Friday, March 28, 2014
X-amining Excalibur Special Edition #1
In a Nutshell
The return of Phoenix and the first appearance of Excalibur.
Author: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary w/Mark Farmer
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
On Muir Isle, Kitty awakens from a dream in which the X-Men are still alive but slaves of Mojo, trying to capture Phoenix for him. Elsewhere, Meggan finds Captain Britain drunk and despondent after the death of his sister Psylocke, and she leaves to find him help. On Muir Isle, Kitty and Nightcrawler realize they both had the same dream. They are interrupted by the arrival of Gatecrasher and Technet, interdimensional bounty hunters seeking Phoenix, followed shortly by Meggan. A fight breaks out, and Technet manages to capture Meggan and Kitty while Nightcrawler escapes. Meanwhile, Rachel Summers, Phoenix, escapes from Mojoworld and arrives in London, pursued by the Warwolves. Elsewhere, Nightcrawler seeks out Captain Britain, but finds him still a drunken wretch and leaves, admonishing him, In London, Phoenix is captured by Technet, prompting a scuffle between the Warwolves and the bounty hunters.
Nightcrawler, having located Phoenix using a portable Cerebro, arrives on the scene, and manages to free Kitty and Meggan, but is overwhelmed by Gatecrasher. Suddenly, Captain Britain, having taken Nightcrawler's words to heart, arrives and joins the fray, saving Nightcrawler. Together, the five heroes are able to fight off the two groups, who eventually flee. Kitty and Nightcrawler are overjoyed to be reunited with Rachel. Another night later, the five heroes gather once more and reminisce about the X-Men. Rachel isn't willing to leave things at that, though, and proposes that the five remain together and continue to fight for Professor Xavier's dream. Recalling the legend of King Arthur and citing Excalibur as a symbol of hope for a better world, the five take it as their name, agreeing to fight for the dream.
Firsts and Other Notables
This marks the first appearance of Excalibur, a team initially comprised of Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Phoenix, Captain Britain and Meggan, formed when Phoenix returns to our reality from Mojoworld, and the other four help her evade capture by both the Warwolves and Technet. After that adventure, the five decide to stay together and fill the void left by the X-Men and continue to fight for Xavier's dream.
After this one-shot, Excalibur will receive its own ongoing series, which launches a few months after this issue hit the stands. I believe the plan was always to start an Excalibur ongoing, and their initial appearance was just bumped up to a one-shot.
This issue is a prestige format square bound one-shot, printed on glossy paper and original costing $3.25. Per the GCD, It was published twice, in December of '87 and April of '88. I've seen it referred to alternately as "Excalibur Special Edition" and "Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn". Though Marvel uses the latter on their website, I'm sticking with the former, which is how I knew it growing up.
Rachel Summers returns, following her disappearance during the events of Uncanny X-Men #209. She first appears in this issue in Mojoworld, and a planned Phoenix limited series would have bridged the gap between this issue and #209, showing what happened to her in Mojoworld, but it was ultimately scuttled. She debuts a new costume, more or less just a red variation of her hound uniform from her future timeline, and it will remain her default look for a good chunk of her time in Excalibur.
This is the first appearance of the Warwolves, animal-like agents sent by Mojo to retrieve the escaped Rachel. They all have silvery smooth skin and claws, and have the ability to drain their victims life essence and wear the remaining skin, altering their shape to resemble the person. They will continue to bedevil Excalibur moving forward.
In addition to Captain Britain and his girlfriend Meggan, who made appearances previously in New Mutants Annual #2 and X-Men Annual #11, Claremont also uses this issue to introduce X-Men readers to some other staples of Captain Britain's UK series, including Opal Luna Satunyne, the guardian of the Omniverse (who is an alternate reality version of Captain Britain's former girlfriend Courtney Ross) and an agent of Roma, and her agents, Gatecrasher and Technet, a group of extradimensional alien bounty hunters, all of whom will be regular Excalibur antagonists moving forward (Gatecrasher and Technet have appeared before, but this is the first appearance of specific members Bodybag, China Doll, Joyboy and Waxworks).
Future Excalibur member Widget appears on the back cover of this issue, but does not appear in the story itself.
For a fantastic overview of Captain Britain's pre-Excalibur history, I recommend you check out frequent commentor Matt's posts on the subject.
A Work in Progress
It's confirmed that in the wake of "Mutant Massacre" and being healed by Reed Richards and Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men, Kitty's natural state is now phased, and she must concentrate to become solid. How she sleeps, I have no idea.
Similarly, Nightcrawler, having only recently awoken from his coma, experiences pain when he teleports.
Captain Britain asks Nightcrawler what he knows of death, a reference to Captain Britain's death at the hands of the Fury and his resurrection by Merlin in his solo series.
Throughout the issue there are several visual references to Excalibur and Arthurian mythology, as when Rachel looks in this store window.
Kitty and Nightcrawler's fireside stories are from X-Men #141 and the backup story in Classic X-Men #4.
It seems likely that the name "Excalibur" was given to the team because it has an "X" in the name and has ties to Great Britain, but Claremont tries to sell the in-universe connection in this issue's closing pages.
Rachel notes that you can always tell where the X-Men have been by the damage they cause.
Rachel Summers, Crybaby
It's revealed that Rachel's memories are jumbled up as a result of her time in Mojoworld - the end result thankfully means a less prone-to-burst-into-tears-at-any-mention-of-her-future-timeline Rachel moving forward.
Riding the subway, Rachel is able to telepathically detect that the other riders are scared of her.
Excalibur, as we'll see, began mostly to serve as a vehicle for Claremont's sense of whimsy, a place for him to have some fun with some old favorites detached from the ongoing (and darker) narrative he was spinning in X-Men. This issue, however, is mostly concerned with setting the stage for the later series, rescuing Rachel from the inadvertent storytelling limbo into which he'd dropped the character after X-Men #209 while using the televised death of the X-Men as the spark to bring together distaff X-Men Kitty and Nightcrawler with Captain Britain, Meggan, and a heaping helping of Cap's mythology.
To that end, the issue works quite well: we get a sense of each character, for any new readers or readers unfamiliar with one element or another, a reason for the existence of the team (*we* know the X-Men are still out there doing their thing, but the characters don't), and a pair of possible recurring foes in the Warwolves and Technet. Of course, the real standout here is the gorgeous Davis and Neary art, which especially pops on the higher quality prestige format paper. Claremont gives Davis plenty of strange and exciting things to draw, but Davis makes even straightforward dialogue scenes pop. As a result, the entire issue is filled with an energy that helps elevate the somewhat perfunctory "assemble the team" plot.
A Dazzler fill-in story in Uncanny X-Men #228 followed by a Magma fill-in in New Mutants #62, while X-Factor celebrates Christmas in X-Factor #27.