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Friday, March 17, 2017

X-amining Excalibur #57

"For Whom the Bell Trolls!"
Late November 1992

In a Nutshell
Excalibur & the X-Men team-up to rescue Alchemy from the Troll Associates.

Plot: Alan Davis
Words: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Joe Madureira
Inker: Joe Rubinstein
Letters: Ken Lopez
Colors: Kevin Tinsley
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Tom Jones frantically tries to contact the X-Men for help rescuing his mom, only to be captured by shadowy figures. Later, as Excalibur is searching for Sat-yr-9, they comes across gold statues that turn out to be real people transformed into gold. Meggan leads the team back to their assailants, where they run afoul of the Troll Associates, who have kidnapped Tom. As the trolls escape, Captain Britain is turned to gold by Tom as well. As Nightcrawler sends Cerise to fetch Feron, the X-Men, having received Tom's earlier message, arrive in England. Wolverine tracks Tom's scent to where Excalibur is searching the sewers for him, and the two teams enjoy a brief reunion before Psylocke telepathically picks up on the psychic distress of Tom and his mother, whom the trolls have kidnapped to force Tom to work for them. The X-Men and Excalibur track Tom to a chamber behind a massive door. As Psylocke senses Tom and the trolls behind it, Cyclops orders Gambit to blow the door, just as Wolverine realizes from its smell that Tom has turned it into plastique, thus triggering a massive explosion when Gambit's thrown card detonates.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue features the first on-panel, in-series, no-shenanigans, full-fledged interaction between Excalibur and a group of X-Men, as the X-Men Blue team guest stars.


Future superstar artist Joe Madureira pencils this issue, his first work on one of the regular X-books. He will take over as regular artist on Uncanny X-Men with issue #312.

Alchemy, the winner of Marvel's "create a mutant" contest circa "Fall of the Mutants", who first appeared in X-Factor #41, returns in this issue. I had no idea he ever made an additional appearance outside that introductory story, but it makes sense for him to appear here, given that, like Excalibur, he too is British.


Of course, we can't have Alchemy without the Troll Associates, the group of trolls who menaced him in that previous story.


Creator Central
Scott Lobdell returns, filling in for Alan Davis as scripter, though Davis still gets plotting credit for the issue.

The Chronology Corner
The X-Men's appearance in this story occurs between X-Men #13 and "X-Cutioner's Song"; since Psylocke in on the Blackbird as the team flies to England, she presumably went home after the end of the previous issue, only to return here.

A Work in Progress
It's not quite clear why, but this story appears to be being narrated by one the Crazy Gang (it's also not entirely clear how he would privy to the thoughts of the characters in this story).


As the issue begins, Excalibur is trying to track down Sat-yr-9.

Cerise uses her powers to create a "solar axe", at least according to the narrator of the story.


Mariko's recent death is referenced.


As part of the Excalibur/X-Men reunion, Kitty gets a moment with Wolverine (her first interaction with him on-panel since Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men), as well as with Rogue (with whom she was on the X-Men for a good chunk of time as well).


This is actually the third consecutive issue of this series in which Psylocke appears, though her guest appearance in the previous story (as well as her relationship with Captain Britain), goes unremarked upon here.

Nightcrawler bristles as Cyclops takes charges and orders him to "bring up the rear".


Austin's Analysis
Coming off a fun, well-crafted story from Alan Davis that still left me wanting more, I was dreading a return to the series seemingly-neverending fill-in interruptions, but this turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise. Despite being technically a fill-in, it doesn't exist in a narrative vacuum, picking up with the team searching for Sat-yr-9 in the wake of her escape last issue, and it continues at least some of the character beats from previous issues, like Nightcrawler's evolving role as team leader, or Kitty's personal disgust with Sat-yr-9. Whether this is a result of Davis at least plotting the issue, or just Lobdell feeling more comfortable as the series' "regular" fill-in guy, the end result is a fill-in that feels less standalone and interrupting than usual.

