Only the most worthy individuals can pull Excalibur from the stone and claim its powers and inherent responsibilities. Just ask the stressed members of Krakoa’s Quiet Council: ruling is hard, but someone has to do it.
The Dawn of X is stacked full of some amazing titles and truly wonderful creators turning in some of the best work of their careers. I know the line isn’t for everyone, and people can enjoy or dislike something for the exact same reason, but now that we’re nearing the completion of each series’ first arc, I can say that Excalibur is the line’s strongest and most consistent title. To put it simply, Excalibur rules.
Since the very first issue, writer Tini Howard and penciler Marcus To have completely been in synch with their storytelling abilities. Howard gives each character enough room to breathe and pursue their own personal arcs in a way that feels wholly organic and pushes To’s art to be as expressive as possible. As mutants celebrate and rebuild a new world for themselves, Excalibur spends a lot of time examining how damaged and conflicted individuals are adjusting to the status-quo. Sure, the core cast is out there engaging in some classic superhero showdowns, but the series has a lot to say about being vulnerable and how to cope with doubt during difficult situations.
Part of what makes this series so enjoyable is the slow-burning character development that makes everyone’s personal journey an integral part of the overarching story. The duel between twins (and Captain Britains) Betsy and Brian Braddock inches the magic v. mutant plottline forward, but it also delivers the classic, family-based melodrama that the X-Men franchise excels at. In fact, Betsy first became Captain Britain back in issue #1, and that private development is still impacting both the people around her and the larger plot points germinating in the background in major ways. Only time will tell how everything turns out for the Braddock twins, but now that their crass, reality-altering brother Jamie is King of the Otherworld -another personal development that will challenge two of Excalibur’s lead characters and impact the entire Marvel Universe- things are a lot more complicated and dangerous than they used to be.
Rogue has also been present since issue #1, but only recently has she been truly able to explore and participate in this new society. In a world where mutant proliferation is the hot topic of the day, it’s refreshing to follow a character who is set against having kids for a myriad of personal reasons that likely date all the way back to her own complicated childhood. Her sexual reunion with Gambit is presented in both an alluring and shrouded way- making sure their intimate moments are never shared too much- but it’s clear that her personal attitude will eventually come in conflict with the expansionist outlook favored by people like Nightcrawler who are enthusiastically pushing to “make more mutants.” Sure, she may dread coming into emotional conflict with some of her old friends and new co-citizens, but Rogue has no problem making it clear that she is putting her own mental health and the wellbeing of her relationship with Gambit over any national calling.
On the other end of the spectrum, Excalibur also excels in the action department. To does a great job laying out different fight scenes, knowing when to show a group shot or focus in on a character’s strained expression to maximize the dramatic impact of the moment. Even the most bonkers of fight scenes, something like Shogo morphing into a dragon and fighting other kaiju creatures for example, is an opportunity to push the story along as it reveals that dragonfire melts the border between Earth and the magical Otherworld.
Part of what sets X-Men squads apart from other superhero groups is how intimately they know one another and can feed off of each other on the field. There were a few small ensemble fights in the first few issues, but issue #6 featured the series’ first core fight scene featuring the entire new Excalibur lineup. Sure there are some noteworthy quips in the fight, like Rogue shooing away Gambit’s worried and protective comments, but the real joy comes from watching them coordinate with and defend one another like a true unit. When Rictor almost falls into a crater, it’s not just the readers who are worried about the newly stable hero, team-leader Betsy is clearly distracted and anxious about the wellbeing of everyone she’s leading into battle.
Even though it was created by superstar X-writer Chris Claremont, the original Excalibur is somewhat obscure compared to something like the flagship Uncanny X-Men book. Despite it’s “minor position,” it still contained a lot of interesting concepts and ideas that the new series is already incorporating into the new mutant landscape, like the Braddock Lighthouse that serves as the team’s British headquarters. Shadowcat may have been primary P.O.V. in the original series, but Captain Britain’s connection to the Otherworld kept the book tethered to mystical and magical energies that are once again popping up. And now that Apocalypse (a.k.a. ▪︎-|A|-▪︎ or The Big A as I like to call him) has ceded the traditional supervillain role to a group of old ladies known as Hordeculture, he’s brooding in the background dealing with a personal fascination of his: magic. Something fishy is going on here that ties into the ancient being’s past, and no matter how many times Apocalypse insists he supports Xavier’s Krakoan dream it’s also clear that he’s pursuing his own selfish interests in a way that could impact or potentially endanger all of mutantkind.
Don’t let my praise for Excalibur mislead you out of picking up the other series though because they are all (okay, ALMOST all) incredible and Jonathan Hickman and editor Jordan White are doing a fantastic job overseeing all of the madness. Over in Marauders this week, Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli left readers with the biggest cliffhanger since Charles Xavier’s death way back in X-Force number 1 and I truly can’t wait to see how things play out in this exciting, attitude-filled book.
I understand complaints that the line is too full and it can be tough to stay excited with more intriguing series on the way, but the truth is it’s a wonderful time to be an X-Fan. Week after week we fans are blessed with new material (and a new HiX-Men column) that just reminds us we are still worthy of fantastic, complex story arcs! With Krakoa steamrolling towards a cosmic battle courtesy of developments taking place in New Mutants, it’s time to rest up and prepare for all the crazy things to come.
See you all neXt time.