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Friday, August 25, 2017

X-amining Excalibur #67

"Days of Future Yet to Come"
 July 1993

In a Nutshell
Excalibur defeats the Sentinels of the future.

Writer/Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Mark Farmer
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorists: Moreshead & Thomas
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As Tangerine senses the destruction of her RCX teammates by the Sentinels, she and the remaining members of the group help Excalibur prepare their assault on Sentinel headquarters to rescue Phoenix & Widget. Meanwhile, a captive Phoenix telepathically links with Widget, where she discovers that the Sentinels, having learned of alternate realities via Phoenix' escape to the past, are planning to wipe out mutants across all existence. Outside, Excalibur and the RCX are able to use a captive Sentinel to infiltrate the Sentinel base, just as Phoenix manages to escape her prison and free Widget. With Excalibur & RCX holding off the Sentienls, Phoenix & Widget work together to reprogram Master Mold, and through its link with them, all the Sentinels on the planet, to rewrite their first directive to protect all life, a directive immediately put into action as a Sentinel stops Ahab from killing Phoenix, but spares his life. As Ahab teleports away, Phoenix tells the RCX that the war is over, but it's up to them to win the peace. They ask Phoenix to stay with them, but she declines, saying that she has a new home, a new family and a new future with Excalibur.

Firsts and Other Notables
This marks Alan Davis' final issue of Excalibur, which also marks the end of a run stretching back to issue #1 in which either Chris Claremont or Alan Davis is nominally in charge of the series (there have been numerous, occasionally lengthy, gaps of fill-ins in the previous 67 issues, but all occurred with expectation that either Claremont or Davis would be returning soon).

Additionally, this marks the final issue of the series to be published outside the editorial X-Office; starting next issue, the series is brought under that umbrella, with Bob Harras credited as a group editor overseeing Terry Kavanugh. As a result, along with the installation of Scott Lobdell as a sort of regular plotter/occasional writer for the book, the series will, over time, develop a closer relationship with the other X-books, most notably it's participation in a X-crossover for the first time with its "Fatal Attractions" installment in issue #71.

That editorial shift combined with the departure of Davis also marks the end of the series' more whimsical "British" tone and a general lessening of its ties to Marvel UK/Captain Britain stories as it becomes more integrated with the other X-books, and the next several issues will see the book's core cast winnowed down as the series shifts focus away from the Davis created characters to the ones with stronger ties to the X-Men.

To that end, this is Captain Britain will disappear between this issue and the next, making this his final appearance in the series until #75 (when he'll come back as "Britannic"). Apparently, Marvel had plans to launch a new Captain Britain series (featuring a new character) as part of the Marvel UK imprint, and so this Captain Britain was sidelined until a way to bring him back with a new identity was decided on. However, the plans for that series fell apart in the wake of Marvel UK's commercial failure (and the general contraction of the market looming at this point in time), so the series never launched.

The final page of the issue sees Rachel declaring she belongs with Excalibur, and serves as a pretty appropriate final word for Davis as he departs.


Ahab manages to escape in the end, though this more or less marks the end of the character in this iteration, with most of his story shifted instead to the soon-to-be-introduced Rory Campbell and whether he is destined to become Ahab in the future.


This issue's cover is a reference to the still-rocket-hot-in-1993 Terminator 2, and marks the last of the series more tongue-in-cheek, jokey covers, a tradition that dates all the way back to issue #2.

A Work in Progress
Arthur, one of the members of the RCX in the future, is revealed to be Nigel Orpington-Smythe, wearing Iron Man-like armor.


Captain Britain notes the way events in the future (alternate) timeline parallel events in Excalibur's present day.


The fact that Sentinels communicate with each other verbally is noted, with Nightcrawler pointing to it as a result of their creators' fear of the robots acting independently, making their human characteristics an exploitable flaw.


All of the "Days of Future Past" Sentinels are reprogrammed by Phoenix and Widget to protect all life.


Young Love
Brian and Meggan reconcile following their "it turns out I don't like you when you're not hot" spat, just in time for a forced separation to tear them apart and fill them with angst.

For Sale
Marvel's in-house subscription ads, which ran in most of their series, around this time featured a beach-going Excalibur.


Austin's Analysis
Alan Davis' twenty-five issue run (albeit one peppered with regular fill-ins) comes to a close more or less with a bang, as he wraps up the brief "Days of Future Yet To Come" story by effectively tabling that setting for future use. It's tempting to once again ding Davis for cutting the story short, especially considering this issue is primarily Rachel and Widget's, with most of the rest of the cast playing second fiddle and contributing only nominally, but at the same time, the original "Days of Future Past" was only two issues long, and while this understandably can't compare to the impact of that story, having it also run but two issues makes for some fun symmetry.

