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Nov 11

Excalibur #25 annotation

Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2021 by Paul in Annotations

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

EXCALIBUR vol 4 #25
“Come Fate Into the List”
by Tini Howard, Marcus To & Erick Arciniega

COVER / PAGE 1. Captain Britain and Arthur fight while falling from the Starlight Citadel.

PAGES 2-5. Betsy and Tom Lennox in the Green Lagoon.

Page 2 is intercut with flashback to the battle against Merlyn’s forces which was in progress at the end of the previous issue. As we establish in the next scene, Excalibur wound up retreating to the Citadel, and Betsy apparently takes some time here to return to Earth and check in on the newly-resurrected S.T.R.I.K.E.. Which seems a bit lacking in urgency, but I guess it’s a long-term siege, so why not.

S.T.R.I.K.E. were resurrected at the request of Pete Wisdom in a subplot in issue #22, and this is the first time we’ve seen them since. They were a S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent from the supporting cast of old UK Captain Britain stories. Tom Lennox, in particular, was Betsy’s love interest. Specifically, this group were S.T.R.I.K.E.’s psychics – the organisation itself was bigger.

Of the other three, the one with white hair is Alison Double, the guy is Kevin Mulhearn, and the other woman is Vicki Reppion.

“The last thing I remember was the Slaymaster’s blade…” This is an odd comment. Kevin and Vicki were killed by Slaymaster in Mighty World of Marvel #9, but he wasn’t – he survived and died in the Jaspers Warp storyline instead. It even said so on the text page of issue #22. Besides, as we’re forever being reminded in other books, resurrected mutants don’t recall the moment of their death, unless they have the random luck to be backed up at precisely that moment. So I guess we have to take it that by sheer blind luck, Tom’s last backed-up memory is a fight with Slaymaster that he actually survived.

“Britain … won’t have be back, because apparently I’m a mutant!” Pete made this claim in issue #22 as well. It contradicts what Reuben said on behalf of the British authorities in issue #21 – “Your citizens are welcome on our land as foreign nationals” – but apparently we’re meant to ignore that and go with this version.

“That woman you keep watching…” It’s Kwannon / Psylocke, whose complicated back story and body-swapping history with Betsy has been covered at length in this series. She seems to be holding hands with someone with a metal right arm, or at least sleeve – could it be Greycrow from Hellions?

“Wasn’t your first go at it.” Betsy has been Captain Britain before (in the Delano/Davis Captain Britain run in the 80s), but that was after Tom died. Maybe he’s learned about it since he came back. He’s been asking about her, after all.

“I’m fighting for something far older than Parliament and the Crown…” Seriously, nobody in Britain talks like this, except maybe the ludicrous Jacob Rees-Mogg, and I very much doubt he’s the template that Tini Howard has in mind. An extremely bizarre claim follows that Camelot started off as some sort of egalitarian paradise pre-monarchic paradise, which… what? The iconography of Camelot is literally tied inextricably to King Arthur. It’s one of the most monarchical pieces of mythology you could invoke. Fundamentally, Excalibur feels far too often as if it’s just plucking random pieces of British iconography and randomly ascribing meanings to them.

PAGE 6. Recap and credits.

The title, “Come Fate into the List”, is a quote from Macbeth – “Rather than so, come fate into the list / And champion me to the utterance.” A “list” is a jousting venue. So basically, Macbeth is denying his fate (specifically, the prophecy that drives the plot) and rhetorically challenging fate to enter the area and fight him (“champion me”) to the bitter end (“to the utterance”).

PAGES 7-9. Maggie explains the plot.

A standard briefing scene, enlivened by getting Maggie Braddock to do it so we can have some jokes about her being an adult and child at the same time. From left to right, the characters gathered at the beginning (most of them regulars) are Captain Avalon, Shatterstar, Rictor, Meggan, Maggie, Jamie Braddock, Gambit, Jubilee, Bei and Captain Britain, with Shogo the dragon behind them.

