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Thursday, June 11, 2015

X-amining Excalibur #24

"Tempting Fates"
July 1990

In a Nutshell 
Excalibur finally returns home as the "Cross-Time Caper" comes to an end. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Finisher: Paul Neary
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Big High Muckety-Muck: Tom DeFalco
Creators: Claremont & Davis

Plot
Saturnyne, having transported Excalibur to her Omniversal Hub, dresses them down for all the damage they've caused the continuum during their alternate reality jaunts, and tells them she hopes to return Excalibur home and settle the Phoenix imbroglio once and for all. Meanwhile, on Earth, Courtney Ross presents Kitty with a birthday cake, and tells her she has a few ideas for how Kitty can celebrate her birthday. At the Hub, Nightcrawler decides to disguise Rachel as Kitty to prevent Saturnyne from claiming her, then Excalibur emerges from their train to meet with the waiting immigration officers. On Earth, Courtney arranges a makeover for Kitty, then takes her to dinner at a fancy restaurant. At the Hub, Excalibur is questioned to verify their identities, while Captain Britain flies off, hoping to use his past with Saturnyne to change her mind about Phoenix. But when he lands outside her office, he's refused entrance, and ends up fighting her guards as well as counterparts of himself.


On Earth, Courtney follows up dinner with a trip to Paris, while at the Hub, the rest of Excalibur soon joins Captain Britain's fight. As Kitty spends the rest of the night listening to jazz and dancing in Paris, Excalibur is called back to their train by Widget. They arrive to find Saturnyne, in the flesh, waiting for them. She gives them Widget, programmed to take them home, and turns a blind-eye to the clearly disguised Phoenix. The next morning in Paris, Kitty meets back up with Courtney, thanking her for the fantastic night, and Courtney gives her one last present: a Jaguar, telling her it's only illegal for her to drive it if she's caught. Meanwhile, Excalibur materializes in the caves beneath their lighthouse, not realizing that Galactus is outside, waiting for them.

Firsts and Other Notables
The "Cross-Time Caper" mercifully comes to a close this issue, as Saturnyne, in light of all the damage to the omniverse caused by Excalibur flailing about from reality to another, sends them back to their home reality. Her remarks could very easily be read as thinly-veiled commentary on the running length of the story, suggesting Claremont was listening to fan feedback (or growing weary himself).


Kitty, meanwhile, celebrates her 15th birthday along with Coutney Ross (who is actually Sat-yr-9, remember, even though this issue does nothing to remind us of that), and, in another fourth wall breaking moment, Fake Courtney comments that Kitty has always seemed older than that. Kitty turning fifteen here would technically mean it's been a year and a half since her introduction in X-Men #129 (when she was said to be thirteen-and-a-half).


This could possibly be just be a result of my dirty mind, but it seems like there's a bit of a sexual undercurrent to the panel where Kitty licks cake frosting off Fake Courtney's finger. Dirty or not, it's a weird panel.


It's pretty explicitly implied that Saturnyne is well aware that Phoenix is with Excalibur in this issue, but lets her return home with them regardless, possibly bringing to an end the whole "Saturnyne wants Phoenix" plot that kick started the series in the first place. What this means for Technet, who was hired to that end by Saturnyne and as remained on Earth until they fulfill that contract, I have no idea (apparently, Davis picks up the "Saturnyne wants Phoenix" plot when he returns to the series).


Creator Central
This is the final issue drawn by Alan Davis for awhile, marking either the end of his original run or the end of his brief fill-in. He'll return to the series, as writer and penciler, with issue #42. 

A Work in Progress
Saturnyne's underlings grill Captain Britain and Meggan about their new costumes as they try to verify their identities. 


The Reference Section
One of the immigration officers at the Hub is an archivist who I think is supposed to be John Byrne.


Young Love
When an overjoyed Meggan returns from confirming that Excalibur is indeed home, she hugs Nightcrawler, prompting a quizzical look from Captain Britain, who might finally be catching on to the whole Meggan/Nightcrawler thing. 


