Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Igor Kordey
Issues: Excalibur (2004-05) #1-14
2004 was a huge year for X-Men (and the original time period I attempted to jump back into comics). The X teams were split into three ongoing series (X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, and the decades running classic Uncanny X-Men), though technically Excalibur could be considered a fourth.
Excalibur (not to be confused with the British Marvel superhero team and series) ties directly into the aftermath of Morrison’s run on New X-Men in the early 2000s, which eventually culminated in the destruction of half of New York City by Magneto and the subsequent obliteration of Mutant city-haven Genosha by an army of sentinels. Jean Grey is killed (again) and Wolverine brutally murders Magneto.
All of this I read about on Wikipedia and heard from a comic-savvy friend, as I’m jumping on now with the glorious return of beloved X-Men writer Chris Claremont. Claremont is responsible for many of the best X-Men storylines in the 80s such as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” He helped create many of the best mutant heroes and villains (Gambit, Rogue, Mystique, Emma Frost, etc) and developed Wolverine into the badass we know and love of him as.
So you can imagine my disappoint upon reading Excalibur and finding it to be a hot mess.
The story picks up with Professor Xavier poking through the post-apocalyptic ruins of Genosha looking for survivors and having lots of monologues. He meets some new friends (Wicked, Freakshow, Callisto) and some new foes (more random survivors that are more pissed off than relieved) but mostly it revolves around Magneto’s inexplicable return and friendship reunion with Xavier.
The first four issue story arc “Forging the Sword” starts off promising enough with our ragtag heroes, and I really enjoyed the dialogue between Xavier and Magneto, two of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe, but both deeply troubled and conflicted men. Magneto especially is super mopey and depressed throughout most of it as a tortured man and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
I also enjoyed the new heroes for the most part. Freakshow was a young kid who could shapeshift into terrifying elder god-style monsters, while Gothy Wicked could tap into all the ghosts surrounding Genosha. Callisto was easily my favorite; the former leader of the Morlocks is completely badass with giant tentacle arms and a fun and confident fighting style with knives.
Unfortunately the overarching storyline never quite decides on what it wants to be. After the events of Avengers Disassembled when Scarlet Witch goes crazy and half the Avengers are slain, Magneto opens a rift (they spend a good deal of time talking about how Magneto’s powers may not have any upper limit) to rescue his unconscious daughter and bring her to Genosha to watch over. Marvel fans will know that the fallout from the attack and Scarlet Witch waking up eventually leads to the phenomenal Marvel event House of M (look for my Final Thoughts soon!), so the latter half of Excalibur acts as a prelude.
But that story is sidelined until the final two issues, and even then it’s mostly Xavier failing to help Scarlet Witch on a mental level (Dr. Strange even pays a house call at some point), and as any kind of intriguing set-up to House of M, it fails completely.
Excalibur’s own story gets terribly convoluted as well, involving a looting pirate lord and his band of four-armed trolls and at some point even some random villains from Age of Apocalypse (Dark Beast is a super fun character, though). They’re not terrible plot-lines and lead to some fun fight scenes (at one point Callisto’s arms are ‘turned off’ and she still kicks ass), but things soon get even messier.
The plot shifts to a nearby city in…Africa? And involves Angel and Husk? And there’s a terminator-style sentinel that Xavier and Magneto are able to transform into an ally at some point? There’s a lot going on and it gets a little crazy and soon you forget all about Genosha. In fact every issue has to have a scene or two that’s basically “Hey where’s Magneto,” as he builds a force-field around the sleeping Scarlet Witch.
As an entry into exploring the ruins of Genosha Excalibur starts off interesting but devolves quickly into a series of crazy characters and battles (then shifts focus away completely toward the end). As a prelude to House of M, Excalibur fails to do anything that you don’t already get from the first issue of that event. Really its only saving grace is in the writing of Xavier and Magneto, which is almost completely sidelined by the second half of the book.
Unless you’re desperate to know where Xavier is among all the various X-teams at the time, or absolutely need to know how Scarlet Witch goes from Avengers Disassembled to House of M, I would recommend skipping Excalibur altogether. I do hope Callisto finds a home somewhere else as I adored her character, writing and powers.
I don’t necessarily blame Claremont, as the series is wedged uncomfortably between major Marvel events and it’s very possible he was hamstrung with what he could do, and the individual character moments and fights are entertaining, but as a cohesive story it’s just too sloppy to be memorable.