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Thursday, July 31, 2014

X-amining Excalibur #5

"Send in the Clowns!"
February 1989

In a Nutshell 
Excalibur battles the Crazy Gang inside Murderworld. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Creators: Claremont & Davis

In Murderworld, Courtney Ross comes face to face with the Crazy Gang, confused as to why Captain Britain and the rest of Excalibur aren't doing anything, not realizing the two teams' have switched minds. Determined to put some distance between their foes, Excalibur-as-the-Crazy Gang grab Courtney and run off. From the control room Arcade watches this when Shadowcat suddenly appears, phasing through the monitors. Leaving Lockheed to guard Miss Locke and Mr. Chambers, she pulls Arcade into Murderworld. Shadowcat then proceeds to take control of Murderworld using a program she and Doug Ramsey wrote together, turning Murderworld against Arcade as Courtney continues to flee from the Crazy Gang. The two teams collide on Murderworld's stage set, and Captain Britain, still trapped in Tweedledope's body, gives Courtney a device he created.

Reasoning it can reverse the effect of the mind swaps, Shadowcat tasks Courtney with using it, as in her phased state she risks damaging the device. Working together, they're able to restore Excalibur to normal, after which they make short work of the Crazy Gang and hand them, and Arcade, over to the authorities. A few days later, Courtney is preparing for a date with Brian when a woman who looks just like her appears at her door and zaps her. Nearby, Brian discusses his feelings for Courntey and Meggan with Kurt before leaving to meet Courtney. When he arrives at her apartment, the woman inside kisses him, and Brian misses the human-shaped pile of ash on the floor.  

Firsts and Other Notables
At the end of the issue, Courtney is confronted by Sat-yr-9 and killed (as evidenced by the ashen outline of a body in Courtney's apartment, seen in the last panel of the issue), with Sat-yr-9 then taking Courtney's place. In a nice touch, Sat-yr-9 is seen carrying the collander helmet and strange device worn by the UFO hunter in issue #3, the one who was transported to Sat-yr-9's reality by Widget.

After Sat-yr-9 has unknowingly replaced Courtney, Brian realizes that "Courtney" looks just like Saturnyne, something he probably should have realized sooner given that they are, essentially, the same person (albeit from different realities). He does not, however, realize that Courtney has been replaced by Sat-yr-9, and doesn't exactly object when she puts the moves on him.

This whole Courtney/Sat-yr-9 replacement business becomes another dangling Claremont plot, and the full ramifications of the switch won't be addressed until issue #55.

The back cover features a Captain Britain pin-up. 

A Work in Progress
Apparently, Captain Britain didn't destroy all of Kitty and Doug's software in issue #3, as Kitty is able to use a program she wrote with Doug to take control of Murderworld in this issue. She also references the time she and Colossus were brought there, in X-Men #197.

Courtney and Kitty take a shine to each other in this issue.

It's noted that Tweedledope does possess an innate knack for inventing things, suggesting he may have played a role in the creation of Widget in issue #1 after all.

Brian and Kurt have a drink at the Flying Finnish pub, which Brian notes has having been a hangout of his and Courtney's while they were at university together. It did, in fact, appear in his solo series, and the photo of the pair we saw in issue #2 had the pub's sign in the background.

The Reference Section
Courtney finds herself riding the space ship of Dan Dare, a British comic book hero created in the fifties.  

Young Love
In the wake of their escape from Murderworld, Meggan worries about the attention Brian is showing Courtney.

Turns out she's right to be worried, as Brian, in a not-so-great moment, later admits to Kurt that he still has feelings for Courtney and is getting sick of how much Meggan fawns over him, just before going on a date with Courtney.

Teebore's Take
Surprisingly enough, given that this basically just an issue-long fight scene set inside Murderworld, of all places, this is probably my favorite issue of the series so far. In Murderworld, the book finds a setting that perfectly fits the whimsy-with-a-dash-of-the-macabre tone that Claremont and Davis continue to strike with the series, while that tone in return matches perfectly with Murderworld, a place that is supposed to be deadly serious yet goes about that serious business in a fairly silly manner.

This is arguably the most action-packed issue Davis has yet to draw, and he handles it as well as he handles everything, putting a lot of care into depicting a smorgasbord of settings within Murderworld, while Claremont shows off his ability to use action to inform character (Courtney, in particular, comes off extremely well in this issue, cool and calm on the outside while freaking out to herself, very reminiscent of pre-"Inferno" Madelyne; a shame, then, that she is vaporized at the end of the issue). Strong action, art and characterization: everything combines for an issue that, while not terribly deep or groundbreaking, stands as the high point of the young series. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we meet new villains and an old friend in Wolverine #4. Next week, the X-Men meet X-Factor in Uncanny X-Men #242, while Illyana meets her destiny in New Mutants #73.