Teebore's Take
At long last, the interminable "Cross-Time Caper", which, by my calculations, began sometime in 1954, finally comes to a close, somewhat abruptly and rather with a whimper. After watching for a dozen issues as Excalibur careened from one reality to the next, with little rhyme, reason or thematic impact, Saturnyne, perhaps speaking for the audience, finally declares enough is enough, brings them to her omniversal hub, cleans them up, and sends them home. That's that, and all we're left to wonder is what was the point of all this? 

To be clear, this storyline is twelve chapters long (not including the fill-in #20), meaning at this point, Excalibur has an equal number of issues set in this storyline as not, which is pretty mind-boggling. Half the series has been handed over to the "Cross-Time Caper", and to what end? A few costume changes aside, every character is coming out the end of it exactly the same as they went in: Captain Britain is still ignoring Meggan, Nightcrawler is still fighting his feelings for her, the Kitty/Rachel/Alistair love triangle is still going on. Kitty, possibly, may end up in some interesting places as a result of her separation from the team, but for now, all of that just seems like a vehicle to setup more of the odd Kitty/Saturnyne connections that, ultimately, go nowhere.

Granted, individually, there's some standout parts of this story arc: the Technet-centric issue for one, the Leonardi-drawn battle with Jamie Braddock another. The Shadow King/Alt-Hellfire Club was an interesting story with terrible art, while, of course, anything Alan Davis does is gorgeous, even if more often than not it was in the service of pedestrian alt reality plots. But as a whole, this story is aimless and pointless, with the starring characters robbed of any agency for almost the entire arc.

Even worse, it took the characters of a relatively new series (again, 50% of the ENTIRE SERIES is comprised of this storyline at this point) away from their usual setting, and thus, any opportunity to develop the internal world and external thematic purpose of the series. Twelve issues without any development of the book's supporting cast, only minor developments regarding its recurring villains and barely any movement on its few running subplots (the whole "Courtney is Saturnyne" thing is pretty much at the same point as when the story started, and Claremont isn't even bothering to remind the audience of the switch anymore). Is the point of Excalibur to carry on the work of the believed-to-be-dead X-Men? To serve as Europe's premiere superhero team? Something else entirely? Half the series' run at this point does nothing to answer that question.

There's nothing wrong with a series embarking on a long-running story arc, even one that takes the characters away from their usual surroundings (granted, such storyline usually work better with a more established series). Claremont and Byrne took the new X-Men away from the X-mansion for eleven issues, but in the process, they created the definitive X-Men/Magneto confrontation, presented the closest thing yet to a Professor X origin issue, began planting the seeds for "Dark Phoenix", and used the whole "World Tour" arc as a vehicle for characterization - by the time the X-Men returned home, their understanding of each other and our understanding of them was different.

By contrast, "Cross-Time Caper" established that Jamie Braddock might be a significant villain one day, and teased the idea of a scheming Shadow King that ultimately foreshadows events in the other mutant books moreso than this one. Other than that, it's pretty much just Claremont (presumably) having fun playing with various alternate realities until he (apparently) got bored and decided to send everyone home as perfunctorily as possible. There's no in-story reason Excalibur comes home at this point, no objective achieved or lesson learned; Claremont theoretically could have kept this going forever. Thankfully, he didn't, but the whole thing is still, ultimately, a failure, as both a standalone story and as part of the series' larger overall narrative. But thankfully, it's finally over. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine knows when to hold 'em in Wolverine #26. Next week, Fantastic Four Annual #23 and New Mutants Annual #6.

Collected Edition


18 comments:

  1. Well, its over. There are some nice issues and moments throughout, but had it been 4 or 5 issues shorter, and had there been a point to all of this universe jaunting (ie, someone chasing them, them chasing someone, some type of quest, etc), then it might have been better received. But given the abrupt and arbitrary way it ends, it could have ended this way 4 or 5 issues ago and it wouldn't have changed a thing. I mean, not even a few pages of Excaliber having to combine their powers to realign the Cosmic Universe Thingamabob to set realities right?

    "Dirty or not, it's a weird panel."

    Ho Yay alert!

    "He'll return to the series, as writer and penciler, with issue #42"

    Prepare to slog through a lot of...slog till we get there.

    Still, a Davis issue is still a joy to look at, at least. And I always loved that cover.

