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Thursday, September 25, 2014

X-amining Excalibur #9

"The Two-Edged Sword!"
June 1989

In a Nutshell 
Excalibur battles their Nazi counterparts from an alternate world. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterers: Orzechowski & Mas
Colorist: John A. Wilcox
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Death Commando: Tom DeFalco
Creators: Claremont & Davis

Plot
At Excalibur's lighthouse, Lockheed is attacked by the Lightning Squad, alternate reality counterparts of Excalibur seeking their Moira MacTaggert and Callisto. Meanwhile, in the subbasement of the X-Mansion, Kitty tests Brian's powers, finding his abilities to be far below their normal levels, while Meggan is unconsciously shifting her form to reflect the appearance of anyone near her. Just then, Nightcrawler receives a call from Commander Thomas, asking for Excalibur's help. At the London Branch of the Hellfire Club, Nigel Frobusher is drawn into a series of wagers with his boss, Courtney Ross. Unwilling to risk looking like a coward to the gathering crowd, he ends up owing her a million pounds. At the WHO headquarters inside the Tower of London, Widget appears and swaps a group of tourists for their lizard-like counterparts from another reality as the Lightning Squad infiltrates the building.


As the rest of the team frees Moira and Callisto and captures Alysande Stuart, their leader, Hauptman Englande, confronts Commander Thomas. But Thomas is saved by the timely arrival of Shadowcat and Phoenix. As Phoenix reads Hauptman Englande's mind, Shadowcat is confronted by her counterpart and knocked out, which distracts Phoenix enough for Hauptman Englande to get the drop on her. Telling Meggan and Captain Britain to stay back due to their fluctuating powers, Nightcrawler attacks Hauptman Englande, but is overpowered by his own counterpart. However, as the Lightning Squad emerges from the Tower, they find themselves confronted by a waiting Captain Britain.

Firsts and Other Notables
The Lightning Squad, Excalibur's counterparts from the alternate Nazi reality, appear for the first time this issue. Notably, they are missing a Phoenix analog, which is a hint towards the notion that Rachel is unique in the multiverse (in that there is only one of her in the main 616 universe, and no alternate reality counterparts), an idea Claremont intended to establish at some point but never got around to doing, and has since been disproved.


In a subplot scene involving Nigel Frobusher and Sat-yr-9-as-Courtney-Ross (aka Fake Courtney Ross), we see the London branch of the Hellfire Club for the first time. And I have no idea where this subplot is going, but Nigel ends up in big debt to Fake Courtney. 


It's established that WHO headquarters is in the Tower of London.

A Work in Progress
Kitty tests out Brian's powers in the X-Men's old gym, in the underground portion of the mansion that survived the explosion in X-Men #243. It's been so long since we've seen anybody at the school, it was enjoyable and almost quaint to see these characters hanging out in that old familiar setting.


Meggan's powers have reached a point where she's basically a chameleon, unintentionally mimicking the appearance of anyone who gets near her.

Remember when Kitty threw a fit over having to wear glasses? In a nice visual bit of continuity, she's wearing them this issue while running the tests on Brian.

Widget pops up again, now over a door in the Tower of London, still looking for Colin. He ends up swapping a group of tourists for, apparently, their counterparts from an alternate lizard dimension.


Still without a costume, Brian dons the old Captain Britain uniform on display at the Tower of London. It's a big snug, much to the derision of Hauptman Englande.


Artistic Achievements
In a neat visual moment, the Phoenix firebird effect is depicting as eating the head of the person whose mind Rachel is reading via telepathy. 


Teebore's Take
In the grand history of Claremont plot danglers, the subplot involving Widget and the Nazi counterparts of Moira and Callisto from an alternate dimension are hardly worthy of mention in terms of time left dangling, but this issue nevertheless feels like a good time to move that story from "subplot" to "plot". That transition, along with a few pages spent on a running character bit (Brian and Meggan's power issues) along with the introduction of a new subplot (whatever the heck is going on with Nigel and Fake Courtney Ross) combine for an issue that feels the most yet like a classic Claremont issue of X-Men, while some of the little touches (like the WHO/who? gag involving the tourists and Captain Britain's ill-fitting costume) give the issue a dash of the series' typical whimsy. Plus, there's the added fun of Excalibur fighting their alternate reality Nazi counterparts, and battles against alternate reality Nazi counterparts are always good comics.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine picks on the Hulk in Wolverine #8. Next week, the Havok story in Marvel Comics Presents #24-31 and New Mutants Annual #5.

17 comments:

  1. "Nightcrawler receives a call from Commander Thomas, asking for Excalibur's help."

    Been a while since I've read this, but...how does Thomas even have the number to the X-mansion, let alone know Excaliber is there to begin with?

    "And I have no idea where this subplot is going, but Nigel ends up in big debt to Fake Courtney."

    I think this ends up being a dropped plot point by CC and Davis once they are gone. Unless I am mistaken.

    "Remember when Kitty threw a fit over having to wear glasses? In a nice visual bit of continuity, she's wearing them this issue while running the tests on Brian."

