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Thursday, April 14, 2016

X-amining Excalibur #42

"A Hatch Is Plotted"
October 1991

In a Nutshell
Alan Davis returns, and brings Technet with him.

Writer/Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Mark Farmer
Letterer: Michael Heisler
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Created by Chris Claremont & Alan Davis

Plot
In Brighton, Gatecrasher crafts an egg which she claims will defeat Excalibur once and for awhile. The next morning, Meggan is making breakfast for Excalibur when alisping-chick named Hard-boiled Henry emerges from one of the eggs, then explodes, damaging the Lighthouse. Technet teleports into the remains, landing atop Excalibur, who are still alive but unconscious. When they wake up, a fight between the two teams breaks out, which stops when Horatio Cringebottom and Bert arrive and freeze Technet in place. They tell Excalibur they've been sent by Saturnyne to remove Widget's ability to travel between dimensions, after which, Cringebottom presents Excalibur with a chip to give Gatecrasher, which should solve their Technet problem. After Technet unfreezes, Captain Britain gives them the chip, which activates a message from Saturnyne rescinding the contract on Phoenix and exiling Technet to Earth-616. Enraged, Technet turns on Gatecrasher, who teleports away, then asks Excalibur to stay in their damaged lighthouse. Meanwhile, on Ee'rath, Kylun slays one of Necrom's druids, then promises the downtrodden townspeople he'll lead them to freedom, and make Excalibur pay for the devastation they've unleashed on the world.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the return of Alan Davis as the book's penciler, and the start of his run as the book's writer. He'll stick around (with the occasional fill-in) through issue #67. He is joined by inker Mark Farmer (the first time the pair, considered nowadays to be one of the preeminent penciler/inker combos in comics, works together). Initially, Davis was planning on working with Paul Neary as his inker and co-plotted, but their run was delayed by their work on Wolverine: Bloodlust, after which the dollar/pound exchange dropped, making it not worth Neary's time to work on this series. This led to Scott Lobdell fill-in, as Davis agreed to work with Farmer but needed to start over, plot-wise, and wanted to build-up a decent lead time before his first issue was published.

Kylun makes his first appearance this issue - well, technically, his second appearance, as it will later be revealed that Kylun is Colin, the young boy sent to an alternate dimension by Widget in issue #2. This issue shows us that dimension, where Colin has grown up into the sword-wielding Kylun, his mutant powers also giving a cat-like appearance. He will eventually join the team during Davis' run.


On Kylun's world, people are being subjugated by someone named Necrom; he will turn up as the chief villain of the upcoming storyline.

Saturnyne rescinds the contract she put out in Phoenix this issue, thus eliminating Technet's charge to capture her, bringing to an end a subplot that's been with the series since its very first issue.


Widget receives modifications this issue to remove his ability to dimension hop.


Unable to get paid after being stranded on Earth for months, and now exiled there, Technet turns on Gatecrasher and then, left with nowhere else to go, asks to move into Excalibur's lighthouse in order to effect repairs on it.

Though this isn't the issue that coined the numbering scheme or assigned the "main" Earth its number, I believe this is the first time we've seen it referenced as Earth-616 in an X-book.

Hardboiled Henry, the Tweety-bird-like construct built by Gatecrasher, somewhat astonishingly, appears again after this issue. I don't believe Horatio Cringebottom, the bureaucrat who facilitiates Widget's repair, appears outside this issue.


A Work in Progress
The issue opens with Excalibur recovering from a train rescue they participated in between issues, the kind of easy thing that goes a long way towards selling the idea of Excalibur as the British Avengers.


Young Love 
The Meggan/Captain Britain/Nightcrawler subplot continues to simmer.


