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Thursday, February 26, 2015

X-amining Excalibur #17

"From the Crucible -- A Captain?"
December 1989

In a Nutshell 
Excalibur oversees the selection of a new world champion. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Jade Moede
Colorist: Nel Yomtov
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Party Pooper: Tom DeFalco
Creators: Chris Claremont & Alan Davis

Plot
The narrator continues her story, telling her bar-bound audience of how Nightcrawler's plan to feed Phoenix to the alien being feeding on the life force of the planet succeeded, destroying the creature and releasing its victims. Though still powerless, a massive celebration ensued, during which Rachel slipped away, ruminating on life without the Phoenix force. On her own, she takes a job working for the world's version of Jean Grey until she's killed by a group of slavers, whom Rachel slays in turn. This leads the remaining slavers to send an assassin after Excalibur, who are in the midst of overseeing a tournament to determine a champion for the world. Quickly, the contest comes down to three candidates: Kymri, Lockheed and a masked woman whom Kitty easily recognizes as Rachel.


As the tournament nears its end, the assassin strikes, killing all of Excalibur save for Meggan, as well as Kymri and Lockheed, before Rachel kills the assassin in turn. Meggan tells Rachel that she is channeling the spirit of the world, but that she needs the celestial spark of Phoenix to restore it and the lives of their friends, and that Rachel is denying her responsibility by denying the power. The narrator then teasingly pauses, before revealing herself as Kitty and explaining that Rachel reclaimed her power and thus restored everyone, including the world's spirit, after which Lockheed and Kymri jointly took on the mantle of champion as Excalibur moved on to a new world. Saying farewell, Kitty boards Excalibur's train as Rachel and Widget begin the jump to yet another world, with Kitty spotting the arrival of Professor X and the Starjammers just as Excalibur disappears.

Firsts and Other Notables
The narrator of last issue and this one is revealed to be Kitty, telling the tale to a group of aliens on the world Excalibur reached after the world of the main story. At one point, she awards one of the listeners a "No Prize", Marvel's famous prize to readers for pointing out an error in a story and then offering up an explanation for it that was, of course, not a prize (though the context in which Kitty awards it isn't quite right).


Professor X and the Starjammers appear on the last page of the issue, arriving just as Widget and Phoenix transport Excalibur away to another world. However, it's not clear if they are the real Starjammers (meaning Excalibur was, at the time, back in the correct universe, albeit on an alien world), or just the Starjammers of whatever alternate reality they were in, which greatly resembled the Starjammers of Excalibur's home reality.


This issue marks the first appearance of a race of portly blue slavers, from which hails Tullamore Voge, a minor villain Claremont will introduce in his first return to the X-books in the early 00s, and use again in the more recent Nightcrawler series. 


A Work in Progress
This issue reveals the large purple dragonish warrior who befriended Kitty and Rachel last issue is this world's version of Lockheed.


One of the slavers is named Nigel Frobisher, presumably his counterpart in this world (though why he's a fat blue alien here, I dunno). 

Young Love
Kitty calls Kymri a "cow" as she flirts with Alistair.


Teebore's Take
Though we're still deeply mired in the "Cross-Time Caper" with no end in sight, this issue is a marked improvement over the previous one, as in and amongst all the ultimately-pointless plot goings-on in this world, Claremont & Davis set aside some time for characterization, giving us something to hang our hats on besides done-in-one (or two) plots. Rachel's reluctance to reestablish her bond with the Phoenix Force is an understandable character beat, and an idea that hasn't ever really been explored before (it's basically an extension of Spider-Man's struggle with the whole "great power, great responsibility" thing). Plus, the reveal that Kitty's been the narrator telling a group of aliens on another world about Excalibur's adventure on the last one is a reasonably fun twist (one that even improves my low appreciation for the previous issue in hindsight), and Davis' Starjammers are pretty gorgeous, even in just one panel. This story still desperately needs to go somewhere other than another random world, but it's at least come back up to the median level of quality for the storyline as a whole.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine battles Tiger Shark in Wolverine #19. Next week, more Mandarin fun in Uncanny X-Men #257, followed by, finally, the end of the Asgard story in New Mutants #85. 