Plus, I had no idea that Alchemy made any appearances outside of his initial one, and seeing him here again tickled my Simonson's X-Factor fancy (even if, thus, far, his story is pretty much the exact same as the first time around, with the Troll Associates kidnapping his mom and forcing him to use his powers for their benefit). And while the various non-Alan Davis artists this series has employed throughout its history have been...a mixed bag, at best, Joe Madureira's art here is another pleasant surprise. It's still a little raw and not quite full-formed (relative to his later style on Uncanny), but there's flashes of his later work in it, and he displays at least a rudimentary understanding of layouts and storytelling, such that the art, if not on Alan Davis' level, at least isn't detracting from the story (which, again, hasn't always been true when it comes to non-Davis art on this series).

And, last but not least, we finally get an honest-to-goodness meeting between Excalibur and the X-Men! There's been teases and feints and partial reunions (like Xavier & Jean in issue #52 or Psylocke in the last story), but this is the real deal. Kitty and Wolverine! Kitty and Rogue (as a fan of the Claremont/Paul Smith/JRjr era, I love that Lobdell or Davis remembered that they spent a fair amount of time together as X-Men)! Cyclops being a dick and not respecting Nightcrawler's character growth! Of course, there's plenty more that could have come from a full-fledged Excalibur/X-Men reunion, especially given how the in-universe origin of this series is so tied to the X-Men, but at this point, I'll take what I can get, especially coming from one of the series ubiquitous fill-ins.

Next Issue
Next week, "X-Cutioner's Song" continues in Uncanny X-Men #295 and X-Factor #85, while Wolverine continues exploring old memories in Wolverine #64.

16 comments:

  1. It's a quagmire to make an issue of Psylocke being here on the plane to England; she and the rest of the X-Men were exactly at these time essentially supporting characters in the Marvel UK title HELL'S ANGEL/DARK ANGEL. Betsy was supposedly hanging out with Shevaun Haldane before meeting Brian for the previous issues, because, you know, business before pleasure.

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    1. Well, the easy out there is to just ignore the Marvel UK stuff as I, and so many others, have done. :)

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    2. From another lurker coming out of the woodwork...

      I recently bought all those Marvel UK guest appearances of the X-Men dirt cheap. In most, the art is...not good, but a few have been a rather pleasant surprise.

      Interestingly (and appropriately, I suppose, given her nationality), Psylocke gets more prominence in several of the UK stories than she does during this period in the X-titles. There, until Kwannon shows up, she's just hitting on Scott and being temporarily mind controlled whenever Matsuo shows up. In the UK appearances, they actually give her some personality beyond "ninja sex symbol." In particular, there's a two-parter--Dark Angel #7-8--that starts off with Betsy and Shevaun just hanging out. It's a refreshingly down to earth, human depiction of the character.

      The Mys-Tech Wars mini is a fun read, too. Very 90s, early Bryan Hitch artwork, early Dan Abnett writing. For X-fans, Abnett does a plot thread with Scott and Jean that's kind of shocking.

      Anyway, Austin, if you ever do another gap month as you did in January, it'd be interesting to get your take on some of these stories. I started reading X-Men around the same time you did back in the early 90s. I knew about the Marvel UK stuff, but my LCS didn't carry much of it so it was off my radar. Getting back to it now has been fun.

      -Aaron

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    3. I love when this happens. :)

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    4. I've had some interest in the Marvel U.K. stuff for quite a while, but never read any of it. I know they did a "revival" of sorts a couple years ago with their "Revolutionary War" event and I have those in my queue to read someday in Marvel Unlimited, but I'd love to see an Omnibus or something of all the original stuff.

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  2. Cyclops being a dick and not respecting Nightcrawler's character growth!