“Saturnyne is in the Citadel there … but she’s unresponsive for now.” When we see Saturnyne later, Maggie’s theory that she’s meditating to support the Corps seems to be correct.

“Siege towers. Ballistas.” Two different things, despite Maggie using the same crackers to represent them – and neither of them are defences. A siege tower was basically a wheeled tower that you pushed up to the castle wall so that people could get over the top. A ballista was a bolt thrower – essentially a giant crossbow.

“I’ve … gestated an entire space station.” Jamie created the second S.W.O.R.D. station (through an accelerated pregnancy) in Planet-Size X-Men #1.

“There’s no mess he can make that I can’t mend!” Shogo’s dragonfire erodes the reality of Otherworld; Jamie is saying that he can use his own reality-warping powers to cancel that out, making Shogo more useful. Betsy insists that Jamie stay behind and gives a reasonably sensible explanation for doing so, but Jamie is probably right to suspect that she just doesn’t trust him as an ally, because he’s completely mad and unpredictable. Still, he does appear to be on side here. Why wouldn’t he be, when they’re allied against anti-mutant forces who want to drive him out of his (usurped) kingdom? We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Excalibur are fighting here to keep the throne of Avalon away from Arthur and in the hands of… mad Jamie Braddock. The superiority of this arrangement for the Avalonian public is not self-evident, but hey, he’s a mutant, right?

PAGE 10. Arthur receives a briefing.

Panel 1 shows assorted Captain Britains defending the Citadel, which doesn’t have much to do with the panels that follow.

As Arthur explains, the plan here is simply to buy time while Arthur casts a spell to remove the Citadel’s magical defences.

PAGES 11-13. The Captain Britain Corps are driven into retreat.

The archers are the Priestesses of the White, hardline Saturnyne cultists seen in earlier issues (particularly #9 and #11). The woman with the glasses on page 11 panel 2 is Cristabel, one of the Priestesses from issue #9; the man with her might be the man she was talking to in that issue, but he’s more generic, so it’s hard to tell. (If you’re new, then yes, they’re all called “Priestesses”, regardless of gender.)

Shatterstar and Bei “get along” as the two most conventional warriors on the team, both at home in wartime.

Saturnyne is shown floating in a pool with flowers on the surface, similar to the one that Morgan le Fey had. Presumably this is just the standard design for scrying pools in Otherworld.

PAGES 14-18. Arthur’s forces storm the Citadel.

Captain Avalon mentions the “Death” tarot card; we’ve had a lot of tarot in Otherworld in the “X of Swords” arc, and let’s not forget that Death (from that arc) showed up as a potential ally in the previous issue. Meggan duly reminds us of the less bleak reading of the Death card.

The basic point of all this is that Arthur and Merlyn shut down all the magic connected with Otherworld, so Betsy isn’t Captain Britain for now, but she can still fight Arthur with her mutant powers and obviously she beats him because he’s not superhuman. This seems like is a blindingly obvious flaw in the plan, since presumably the entire depowered Captain Britain Corp is full of people who are still powerful mutant telepaths. Why were these guys messing about with magic in the first place, instead of just thinking Arthur’s army into submission?

Betsy accuses Arthur of “forg[etting] why you fear my kind”. But his motivation – as stated last issue – was nothing to do with mutants being powerful. It was that Merlyn had convinced him that Mordred, as a mutant, would ultimately switch sides; by destroying mutants he would be able to stop that happening (since Mordred would have no other side to join), and Mordred would remain by his side. That agenda – averting the Mordred prophecy – doesn’t seem to have been forgotten, since it’s what the title of the story alludes to.

