over, I didn’t pry. And I told others not to pry.” In issue #18.

PAGE 15. Data page on Coven Akkaba.

Katherine Bushwick. This sounds like a reference to the Witches of Bushwick, which seems to have been some sort of witchcraft-inspired networking outfit in Brooklyn a few years back. The name was also used for a film that played the festival circuit last year.

“Murray’s largely disproved ‘witch cult’ hypothesis, which states that modern British covens are holdouts of pre-Roman druidic god and hero worship.” The witch-cult hypothesis was a theory that medieval witch trials were actually an attempt to suppress remaining pagan religions; by implication, it would indeed be claiming that surviving  British covens were descendants of that religion. Although she didn’t originate the idea, it was indeed popularised by Margaret Murray (1863-1963), who wrote a book in the topic in 1921 (The Witch-Cult in Western Europe), had some acceptance in mainstream academia, and wrote the article on witchcraft in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. The theory has indeed long since been discredited – which is interesting considering the druids who are wandering around in this book.

The High Priestess and Priest. Although all the focus is on Brousseau, we do keep getting reminded about Marianna Stern.

Coven Scandia. Presumably referring to Sir Percy of Scandia, the Marvel Universe’s original (Arthurian) Black Knight.

Coven Modred. Referring to the sorcerer Modred the Mystic.

PAGES 16-17. Clan Akkaba sacrifice Pete Wisdom.

Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. But this also means he’ll be resurrected on Krakoa, a place he’s been actively avoiding up to now.

PAGE 18. Morgan le Fey is freed.

Morgan has been a prisoner of Jamie Braddock since he deposed her in issue #6. He was supposed to give her free passage but… well. The suggestion seems to be that this is a good time to cast the spell because Jamie is (unusually) away from Avalon and attending the party.

PAGES 19-20. Rictor summons the druids.

Basically, he’s symbolically moving the lighthouse off mainland Britain and onto an island.

Note that he uses a version of the “To me, my X-Men” rallying call.

PAGES 21-22. Morgan escapes Avalon.

Rictor seems decidedly upset by what he’s achieved here. His earlier comments were about doubting he could do it, but he really doesn’t seem celebratory at all. Hmm.

PAGE 23. Rictor and Shatterstar catch up.

PAGE 24. Data page. Apparently the Krakoans are claiming that their artifically created island about a minute’s swim from the mainland is not part of Britain. Good luck with that.

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: DOWN THE BARREL.



Bring on the comments

  1. Mathias X says:

    Wild how as soon as the cast of an Excalibur book includes Nightcrawler, Brian, Meggan, Rachel and Pete Wisdom, it starts to work.

    I seriously have to wonder if having Rogue, Gambit and Jubliee here instead of any classic Excalibur members was an editorial mandate, because Tini seems way more comfortable writing actual Excalibur characters than those X-Men.

  2. Suzene says:

    Didn’t Howard say as much in some of the early post-HOX/POX interviews – that her original plans had been for Betsy, Poccy, and Rictor, and the others were editorial “suggestions”?

  3. Allan M says:

    Wisdom’s info dump of “by the way, the UK government got secretly taken over by a few dozen cultists, couldn’t be bothered to put it on the page prior to now” is about the clunkiest storytelling imaginable, and as Paul points out, seems like it’s meant to be a Brexit allegory but bears no resemblance to Brexit in any way. We’re also 21 issues into a series where the villains keep asserting that Betsy is ultimately loyal to Krakoa instead of Britain, and has yet to bother establishing how Betsy feels about Britain. For all we know, Clan Akkaba may be right. The closest we got was that she met the Queen, and even that wasn’t on-panel.

    Rogue leaves the team, and Gambit stays, despite having complained basically every issue in which he gets a line of dialogue. Why? With Rogue out, why would any of this interest him at all?

    But the one that defeats me is the Rictor story, where he’s upset and they’re riding the line between abandoned cultist and jilted lover, except we don’t actually know how Rictor was brought into Team Apocalypse in the first place. (Or why his powers changed, for that matter.) Given the short time frame involved, some kind of brainwashing seems like the obvious explanation, but again, it’s been 21 issues and we still don’t know, but we’re expected to care. Should we feel pity since Rictor’s been brainwashed? Should we feel concern because he genuinely cared? I have no idea, because Tini Howard hasn’t bothered writing a story where we can make that assessment.

