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Thursday, October 17, 2019

X-amining Excalibur #87

"Back to Reality"
July 1995

In a Nutshell
Excalibur explores the secrets of Genosha.

Story & Dialogue: Warren Ellis
Pencils/Storyteller: Ken Lashley
Inker: Tom Wegrzyn
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Kitty thinks back on Excalibur's crash landing on Genosha, then travels with Black Air agent Pete Wisdom, Meggan & Douglock to investigate the Genegineer's old lab. Along the way, she & Peter discuss the events which occurred shortly after their crash, in which Excalibur was caught in a three-way fight between some Mutate refugees, Magistrates, and Mutate freedom fighters. On Muir Island, Moira & Rory try to figure out how the information about the Legacy Virus was leaked, while back on Genosha, Britanic meets with Governor Ransom, who tells him the special bullets being used by the magistrates were created in part by his father. Later, Excalibur, along with Ransom & Philip Moreau, gather outside the Genegineer's original lab. After Kitty & Douglock disable the lab's defense, the team learns that the Genegineer received the original mutate process from an unnamed third party. At this point, a watching Sugar Man decides they've gotten too close to learning about his involvement, and triggers the lab's booby traps from afar, sending the truth about Genosha - and the bullets - up in smoke, much to Excalibur's dismay. Still, the watching Black Air agents are pleased: Excalibur achieved what they wanted, stirring up Genoshan secrets to Black Air's advantage.

Firsts and Other Notables
After being teased in X-Men Prime, this issue reveals that Sugar Man is responsible for the process which creates the Genoshan Mutates (thereby robbing them of their free will and hair), having given it to the original Genegineer, thereby retconning the origins of Genosha's slave population (in which it was previously believed the Genegineer came up with the process on his own).

It's a weird retcon, in that it doesn't really lead to much of anything, and it's a bad retcon, in that it takes something away from the metaphor at the heart of Genosha (or, at the very least, unnecessarily complicates it). As ill-advised as the "Dark Beast creates the Morlocks" retcon may be, it at least tries to add to the narrative by offering up an explanation for "Mutant Massacre" beyond "because Mr. Sinister is evil".

This is the last full issue of the series drawn by Ken Lashley (he will contribute to issues #88 and #90, but share the load with other artists). Also, to his credit, he is one of only two series artists to draw the "return" issues of their series following "Age of Apocalypse" (Chris Bachalo, who, unlike Lashley, also drew all four of his AoA issues, is the only other one). 

Jenny Ransom, former would-be Mutate and Genoshan ex-patriot (and girlfriend of Philip Moreau, the Genegineer's son), is shown to be Genosha's provisional Governor.

This issue reveals that Britanic’s father played a roles in the creation of the bullets Excalibur was sent to investigate.

Unlike all the other X-books, this one actually shows the immediate resolution of its reality-ending cliffhanger from the previous issue (albeit via flashback, technically).

A Work in Progress
Douglock is acting more Warlock-esque, peppering his actions with pop culture references.

Britanic’s flashforwards are said to be narrowing (ie Ellis is getting rid of them).

Kitty coughs while phasing into a dusty room, even though she doesn’t breathe while phasing.

The two Black Air agents who sent Excalibur on their mission to Genosha pop up at the end, satisfied that Excalibur has basically achieved their (unstated) goals of stirring shit up. 

Artistic Achievements
Liefeld (rightly) gets a lot of flak for his inability/lack of desire to draw feet, but man, Lashley does not seem to understand how fingers work.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Pete Wisdom’s “hot knives” power, one of the 90s-est powers of all time, is shown in action for the first time.

The bullets Excalibur was sent to investigate, which are said to cause extra pain akin to being bitten, have little faces on them like they were taken out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

Moira is being inundated with faxes in the wake of the news that she has the Legacy Virus.

Austin's Analysis
And with that, Excalibur's brief Genoshan sojourn comes to an end, and, cryptic Black Air agent comments aside, it's hard to see what the point of all this was. Of course, ultimately, this issue serves to introduce Sugar Man into the prime reality and reveal the big retcon that he supplied the original Genegineer with the details of the mutate bonding process (for...reasons). But it's hard to imagine that's what Ellis had in mind when he sent the team to Genosha one issue (/five months) ago, unless he was asked to do so by editorial specifically to set up this issue (at the risk of giving Ellis' too much credit, it seems hard to believe he came up with the idea of the Sugar Man retcon himself, particularly since Sugar Man wasn't one of the characters Ellis wrote in X-Calibre). Certainly, to the Black Air agents' point, there are a bunch of narrative seeds planted here: Britanic's dad's involvement in Genosha, the Sugar Man retcon, Wisdom's angst (to say nothing of the larger Legacy Virus storyline). But while Ellis will quickly latch onto Wisdom, most of the larger subplots setu p here involving Genosha will (curiously enough) get handed off to Cable in the near future (thereby furthering the feeling that Ellis is doing all this in the first place by editorial fiat). The end result is an issue that is perfectly fine for what it is, but struggles to justify the presence of its title characters, which is rarely a good thing.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable #21. Next week: Uncanny X-Men #323 and X-Factor #113.