And, in the end, it accomplishes what Davis set out to do, and arguably, what the goal of his entire run (aside from cleaning up oh so many dangling narrative threads) now appears to have been: to provide a resolution of sorts to Rachel Summers' character arc (something of a dangling thread in its own right), leaving her in a better place than he found her for future writers. Coming into the series, Rachel was a problematic character, her memories scrambled, the weight of a dystopic future on her shoulders, her relationship to the Phoenix vague and undefined. Davis, for the most part, has cleaned all that up, restoring her memories, clarifying the connection to the Phoenix Force (and scaling back her raw power in the process), and provided a happy ending of sorts to her future timeline, allowing her to remain a part of Excalibur, mostly angst free, with her full memories intact and at a workable power level (that, ultimately, it will be many, many years before anyone makes a concerted effort to do anything of significance with the character after Davis generously left her in such decent shape isn't his fault).

Reasonable ending to his run aside, the departure of Davis is still bittersweet. Those frequent fill-ins and occasionally dodgy pacing aside (the Jamie Braddock/Sat-yr-9 story was too short, the recent RCX story too long), Excalibur under Davis was easily and consistently the highlight of the post-Claremont X-books, rivaled only by Peter David's X-Factor (an all-too-brief run with art that could never match Davis') and Larry Hama's Wolverine (which was wildly uneven and aspired to do totally different things). Though unfortunately narratively (and often tonally) exiled from the other X-books, it was nevertheless, throughout the tumultuous '91 relaunch and subsequent Image Exodus, a reliable source of clever plotting (managing to tie up a number of dangling threads from both earlier in the series and older Captain Britain stories in a way that made them seem like they were planned out all along), deep characterization (with Rachel's aforementioned development, as well as Nightcrawler growing into a leadership role, the standouts, though Davis managed to explore and deepen each of the core five characters along the way), mythos-expansion (introducing Kylun, Feron and Micromax, exploring the Phoenix Force and Captain Britain's connection to Merlin/Roma) and fantastic art (from the big - Phoenix battling Galactus - to the quieter moments in which character was expressed merely through body language).

Post-Davis, this series will soon enjoy a brief surge in narrative relevance from thanks to a closer connection to the rest of the franchise, and there's one more creator-with-a-specific-style run to come, on par with Claremont or Davis (at least in terms of telling a story in a specific kind of way), but for the most part, this issue marks the high water mark for the series. It will run an additional fifty-eight issues, coasting through most of those on the foundations laid by Claremont & Davis and due to a closer association with better (and better-selling) contemporaneous titles, rarely, if ever, approaching any of the highs to be found in what's come before.

Next Issue
Next week: the fourth series of Marvel Universe trading cards in Unstacking the Deck.

12 comments:

  1. This is a bittersweet one for me for a number of reasons.

    Giving the "days of future past" future a happy (-ish) ending feels slightly incongruent and out of keeping with the tone of that series, but at least it's done with that usual Davis panache, though it remains my least favorite story of his (solo) run.

    But moreso, the X-Men are dead to me after Claremont left, with only Davis' Excalibur keeping me reading. When I re-read Claremont's run on the X-titles (I even painstakingly constructed a reading order for all his X-Men and related titles from '75-'91), I also re-read Davis' Excalibur run as a nice palate cleanser. As a result, this issue always feels kind of sad for me, because it marks the end of a long, long cycle of re-reading comics that I love, and I'm always disappointed to reach the finale of it.

    It also makes me sad because I find the X-titles (particularly Lobdell's) after Claremont's departure to be particularly awful, and the idea of the fun, quirky Excalibur losing most of its identity so that it can better blend in with that crap is a tough one to swallow. So as far as I'm concerned, this is the last issue of the title. Goodbye, Excalibur. When you were good, you were very good.
    -Pushpaw

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  2. "To that end, this is Captain Britain will disappear between this issue and the next, making this his final appearance in the series until #75 (when he'll come back as "Britannic"). Apparently, Marvel had plans to launch a new Captain Britain series (featuring a new character) as part of the Marvel UK imprint, and so this Captain Britain was sidelined until a way to bring him back with a new identity was decided on. However, the plans for that series fell apart in the wake of Marvel UK's commercial failure (and the general contraction of the market looming at this point in time), so the series never launched."
    I believed that too but Brian Cronin just claimed it was an urban legend:
    http://www.cbr.com/captain-britain-brianic-excalibur/

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    1. D'oh! That's what I get for falling behind in my Comic Legends Revealed reading (though in my defense, CBR's redesign has made it painfully annoying). Thanks for the heads up.

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  3. Arthur, one of the members of the RCX in the future, is revealed to be Nigel Orpington-Smythe, wearing Iron Man-like armor.

    It was a bit of WHAM moment, because among the Knights of Pendragon there was Adam Crown, who was the supposed next coming of King Arthur and like other Knights wore various armors and even occasional Arthuresque moniker in memory serves me right.

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  4. As I've said, the final chunk of Davis's run -- the Warpies and this brief future arc -- don't do much for me storywise. Still, it's sad to see him leave, especially knowing what comes next. I admit I haven't actually read many EXCALIBUR issues between Davis and Warren Ellis, but their reputation pretty much speaks for them. I doubt I'll have too much to say on your posts about this series until Ellis arrives.