Alan Davis on returning to Excalibur
"I had always wanted to write a comic and Terry Kavanagh offered me Excalibur. I think it's safe to say that at the time he was the only editor who had any confidence that I could do the job - more than I had in myself, in fact. Terry was a great editor who not only supported and encouraged me but also gave me the freedom to experiment and take risks."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p125

Teebore's Take
Where Uncanny X-Men #281 and X-Factor #71 took bold steps forward into something different this month, this issue does almost the opposite: stepping back, albeit to a time of creative consistency and quality, with the return of Alan Davis. Yet, as much as this issue feels like a comforting return to familiarity (and gorgeous, lush art), Davis spends little time before clearing the deck to move the series forward: ending Saturnyne's contract on Phoenix, moving the Gatecrasher-less Technet into Excalibur's lighthouse (I have no idea where that's going, but at least he's doing SOMETHING with Technet), removing Widget's cross-time traveling abilities (which reads very much like an assurance to readers that the series is done with alternate realities for awhile) and setting up future plots in the form of Kylun and his fight against Necrom. It's not the buzzy direction changes other titles are undergoing this month, but this series has languished for so long somewhere between "forgettable" and "competent" that simply having great art and forward narrative momentum again makes this issue feel just as "big" as the other titles.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Wolverine fails to shoot some dogs in Wolverine #47. Next week, Beast guest stars in Spider-Man #15, while X-Force guest stars in Spider-Man #16.

Collected Editions

20 comments:

  1. YESSSS. I love this run, particularly issues 42 - 50, which are basically a master class in plotting, sub-plotting, and tying it all together.

    Technically this isn't the very first time Davis and Farmer worked together, though it's close enough. But in any case, Farmer inked Davis's final CAPTAIN BRITAIN issue at Marvel U.K.

    (Heh, I accidentally left the "T" out of "Britain" for a second and realized his name works just as well that way, too.)

    What happens with the TechNet is pretty entertaining, and it's even paid off in a nice little touch for longtime CAPTAIN BRITAIN fans, too.

    I'm jealous you get to discover this run for the first time! You're in for a treat.

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    1. Oh, also -- I get the impression Terry Kavanagh is/was a much better editor than a writer. I've only ever read his Spider-Man stuff, but it's generally abysmal, while any comments I've read about him as an editor (mostly, I think, from Davis and John Byrne) are usually overwhelmingly positive.

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    2. I can say from experience that Kavanagh's X-MAN is *dreadful*, but I have also seen a fair amount of praise for his work as an editor.

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  2. This post has got me thinking - I don't know anyone who actually read Excalibur. I only have a few issues of the series, myself - The last issue and the issues from Fatal Attractions and the Phalanx Covenant, both parts of crossovers.

    Teebore, from your reviews it sounds like you don't really like the series. I can definitely see the appeal to someone with certain tastes, but it definitely never registered as a book I HAD to pick up, no matter how much I loved Nightcrawler. So it makes me wonder how it remained a thing for so long.

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    1. If we talk about the era up to this point, one reason might be the perceived importance of the UK market and Captain Britain's value as a property. The critically acclaimed, at the time on-going KNIGHTS OF PENDRAGON vol 1, which was starring the supporting character Dai Thomas and had Captain Britain as a supporting character, was allegedly "created during a period of attempted expansion by Marvel UK, trying to build on the critical success of Captain Britain" (according to Wikipedia). Perhaps they couldn't afford to drop the UK-centered "main" title no matter what the current quality. And really, really wanted and needed Alan Davis back.

      Meanwhile, the Marvel UK imprint is on heavy ramp-up. The original freelance peacekeeper agent Death's Head had already been doing circles in US comics, and very soon the DEATH'S HEAD II four-part LS will prompt the emergence of US format Marvel UK titles under Paul Neary as EIC, which will burn extremely bright for two years with continuous cameos by US superheroes before utterly disappearing with most of the characters (for two whole decades until the REVOLUTIONARY WARS one-shots of 2014) and spilling into EXCALIBUR too at one point while at it. Davis himself did some covers to the UK books with someone else's art in the best customer-deceiving fashion.