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  1. Wasn’t sugar man just a thug? I don’t recall him being a scientist (or, what scientists are imagined in comic books).

    1. He wasn't quite just a thug - he was the head of the entire Core - but he also wasn't shown to have any scientific inclination or aptitude especially either, making his role here all the stranger.

  2. Don’t worry, Moira! We’ll find out in 20 years that you were a mutant who relive your life over and over, and will turn the X-Men into evil radical, racist, arrogant segregationists who come out of flowers! All in time!

    1. I also love that it recons the Legacy Virus to still only target mutants and never actually went into humans. Whoops!

      I still don't know how I feel about this current X-Reboot but at least it has me thinking and wanting to see where it goes, it's the first time I've felt that way since Bendis brought back the Original 5.

    2. @Licino: We’ll find out in 20 years that you were a mutant who relive your life over and over, and will turn the X-Men into evil radical, racist, arrogant segregationists who come out of flowers!

      Technically, only a few of them have come out of flowers. And they've *always* been segregationists. :)

      @Scott: I still don't know how I feel about this current X-Reboot but at least it has me thinking and wanting to see where it goes

      That's pretty much exactly where I'm at with it at this point too.

    3. Everything I've read about Hickman's relaunch makes it sound awful to me. And the interior pages I've seen, with that hideous lowercase lettering for dialogue, make me want to read it even less.

      I'm not one to talk, since I haven't read a new X-book in a decade, but the run just before Hickman's looked way more up my alley. Classic-ish lineups, vintage costumes on some of the characters, and the old "UNCANNY X-MEN" logo were all big pluses in my book.

    4. Well that sure sounds like Jonathan Hickman all right.

  3. I still wasn't reading the series at this point. Weirdly, I did read X-CALIBRE during AoA, but dropped the series when it returned to the main reality. My recollection is that I was only interested in reading the AoA series that contributed to the plan to repair reality (plus the AoA iterations of the series I was already reading, such as GENERATION NEXT). So though I never read EXCALIBUR or X-FORCE up to this point, I did read X-CALIBRE and GAMBIT AND THE X-TERNALS since they felt like major components of the overall AoA plot. I then dropped both when the event ended.

    I think I said it sometime back, but it's funny -- my recollection has long been that I read most of Ellis's run, but I really only started reading after Coloussus joined (and even then I missed his first couple issues). I think it was the combination of Colossus, Kitty, and Nightcrawler reunited, plus the promise of Carlos Pacheco coming aboard as penciler (which ultimiately never really panned out), plus the introduction of the London Hellfire club, that got me to finally give EXCALIBUR a try. My first issue was #96, and Ellis's last was 103 -- so I really only read eight issues -- less than a year -- of his run!

    (I did stick around for a little while after he left, but dropped the series with #112 or 113 because Ben Raab's stories weren't grabbing me. Which -- and I know I've said this here before -- is interesting because, while I wasn't a fan of his ongoing EXCALIBUR, I really liked a lot of the mini-series he wrote for Marvel in the late 90s.

  4. I was a die-hard Excalibur reader around this time. I remember this cover very well, but didn't remember much of what went on inside it. I think I re-read this one less because I just didn't care for Sugar Man (or the retcon). I think if he truly had a hand in Genosha, the country would have looked more hellish and less tourist-y (prior to their civil war anyway). Also, I love that Moira and Rory are wearing matching unitards under their lab coats. Science buddies.

  5. Wasn't the big retcon that Sugar Man supplied the original Genegineer with the details of the transmodation process put forward by Lobdell before this issue in X-Men: Prime #1? It was also in this earlier issue that we were introduced to Genosh's first mutate, Mr Edgerton, in a scene that acted as a prologue to this issue. Given we are further introduced in this issue to wheelchair-bound Gayle Edgerton, who would move directly across to Generation X to become Emplate's ally, Lobdell was obviously the originator of this whole plot (of further note is Gayle's father was hinted to be Mr Edgerton which beggars the question how a British gentry-man went on to end up in Genosha and become its first transmoded slave). Douglock further refers to Mr Edgerton in this prestige issue as "designate: original Morlock" but how? Was Lobdell planning to further reveal the Morlocks as escaped Genoshan mutates and there had been some Mutant Underground Railroad between Genosha and the East Coast of the United States?

    1. I'm sure I read someplace that "original Morlock" was an honest mistake in the script (or lettering process). I feel like I read it on a letters page, but since I didn't start reading this series for another six issues, that seems a long delay between publication of this installment and letters about it. But in any case, I believe Douglock was meant to say "original mutate."

    2. Marvel letters pages in the 90s were notoriously spotty at best, so it's highly likely that you did read one about that issue half a year later. Mind the only letters page I remember from that run was the one where they announced Ellis was his last I might not be the best person to ask.


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