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  2. Good news! It's over! Bad news! It's about to get worse! (WAY WORSE.) The most notable thing about the remaining 18 or so issues between now and Davis's return is that unleash Scott Lobdell on the X-Universe. AN EXTREMELY DUBIOUS DISTINCTION.

    But it's all worth it for Davis's solo run, which is pretty much the best thing ever.

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  3. "Dirty or not, it's a weird panel."

    I've read a few different writings about this scene, one of which is a coming-out story, so the Ho Yay is probably 100% intentional. This is Claremont, after all.

    (And I'd be fine with it if it wasn't a crazy space Nazi posing as Courtney. The villainous aspect is off-putting.)

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  4. It's not just the villainous aspect. It's also the fact that it's an adult woman and a 15-year old girl.

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  5. // who is actually Sat-yr-9, remember, even though this issue does nothing to remind us of that //

    Yeah… The splash page makes this omission or oversight especially egregious, as it compares Opal-Luna Saturnyne and Courtney Ross when the latter actually isn’t Courtney Ross. Did Claremont really just forget?

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  6. Between Kitty’s glare while fingerlicking and the "I am all yours" text it s hard to not read anything dirty.

    Teebore, you cut off a great gag, when after noticing "Kitty"’s taller and before complaining to the Byrne character, the inspector also remarks that Kitty’s "physiognomic configuration" is different.

    Let me be the 137th to point out how great is Alan Davis’ art.

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  7. @Ben: But it's all worth it for Davis's solo run, which is pretty much the best thing ever.

    I'm looking forward to it. With Claremont's run almost over and most of it taken up by ONE FREAKING STORY, I'm realizing that it isn't until Davis' run that the full potential of the series gets realized.

    @Mela, Anonymous: And I'd be fine with it if it wasn't a crazy space Nazi posing as Courtney. The villainous aspect is off-putting.

    That, and the age thing, aside, the other troubling part is that, AFAIK, it goes nowhere/means nothing in the grand scheme of things, which then makes it read even weirder and more unnecessary in hindsight.

    @Blam: Did Claremont really just forget?

    I...I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but man, it's hard not to think that, isn't it?

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  8. @Blam: Did Claremont really just forget?

    @Teebore I...I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but man, it's hard not to think that, isn't it?


    It does sort of seem like it at times, and if you were reading it without knowing that Courtney had been replaced, you would have no idea, which I think is a weakness. On the other hand, Claremont is definitely (if quietly) dropping hints that "Courtney"/Sat-Yr-9 is trying to corrupt Kitty here. I guess the main problem, to me, is that Sat-Yr-9 has always come off as a monster on a grand scale rather than the type of character who would have the inclination (or social skills!) to quietly corrupt her protege by playing the part of the cool, chill aunt in such a protracted way. It doesn't feel like Sat-Yr-9's style-- without knowing the deal, it's easier to just think that Courtney is a little more evil than she'd previously been presented as.

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  9. Gentlemen. The charred remains in the early issue of Excalibur are Sat-Yr-9's. Courtney is a Claremont woman, and wouldn't be bested in a pesky ambush like that. If she at any later point appears to be Sat-Yr-9, that's Courtney posing as her to get to the bottom of the shenanigans and pulls it of just marvelously courtesy of her experience as an Earth woman in a position of power.

    Fast forward 20something years, they totally rip that off in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode with Queen Liz.

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  10. The tattoo on her thigh is supposed to be the main clue that Courtney was replaced by Sat-Yr-9.

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-3o-qXe2wB_k/U9peSVr2KlI/AAAAAAAAV3U/W4c-JGi06Eo/s1600/ash.jpg

    CC has been hinting at some connection between Sat-Yr-9 and Kitty, so there is some basis for wanting to corrupt her or whatever...but CC never gets around to explaining it, and Alan Davis, during his solo run, never really addresses it either.

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  11. @wwk5d
    The tattoo on her thigh is supposed to be the main clue that Courtney was replaced by Sat-Yr-9.


    "Courtney" also sports earrings of the same design, and shows them off a fair amount. I don't have the issue in front of me, so I'm not sure if they're featured prominently in this issue, but if you look REALLY closely in the cake/icing sequence, you can just barely see one.

