This week’s Marvel Rundown features two books that couldn’t be more different. First, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords may be no basis for a system of government, but that’s not going to stop us from discussing the new Excalibur #1! The latest entry in the Dawn of X line features a new threat to mutantdom, and adds some new faces to the franchise.

Then, Marvel expands their line of auteur visions for classic characters with Tom Scioli‘s Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1! Does the issue pay proper tribute to the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby while still telling a compelling story? We’ve got a trio of terrific takes on the first issue of this new look at Marvel’s first family!

All that, plus a Rapid Rundown of other new books for the week, lies ahead in this week’s installment of The Marvel Rundown!

Excalibur #1
Excalibur #1

Excalibur #1

Written by Tini Howard
Illustrated by Marcus To
Colored by Erick Arciniega
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Design work by Tom Muller
Cover by Mahmud Asrar & Matthew Wilson

Samantha Puc: It seems more than appropriate that Excalibur #1 is debuting the day before Halloween, since it’s the resident witchy series in Dawn of X! This issue sees Betsy Braddock take on the mantle of Captain Britain, as well as our first extended foray into how humanity is living alongside Krakoa. I am definitely digging the vibe of this first issue, but Nick and Joe, what are your first impressions?

Nick Kazden: I really enjoyed this issue and the exploration of some characters we haven’t gotten to see too much of on Krakoa yet. This issue was full of great character moments—I loved Betsy correcting Brian that her gowns are in fact suits—and Tini Howard does a great job setting up Apocalypse to be the detached “elder” for the new nation.

Joe Grunenwald: So I have a confession to make: I do not care for ‘swords-and-sorcery’ stuff, and Arthurian stories bore me to tears. I was really worried when this issue started and we were immediately thrust into that world. That said, I liked how it was integrated into the framework that’s been set up for this new mutant world, and appreciate that it presents a new set of problems for mutantkind beyond the normal threat of homo sapiens wanting them gone. Now someone else wants them gone! That’s progress!

Kazden: Forget homo novissima, we’ve got homo magimus coming in hot.

Grunenwald: I don’t know what those words are. I agree with you, too, Nick, that Howard does excellent character work throughout this issue. The focus on Betsy Braddock as a newcomer to Krakoa, and to a certain degree to the Arthurian world from which her brother derived his powers, was a nice way to bring readers in to the action.

Puc: I am the absolute opposite, Joe! I LOVE a good sword and sorcery story, and Arthurian Legend is one of my absolute favorite things to read, so I was pulled into Excalibur #1 immediately. And as much as I love Howard’s writing, which really shines here, what stood out to me most was Marcus To‘s art — it’s so perfectly theatrical. Erick Arciniega‘s colors are great, too; I love how dark, moody, and creepy the Otherworld scenes are, versus how bright and seemingly hopeful the Krakoa scenes are. The contrast could be jarring, but in Arciniega’s deft hand, it isn’t.

I also really appreciate that this issue primarily follows Betsy, but doesn’t ignore her past, nor does it ignore Kwannon — we see them make eye contact and we know that the tension there isn’t going to be tied up neat with a bow anytime soon, which feels both appropriate and long overdue.

Grunenwald: I definitely didn’t realize that was Kwannon in that scene. Or really that Betsy was making eye contact with anyone. I thought To and Arciniega’s work was solid, not-flashy storytelling, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I wish more artists were as solid as their work is on this issue.

Kazden: You’re right, Sam, To and Arciniega’s art elevates the series in every way! Following up on what you said about the Betsy/Kwannon dilemma in particular, To does a great job showing just how pained and awkward Betsy feels about the entire situation. As she grows throughout the issue, even the art around her changes and she’s drawn much more confidently and heroicly after she finally receives the Captain Britain mantle.

It’s great that we have a character who is trying to discover herself as the primary anchor in this book because it’s incredibly fitting for the larger themes taking place on Krakoa as the world’s mutants try to find meaning in this changed setting.