  4. SanityOrMadness says:

    @Paul: You keep referring to Coven Akkaba as Clan Akkaba, which is related only in that they were both once associated with Apocalypse (the Clan was Apocalypse’s descendents, the Coven is a bunch of human dupes of his who have since become violently anti-mutant.)

    [Not a great choice of name, but it’s in line with this series’ overall decision-making…]

  5. Mike says:

    Every female character is either shouting like a petulant teen or saying “haha ha” in place of decent dialogue.

  6. wwk5d says:

    “the Rictor story, where he’s upset and they’re riding the line between abandoned cultist and jilted lover”

    I doubt he has pouted and whined this much over Rahne or Shatterstar in the past.

    Tini Howard might be a nice person, but this book is still something of a mess. To be honest it’s probably the title I like the least (I don’t care much for Cable or Children of the Atom, but I’m more indifferent to them than anything else). But this book tends to be a slog to read through. And yeah, her perception of what the UK is today is just so off.

    At least it’s nice to look at.

  7. Loz says:

    Gee Rictor, why not go and talk to Archangel and Wolverine about why people aren’t sad to see the back of Apocalypse? Or Scott, Jean and Nathan? Or Bishop, if he remembers? Yeah, I know we don’t do long continuity any more but he literally spent a few days with Apocalypse and now is all bitter because the big guy dumped him in favour of his wife.

    I don’t go to American comics for verisimilitude about what the U.K. is like but while the Claremont/Davis era seemed knowingly fake Howard’s stuff reads like she thinks it’s genuinely like this.

    But maybe she’s turning the Excalibur lighthouse into Sealand?

  8. Evilgus says:

    I’m giving up on this book. It is just so clunky; Betsy herself is very unlikeable. As noted, the criticism that Betsy has been absent from being Captain Britain is a valid one (couldn’t we have had an issue or montage of UK-based adventures?).

    Outside of Betsy, Apocalypse and Rictor, the rest of the cast really haven’t had anything to do. It’s very ineffective (Jubilee just carries around the baby. Everywhere).

    And I’m really don’t want to read a tin eared Brexit allegory…!

  9. neutrino says:

    Since when can a UN Ambassador make foreign policy on his own, or order around head of a military intelligence department? There should have been some debate in Parliment. How was Pete Wisdom taken so easily, when he survived and fought back from a surprise attack by Colossus?

  10. Loz says:

    The smart idea would be for Wisdom to have rustled up a decoy from somewhere, the likely result is that because everyone can get resurrected on Krakoa now people can suddenly be very bad at keeping themselves alive with no consequences.

  11. Joseph S. says:

    Anyone else bothered by the tangent line on the cover? Rictor’s leg and cape and the chunk of earth. I get it’s dividing the composition up with the x cast on the right but the bottom left of the page just looks awkward. Asrar is a pro and wouldn’t accidentally slip in a tangent but I just can’t get over how awkward the negative space is.

    And I broadly agree with the criticism Howard’s getting but it also feels somehow excessive, maybe people are a bit too eager to pile on. Her lack of nuance regarding Britain is a serious problem, but otherwise she’s done good work slow seeding b-plots amidst crossover events. A lot of the confusion seems to me to come from To’s unclear narrative storytelling, though how much of that is the script is open to debate.

    Considering the line is now as expansive as it is, Inferno might be a going opportunity to move this book into its endgame and put it to rest.

  12. Mike Loughlin says:

    Joseph S, I don’t think the problem is To’s storytelling. I never felt confused about what was going on when he was drawing Nightwing. I think the main problems are that too many events in Excalibur happen off-panel and/or are not explained clearly, characters aren’t being properly or consistently utilized, and the above-mentioned lack of knowledge about modern Britain.

    As for certain cast members being editorially-mandated… in 1991, Peter David & Larry Stroman were handed a list of B- & C-listers and told to make an X-Factor series. Every character had a role, and the spotlight rotated between them. There’s no reason the cast of Excalibur shouldn’t have been treated in a similar manner.

  13. wwk5d says:

    I have to agree that To is not the issue here. The art is one of the title’s few saving graces.

    As for the pile up…well, people need to stop coddling bad writers. There is a reason why Hellions, Marauders, etc, are not experiencing “a pile up”, and that’s because the writing on other titles is actually good.