Collected Edition


22 comments:

  1. One of the funniest covers we've gotten so far. Remember when Marvel was allowed to have fun, but not in a too-cool-for-school kind of way?

    "Kitty calls Kymri a "cow" as she flirts with Alistair."

    Calling a woman a "cow" is almost a Claremontism...

    "Tullamore Voge, a minor villain Claremont will introduce in his first return to the X-books in the early 00s, and use again in the more recent Nightcrawler series."

    There are some concepts CC uses that are fun the first time, but law of diminishing returns kicks in almost immediately. Voge was one of those concepts. Sometimes CC just needs to let go...

    Yes, a good issue overall. And we still have 6 or 7 parts to go...

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  2. The intent certainly seems to be that Excalibur were on the correct world. "Oh darn"! Has an Official Handbook ever confirmed that that was indeed the 616 Xavier et al?

    Interesting to see that you found this issue an improvement, as for me this was the issue where it started to lag. Nothing really hits right for me, and of course I am no fan of Rachel. In fact, doesn't this issue deserve a return of the "Rachel Summers, Crybaby" feature?

    I also kind of hate the convenient thing of this world's Jean Grey being old enough to be a mother-figure to Rachel.

    Ah well. At least it's still Alan Davis for this issue. Next month will be the true shark-jump.

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  3. Rachel learned how to fight by WATCHING Kitty fight? Not by Kitty teaching her? Since when is Rachel's mutant power photographic reflexes?

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  4. I see that Kitty finally got those glasses. And you thought that subplot from. X-Men 200 and 201 was never picked up.

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  5. Actually, I think Kitty has been wearing them on and off throughout the series...and was also wearing them in the Mojo Mayhem special.

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  6. This is technically the final issue of Alan Davis's run as regular penciler. He says he officially left the title here and that his work on issues 23 and 24 were fill-ins.

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  7. I'm all for fun covers, and I think this one is great at what it does, but I can't stand it — same way I know Basil Wolverton was brilliant, yet I really don't want to look at "Lena the Hyena".

    Frankly it was all I could do to not just skim this issue. As it was, I feel like I missed things — like the setup of this older alternate Jean Grey — that it upon rereading turns out was just missing as Claremont & Davis just kept throwing stuff into the mix. Which again can be admirable in theory, just something that has to be done with care if it's stuff that's part of the meat of a story.

    The Starjammers appearing in their familiar "616" forms is really odd given the existence of counterparts of other established characters, unless they're dimension-hopping too.

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  8. @wwkd: Calling a woman a "cow" is almost a Claremontism...

    True.

    There are some concepts CC uses that are fun the first time, but law of diminishing returns kicks in almost immediately. Voge was one of those concepts.

    Yeah. And pretty much everything else he introduced during his "Revolution" return falls into that category too. I guess the Neo had potential conceptually, but in execution, they were beyond generic.

    @Jason: Has an Official Handbook ever confirmed that that was indeed the 616 Xavier et al?

    Not that I've seen. I did check the Marvel Chronology Project, and they don't list this issue under Xavier's appearances, which suggests they at least consider it an alternate version.

    I'm inclined to think this was another "Oh darn!" moment. But I'm also not terribly clear on the mechanics of the Widget/train jumps. Does it move them in space as well reality? That is, is every world they've been on Earth, or have they ended up on alien worlds as well? If the former, then those must be Alt Starjammers (because the Starjammers aren't on Earth in the home reality). If the latter, these could be the real deal and Excalibur just landed on an alien world away from Earth.

    In fact, doesn't this issue deserve a return of the "Rachel Summers, Crybaby" feature?

    Probably, though it's far less grating (and thus less noticeable) when she's not freaking out every...single...issue.

    @Anonymous: Rachel learned how to fight by WATCHING Kitty fight? Not by Kitty teaching her? Since when is Rachel's mutant power photographic reflexes?

    Yeah, the stress on "watching" is odd. The idea that she could have picked up fighting skills from Kitty telepathically is possible, but not just from watching.

