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Thursday, December 3, 2015

X-amining Excalibur #35

"Heartbreaker"
March 1991

In a Nutshell 
Phoenix battles D'Spayre

Writer: Lobdell 
Penciler: Ross
Inker: Milgrom
Letterer: Lopez
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: DeFalco
Created by Claremont & Davis

Plot
In the wake of the kidnapping of a young girl named Amy, Excalibur is participating in the city-wide search for her. With a suspect, Gunther Gyles, in custody, Rachel agrees to help Inspector Thomas interrogate him, though Rachel refuses to simply rip Amy's location from his mind telepathically. But when Gyles insists he has no memory of where Amy is, Rachel enters his mind and is violently repulsed by some kind of other-dimensional psychic entity that has taken over Gyles mind. However, she did learn that Amy is being held in an abandoned building on the moors, and she telepathically informs the rest of the team so they can begin searching possible locations.


Later, Thomas and Rachel arrive at the first location on their list, and Rachel immediately senses the familiar malevolent presence. Flying off on her own, she finds herself back in her original timeline, a thrall of Ahab, and is forced to relive her hunting down of Nightcrawler. As Rachel collapses, the villain behind Amy's kidnapping, D'Spayre, reveals himself. He attempts to feed off Rachel's despair, but Rachel is instead filled with disgust at what she did, enabling her to attack D'Spayre while Inspector Thomas locates Amy in a nearby well. D'Spayre almost overwhelms Rachel, but Amy's hope reinvigorates her and causes D'Spayre to flee back to his home dimension.

Firsts and Other Notables
Future Uncanny X-Men writer (and eventual chief X-book architect) Scott Lobdell writes this issue, kicking off a run that lasts until Alan Davis returns with issue #42. I'm not sure if Lobdell was technically assigned the title during this period or if his run is just technically a series of fill-ins, but given the rotating artistic teams during it, I believe it's generally considered the latter. He'll return to the book again after Davis leaves for a proper, official run, during which he'll tighten the continuity between Excalibur and the rest of the X-books, leading to the series being involved in the linewide crossovers for the first time.

D'Spayre, the demonic entity whom Cyclops battled in X-Men #144, is the villain of this issue.


Ahab, the Master of the Hounds from the "Days of Future Past" timeline who first appeared in the "Days of Future Present" storyline, is referenced in Excalibur for the first time (via one of Rachel's D'Spayre-induced hallucinations). Ahab will later end up being revealed as the future incarnation of Excalibur supporting cast member Rory Campbell.


Rachel's recollections of her timeline reveal that Nightcrawler eventually led the European resistance to the Sentinels' rule, and we learn that Rachel is personally responsible for his death in that timeline - which conflicts with her recollections in X-Men #188 that he died during the government's attack on the X-Mansion (a discrepancy explained by the fact that Rachel's memories are a jumble as a result of her trip through the Mojoverse between X-Men #209 and Excalibur Special Edition).


Creator Central 
Dave Ross, who drew issues #30 & #31, returns to pencil this issue.

A Work in Progress
The search for Amy has postponed a welcome back party Excalibur was going to throw for Kitty, following her reunion with the team last issue.


Prompted by Rachel's refusal to telepathically rip Amy's location from Gyles' mind, Thomas gives her a speech reminiscent of the "what have you done for the black people?" line in the O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow book.


