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Thursday, July 9, 2015

X-amining Excalibur #25

"Guess Who's Coming for Phoenix?"
Early August 1990

In a Nutshell 
Phoenix battles Galactus. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Chris Wozniak
Inker: Allen Milgrom
Letterer: Rick Parker
Colorist: Paty
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Galactus' herald, Nova, approaches Excalibur, telling them Galactus has declared Phoenix too dangerous to live, and asks that they hand her over. Phoenix responds by punching Nova to the moon, where she encounters the Watcher, who confirms he will be honoring his pledge not to interfere. Back on Earth, the rest of Excalibur tries to destroy the device Galactus is constructing while Phoenix and Alistar search the lighthouse for a device Alistair thinks can help, realizing along the way that the lighthouse is built on a nexus point of alternate dimensions. Outside, Roma appears in the midst of Excalibur's battle, followed by Death itself. Phoenix and Alistair emerge, and as Phoenix hurls Nova at Galactus, Alistair uses his device, hoping to shunt Galactus to the further reaches of time and space.


However, all their efforts do is make Galactus angry, prompting Phoenix to realize if the fight continues, the entire planet could be in danger. So she agrees to sacrifice herself. Yet when Galactus prepares to destroy her, the stars start to go out, prompting Roma and Death to point out that Phoenix is the embodiment of life; despite the danger Galactus may believe she poses to him, to eliminate Phoenix is to eliminate all life from the universe. This causes him to relent, and he departs, wishing Phoenix well of her destiny. Meanwhile, Kitty is bound for school, still bristling over the fact that she must attend secondary school before university, though she's confidant that within a term, she'll be running the place.

Firsts and Other Notables
Phoenix battles Galactus in this issue, as teased by the ending of issue #14, as well as his current herald, Nova (aka Frankie Raye, the one-time girlfriend of Human Torch). Additionally, the Watcher pops up, with Nova asking if he's going to interfere again like he did during Galactus' first appearance (in Fantastic Four #48-50), as does Roma, Captain Britain's benefactress and the agent of the X-Men's rebirth in "Fall of the Mutants".


Death is also on hand for the Phoenix/Galactus battle, appearing as, amongst others, Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman, the traditional hooded female figure of the Marvel Universe, and a male construction work, from Claremont's backup story in Classic X-Men #43 (in which post-suicide Jean Grey encounters Death in that form). Death also notes to Rachel that he's familiar with her mother.


Still separated from Excalibur and unawares they've returned home, Kitty is preparing to attend high school, with Fake Courtney's help, something she's not too happy about (she wants to go to university, but the school insists she attend primary school for awhile first, due to her atypical educational environment previously). All of which, I believe, is set-up for the "Girls School From Heck" storyline.


The scene from issue #1 in which Nightcrawler inexplicably finds himself transported from the lighthouse to another world is explained in this issue as being the result of the lighthouse being built on a dimensional crossroads of sorts.


Following in the footsteps of Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine (but joining the party a month later), this marks the beginning of bi-weekly shipping for Excalibur over the next three months.

A blurb on this issue's cover assures readers that the "Cross-Time Caper" is over.

The Creator Corner
Chris Wozniak, who filled-in on previous issues of this series (and contributed a few not-bad pages to New Mutants Annual #6) returns, inked by Al Milgrom (which presumably is why Wozniak's work doesn't even reach the level of his New Mutants Annual stuff).

A Work in Progress
Continuing the previous issue's tongue-in-cheek commentary, a narrative caption refers to the "Cross-Time Caper" as "seemingly endless".

Nigthcrawler's role as the leader of the team becomes much more pronounced in this issue.


Kitty's schooling at Xavier's school is described as being more like a one-on-one tutorial than an actual school environment, which isn't wrong. 


Young Love 
As Alistair is carried off by Rachel, she reminds him to keep his thoughts to himself.


Later, believing that she is sacrificing herself to Galactus, Rachel gives him a kiss goodbye.