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  12. Yyeah, I know that, but if we're trying to No-Prize away the questionable continuity handling by Claremont and the inglorious assumed end of Courtney, that would be my suggestion. Sat-Yr-9 shows up and then in the next panel there's a zap in the apartment seen from outside. There just might be room for an off-panel evil gloating between panels of EX #5 by Sat-Yr-9 about what's about to happen and the reasons for it and a surprise maneouvre by Courtney to wrestle the ray gun from Sat-Ur-9 and zap her instead.

    I mean, if it was a goddamn TV show, the scene shown on panel would be a dead giveaway that it certainly didn't go like we are expected to assume. I mean come one, there's exactly that scene in upcoming Uncanny #266!

    Because of reasons unknown to us, because we didn't catch Sat-Yr-9's exposition, Courtney chooses to masquerade herself as Sat-Yr-9 masquerading as Courtney, pens in a tattoo, that sort of thing. She's just met her exact doppelganger who obviously has some connection to Brian. Who could she be going to go tell about it in any case? But then nothing follows from it and she kind of just shrugs it off.

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  13. Well, it isn't exactly like Uncanny #266. There, the shot itself is the cliffhanger, whereas in Courtney/Sat-Yr-9, the hint that Courtney has been replaced is the actual cliffhanger.

    Also, why would Courtney pretend to be Sat-Yr-9 pretending to be Courtney? If anything, given what we know of the character, she would tell Brian immediately about what happened.

    In any case, its pretty moot, since CC forgets about it, and Davis has Sat-Yr-9 reveal to Brian that she killed and replaced Courtney during his solo run (though he never addresses why she was interested in Kitty).

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  14. @Ben: I don't have the issue in front of me, so I'm not sure if they're featured prominently in this issue, but if you look REALLY closely in the cake/icing sequence, you can just barely see one.

    Well, I completely missed that, but that's a cool detail. At the very least, it tells us someone (either Claremont or Davis) was paying enough attention to give us a visual reminder (however slight) of Courtney's true identity, which suggests that "Claremont forgot" isn't the explanation for why Courtney's identity is never mentioned in this issue. I guess he really did just want it to be subtle bit only long time and/or careful readers would remember, at this point.

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  15. @Teebore

    At the very least, it tells us someone (either Claremont or Davis) was paying enough attention to give us a visual reminder (however slight) of Courtney's true identity


    It's Claremont, not Davis! Check out the final panel of Excalibur #21-- it's definitely in the script. (It's still kind of dumb, though.)

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  16. (Sorry, meant #19, not #21.)

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  17. wwk5d: Also, why would Courtney pretend to be Sat-Yr-9 pretending to be Courtney? If anything, given what we know of the character, she would tell Brian immediately about what happened.

    I must stress it has from the beginning been nothing but a desperate attempt to clear away Claremont's assumed forgetting of Courtney's demise. It's only a "reasonable doubt" I'm after here, not a fullblown Matlock revelation which would make the jury go "ooooh!". Like Chewbacca living on Endor, it doesn't necessarily make sense, ultimately.

    It is curious though why Courtney-616 is a mere banker when her every other counterpart is a Galactic Imperatrix. It is in the realm of plausible that upon meeting one of them representing her full potential, she would have something within her unleashed, especially in a life-threatening situation. It may also be I've read to many comics and just can't cope with a plain death. I'm off to Mephisto then I guess.

    It's just inherently wrong though that Claremont would pull a Naze with a female supporting character.

    Good point from you regarding the nature of cliffhanger in #266, in all cases, wwk5d.

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  18. The end of "The Cross-Time Caper" brings with it mixed blessings. One the one hand: it's over. On the other hand: The artwork for the next several issues is atrocious.

    Regarding Kitty, Sat-yr-9, and their cake -- Per Alan Davis:

    "...although I knew Chris had some plan for Sat Yr 9 to corrupt Kitty and that the various Cross time versions of Saturnyne were attracted to Kitty, I had no idea what, if any, the goal of this relationship was to be. I just played it as a lesbian affair. Kitty the innocent victim of a wicked woman-- I thought all of scheming was just a ruse to keep Kitty interested."

    And while it's not pertinent to this discussion, he ends the statement with a punchline:

    "I mean, the Hellfire Club isn't really into world domination thats just a ploy to get the women to dress up as dominatrix... Isn't it?"

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