Teebore's Take
Whether this is the start of an official Scott Lobdell run, or just a lengthy run of fill-ins, it begins on a strong note, at least relative to the quality of the other fill-ins that preceded "Girls School from Heck". Dave Ross, who provided art to two of the better such fill-ins, is solid (though of course Milgrom is on hand, doing his best to Milgrom-up the art), and the story works because its chiefly built around the relationship between Dai Thomas and Rachel (two characters who haven't shared much page time together, but given Thomas' established disdain for superpowered folks and Rachel's relatively laissez faire attitude towards her own powers, the conflict between the two is enough to drive the story). Plus, it's nice to see Excalibur doing some generic superhero work by participating in the city-wide manhunt for Amy. D'Spayre's method of attack basically boils down to the usual "scare you with your worst fears" routine, but seeing Ahab referenced in this series for the first time is a nice touch, as is the extra element brought to their fight by the (unstated) history between D'Spayre and Rachel's father. Certainly, this is hardly essential reading, but as a standalone/fill-in story and/or the start of a placeholder run, it's miles better than much of what the series has been putting out for the better part of a year now. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine goes back to the future in Wolverine #37. Next week, the X-Men, in space! In Uncanny X-Men #275, followed by the finale of New Mutants in New Mutants #100.

4 comments:

  1. "Scott Lobdell writes this issue, kicking off a run that lasts until Alan Davis returns"

    For the most part, I don't think this run is as bad as his next run is once Davis leaves. It isn't great either, more dull than anything, I guess. But compared to where this has been before he came and compared to his second run, its ok.

    "D'Spayre, the demonic entity whom Cyclops battled in X-Men #144, is the villain of this issue."

    If I'm not mistaken, I do believe Lobdell uses him again during his second run.

    "a discrepancy explained by the fact that Rachel's memories are a jumble as a result of her trip through the Mojoverse between X-Men #209 and Excalibur Special Edition"

    So which memory is the incorrect one? This one or the death CC wrote?

    "Thomas gives her a speech reminiscent of the "what have you done for the black people?" line in the O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow book."

    Yeah, and I rolled my eyes during this scene as much as I did when I read the O'Neil/Adams scene.

    Anyway. 6 more issues till Davis returns.

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    Replies
    1. So which memory is the incorrect one? This one or the death CC wrote?

      There really is only one correct answer to this sort of question, but there does exist similar discrepancy about Xavier, who Rachel sees killed in the same assault as Nightcrawler in #188, but who Kitty tells in #141 was assassinated alongside Senator Kelly and Moira MacTaggart in Washington. And that discrepancy of course is pre-Mojoverse shenanigans.

      Maybe the hounding process includes severe psychological torture with multiple false memory scenarios, to make her more fitting for the intended job. Like_with_her_father.

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  2. This is indeed a series of fill-ins. I've seen an interview with Alan Davis where he explains he was offered EXCALIBUR immediately after Chris Claremont departed, and asked Paul Neary to be his co-plotter. They set about plotting a year or so's worth of stories, then Davis was informed Marvel would not pay for a co-plotter. So, out of respect to Neary, Davis scrapped everything they'd come up with together and plotted out a new first year for the series by himself. To make time for that, his debut was pushed back several issues.

    I've scoured the web, but I can't find that quote anywhere. I know I've read it, though. And given how wonderfully and intricately plotted Davis's first year of EXCALIBUR is, it's hard to imagine that whatever he and Neary came up with together could've been any better.

    It's interesting that Lobdell was basically the default non-regular writer for this series. He filled in a few times during the Claremont run. Claremont leaves, he fills in for several issues until Davis comes aboard. He guest-scripts a few of Davis's plots for other artists during that run, then when Davis departs, Lobdell is back on as writer until Warren Ellis comes aboard. He probably scripted about as many issues as Davis and Ellis, yet because it's all so weirdly spaced apart, there's not really a "Scott Lobdell run" on EXCALIBUR.

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  3. I wish the finished art were better — to be honest, most of it’s flat-out ugly from where I’m sitting — because the layouts are quite good in several places. And like you say the story’s pretty good too, particularly in giving us a straight-up crime-fighting/people-helping superhero outing with decent, unexplored character interaction, albeit pretty obviously a fill-in that without context is nothing remarkable. I have zero idea whether Lobdell intended any homage, by the way, but opening on a little blond girl wearing purple and imagining herself a princess I couldn’t help but think of Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn’s DC cult fave Amethyst.

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