  1. Though probably of not very much interest to anyone but me, a new Claremontism springs up here – the reference to “Cat’s Laughing” a band that was pretty much brand new when this issue came out. The lead singer was Emma Bull, a sci-fi writer who among other things co-created the shared-world fantasy LIAVEK. (Alan Moore once contributed a prose story to a LIAVEK anthology, titled “The Hypothetical Lizard.”)

    Emma and Cat’s Laughing will show up again in “Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem.” Then in Claremont’s Star Trek graphic novel, “Debt of Honor,” for DC, an anthropologist whose specialist is the late 20th-century (including that era’s music) is said to have recordings of Cat’s Laughing, specifically “the Excalibur sessions” (which is not an actual album by the band, but presumably just a reference to the band’s previous comic-book appearances).

    Later, Emma Bull went on to record as part of a folk duo called The Flash Girls, for which she and her partner (Lorraine Garland, personal assistant to Neil Gaiman) took on alter egos, “Violet Smith” and “Pansy Jones,” respectively. The Flash Girls would record songs written by both Gaiman and Alan Moore. Meanwhile “Violent” and “Pansy” would become regular supporting characters in Claremont’s “Sovereign Seven” comic for DC. (They’re in their right from the first issue, and in a later annual they’re even depicted performing their Moore-penned song, “Me and Dorothy Parker.”)

    The more you know … !

  2. Easily the wackiest cover for the series so far. Love it.

    Alan Davis' work here is lovely. He really does sell the plot really well. And it's a good plot too. As you said, this issue isn't groundbreaking but it certainly is entertaining.

    Adios, Courtney! We hardly knew ye, but you had lots of potential. And it's a shame we never got to see what CC's original intent was for you.

    Brian does come off like a cad here, but I can see where he is coming from. It doesn't excuse his behavior, though, even if it does seem understandable (of course, he could always just try talking to Meggan)...

  3. Rachel's a great sister, waiting days to go after her brother when he's in danger.


  4. I have to wonder if Courtney wasn't being fleshed out (as it were) or propped up as much as possible to make her death more resonant. Like you say, Kitty takes a shine to her and she's quite the circumstantial hero as a civilian plunged into unnatural circumstances. Unfortunately it reads, at least in retrospect, simply as wasted potential.

    The Davis/Neary artwork continues to be just gorgeous, and the colors in the digital edition really pop.

    @Jason: // The more you know … ! //

    Cat's Laughing and its members' names were specific enough that I figured they had real-world counterparts — bits of what you wrote even pluck a resonant chord on the cobwebs of my brain — so thanks for that.

    Another one for The Reference Section: The gents discussing Captain Confederacy as Kitty bemusedly enters her and Doug's revised Murderworld program are the writer/co-creator of that character, Will Shetterly, and contributor John M. Ford. It's an alternate-history concept that had a brief (12 issues) but highly regarded run from SteelDragon Press circa 1986 and a couple of revivals since.

    While Courtney might have been more of a relatable peer as Brian's romantic partner, superheroic milieu excepted (and even that's something in which she acquitted herself admirably this issue), Brian really has no right even exploring the possibility of dating her while Meggan, his safety girlfriend, pines for him at home. The strangest part of that exchange with Kurt in the bar is that he's aware of how deeply Meggan has imprinted herself on him yet still maintains that he loves her. Not that I can truly judge whether he did/does or not, fictional status aside; just that I tend to think if he were being entirely honest with himself and Kurt, or even phrasing things in such a way as to be unintentionally revealing, his yes-but would be that Meggan loves him.

    I guess that's actually not the strangest part. The strangest part of that exchange with Kurt in the bar is Kurt dressing up as one of John Byrne's street-scene extras, pimp edition, rather than using his image inducer. His disdain for such a gadget breeds sympathy in theory but simply trading it for piling on clothes in which to hide is not emblematic of the idea behind shunning the image inducer in favor of being his true furry blue mutant self. On top of which leaving his face exposed threatens to blow his and thus his drinking buddy's cover, although Brian flying away in his civilian clothes right outside the bar rather crushes that argument.

  5. Definitely my favorite usage of Arcade I've ever read. The wacky tone of this book is perfectly suited for his antics, and he and the rest of Murderworld have never looked better outside of the gorgeous artwork on display here.

  6. Courtney's fate here is, to me, the most heartbreaking thing Chris Claremont ever wrote. As Blam posits, I'm sure he brought her back and built her up just for this death scene. And it worked, at least one me. Those charred ashes, reaching for the bouquet...! So, so said.

  7. Just want to second everyone else here. The standout star of this issue is Courtney, who gets built up as likable, plucky and maybe even a better match for Brian than poor old Meggan. So when she gets zapped... it's properly tragic! That really knocked me. I do love the eventual pay off in Excalibur 54-55, and ignore any subsequent "Courtney" appearances as all the chacharacters seem forget preceding events. But then that's millennium Claremont for you, sadly.

    I also just love the build up of the team dynamics, Davis's stellar art (have you noticed all the characters, including the women, have different faces and even noses? Love Meggan's cute little snub nose!), and the sense of fun and shot on characterisation. To me these are some classic issues!


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