Grunenwald: The splash where Betsy is revealed as Captain Britain was really very striking. The design of her uniform is fantastic. I can’t wait to see more of that in action.

Kazden: I hope we get to see more outside people share their thoughts about life on Krakoa. I just have to say, tapas with Magneto doesn’t sound too bad.

Grunenwald: Tapas are a ripoff. There. I said it. (Sorry, I forgot we need to #StickToComics.)

Puc: I love finger foods, and that’s that on that. Anyway: there’s a lot of weirdness in this issue, especially within Krakoa, not only with Betsy/Kwannon; but also with Apocalypse and his “new name;” and the reintroduction of Jamie; and the reminder of the pods; and poor Fabio trying to essentially keep a very calm, very zen space for mutants to return while everyone else is seemingly exercising their powers whenever, wherever, and however they see fit. It still seems like mutantkind is in celebration mode, but I can’t help but wonder how much longer that will last, especially with Rogue being semi-fridged.

Grunenwald: It was legitimately nice to see Fabio. I like the idea of he and the other four members of The Five just chilling out on Krakoa and then every now and then they get a call and have to go create life from scratch. Re: Rogue’s semi-fridging, am I alone in reading that as something Krakoa did to protect her?

Kazden: Krakoa still gives me extreme summer camp vibes. The way all of the mutants are depicted lazily lounging around the portal, or how frisky Rogue/Gambit are, all reinforce a carefree atmosphere that screams “break from real life.” Summer camp will probably be ending soon enough.

Puc: Oh! I didn’t even think of that, but the flowers…

Kazden: If Krakoa can make drugs to enhance human life, no reason to think it can’t put one of its own into a cocoon of sorts to transform her into something better.

Grunenwald: I took it as, whatever happened to Rogue with the gate was malignant, and Krakoa was wrapping her up to help heal her. But maybe I made all that up. Either way I can’t imagine she’ll be in there for long. The book just started, after all, and it’d be a bummer to take one of the team’s members off the table so quickly.

Puc: No, I think that makes sense within the greater context of Krakoa; however, I do think it’s also worth noting that Gambit doesn’t know that (and nor do we), so it’s still a semi-fridging.

Grunenwald: Absolutely, I don’t mean to discount what’s happened to her or those around her. Just doing some light theorizing.

Puc: Oh, for sure. I will admit I would love to see Gambit take on Apocalypse, or however you pronounce his new name. I do have to wonder about the role Krakoa is playing in this Rogue situation based on its relationship to Apocalypse, though. I don’t think Krakoa is evil, but it’s something to consider as the series progresses, perhaps.

Kazden: That’s a really fair point, Sam. I’ve been kind of assuming Krakoa’s going along with Xavier and Moira’s wishes, but there’s no reason to think this old villain doesn’t have a few tricks up its sleeve (or portals…).

I do think it’s interesting that people like Jubilee and Betsy don’t make a bigger deal about interacting with Apocalypse on such a mundane level. I understand all mutants are supposedly on the same side now, but it must just be so freaking awkward or scary standing next to this omnipotent being. I wonder if the people who spend the most time with him will harden in the process or maybe they’ll be able to poke holes in his tough exterior.

Grunenwald: I think your summer camp analogy fits there as well, Nick. When you go to camp you might become friends with people you otherwise wouldn’t be friends with when you’re in ‘the real world.’ When you’re on Krakoa, you’re family. (Maybe that makes it more like an Olive Garden.)

Puc: So rather than tapas, it’s all you can eat breadsticks with Magneto?

Grunenwald: Unlimited salad, for sure.

Kazden: I mean…I’m not not down. I will say that I was almost expecting a Kitty Pryde cameo as the mimosa source, but it seems booze are all over Krakoa.

Puc: Very Dionysian. Is there anything else you two want to talk about before we wrap things up and deliver our final verdicts?

Grunenwald: I think I’m good! This was my first Excalibur comic ever, and I really enjoyed it. It certainly doesn’t feel quite as essential to the mythos of the new mutant landscape as X-Men or Marauders did, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s plenty of room for fun adventure comics in the X-verse, and if the first issue is any indication this book will play that role nicely. Excalibur #1 gets a BUY from me.