Teebore's Take
Though the cover assures readers that the "Cross-Time Caper" is over, this nonetheless reads like its meant to be the climax to that storyline, a confrontation between Galactus and Phoenix that was setup by their encounter in one of the early "Cross-Time" issues (involving the world that was overrun by super-heroes that turned out to be a creation of the Impossible Man). Of course, whatever narrative weight this issue has as a culmination to the storyline is lessened somewhat by the fact that Galactus' previous encounter with Phoenix, which prompts his actions in this issue, occurred approximately sixty-three issues (give or take) ago, which makes it difficult to remember exactly why Galactus has it out for Phoenix so much.

Nevertheless, there's definitely some fun to be had in the concept of the hugely-overmatched, even with Phoenix, Excalibur battling Galactus, in which an almost-literal deus ex machina is required to save the day despite their efforts. Watching superheroes keep fighting in the face of insurmountable odds is one of the cornerstones of the genre, and with good reason, as it's almost always entertaining. Of course, the art knocks things down a tick or two; had Alan Davis stuck around to draw this, it'd likely be a highlight of the series. As it is, it's a mostly successful exclamation point on the end of the drawn out "Cross-Time Caper", even as it adds to the overall feeling of pointlessness to most of the issues between the first Galactus/Phoenix encounter and this one.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the "Lazarus Project" continues in Wolverine #28. Next week, Marvel Comics Presents #64-71 and Excalibur #26. 

Collected Edition


7 comments:


  1. You can blame part of the finished art on Milgrom, sure, he’s the inker, but I think the lion’s share of the ugly on display is due to Wozniak’s pencils.

    // Roma, Captain Britain's benefactress //

    I’m pretty sure in this series it’s "benefactrix". 8^)

    There's a lot here that I don’t understand, very possibly due to it not being thought out well enough by Claremont.

    On a micro — well, literally macro but still small in detail — level: Why is Rachel still dressed in Kitty’s Shadowcat outfit? Not only can she change her (and others’) clothes on a whim; she very often automatically changes to her modified Hound uniform when manifesting her powers with the Phoenix flame and stripey face.

    More importantly: Rachel says there are no analogues to her in other dimensions, as we’ve been told or shown before, yet this really makes no sense. For one thing, Rachel hasn’t even been born yet in the "616" universe, if she ever will be, nor presumably even in the very-like-616 DOFP timeline from whose future she's traveled back, so maybe in the other universes glimpsed during Cross-Time Rachel simply hasn’t happened yet. For another, Jean Grey was Phoenix, or after the retcon was replaced by Phoenix, in the timeline where Rachel now resides — and she met other Jeans in other universes. Who’s to say that no being other than Rachel in all the vastness of each universe across the infinite multiverse can or will connect with the Phoenix force? Galactus, I see, but it just doesn’t scan. I don’t believe that the takeaway is supposed to be that Rachel and not her mother was always destined to wield the power of Phoenix — despite that being a possible No-Prize explanation at the time of publication since Jean hadn’t been re-Phoenix’d yet in any fashion beyond absorbing her memories — because the whole deal with Rachel assuming the Phoenix identity is based on her mother’s having been Phoenix before her.

    I will agree that it all would’ve gone down more easily if Davis were drawing it; it's still a mess, though.

    Among the art’s problems is the utter lack of consistency in where the characters are placed at the climax. Rachel is directly above Captain Britain and Nightcrawler, facing Roma, when she says "You!", leading me to believe she’s talking to Roma then and in the very next panel when she continues, "I know you!" to Flannel Man, who transforms into Death a few panels later. Since I didn’t notice Roma standing behind Nightcrawler, Captain Britain, and Rachel, facing Flannel Man, in said very next panel as they’re all colored straight red and Roma shouldn’t suddenly be in that position, I assumed Roma had turned into Flannel Man and then Death, either revealing Roma to be an aspect of Death or Death to have merely glamored her/itself up as Roma for whatever reason, only to find Roma and Death-as-Flannel-Man both standing with the Watcher as they vanished at the end of the confrontation.

    The "extraordinary artifact" that Alistaire uses against Galactus is apparently the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, as he refers to "some chap from Gallifrey". I have a pretty thin skin for cross-property references like that when they’re more than wink, but actually naming the Doctor’s homeworld and making the sonic screwdriver the crux of Alistaire’s plan really is going too far even though it doesn’t end up working.