    @Matt: This is technically the final issue of Alan Davis's run as regular penciler. He says he officially left the title here and that his work on issues 23 and 24 were fill-ins.

    Well, crap. Both for the lack of Alan Davis moving forward (I know next issue is a different artist, but I didn't know we'd have to wait FIVE more issues before seeing him again), and because that seems like something I should have noted in this review.

    @Blam: As it was, I feel like I missed things — like the setup of this older alternate Jean Grey — that it upon rereading turns out was just missing as Claremont & Davis just kept throwing stuff into the mix.

    Oh yeah, the whole Alt Jean Grey thing I completely missed the first time around, until I saw it notated as such online. I just figured it was an older redheaded woman since, you know, Jean isn't actually that old.

    Which again, probably stems from my confusion about how all this traveling works - if they're moving through time, as well as space and dimensions, then sure, Jean Grey could be older. But if each jump is just taking them to the same place on Earth but a different Earth, then she shouldn't be any older than on the home Earth.

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  9. When does Warren Ellis show up to ruin everything?

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  10. @Joe: When does Warren Ellis show up to ruin everything?

    Issue #83, I believe.

    Oh, and I think you mean "When does Warren Ellis show up to *make the book entertaining and give it a distinct voice for the first time since Alan Davis left*. :)

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  11. Teebore -- "Well, crap. Both for the lack of Alan Davis moving forward (I know next issue is a different artist, but I didn't know we'd have to wait FIVE more issues before seeing him again), and because that seems like something I should have noted in this review."

    Well, you wouldn't know if someone didn't tell you. I didn't. He had no send-off and he returns for a couple issues fairly soon, which would lead one to believe it was just a long stretch of fill-ins. I only found out a year or so back from this article, which cites a 1991 Davis interview where he says the later pair of issues were fill-ins after his formal departure here.

    Joe -- "When does Warren Ellis show up to ruin everything?"

    Interesting... I'm usually not a fan of Warren Ellis, as I mentioned a few weeks back (I still haven't read that "Xenogenesis" arc, Jason, but it's on my to-do list), but his EXCALIBUR is practically the one thing of his that I really like!

    At any rate, Ellis's first issue is still years in the future at this point -- #83.

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  12. Two words: Pete Wisdom. I get creeped out when artists/writers create an alter ego for themselves to take the virginity of vulnerable young super-heroines.

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  13. By the by, I greatly enjoy and appreciate the reviews. I only found them the other day, and I've been working through them like Cannonball through a simple math problem, starting with X-Men #1. Someday I'll catch up. Though I'm a little afraid of the post-1991 era when I stopped reading back in the day. I am trusting you to guide me through the dreck I bailed on.

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  14. Well, crap. Both for the lack of Alan Davis moving forward (I know next issue is a different artist, but I didn't know we'd have to wait FIVE more issues before seeing him again), and because that seems like something I should have noted in this review.

    I am the only person in the world who kinda likes the Crusader X arc, but other than that, yeah, the next few issues are indeed dire. Then, after the brief respite provided by Davis in issues 23/24, we're in for one of the most pointless runs ever until Davis's return in 42.

    The good part, though, is that he stays on for a reasonably long time, and THAT run is fantastic. Well-- at least if you like the Technet and other wacky trappings of the Captain Britainverse. I do! If you don't, maybe those issues will convince you? At any rate, it's a long way to go before we get there.

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  15. "Yeah, the stress on "watching" is odd. The idea that she could have picked up fighting skills from Kitty telepathically is possible, but not just from watching."

    My fanwank is that Kitty is justifying it that way to herself, because she doesn't want to admit the other alternative, which probably happened, that Rachel violated her privacy and did what Psylocke should have done, which is, downloaded all of Kitty's fighting skills.

    "The good part, though, is that he stays on for a reasonably long time, and THAT run is fantastic"

    He stays on for 2 years, if I recall. And yes, it's a good run, though it too has a few unfortunate fill-ins.

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  16. wwk5d: My fanwank is that Kitty is justifying it that way to herself, because she doesn't want to admit the other alternative, which probably happened, that Rachel violated her privacy and did what Psylocke should have done, which is, downloaded all of Kitty's fighting skills.