    I think she does occasionally wear them when CC writes Excaliber at this point. Doesn't she also wear them during Mojo Mayhem?

    "Widget pops up again, now over a door in the Tower of London, still looking for Colin. He ends up..."

    Of course, Widget ends up being a "she" ;)

    A good, fun issue overall.

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  2. I like this issue and I think it's a promising "part one", but the conclusion is marred by some dreadful artwork from Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. I will never understood how two guys who looked so amazing on Batman could look so horrendous on everything else they ever worked on.

    Those saurian people become kind of a running gag as I recall, popping up at least a couple more times before Alan Davis devotes an entire issue to the Excalibur of their world shortly after #50.

    The Nigel/Courtney storyline continues as a sub-plot through Claremont's run and returns when Davis comes back as writer. It involves the Vixen and Jamie Braddock, too.

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  3. "And I have no idea where this subplot is going, but Nigel ends up in big debt to Fake Courtney."

    I think this ends up being a dropped plot point by CC and Davis once they are gone. Unless I am mistaken.


    Here's my recollection of what's going on here. (Spoilers! Although I might be getting some details wrong!) Nigel is now working for Courtney, who is actually Sat Yr 9. She has Jamie Braddock do some witchery on him that turns him into Vixen whenever he thinks about her. (So he can be forced to transform, at the mere mention of Vixen, much to his dismay.) Sat Yr 9 uses him to take control of Vixen's crime operation. Meanwhile, the real Vixen, I think, is transformed by Jamie Braddock into a white fox who shows up from time to time in the background. Maybe Nigel turns into a fox sometimes too? I can't remember.

    It's all extremely confusing at this point, but is eventually resolved in a fairly satisfying fashion by Alan Davis in Excalibur 55-56 or thereabouts, although certain aspects never quite add up.

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  4. I've let myself be told the correct form would be Hauptmann England, minus the last e, but if our good Hauptmann himself talks of "Herr Doktor MagTaggert"... the fun bit with alternative reality Nazi counterparts is them always being totally satisfied if they only sound like the role, grammar be verdamt.

    Have many people generally fought their alternative reality Nazi counterparts, though? There's a multiverse full of alternative Nazi realities, yes, but the heroes too often shy away from having actual Nazi versions of themselves.

    Also, everyone have seen (from Youtube perhaps) the insanely hilarious "Nazi Generals" sketch by British comedy duo Smith&Jones, ja?

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  5. At Excalibur's lighthouse, Lockheed is attacked by the Lightening Squad, alternate reality counterparts of Excalibur seeking their Moira MacTaggert and Callisto.

    My mutant power of pedantry once more compels me to point out it's "lightning", not "lightening." A squad that strikes like lightning sounds formidable; a squad that strikes like a helpful light source that brightens a room, less so.

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  6. Hauptmann Englande kan have a Lightening Squad if he zo pleases, herr Painter. Ve're rich viz 'e's in ze Reich.

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  7. Well, Nazi Kurt calls them Lightning squad in that Tower page, so it may be a touchy grammatical subject, even for nazi über-men.

    Looking at their Shadowcat (and remembering the next issues) is a lot more disturbing now than when I was a kid.

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  8. Curious thing. The people of the Nazi reality here seem to be quite okay with Kurt being a blue skinned mutant, being seemingly a full member of their elite squad and the divide goes along human racial lines, whereas in the alternative realities and futures where the West takes a turn for fascism (DoFP, Jaspers' Warp...) the divide is between H. sapiens and H. superior, with all the sapiens people seemingly race-neutrally going on to exterminate all the superhumans.

    Is it a Code-related mainstream comics thingy, perhaps? They once had a Red Skull who was expected to be really evil Nazi villain - and who wasn't allowed to be openly racist the least bit.

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  9. Just to be clear, the comic itself is correct: it uses Lightning Squad.

    I read all the reviews recently, and Teebore uses "lightening" instead of "lightning" in every instance of the word, which appears fairly regularly.

    I mentioned it was wrong a week or so ago. I think Teebore is doing it deliberately now.

    [Raises fist at Teebore] Curses! We will meet again, my old enemy!

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  10. What a great-looking issue. The cover is a delight and everything inside save the letters on the latter half is just grade-A superhero comics: Davis & Neary? A dream team. Mas is still a severe comedown from Orzechowski, but John Wilcox' flat colors, reproduced faithfully in the digital edition (in fact, improved by its purity without printing vagaries to muddy them up), are right on a par with Glynis Oliver's, putting the overdone rendering that's become the norm this century to shame. Only to have the imminent battle between the Brians to be picked up by next issue's atrocious Rogers & Austin reunion. Sigh.

    I was also wondering how Dai Thomas knew to call Excalibur at the X-Mansion. Not to mention why X-Factor isn't using equipment there, given that in the latest issue of that series we've covered the New Mutants are basically using Warlock as Danger Room equipment.

    Captain Britain's old costume not fitting is a good gag for readers aware that his physique has beefed up over the years, but it does undercut the last-page dramatic reveal somewhat.