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    2. I didn't start reading EXCALIBUR until #71 (the "Fatal Attractions" crossover), and then stuck around after that, since the book seemed more integrated with the rest of the X-books at that point - which, I believe, was intentional. I think in the early days, the book existed as a vehicle for Claremont & Davis and then Davis, and that fueled the book (even during the lengthy gap between Davis runs). Once it was clear Davis was gone for good, the book shortly thereafter became more tightly involved with the rest of the line (not coincidentally).

      As for me, I run hot and cold on the series (based on what I've read, in many cases for the first time, so far): the early Claremont/Davis stuff I liked quite a bit - the art was gorgeous, the whimsy less pronounced than I'd feared, and while I felt the book was struggling a bit to develop an identity beyond "the whimsical British one", that was okay, because it was a young series.

      Then "Cross-Time Caper" came along and completely derailed the book's ongoing plots, and any hope of it developing an identity. When Davis was still around, it was at least still nice to look at it, but then he left, and the dang thing dragged on and on and on. Then Claremont left, and the book with little identity beyond that of its creators now had even less. "Girls School From Heck" was a nice break from that, and the Lobdell run at least brought the series up to a level of "consistently average" superhero book, and did something with some of the lingering threads. I didn't love that stuff, especially in the face of what the other books (with which I have a greater history) were doing at the time, but it was at least readable.

      But I'm excited for this Alan Davis run. Good art + tying up plot threads is a winning combination, and I have some vague inklings of what's to come plot-wise, and I'm looking forward to seeing how things unfold.

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  3. I haven't read this run in years, but when I discovered them in back issues circa 2000, they quickly became one of my favorite runs of any superhero book, let alone X-spinoff. Watching Davis pull these various threads together was immensely entertaining.

    Sam Kieth has also commented on Kavanagh's editing on MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS, as I recall, saying that Kavanagh enjoyed getting letters from kids confused/disturbed/perplexed by Kieth's interpretation of Marvel's heroes.

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  4. Mark Farmer was inking THE INCREDIBLE HULK from #379 onwards over Dale Keown's pencils, and the end product ends up being eerily reminiscient of what I would consider Alan Davis-y. Something in... "softness" I guess of the pen and especially on facial figures.

    Then again, I find half the UK guys more or less reminiscent of Alan Davis. Early 90's Bryan Hitch is on a good day more Alan Davis than Alan Davis on a bad day. I may be wrong, but sometime it reads like Alan David ruined a generation of 1970's born artists. Well not ruined but you know what I mean.

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    1. I've noticed this, too. (Of course, what a great influence.) It should also be mentioned, Bryan Hitch formed his own partnership with frequent Davis inker Paul Neary, furthering this blend of styles.

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    2. Does that make Alan Davis the 1980s British Jack Kirby, at least in terms of influence on other artistic styles?

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  5. This was a very bad comic to start Excalibur with. I can say that because I *did* start Excalibur with this issue. I was young, it looked neat, and I had absolutely no idea who anyone was, with the possible exception of Nightcrawler. I will say I then proceeded to buy every backissue I could at our local flea market and I slowly gained context. (Oh, how I miss 20 cent comics ...)
    For years I assumed Kylun was an important character. After all, he was pretty cool here in his first adult appearance. Only now do I realize how much he was sidelined and forgotten.

    How does the quality of this compare with Alan Davis's ClanDestine series?

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    1. I read CLANDESTINE a few years back (Marvel collected the original series plus the X-MEN/CLANDESTINE one-shot in a CLANDESTINE CLASSIC hardcover in 2008), and I wasn't that impressed. I really wanted to like it, and the artwork was gorgeous, but the characters and situations didn't really grab me. I like Davis's EXCALIBUR much, much better.

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    2. I love the way the timing of when you first start reading a series can influence your perspective on the relative importance of characters therein.