    Or, "watched" from the inside. It's hard to say how they all feel about the privacy or the lack of it really, having had pretty much always a telepath in the team. Of course, there's the occasional "Stay out of my head!" spout followed by a calm "Some thoughts are like yells, I can't keep them out any better" retort on the telepath's side.

    What I wonder though is how they can help themselves not imagine raunchy sex scenes between themselves and the telepath everytime she, or as it may be, he, is in near vicinity, and how quickly they get comfortable with doing that as a sort of protection/come-back measure for/against unwelcome telepathic invasion of privacy? Or flirtation, as is apparently the case with S. Summers.

    Joe Pace: Though I'm a little afraid of the post-1991 era when I stopped reading back in the day. I am trusting you to guide me through the dreck I bailed on.

    You're among the as-it-happened survivors here. Like, proper Glenn sort of survivors, not insufferable posers like Aiden, who won't foolishly stop for pushing around the likes of X-Terminator just for shit and giggles. Possibly.

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  17. After Psylocke became Elektra and Madelyne Pryor-Summers became Elvira and Professor X went on a milk carton, playing football and meeting girls became more important to me. Later on, I tried to go back and pick up threads, but it was all too Cable-Bishop-thong costumes and seventeen titles and who has the time? I've since selectively picked up some of the anthologies, but I still haven't forged through Age of Apocalypse or House of M, or everybody in the Marvel Universe becoming honorary X-Men and Avengers and AARP members or whatever.

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  18. "playing football and meeting girls became more important to me"

    You could do those 2 things and keep up with comics books at the same time? Too bad.

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  19. @Joe: wo words: Pete Wisdom. I get creeped out when artists/writers create an alter ego for themselves to take the virginity of vulnerable young super-heroines.

    Well, depending on who you ask, there may not have been any virginity for Pete to take. But that aside, yeah, I know Pete Wisdom irritates a lot of people, but I don't have a lot of strong feelings about him. He's a total Mary Sue (and his power is SO VERY 90s), but not any moreso than his significantly-younger paramour was back in her day.

    @Ben: Well-- at least if you like the Technet and other wacky trappings of the Captain Britainverse. I do! If you don't, maybe those issues will convince you?

    I can't say I love them (though Technet is growing on me), but a consistent voice and vision on a series, even one I may not love specifically, does a lot to win me over, so I'm looking forward to Davis' solo run (which I realize is a ways away).

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  20. @Teebore: // yeah, the whole Alt Jean Grey thing I completely missed the first time around ... if each jump is just taking them to the same place on Earth but a different Earth, then she shouldn't be any older than on the home Earth //

    Rachel does scream "Mom!" when she's killed, but I still needed your post to confirm her identity. Like I said, I went back through the issue, and what confused me most was just that without any preamble Rachel's chatting (well, angsting) with this lady while trying on dresses. I have to disagree with your latter point, however, because versions the same character at different ages is to me a hallmark of alternate universes — granted, more at DC than Marvel, although I remember a Fantastic Four Annual written by Karl Kesel with Ben waking up on a parallel Earth where everyone's aged to where they would be if FF #1 had taken place in 1961 without "Marvel time" sliding everything forward.

    @Joe: // I'm a little afraid of the post-1991 era when I stopped reading back in the day. //

    Some of us have already passed our own equivalent rubicons, as Teemu noted. I stopped buying Uncanny with #205, checking in only occasionally over the years; I did, however, pick up Excalibur from its launch through right about this issue. I am not looking forward to X-Force even out of morbid curiosity.

    Also, while I had to cut back on the comics budget considerably during college, I didn't give 'em up for extracurricular activities, girls, or anything else.

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  21. PS: Can I just say how much I prefer the more recent neologism "headcanon" to "fanwank"?

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  22. "I am not looking forward to X-Force even out of morbid curiosity"

    What? The Liefeld era of X-force was one of the X-office's best comedic runs of the 90s. Just because it wasn't intentional doesn't make it any less hilarious...

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