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  11. The repeated use of "lightening" drives me a little nuts too, Mr. Painter (A?) — especially since I know our host is a literate fellow who cares about this stuff. We all have our funny little foibles. "Lightning" does trace its origins as a contraction of the word "lightening" but long since its shift to usage as a noun (an out-and-out noun, rather than a gerund; compare "thundering" vs. "thunder") "lightening" for "lightning" became incorrect.

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  12. It must be a Claremont homage/protestation, then. 'Lightening' = annoying habit of Claremont's to mutilate the name of a fine bird just to have a pet name for everyone to call Dazzler by. Should his Nazicalibur meet Dazzy they too would probably go: "Ah, ve meet again, Lightengale!"

    Let us not forget Dark Phoenix once introduced herself as the Wicked Witch of the West, and it was precisely the DP saga where an editorial mandate forced bringing Dazzler. Surrender Dorothy, lighten Gale. What we are dealing here is a multilayered grudge. We'll wait for the next Uncanny X-menation for any additional proof of that.

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  13. @wwk5d: Been a while since I've read this, but...how does Thomas even have the number to the X-mansion, let alone know Excaliber is there to begin with?

    He shouldn't know where they are. I actually had that in my notes and completely missed putting it into the post for some reason.

    Of course, Widget ends up being a "she" ;)

    I believe text in the issues themselves refer to him as a "he" up to the revelation, so I'm sticking with it. :)

    @A Painter: My mutant power of pedantry once more compels me to point out it's "lightning", not "lightening."

    I just...I don't know guys. I got nothing. I guess I just have to chalk it up, as Blam suggests, to a grammatical blindspot (I was tempted to blame it on auto-correct, but it's technically still a word. Just the wrong one). I fixed it in this post and will try to be mindful of it in the future, but I don't have the time to fix it in all the old ones, unfortunately. :P

    [Raises fist at Teebore] Curses! We will meet again, my old enemy!

    Er, I mean, yeah, it's totally intentional, just to confound you. Take that, Painter!

    @Teemu: The people of the Nazi reality here seem to be quite okay with Kurt being a blue skinned mutant, being seemingly a full member of their elite squad and the divide goes along human racial lines, whereas in the alternative realities and futures where the West takes a turn for fascism (DoFP, Jaspers' Warp...) the divide is between H. sapiens and H. superior

    Good point. I think in the course of this storyline it's established that this is a pro-mutant Nazi regime, but I could be wrong about that.

    @Blam: Captain Britain's old costume not fitting is a good gag for readers aware that his physique has beefed up over the years, but it does undercut the last-page dramatic reveal somewhat.

    Yeah, it's one of the more specific examples of a time when Excalibur's penchant for whimsy undercuts a dramatic moment.

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  14. Oh, right... Herr Doktor MacTaggart being an important figure does suggest that there is a strong mutant association of at least some sort in ze Reich. (Chief) Geneticist, did they say (s)he was?

    Questionable though that the Nazi victory has not altered the world so that Moira Kinross wouldn't have married Joe MacTaggart, while Callisto's presence opens up curious vistas if there has in fact been a mutant massacre in NY sewers in this reality too that has prompted Callisto to seek security from the pro-mutant Nazis, and if they have a DoFP type of thing going on in ze Amerika, assuming they are still opposing the Nazis there, perhaps in some sort of Cold War situation like in the magnificent alt history Nazi victory book Fatherland by Robert Harris.

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  15. ... and now I'm wondering if some one did have thought processes similar to mine before me, but modified the setup a bit by switching the factions the other way around and then had Legion travel back in time to kill his father...

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  16. @Teemu: Questionable though that the Nazi victory has not altered the world so that Moira Kinross wouldn't have married Joe MacTaggart

    There's a certain element of that to just about everything from the alternate reality in this story; I mean, Excalibur, arguably moreso than any other X-team at this point, was formed as a result of some very specific dominoes falling in very specific ways. So the fact that four of their five members all ended up on a team together even in this alternate reality seems a stretch.

    But I decided to chalk this particular reality up to one in which everything is mostly the same as the main reality, but with Nazis. Whereas "Age of Apocalypse" is built around the question of "what if Professor X never founded the X-Men?" and seeing how the world changes just from the loss of one man, this reality seems to be built around the question of "what if what happened, happened, but everyone is Nazis?", kind of like a world where everyone is lizards instead of humans, or lives underwater, etc.

    At least, that's what I'm assuming, simply because it's less problematic, at least until the story tells me otherwise.

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  17. Teebore: There's a certain element of that to just about everything from the alternate reality in this story;

    That is true, and what's more, it's exactly those two who did drive the train through Widget's gate, so it makes sense them too coming out changed from it.

    You're chalking it up just right, I think. This was not one of them Cross-Time Caper worlds yet, am I correct? They did correspond more poorly to Earth-616, gathering from my very limited exposure for them.

    Very curious and particularly nasty for Kitty that, ahem, Widget chooses to open up portal to this particular world, and hilarious that meanwhile in New York another portal is about to open to have someone/-thing thrown through that one. Ah, that Claremont!

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