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Thursday, July 17, 2014

X-amining Excalibur #4

"Still Crazy After All These Years"
January 1989

In a Nutshell 
Arcade captures Courtney Ross. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Dedicated to Dave Thorpe, co-creator of The Crazy Gang

Plot
While reminiscing about her past with Captain Britain, Courtney Ross is attacked in her office by the Crazy Gang. She manages to get past them and out into the street, only to be captured by a waiting Arcade. The next day, Kitty and Rachel are shopping when Kitty realizes the money she took out of Courtney's bank was made by Arcade. Meanwhile, at the lighthouse, Kurt and Meggan flirt as Kurt builds a jungle gym, with the pair almost kissing just before the rest of the team comes home. Kitty shows everyone the money, from which they deduce that Arcade, looking for revenge on Captain Britain, has captured Courtney, and where to find her. Brian, enraged, attempts to fly off in a rage but Rachel holds him back as Kurt points out that Arcade clearly wants them to come after her, so they must find a way to beat him at his own game.


Elsewhere, beneath an abandoned steel mill, Arcade sends Courtney into Murderworld. To the north, Callisto and Moira MacTaggart are aboard a train to London, hoping to discuss some odd medical scans Moira took of Phoenix with the team, when Widget teleports away the entire train. Meanwhile, Excalibur arrives at the steel mill and confronts the waiting Crazy Gang. But the villains use a device to swap their minds with Excalibur's, capturing all but Shadowcat and Lockheed. As they bring the unconscious heroes, trapped in the Crazy Gang's bodies, inside Murderworld, Arcade gloats that before he's through, he'll have Shadowcat and her dragon, too.

Firsts and Other Notables
The Crazy Gang, a group of thieves and mercenaries inspired by Lewis Carroll's Wonderland stories, who are all rather crazy, appear in an American comic for the first time - they previously appeared in Captain Britain's Marvel UK series, with ties to both Mad Jim Jaspers (who created them) and Slaymaster, the villain who took Psylocke's eyes. Tweedledope, who appeared in issue #1 playing with Widget, is a member of the group.  


Arcade returns in this issue, targeting Captain Britain out of revenge for his initial defeat at the hero's hands, and is joined as usual by Miss Locke. Arcade has built a new Murderworld underneath an abandoned steel mill in England.


Rachel hears the psychic cries of her pseudo baby brother (presumably the same ones Jean Grey is using to track him in X-Factor), a reference to the events of "Inferno" and the setup to Excalibur's involvement in that storyline. It's also worth noting that Rachel refers to her brother as "Nathan" (his actual given first name) and not "Christopher" (his first middle name, which has been chiefly used so far in other books).


The "Callisto and Moira get transported somewhere by Widget" interlude is, I believe, setting up a future story involving that most classic of all alternate realities, triumphant Nazis, though I don't think the whole "anomaly in Rachel's mediscans" business that has them racing to London in the first place ever goes anywhere (I've read that Claremont intended to reveal that Rachel had no father, and was simply a child of Jean Grey/the Phoenix force, but left the book before he had a chance to establish that).


We get our first outright "comedy" cover this issue, with no attempt made to even hint at the story inside in favor of the gag. The back cover features Meggan. 

A Work in Progress
It's revealed that Captain Britain has set up each of the members of Excalibur with a bank account at Courtney Ross' bank (and presumably put money in it for them). 

In a nice bit of world building, it's noted that the plant which Arcade bought as a front for Murderworld shut down in part because Genosha can manufacture steel cheaper.

Kitty refers to Brian and Meggan in her thoughts as "the bimbos".


Enraged at learning Courtney has been kidnapped, Brian flexes to the point that his shirt buttons pop off.


We actually see a normal person die in Murderworld for a change, suggesting that even while Arcade is plotting revenge and/or getting defeated by superheroes, he's still paying the bills by taking on normal assassination contracts, and thus validating the continued use of "Murderworld" instead of "EscapedFromItAfterBeingMildlyInconveniencedworld".


The brief subplot interlude says that Callisto, last seen on Muir Island with the X-Men in X-Men #217, is functioning as Moira's bodyguard.