    “As for certain cast members being editorially-mandated… in 1991, Peter David & Larry Stroman were handed a list of B- & C-listers and told to make an X-Factor series. Every character had a role, and the spotlight rotated between them. There’s no reason the cast of Excalibur shouldn’t have been treated in a similar manner.”

    I suppose that’s one example of separating a good writer from someone who isn’t.

  14. Jon R says:

    My biggest problem continues to be that the political parts are really really shallow feeling. I have other problems, but that’s the biggest. There’s just so much political maneuvering that feels shallow and happening just because the writer says so.

    Like, ‘we reject your mutant drugs’. I can get some countries doing so from the outset, but once you’re on them it should really be a bigger deal for your population to get off of them. Have the King of Britain– wait, no, he’s an ambassador, I forget. Have him talk about how he’s going to replace the filthy mutant drugs with pure British magic. Maybe they’ll follow on that later, but there’s so much handwaving going on that I don’t feel like it’s something to wait and see.

    Also, agreed on Wisdom going down too easily. Just throw in a little art of the mages using shiny powers. The way it was shown, it looked like they just all piled on him and.. no.

    And lastly, the whole island thing seems like, you know, an act of war? Another thing maybe they’ll properly follow up on, but I don’t know that it was intended to come off that way at all. A sovereign country rejects Krakoa and half an hour later a Krakoan peels off part of their land to claim in the name of Krakoa? That seems like a pretty huge diplomatic incident that should reach beyond this one book, and have all of Britain’s allies soundly and rightfully screaming at Krakoa.

  15. Chris V says:

    I don’t understand how Hickman expects the Krakoan drugs to be believable.
    Every individual in a country that signs the trade deal is supposed to be taking these drugs, voluntarily?

    Yeah. That’s believable.
    First of all, everyone on Krakoa acts creepy and Magneto is telling humans that “mutants are their new gods”.
    So, everyone is supposed to trust this island whi just popped up in the maps out of nowhere?

    Secondly, even if the Krakoans were absolute angels, this is still a world that celebrated the potential extinction of all mutants.
    Besides that fact, like the internet wouldn’t be full of conspiracy theories? Look at the Covid-pandemic.
    Hell, this very web-site had fan theories that Moira’s plan was to give all humans cancer with these drugs.
    Imagine if this was reality instead of a comic book.

  16. Chris V says:

    I’m glad the book isn’t planning to replace the drugs though.
    That would just muddle everything more.

    People would be asking if magic could do these marvellous things, why wasn’t the government using magic for all these years to improve citizens’ lives?
    Then, there would have to be an eventual out to also eventually explain why this magic wasn’t going to forever change the Marvel Universe.
    With the Krakoan drugs, at least Hickman has an end game.

    So, all it means is that the citizens of the country won’t get their extra (up to) five years of life, will be susceptible to certain diseases and cancers again, and be able to pursue technological advancements in the name of becoming post-human so they can kill all the mutants.
    Eh, most of the mutant drugs are pretty overrated and vague anyway. I don’t think anyone is missing out on much by rejecting the drugs.

  17. Jon R says:

    Oh yeah, in the case of him claiming magic would replace the drugs, I wouldn’t expect him to actually pull it off. I’d just expect him to make claims that he has no way to back up in order to get the support he wants, and sucks if you believed him and actually needed those drugs.

    I mean, if you’re going to do a version of Brexit…

  18. ASV says:

    It does come across as similar to the promise to shift all the EU money into the NHS, but also like Trump claiming for four years that his beautiful new healthcare plan would be coming out in two weeks. I might forgive some of the obvious political nonsense if Howard were actually going to get into the ground level public opinion stuff about politicians’ moves like that, but I’d be surprised if that’s where this is going.

  19. Ceries says:

    If there was one book that absolutely needed to be written by a British author, it was probably this one. Howard’s ignorance here is roughly as painful as Duggan’s over in Marauders, but at least Duggan has the excuse of trying to cover multiple countries

  20. Chris V says:

    Excalibur has always been best when written by a British author.
    Chris Claremont was born in England, Alan Davis, Warren Ellis…
    Those are the only Excalibur comics worth reading (the original Claremont issues I mean when I list Chris Claremont).

    Hickman has Si Spurrier working for Marvel now. He just wrote probably the best commentary on Brexit you could hope for in a fictional form with his Hellblazer. If that’s what they wanted, he’s right there.
    I think Spurrier was more interested in getting to write Dr. Nemesis and Legion again, if he was going to be working on a X-title.

Leave a Reply