Kazden: Joe’s right, this comic doesn’t feel as essential to the overall Krakoan story slowly taking shape in Dawn of X as some of the other series, but it still is an engaging read that had me smiling on every page. I’m very excited to see where things go for this random cast of characters and can’t wait for more dry Apocalpyse dialogue. This gets a strong BUY from me also!

Puc: I love this. It’s a BUY from me!

Final Verdict: Excalibur #1 gets a unanimous BUY verdict from Sam, Nick, and Joe!

From Excalibur #1
From Excalibur #1

Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1
Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1

Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1

Written, illustrated, Colored, Lettered, & Cover by Tom Scioli

AJ Frost: Ever since its announcement at San Diego Comic Con, I’ve been so excited for Tom Scioli’s Fantastic Four: Grand Design. I love the idea of expanding the line to other properties in the Marvel canon after the exciting success of Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design trilogy of graphic novels. Scioli is of that same mold: an auteur and idiosyncratic creator who expands the possibilities of sequential superheroism. Rather than strictly document the in-universe creation of the Fantastic Four, Scioli thinks bigger by connecting the various strands of the Marvel mythos into a singular narrative thread. What’s immediately apparent is the love that Scioli has for the original source material. He’s no mere dilettante, and not a creator who leaves much to chance. Every beat feels earned, each panel a wonder of the form. While it probably wasn’t the intention, the Grand Design line now has the imprimatur of dynamic excellence, and that is something readers of all levels will appreciate. Verdict: BUY

Chloe Maveal: What a delightfully bizarre issue! Scioli is recognizably an acolyte of Jack Kirby in the best ways, and does the many characters that have been involved with the Fantastic Four justice. Considering the hurt for choice when it comes to Fantastic Four in media over the past few decades, it’s great to see the old stuff be retold in a fresh way that harkens back to the team’s best years. Verdict: BUY

Nick Kazden: Cartoonist Tom Scioli clearly loves the Fantastic Four. Every page of this dense comic examines some classic story or minor character moment in an enjoyable way, but the packed structure also makes it harder to enjoy. The rapid pace enables readers to get a crash course on FF history, but it also results in Scioli’s artwork feeling smushed and unimportant as there is always another key piece of information to absorb in the next panel. Grand Design #1 does a great job at placing the Fantastic Four in the very center of the Marvel Universe, making every classic character’s debut—from Black Panther to the Hulk—feel like a part of their overarching story rather than a separate event. Scioli’s art is top-notch and harkens back to the franchise’s classic days, but it’s his excellent use of color that pushes the story along and informs readers who to pay attention to at each moment. Verdict: BROWSE

Final Verdict: AJ and Chloe give Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1 a BUY, while Nick gives it a BROWSE!

From Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1
From Fantastic Four: Grand Design #1

Rapid Rundown!

  • Doctor Strange Annual (2019) #1
    • Want a quick, spooky, socially-conscious Halloween read that features some of Marvel’s most popular characters? Look no further than this annual, which features a truly delightful short by Tini Howard, Andy MacDonald, Tríona Farrell, and Cory Petit. I didn’t care much for the art in the second short, but 1 out of 2 ain’t bad. — SP
  • Ironheart #11
    • It’s a shame this arc is coming to an end with issue #12, because Eve L. Ewing is writing such a compelling story for Riri. This penultimate issue is intense, and Luciano Vecchio shines. — SP
  • Marvel Zombies: Resurrection #1
    • Marvel’s alternate universe horror franchise returns just in time for Halloween with a one-shot that’s a delight to read. The best horror stories are dripping with a sense of foreboding, and Phillip Kennedy JohnsonLeonard KirkGuru-eFX, and Travis Lanham deliver just that. Johnson packs strong character moments into an adventure story that takes a dark turn quickly. This book combines the best parts of Alien and Dawn of the Dead, and it does it wonderfully. — JG

Next week, the New Mutants return!