    OR... Cyclops finally being rehabilitated to his pre-UXM #201 self, the true leader of the X-Men to whom Storm and Nightcrawler have to compare themselves to and fight for recognition. Nightcrawles especially immediately reminds of himself of the #190+ era of UNCANNY with the outspoken leadership issues after powerless Storm left for her African journer and left Kurt in charge.

    The X-alumni of Excalibur have barely met the X-Men and instantly pick up where they left right before the Mutant Massacre. Beautiful!

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  3. I kind of dislike this one, mostly because it feels like like an issue of Scott Lobdell and Joe "the poor man's Art Adams" Madureira's X-Men, and that is not a good thing at all as far as I'm concerned. Give me back my unadulterated Alan Davis!
    -Pushpaw

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    1. I agree that I'd rather have full Davis, but I'll take Madureira doing warmed over Art Adams over a lot of the other fill-in artists that have paraded through this series over the years.

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    2. True. It could be Chris Wozniak again. *shudder*
      -Pushpaw

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    3. Maybe I'm nuts, but this looks better than Art Adams to me. Except on very rare occasions, Adams never quite clicks with me.

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  4. I had no idea about the existence of this story. I was delighted to see Kitty so happy meeting Wolverine, Rogue and Cyclops. Although Nightcrawler should have been just as happy, but he reacts quite coldly, particularly with Wolverine and Cyclops, with whom he was close. Perhaps he is angry that none of them ever spared a line of thought regarding him since he left the X-Men? Cyclops was in the X-Factor and he knew that Kitty, Nightcrawler and Rachel hadn't "died" in Dallas, but nonetheless never bothered contacting them.

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  5. It just dawned on me now how the Blue Team seemed to be the representatives of the X-Men in almost everything - Crossovers, merchandising, and even the Animated Series (The cast was the Blue Team with Storm and Jean replacing Psylocke). No doubt this is because Jim Lee got first pick of characters and got all the cool ones. I definitely feel like the Gold Team always got the short end of the stick, and it doesn't help that I was never really interested in any of their storylines, either.

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    1. Yeah, the Blue Team is definitely the "default" team, especially outside the comics themselves, at this time.

      Though I like to think it's because that's the one being led by Cyclops. :)

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  6. If you're looking for a terrible fill-in to make you pine for Alan Davis and leave you wishing for the precios moments stolen from your life as you read it, look no further than the next story arc after this one, also written by Lobdell.

    But for this one -- the story's okay, I guess, though it doesn't impress me that much. But I love the artwork. Love it. L-O-V-E, love, LOVE it. This is Joe Madureira at his best, far as I'm concerned. I like his manga style quite a bit as well, but this hybrid between an American comic style and his later look is just about perfect for me. It was this Madureira who got me to start reading UNCANNY regularly for the first time circa "Phalanx Covenant".

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    1. If you're looking for a terrible fill-in to make you pine for Alan Davis and leave you wishing for the precios moments stolen from your life as you read it, look no further than the next story arc after this one, also written by Lobdell.

      Well, color me excited now. :P

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  7. The narration could’ve been a safety net in case the story (which is presumably one done for inventory, even if there was a good sense of when it'd be used) had to run at a time when chronological placement of the main action would be trickier. Which also potentially explains why Psylocke’s immediate return isn’t mentioned.

    // Mariko's recent death is referenced. //

    Is what Scott thinks really the case, though, about Wolverine's "grip on sanity ... weaken[ing] a little more every day"?

    // her first interaction with him on-panel since Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men //

    !!!!!

    // Nightcrawler bristles as Cyclops takes charges and orders him to "bring up the rear". //

    He then says the X-Men (and remaining Excalibur members) “won’t allow ourselves to be divided and conquered — much the same way Excalibur was all but defeated.” The real dick, though, is whoever put Wolverine, solo, in the corner box of Excalibur’s own book.

    Gambit: “The chile’ and I will scout ahead, mon de orb uno.”
    Jubilee: “Did you just call him ‘one eye’ in French?”
    Gambit: “Oui.”
    Me: “Uh… No.”

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