I Love the 80s
Kitty bemoans a clothing store not accepting credit cards (and that may or may not be Hitchcock walking the dog on the right. Not that he's from the 80s).


Claremontisms
As Nightcrawler tickles Meggan, Claremont (or Orzechowski) does that trick where the words within the balloon vary in size to indicate rising and falling volume.


The Crazy Gang uses a device which swaps their minds with the minds of Excalibur. .


Baby Nathan's cry hits Rachel in "the totality of her being".


A Minnesota Yankee in the English Court
The only reason Arcade's fake money isn't immediately noticeable to Kitty is because regular English money is multicolored, something Kitty notes when withdrawing it.

Young Love
Nightcrawler and Meggan grow closer this issue, flirting with another and almost kissing, with Meggan subconsciously shifting her form to resemble Kurt's, before being interrupted.


Meggan, meanwhile, is worried by the concern Captain Britain shows for Courtney, wondering if everything is truly over between them.


Teebore's Take
After last issue's Juggernaut appearance, this one brings another old X-villain into the book in the form of Arcade. I'm not the world's biggest Arcade fan, but his inclusion in this series makes sense: his history with Captain Britain (stemming from the villain's first appearance) predates even his rivalry with the X-Men, and his whole Murderworld schtick has always been more absurdist than realistic, which fits the tone of this book much better than it would X-Men at this time. Arcade is teamed-up with the Crazy Gang, a group of villains from Captain Britain's UK series, and in doing so, Claremont continues to wed elements of both the Captain Britain mythos with the X-Men mythos via his use of villains (after Technet and Mojo in the Special Edition, then Vixen and Juggernaut last issue). Seeing as how this series is built on the fusion of those two elements, this makes sense, though it does also add to the continued problem of the book lacking a strong identity for itself beyond the vague "more lighthearted than X-Men, and in Britain" feel. But maybe that, plus the more whimsical tone, is enough.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we wrap up the series' initial story arc in Wolverine #3. Next week, Madelyne has it out with Mr. Sinister in Uncanny X-Men #241, followed by Illyana hashing it out with N'astirh in New Mutants #72.

12 comments:

  1. It always annoyed me that Claremont never explained what the Crazy Gang were in these issues- I assumed they were robots created by Arcade.
    Here's a problem- several days pass between Rachel hearing Nathan's cries in this issue and Rachel going to rescue him is issue 6. So unless it took Jean and Scott several days to fly from Nebraska to New York, this has to take place before Jean and Scott removed him from the capsule. But if Nathan was constantly screaming for help all the time he was in the capsule, shouldn't Rachel have "heard" him since she first returned to Earth?

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  2. "EscapedFromItAfterBeingMildlyInconveniencedworld"."

    I'd like to see it canonically changed, and with the tagline also changed from "... where nobody ever survives!" to " .... where nobody ever escapes without first being mildly inconvenienced!"

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  3. I think in my own coverage of this storyline, I noted that Brian is kind of a cad next issue as he goes on a date with Courtney while still ostensibly in a committed relationship with Meggan. But I'd forgotten that Nightcrawler isn't much better in this installment. Who makes a tickle attack on their friend/teammate's girlfriend at all, much less while she's wearing a bikini?!?

    Otherwise, I like this two-parter. As I think about it, it's probably my favorite story arc from Claremont's time on EXCALIBUR.

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  4. Incidentally, the shop that doesn't accept credit cards is named 'Marx and Sparks', a British nickname for Marks and Spencer, a fairly upmarket chain supermarket/department store hybrid. It's mentioned by this name in 'All the Young Dudes' by Mott the Hoople, in case it sounded familiar to American ears.

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  5. @Matt

    I believe Nightcrawler has at least some history of annoying people with his tickle attacks. Didn't he do this to Rogue in the issue where the X-Men first encounter Magus? It seemed pretty annoying of him then, too.

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  6. There's a great moment in Avengers Academy that does the best at summarizing Murderworld. The kids are trapped there & two reach Arcade's control room, where he tiredly explains that while he's killed lots of ordinary targets, he's never been able to fulfill a contract on a superhero & it drives him crazy. Since we're seeing everything from the superhero POV, all we ever see are his failures. It made perfect sense.

