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Friday, September 29, 2017

X-amining Excalibur #68

"Dead Space Part One"
 August 1993

In a Nutshell
The Starjammers come to Earth looking to arrest Cerise.

Plot: Scott Lobdell
Script: Dan Slott
Pencils: Steve Buccellato
Inks: Harry Candelario
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Upon returning from the future, Excalibur mourns the loss of Captain Britain, to the dismay of Micromax, who is trying to organize a training session for the team. Only Kylun takes him up on his offer, but as they spar on the grounds outside Braddock Manor, they are attacked by the Starjammers. With the rest of the team responding to the attack, Corsair explains that they've come to arrest a Shi'ar fugitive. Excalibur, believing he means Phoenix, attack the Starjammers, and in the course of the fight it's revealed that the Starjammers are actually after Cerise, who emerges from the mansion wearing her armor and agreeing to go with the Starjammers, tearfully telling Nightcrawler that Corsair is right about her. But after the Starjammers & Cerise depart via stargate, Phoenix repowers the gate. Leaving Kitty behind to watch over Feron & Meggan, Nightcrawler leads the rest through the gate, determined to rescue Cerise.

Firsts and Other Notables
As of this issue, the series has been moved into the X-office, with Suzanne Gaffney (Bob Harras' longtime assistant - she cameoed in Uncanny X-Men #272 being interviewed about the X-Men) taking over from Terry Kavanagh (who stepped down as an editor to become a freelance writer around this time). As a result of this move, the series will begin to more closely associate with the X-books, participating in the linewide crossovers for the first time, featuring more guest appearances from characters in other books more regularly, etc. and will shortly adopt a new status quo that reflects the book becoming more of an extension of the X-Men franchise in a way it never really has before.

Unfortunately, this move into the X-office also occurs during a period of creative upheaval, with Alan Davis gone, leaving the series not in the hands of one of its two creators (barring fill-ins) for the first time in its history, and with no clear artistic team in place to takeover long term. Scott Lobdell is credited as plotter this issue, with future Spider-Man impresario Dan Slott scripting (a similar situation to X-Factor, with DeMatteis scripting Lobdell's plots), and moving ahead, Lobdell will trade off plotting and scripting duties with a variety of writers (most often Richard Ashford) until the start of Warren Ellis' run in issue #85, giving the series a long stretch without a consistent creative voice.

This issue begins with Meggan and the rest of Excalibur mourning the loss of Captain Britain, who was "lost in the timestream" between issues (a footnote rather flippantly assures readers they haven't missed an issue, but rather too much stuff is going on to show it all, which, come on, is no one's fault but the creators/editors). The character will remain absent through issue #75, at which point he'll be rescued from the timestream but adopt the moniker Britannic, along with a new demeanor. The story usually goes that Cap was removed from the book and transformed into Britannic because Marvel wanted to launch a new Captain Britain as part of their Marvel UK line (and didn't want two Captain Britains running around), but that story was recently debunked, with Lobdell saying he was simply trying to emulate the series' "anything goes" approach by doing something different with the character.


As the issue opens, Micromax is trying to organize a training session with the team, and while the character has been hanging around for the last few issues, it seems that if we were to declare any issue as being the one where he officially joins the team, it would probably be this one (not that he'll be sticking around long).


Cerise is revealed to be Shi'ar this issue, and bearing that news are the guest-starring Starjammers last seen (by us) in Avengers #350-351 (and in the overall Marvel Universe in the "Troyjan War" Hulk storyline). Their appearance here is a bit odd, as they're more or less acting as bounty hunters for the Shi'ar (which, yes, the group has been much more "official" since Lilandra became empress again, but that still seems at odds with their pirate-y roots), and Nightcrawler reacts like they're after Rachel (in order to setup the misunderstanding fight), even though it was the Imperial Guard, not the Starjammers, who fought the X-Men over Phoenix.


Creator Central
Steve Buccellato, who's popped up in various X-books of late as a colorist, draws this issue. I'm not sure if this is his first and/or only pencil work, but it's the first time I've come across it, and it's pretty terrible.

Joe Madureira provides the cover for this issue, and while it's nothing to write home about, it still feels a bit like polishing a turd relative to the interior art.

The Chronology Corner
This issue (and the rest through #70) all take place before Kitty's appearances in Uncanny X-Men #302 & #303, and thus, before the death of Illyana. Kitty is seen here reacting to the news that Illyana is sick, somewhat contradicting the notion, said in Uncanny #302, that she rushed to the mansion as soon as she heard, considering she actually waits three issues before doing so.


A Work in Progress
Micromax notes that everyone on the team seems obsessed with death, and while that seems a little contrary to the series' more light-hearted tone, Kylun's genuinely-funny rebuke to the notion that he's an exception to that rule is in keeping with the series' more humorous tendencies.


Kitty & Feron share a moment in which Feron, trying to be less of an ass, is genuinely empathetic.


Rachel has apparently been raiding Callisto's closet.


For Sale
There's a full-on ad (as opposed to a teaser) for the Mortal Kombat console game, featuring the characters in all their 3D-rendered glory.


The Entertainment This Month ad features the upcoming X-Men 2099, the X-books' contribution to Marvel's future-set 2099 line.


Bullpen Bulletins
Scott Lobdell is announced as the new writer of this series, though that isn't entirely accurate (he'll have help of some sort or another on most of his issues).