      I first started reading AVENGERS regularly during the Harras/Epting years, and managed to amass a pretty good run of the Stern/Buscema run from the 80s pretty quickly thereafter. As a result, I just assumed that Black Knight was one of those evergreen Avengers, like the Big Three, Scarlet Witch, Vision & Hawkeye, who was either always on the team, or was notable for being absent, not realizing that aside from those two (admittedly lengthy runs), he was little more than a footnote in the team's history.

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    3. I still think Mantis and Swordsman are a huge deal in Avengers solely on the strength of Mystique's rehearsed sales pitch to Val Cooper in UXM #199.

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    4. Oh man, if anyone's first issue of a series came during a Steve Englehart run, they'd be left thinking Mantis was the biggest character in the history of storytelling.

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  6. I loved this comic, not to mention this entire run. Alan Davis's gorgeous art was waaay different than my favorites McFarlane, Lee, Liefeld,many even Keown. The figures looked more believable. Not realistic, necessarily, but rounder and with more expression. The writing was more playful, closer to Peter David's Hulk than Claremont's X-Men. My favorite part was when Nightcrawler rearranged the frozen Technet so that they took each other out. The way the next 8 issues play out involves some of the tightest subplot-switch overs I've read in a team book.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  7. "this issue does almost the opposite: stepping back, albeit to a time of creative consistency and quality, with the return of Alan Davis. Yet, as much as this issue feels like a comforting return to familiarity (and gorgeous, lush art), Davis spends little time before clearing the deck to move the series forward"

    That's what great about this issue. You think because it isn't as "buzzy" as what is happening with the other titles, that it isn't an event. There is no line-up change, the new creative team is actually the old one, and the title hasn't been canceled and renamed. But look closer. The change is much more subtle here than it is in other titles. Clearing up so many danglers in one go is just as much of a reboot as anything we'll see in the other titles. And unlike many of the other titles, the seeds planted here get a nice pay-off and are all more or less resolved.

    Excaliber may not be going for big, extreme changes, but one can argue it's going for substance, not style. And while it might not have garnered much attention at the time, in hindsight, the book is all the more better for it.

    Along with X-factor and Wolverine, this title has definitely aged better than both X-men titles and X-force. And the light, humorous tone it and X-factor give the line as a whole some nice diversity.

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  8. // Alan Davis returns, and brings Technet with him. //

    So it’s a classic good news / bad news situation.

    // which she claims will defeat Excalibur once and for awhile //

    I think you mistyped but what a great turn of phrase!

    // Hardboiled Henry //

    For what it’s worth, I feel like he’s a combo between Tweety and Henery the chicken-hawk, more like the former in look and speech impediment but very reminiscent of the latter in attitude and expression.

    // The issue opens with Excalibur recovering from a train rescue they participated in between issues, the kind of easy thing that goes a long way towards selling the idea of Excalibur as the British Avengers. //

    Yes. I was so happy just for that little nod to the stuff we should, but don’t usually, see or even hear about.

    // as much as this issue feels like a comforting return to familiarity ... Davis spends little time before clearing the deck to move the series forward //

    While my tolerance for exaggeratedly precious weirdness like Technet is low, Davis gets the benefit of the doubt in what he’s setting up; certainly the art is far more appealing in service of that stuff than any of the non-Davis art has been in service of even the most competent scripts we’ve seen lately.

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    1. So it’s a classic good news / bad news situation.

      Heh. My appreciation at seeing Technet return was simply born of the prospect of finally ending their storyline.

      I think you mistyped but what a great turn of phrase!

      Ha! I did mistype, but it works!

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  9. For what it’s worth, I feel like he’s a combo between Tweety and Henery the chicken-hawk, more like the former in look and speech impediment but very reminiscent of the latter in attitude and expression.

    I was thinking "a cute thing with speech impediment designed by a villain with the sole purpose of killing the hero/heroes with a powerful explosion", or Elsie-Dee.

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