    So of course, Marvel turned him into Ginger Beyonder and used him for a deck-clearing series. Ugh.

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  7. Didn't Arcade capture Courtney Ross already once in the Marvel Team-Up issue where he premiered against Spidey and Captain Britain?

    Anyways... Cross-Time Caper. So, how much does the concept owe to Doctor Who and how much does the television show Sliders owe to Cross-Time Caper? And, does the Slitheens in Doctor Who owe how much to Excalibur's War Wolves, what with being hunting-oriented creatures in habit of wearing human skin as a disguise since the 2005 episode of "Aliens of London"?

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  8. Ben: I believe Nightcrawler has at least some history of annoying people with his tickle attacks. Didn't he do this to Rogue in the issue where the X-Men first encounter Magus? It seemed pretty annoying of him then, too.

    ... and to Rachel in #201.

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  9. Why does Kitty assume it's Arcade who's kidnapped Courtney? I guess the "damsel in distress" poses on the backs of the bills suggest his schtick, but Kitty only notices those after the finger is pointed — apparently based on the faces of the bills featuring members of the Crazy Gang, whom the X-Men have never seen before and who in any event haven't been working with Arcade until now.

    // I've read that Claremont intended to reveal that Rachel had no father, and was simply a child of Jean Grey/the Phoenix force //

    Hmm. Never heard that.

    // the plant which Arcade bought as a front for Murderworld shut down in part because Genosha can manufacture steel cheaper //

    Completely missed that.

    // We actually see a normal person die in Murderworld for a change //

    Appreciated that. Like the possible Monty Python homage of the poor fellow being stomped by the giant foot. Not sure what the audience of blue demon-like things is supposed to be, though, since there are no other suggestions, if this even is one, that Limbo has spread its reach from NYC to England.

    One more potential entry for The Reference Section: The joke that Courtney starts off with introduces a vicar and an actress. Most often the pairings I've heard are "tarts and vicars" (as a British costume-party theme) or "said the actress to the bishop" (equivalent to adding "under the covers" or, more recently, "that's what she said" to make something sound naughty, the namesake of Brian Bolland's delightful The Actress and the Bishop strips).

    Whether it's because I was reading and enjoying it without getting contemporary X-Men comics or because I've always considered it as a Captain Britain series with former X-Men in it rather than an X-Men title — despite the fact that Claremont's writing it and the obvious attempt to bridge or marry both concepts in the name itself — I don't see Excalibur as failing to distinguish an identity within the X-Men franchise because it's just its own thing to me.

    Although I do like the cover gag, the unwieldy shape of the main word balloon drives me nuts. Of course the joke might be underserved by splitting it up into small adjoining balloons, but I think there's a way to stretch out the width of it for more of an oblong oval and still preserve the overwhelming black of the background.

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  10. "So of course, Marvel turned him into Ginger Beyonder and used him for a deck-clearing series. Ugh."

    Yeah but weren't most of the people killed off in that dumb series created just for that series? It's not like they had the balls to kill off X-23 or anyone major.

    "I've read that Claremont intended to reveal that Rachel had no father, and was simply a child of Jean Grey/the Phoenix force"

    And she was supposed to be unique in that she doesn't have an alternate reality counterpart. Of course, nobody at What If? was told that...

    What's up with Kitty being mean to Meggan? I can understand calling Brian a bimbo, but Meggan has been nothing other than nice to Kitty...

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  11. "Yeah but weren't most of the people killed off in that dumb series created just for that series? It's not like they had the balls to kill off X-23 or anyone major."

    They killed off a bunch of characters from Avengers Academy (which I really enjoyed) and Runaways, too, and that's what annoys me. These aren't characters likely to get a revival. Why break the toys instead of leaving them in the toybox for someone with a better idea to use?

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  12. @wwk5d- What happened was this- Kitty suggested to Rachel that she dress more conservatively, Rachel responded by turning Kitty's outfit into something slutty, and Meggan later innocently complimented Kitty on her new look. The "bimbos" are Rachel and Meggan. It's not fair for Kitty to get mad at Meggan but she only thought of her as a bimbo- she didn't say it.

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