There’s some very weird storytelling on page 17, where the final panel seems to be a continuation of the scene on page 16 – it really belongs either on the previous page or the next one. There’s also a rather awkward attempt to tell us that mutants are an example of how people are moving beyond the tyranny of absolute monarchy which, um, kind of went out centuries ago. It’s Arthur as a metaphor for… what, exactly? The oppressiveness of traditional values? Have we really laid the groundwork for that, when the poor guy’s been a prisoner of Merlyn for the whole series and seems to be being manipulated by him? It’s entirely possible that all this is misdirection, of course, and that the actual angle is that Betsy is smugly mis-reading the situation. (Note that the focus in this issue is kept largely on Arthur even though Merlyn is meant to be the main villain – and that Betsy turns round almost immediately to declare the vital importance of restoring Saturnyne, also an absolute monarch.)

PAGES 19-21. The Braddocks escape with Saturnyne.

Basically, the idea here is that Shogo and Jamie (as advertised earlier) combine their powers to create a hole in reality as a barrier to stop Merlyn’s forces pursuing; Merlyn then makes Betsy and Saturnyne fall in. Betsy’s rescue of Saturnyne in the first panel of page 19 is certainly drawn as a great romantic moment.

Bei reminds us of the subplot that Shogo will be much happier in Otherworld.

PAGE 22. Saturnyne offers to tell her story.

Saturnyne offered in issue #22 to tell Betsy how she seized the throne from Merlyn, if Excalibur were able to find out what Merlyn’s plans were. (They didn’t.)

The “Sea of Secrets” is new, as far as I know.

PAGES 23-24. Data pages – a revised map of Otherworld, showing which sections are “occupied by Merlyn” – though weren’t his forces previously described as allies? Note that the Starlight Citadel has been replaced with the “Lunatic Citadel”, and that Roma’s domain looks pretty isolated.

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: OTHERWORLD FALLS. (The rest of it, presumably.)


Bring on the comments

  1. Evilgus says:

    Ok. I enjoyed the forward momentum in this issue. I also liked the fact Betsy finally reuses her butterfly psychic insignia and makes steps towards being herself.

    I can overlook a lot of the sketchy plotting and just plain errors (almost everything from Tom Lennox’s mouth!), as I can see it all as vehicle to get Betsy into a particular emotional place.

    Still can’t forgive that Gambit, Jubilee and Rictor – and now Shatterstar, Meggan and Bei – are merely present and don’t have anything to meaningfully *do*.

    And I wish any artist or colourist would give Saturnyne her proper platinum hair colour. She’s indistinguishable from Emma in many scenes.

  2. Ceries says:

    I think the bizarre “Camelot used to be a place for all peoples” stuff comes from Spurrier’s Black Knight series, which established that rather than being about driving back the Saxons Camelot was actually a racially diverse and sexually equal paradise before Merlin rewrote all the stories to make everyone white and male.

    It’s still amazing that the narrative is treating Jamie as this scamp who misbehaved in the past but is now amusing and redeeming himself and struggling with people’s distrust of him while conspicuously not mentioning that a large portion of said misbehavior was literally attacking towns in Africa to sell the inhabitants into slavery.

    Also weird is that Betsy seems to think mutants are beyond tyrants when both known mutant-led nations are unelected oligarchies ruled by the strong. I would say that in fact mutants are considerably more likely to follow tyrants than humans are based on the evidence.

    I maintain, however, that X-related books Howard writes make considerably more sense if you understand it as her believing mutants to be the Master Race, whose victories are inherently worthy of celebration, whose rulers are inherently morally superior, and whose enemies are automatically the bad guys due to their inferior racial makeup.

  3. Chris V says:

    Or, Tini Howard wants to write totally different stories using mutants and she’s stuck doing so within the confines of Hickman’s remit.

  4. Paul says:

    Spurrier’s Black Knight: Curse of the Ebony Blade #4 has a flashback explaining that (broadly) Merlyn has sanitised the history of Camelot to remove all the bits he doesn’t like, but there’s a big leap even from that to claiming that Camelot was ever some sort of pre-monarchic utopia – even in Spurrier’s version, Merlyn created the place and it’s still the site of Arthurian myth. (He describes Camelot-as-remembered as what’s LEFT of Camelot after removing the bits Merlyn didn’t like, not as being padded out with new additions. The whole point is that it’s emptied out.)