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    1. For me, the post-Davis, pre-Ellis stuff (well, starting w/issue #71; I've never actually read #68-70 before) coasts along on the strength of stronger ties to the other X-books. The move to Muir Island, Moira hanging around, Mr. Sinister popping up, etc. It's been awhile since I've read them, and I'm sure the quality rises and falls issue to issue, but the narrative threads are enough to keep it readable.

      It's the post-Ellis stuff I'm most dreading, when the series just sort of...existed for a few years, not really doing much, before being quietly cancelled so Kitty, Nightcrawler and Colossus could return to the X-Men.

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    2. I remember the utter disdain people expressed (online anyway) for the Ben Raab stint was just incalculable as it was happening at the time. After reading the issues myself years later, it's just sort of... mediocre. Really seems like it was excessively punished simply for not being the Alan Davis or Warren Ellis runs. Compared to the apathy that greeted complete fucking dreck being published alongside it, like X-Factor and X-Man, that reception seemed... unfair. (Which probably speaks more to expectations: X-Man was never great to begin with and X-Factor had been free falling for years.)

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    3. Raab's EXCALIBUR was mediocre, sure, but I don't believe it was as bad as people thought back then either. He seems to have (or at least had) a reputation as kind of a "90s hack writer", but I legitimately liked his various mini-series of the era -- UNION JACK, HELLFIRE CLUB, X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT, and I think one or two others. He just didn't seem to be suited to an ongoing series.

      That said, one thing I did like about his EXCALIBUR -- though not enough to keep me from dropping it due to boredom -- was his clear love of past continuity. He dredged up a lot of random old X-stuff in those issues, which I really appreciated at the time. That sort of thing popped up in the mini-series I mentioned, too. Lots of love letters to the Bronze Age from Raab, and a lot of the time that's all it takes from a writer to make me a fan.

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    4. "I legitimately liked his various mini-series of the era -- UNION JACK, HELLFIRE CLUB, X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT, and I think one or two others."

      It always warms my heart a bit when we can agree on something, Matt. :) I really like all three of the minis you just named. (I didn't discover them until about ten years ago, and I was thrilled by all three. It made me wonder, "Who is this Ben Raab guy?"

      "He dredged up a lot of random old X-stuff in those issues, which I really appreciated at the time. That sort of thing popped up in the mini-series I mentioned, too. Lots of love letters to the Bronze Age from Raab, and a lot of the time that's all it takes from a writer to make me a fan."

      Same here! I never read the Excalibur run, because after discovering those great minis, I went online and saw how maligned Raab's work on Excalibur was. But posts like this make me wonder if I shouldn't at some point try to get a copy of the run on the cheap. I have a feeling I would like it more than the majority of the internet seems to ...

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    5. I meant to respond to this last week, Jason, but got sidetracked. I'm always happy when we agree, too. Honestly, I think we have more things that we like in common versus things we dislike and/or tolerate.

      Anyway, you might like Raab's EXCALIBUR. As noted above, it wasn't awful, it was just kinda dull. It might read better in a large chunk; I just recall that month-to-month, it began to bore me fairly quickly. It looks like Raab came aboard with issue 106, and I recall dropping the series following #112.

      Though as I think back, I'll add that part of my dropping it was also due to the fact that Raab wrote out Captain Britain a mere ten issues after Warren Ellis had finally put him back in costume. NOBODY on that series outside of Alan Davis -- not even Claremont, in my opinion -- could figure out how to properly handle the poor guy, and it always rubbed me the wrong way because I thought he was really cool.

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  5. A panel of Phoenix blasting through a couple of Sentinels, to me, echoes intentionally or otherwise the cover and interior scene of a Sentinel blasting Wolverine in Uncanny X-Men #142.

    // The final page of the issue sees Rachel declaring she belongs with Excalibur, and serves as a pretty appropriate final word for Davis as he departs. //

    I’m surprised there wasn’t a small farewell message to him or from him on that final spread. Maybe such stuff was of an earlier era — or it just didn’t happen for any number of other reasons.

    // Phoenix & Widget work together to reprogram Master Mold, and through its link with them, all the Sentinels on the planet, to rewrite their first directive to protect all life //

    Which is great from the perspective of Rachel’s character but kind-of maddening at the same time for anyone who feels the original “Days of Future Past” two-parter should be inviolable, even if that story still exists apart from this if you want it to.

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  6. "The fact that Sentinels communicate with each other verbally is noted, with Nightcrawler pointing to it as a result of their creators' fear of the robots acting independently, making their human characteristics an exploitable flaw."

    Isn't this a neat little thing? I was really tickled by it when I first read this issue, as it's another fine example of Davis addressing a long-standing bit of goofiness (one that goes all the way back to the Silver Age iteration of the X-universe) and smoothing it out in a clever and (to my mind) utterly reasonable and logical way. Might be my favorite thing about the issue.

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