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  2. Blam: because the whole deal with Rachel assuming the Phoenix identity is based on her mother’s having been Phoenix before her.

    That was in #199, which I believe got written right after Weezie had famously told Claremont that they were going to bring (non-Phoenix) Jean back. Could it be that it was again a case of Claremont bringing a character, in this case the Phoenix Force, for safeharboring to his UNCANNY, like he did Carol Danvers earlier and like he, possibly, goes on to do to Maddie Pryor very soon afterwards? Or, that he deliberately takes Phoenix away from the X-FACTOR folks' toolbox, in some sort of nonsensical paranoia that otherwise they'd just be doing Dark Phoenix again and again and again?

    There's the Comic book legends revealed #324, about Death of the Endless making an intercompany cameo in HULK #418, and that it was allowed on condition that her trademark ankh wouldn't show. I gather that's a fixed condition, then.

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  3. Here's another problem- are we supposed to believe that the entire universe will die if Rachel does? If that's the case, then shouldn't she retire from superheroing and take up knitting or something?

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  4. @Teemu: // it was allowed on condition that her trademark ankh wouldn't show //

    All for a “brush with death” joke, too, if memory serves. Cameos like that don’t bother me, especially in regards to a character who’s as likely as any to to exist across multiple dimensions — which come to think of it may hold true for the Doctor as well even if parallel universes are mostly verboten for him. I still think actually using the sonic screwdriver as a major(ish) plot element is weird, though.

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  5. Memory serves you correct, Blam. And no argument from me, regarding the cross-property cameos. Though it can be done right in my books if done through the obvious analogue road a la Squadron Supreme.

    "Flannel Man", ha! Personally I massively appreciate that the Phoenix-specific form of Death is a construction worker, considering that that's exactly what the alter ego of Rachel-hunting Nimrod ends up to be. There's probably some "from the ashes" allegory there.

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  6. Yeah, this one is...rough. Mainly from the art. Courtney looks rather matronly, doesn't she? Davis could have at least salvaged this somewhat.

    I suppose, as a wrap-up to the Cross Time Caper, this will have to do, even if it doesn't justify the whole point of the CTC, or provide any thematic rhyme or reason to it. And it is only going to get worse from here on forward...

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  7. @Blam: You can blame part of the finished art on Milgrom, sure, he’s the inker, but I think the lion’s share of the ugly on display is due to Wozniak’s pencils.

    I'm blaming Milgrom only because

    A. There were a few pages by Wozniak in one of the "Days of Future Present" annuals that I thought were kinda okay, and they weren't inked by Milgrom.
    B. I really don't like Milgrom's art, as you well know by now. :)

    I’m pretty sure in this series it’s "benefactrix". 8^)

    Touche. :)

    so maybe in the other universes glimpsed during Cross-Time Rachel simply hasn’t happened yet.

    That's a good point, something I've never considered. I mean, given the confluence of events that have to happen to ensure that two people meet and fall in love/end up making a kid together, it's probably more likely than not to find realities where someone just never is born, let alone someone who is born in the future relative to the current date/time.

    he "extraordinary artifact" that Alistaire uses against Galactus is apparently the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, as he refers to "some chap from Gallifrey".

    I think I've mentioned before that Dr. Who is one of those things that, as a nerd, I'm more or less completely ignorant of (I know the basics of the concept and a little of its history, but that's about it), so the reference flew over my head, even while I suspected it was a reference to something just for the way it was written. That said, knowing what its referencing, I agree it's a bit much.

    @Anonymous: Here's another problem- are we supposed to believe that the entire universe will die if Rachel does? If that's the case, then shouldn't she retire from superheroing and take up knitting or something?

    Good point. Maybe the idea is supposed to be that Galactus isn't so much killing Rachel as extinguishing the Phoenix Force, and that's what endangers the universe? If Rachel dies, the Phoenix just goes to a new force. If it dies, life in the universe goes with it?

    Not that the story couldn't have made that more clear, if that was case.

    @wwk5d: And it is only going to get worse from here on forward...

    And just as we're about to get out of the aimless, inconsistent woods on Wolverine...

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