    Besides, when you’re dealing with iconography like Camelot, you can’t expect readers to be thinking of passing lines of dialogue in a Black Knight miniseries, even if they’re in the minority of the audience who have actually read the thing.

  5. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Why didn’t they pick an actual British person to write a book so deeply British?

    Also the idea that they’re getting rid of Jubilee’s son by making him a dragon is just…

    Why can’t X-Men have and raise kids?

    It works just fine for Spider-Woman and Luke/Jessica.

  6. Si says:

    I wonder if the idea of Camelot ties in with the idea in New Agey circles that The Celts (who went about calling themselves The Celts) were big on equality, and worshipped the Triple Goddess, before the manocentric Romans and Saxons came along and ruined everything.

  7. Voord 99 says:

    Oh, it’s more than just New Agey circles. I encounter that view of “Celts” a lot, in all sorts of places.

    Here’s an entertaining rant on the subject:

  8. Ethan says:

    Off topic:

    Has the Kieron Gillen character “Unit” been referenced in the Krakoa era? I know he was a pet character for Gillen, but it seems like an interesting topic for the whole A.I. consideration.

  9. CitizenBane says:

    It’s funnier still since Arthur is supposed to be a Celtic figure, and the Braddock family are Anglo-Saxon nobility taking his kingdom away from him. The whole thing is sort of apologia for colonialism on the basis that the colonists are morally superior.

  10. Chris V says:

    I think the story that Howard wants to tell is that Camelot was once a multi-cultural, inclusive paradise which was taken away by Arthur and Merlyn.
    The two have persecuted mutants and removed them from the history of Camelot by creating their own Indo-European, patriarchal hierarchical realm.
    Now the mutants are taking back what was taken away in the past and wanting to make Camelot an inclusive place which will be welcoming to minorities.

    The storytelling has gotten increasingly muddled, either because Howard is a terrible writer or because she is trying to tell this story within the confines of the Krakoa-era which is stymying her ability to tell this story.
    I have no idea which.

    I’m not arguing this is a great or truly comprehensible story to be telling, but it seems that is the story Howard is trying to put on paper.

  11. wwk5d says:

    It’s just so muddled. Yes it may have momentum and some interesting ideas, but the execution is just so lacking.

  12. neutrino says:

    @Chris V: “Or, Tini Howard wants to write totally different stories using mutants and she’s stuck doing so within the confines of Hickman’s remit.”
    How? Otherworld is totally different from Hickman’s Krakoa. Howard can write whatever she wants. Nothing compels her to make Mordred a mutant and Arthur a racist.

    How is this battle supposed to work? If it’s only Arthur and mortal forces with Merlin staying out of battle, they’d be slaughtered by the expanded Excalibur, not to mention a Captain Britain Corps that are also telepaths. But if Arthur’s side has even the one Fury that’s shown, the mutant side would be slaughtered. Taking note of what stopped one once wouldn’t work since they adapt better than the Sentinels.

  13. Chris V says:

    I didn’t mean the plot.
    That’s neither here nor there. A reader might find it enjoyable or they might dislike it. That’s just the way of stories.
    I meant how confused some readers seem to be by Howard’s story-telling, where they seem to be misunderstanding said plot.
    Howard seems to be ignoring aspects of continuity to try to make her story work.

  14. neutrino says:

    But the continuity she’s ignoring is mostly Marvel’s Arthurian one and Captain Britain’s as well as her own. What could Hickman’s remit affect except the plot? She’s actually contributed to Hickman’s worldbuilding with X of Swords.

  15. Chris V says:

    Things that contradict the wider narrative of Krakoa. Such as the line about, mutants are less likely to follow tyrants, which flies in the face of some of Hickmans themes.
    I think Howard wants to write a story similar to X-Tinction Agenda with Genosha, where mutants were the underdogs fighting against the corrupt system.
    The elephant in the room of course being the nation-State of Krakoa.

    Howard also seems to be one of the writers interested in steering the new status quo for Krakoa away from Hickmans vision.

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