Austin's Analysis
While it's fair to say that nearly any artist following in Alan Davis' footsteps, regular or fill-in, is going to suffer in comparison, editorial hardly puts their best foot forward with the art in this issue, which barely manages to meet basic standards of professionalism. Art aside, while much of what happens here is intriguing in principle, it's hard to get too excited by it with the benefit of hindsight. While Captain Britain's off-page departure is abrupt (to put it mildly), the focus on the "second tier" members of the team - Cerise, Feron, Kylun & Micromax - most of whom rarely get featured next to the "main" members, is much appreciated. And building a story around Cerise, the one character of those four who has been featured the most (thanks to her relationship with Nightcrawler) but whose background remains woefully underdeveloped, makes sense. But it's hard to get too excited about any of this, knowing it's all ultimately in service of writing Cerise, and the rest of the "second tier" members, out of the book, more or less for good.

Next Issue
Next week, Cable reunites with the Six Pack in Cable #4.

10 comments:

  1. I liked Cerise quite a bit based on what little spotlight time she had during Davis's run. Turning in her into a Shi'ar makes no sense, though.

    I also don't like the dumping of Captain Britain. I read that Comic Book Legends article and while I can appreciate Lobdell wanting to do something unusual with the guy for a while, just having him vanish into thin air between issues to set it up is a horrible idea.

    I like the Starjammers and I love that Joe Mad cover, though -- even if it kind of makes it appear that the Starjammers have turned on Corsair and are following Nightcrawler into battle against him.

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    1. My workaround for Cerise is that she's Shi'ar in a political, but not genetic, sense. That is, she's from a world which is ruled by the Shi'ar Empire, which makes her "Shi'ar" , but she's not of the same species as Lilandra, Deathbird, etc. (in the same way, say, Gladiator is Shi'ar).

      I think that notion gets openly contradicted here shortly, but that's my fanwank, at least.

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  2. Wait, Captain Britain seriously just vanished between issues? I never knew that. I realize the cast is gradually going to be whittled down, but it's not like Lobdell is pressed for time here. As you say, the next regular writer some 15 issues out!

    Speaking of, I made the observation that J.M. DeMatteis seems like a good fit for X-Factor given his experience on JLI. Now I'm wondering if actually Excalibur might've been the better book for him. It has the, well, international flavor in addition to the more lighthearted sensibilities (until Despero shows up and starts killing everyone shit just got real) of his Justice League stuff. But honestly, take your pick: both books badly needed a stabilizing influence and won't get it for some time to come.

    That Kitty gaffe is bad, considering it's Lobdell overseeing both plots. On the other hand, credit to him for maintaining the illusion that the secondary characters are going on to be prominent fixtures going forward when nothing could be further from the truth.

    For some reason, I think of Mortal Kombat hitting consoles ages before this. I feel like we should be seeing ads for MK II in 1993.

    If nothing else, X-Men 2099 is notable for giving criminally underrated writer John Francis Moore his big break.

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    1. Yeah, I mean, would it have killed Lobdell to open the issue with a couple pages of Captain Britain getting lost on the way back to the present, then do a time jump to show the team mourning/trying to move on, to at least get his departure depicted ON-PAGE?

      Huh. I knew Moore wrote X-MEN 2099, but I didn't know that was his big break; I guess I figured he'd worked on something else before then.

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    2. Is X-Men 2099 that good? I'm about to read all 2099 issues I could get.

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    3. Come to think of it, Moore did Doom 2099 as well and that came first. Prior to either, he had some scattered DC work so the 2099 stuff gave him his first sustained runs on anything.

      As to its quality, I can't quite say. I'm praising Moore on the basis of his later resume. I have exactly one issue of X-Men 2099 that my dad randomly picked up for me when I was sick. It was solid enough. Didn't make me feel worse. Your enjoyment would probably depend greatly on how invested you are in the 2099 premise. In my case, not very.

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    4. Hmm, I thought I commented on this last week, but I guess something went haywire.

      I really liked J.F. Moore's DOOM 2099, and his departure and replacement by Warren Ellis was an early indicator of my eventual distaste for much of Ellis's work -- he came on and abruptly killed off the entire supporting cast, who had been nicely built up by Moore, in his very first issue.

      I loved X-MEN 2099 all the way through, though. That was Moore from beginning to end. It's funny; I remember very, very little of the series' content, but I know it was one of my top reads every month. And Moore would seem to have taken a page from "Dissolution and Rebirth" era Chris Claremont, too -- he separated the team into splinter groups pretty early on, and kept them apart for (what felt like at the time) quite a while.

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    5. Ah, very cool. JFM reminded me of Claremont in his plots, if not his scripts. He was very fond of the Claremontian sprawling narrative - keeping a million plates spinning with subplots that would gradually converge. He was really good at it, too, without losing track or interest in the individual threads. My first exposure to him would've been Factor X; on revisiting, it was easily the densest of the AoA books.

      I'm encouraged by your praise for X-Men 2099! I'm sort of talking myself into binge reading the early stuff, since I know there are some gems in a few titles.

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  3. Brian (brother to Steve?) Buccelatto, Brian Murray and Nick Napolitano. Guys who have done everything to work in comics

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  4. I assumed from context, namely her getting out of a car in tears as Micromax says “Welcome back, Shadowcat,” that Kitty had just come from the U.S. after Illyana’s death.

    // Steve Buccellato … draws this issue. I'm not sure if this is his first and/or only pencil work, but it's the first time I've come across it, and it's pretty terrible. //

    Yeah. I don’t recall seeing any non-color work of his contemporarily before (or since) his self-published Armature in 1996, by which point he was a noted digital colorist. The GCD has about a dozen story credits with him penciling before this.

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