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Thursday, February 13, 2020

X-amining Excalibur #90

"Dream Nails Part 3: Blood Eagle"
October 1995

In a Nutshell
Kitty & Pete Wisdom take down the Dream Nails base.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Ken Lashley, David Williams, Carlos Pacheco & Larry Stroman
Inkers: Tom Wegrzyn, Mike Miller, Cam Smith & Larry Stroman
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Joe Rosas, Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

A captive Wisdom awakens to find himself being tortured by Shrine, a telepath who intends to trigger painful memories of Wisdom's past which will stress him out, thereby activating the Blood Eagle virus Black Air has created which causes physical pain tuned to stressful reactions. Elsewhere, Kitty searches Dream Nails for Wisdom. Meanwhile, Wolfsbane arrives on Muir Isle. Back at Dream Nails, Kitty discovers specimens of alien species encountered by Black Air, and runs into the escaped Uncreated, the aliens whom Black Air weaponized to create Blood Eagle. At Muir Island, Rory assures Amanda Sefton he has no intention of letting anything happen to put him on the path to becoming Ahab, but when he resumes his treatment of Spoor, Spoor reveals he knows that Rory has run out of the mood stabilizers which make him immune to Spoor's powers. At Dream Nails, Kitty phases past the Uncreated while Wisdom turns the tables on Shrine, overwhelming him with the horror of Wisdom's memories, allowing him to escape. At the same time, Spoor goads Rory into attacking him, which triggers the defensive laser grid, slicing off Rory's leg. At Dream Nails, Wisdom & Kitty reunite, then trigger an explosion which destroys the base. Flying back to Muir, they set the Midnight Runner on autopilot as they succumb to their romantic feelings for one another.

Firsts and Other Notables
A few notable artistic notes on this one: this is the final issue penciled, at least in part, by Ken Lashley (who has been the book's nominal regular penciler since issue #70, albeit one who has need A LOT of fill-ins along the way), and also the first issue drawn by Carlos Pacheco, who will become the book's new regular artist (former X-Factor penciler Larry Stroman and David Williams, who drew the previous issue, also pitch in on art).

In the wake of Black Air’s destruction, Wisdom effectively quits Black Air (and officially joins Excalibur, though that’s played as more of a maybe) this issue.

Wolfsbane, making her first post-"Age of Apocalypse" appearance, shows up in Muir Isle this issue. She says she is on leave from X-Factor and came to check on Moira given her infection with the Legacy Virus, but Wolfsbane will remain part of the book's cast for the remainder of her run, making this effectively the issue in which she joins the team.

Rory loses his leg, putting him one step (pun intended) closer to becoming Ahab, after his dubious therapy methods (combined with stupidly running out of mood stabilizers to offset Spoor's powers) cause him to turn violent against Spoor, which triggers his even more dubious laser grid.

Kitty & Wisdom hook up as the issue concludes, beginning their relationship that will continue through Ellis' run.

This issue reveals the Uncreated to be the aliens being kept captive at Dream Nails, so called because they killed their god (whom they believe to be the god of all things). They will turn up again shortly in the Warren Ellis-penned Starjammers miniseries.

This is a double-sized issue (the letters column suggests this may be in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the "All New, All Different" X-Men, but doesn't come right out and say as much). It also comes with some Marvel Overpower cards in a little plastic sleeve in the middle of the book, attached to one of the staples (which makes reading the physical issue difficult), the first (of many) such issues we've encountered. 

A Work in Progress
Black Air has created a virus called Blood Eagle, made from the Uncreated (the aliens being kept at Dream Nails), which causes pain when the inflicted experience stress (it’s very Warren Ellis).

This issue introduces a telepathic mutant named Shrine who works for Black Air, but this is his only appearance.

Going through Black Air’s files, Kitty discovers they knew about the Phalanx before the X-Men, and that the Hellfire Club donated a Brood specimen (this is Ellis’ first mention of the club; he’ll return to it later in his run).

It's in the Mail 
Colossus' imminent arrival is mentioned openly in the letters page, a testament to the hype machine of the time working to make plot points known ahead of the issues in which they occur. A response to a letter also promises that Karma will soon be joining the team (which never actually happens), while another letter bemoans the lack of humor in the book, given how significant an element that was in the series once upon a time.

Austin's Analysis
"Dream Nails" concludes, with arguably the most Warren Ellis-y issue of the series yet (psychic viruses derived from aliens! Secret government projects making weapons! Snarky Brits taking the piss out of things!). As such, this issue serves as something of a blueprint for the rest of his run, highlighting or teasing the elements that will come to the foreground in his remaining stories. First and foremost, Pete Wisdom cuts ties with Black Air, enabling him to become a member of the team full time, thereby also allowing him to serve as Ellis' mouthpiece/Mary Sue moving forward. Similarly, Wolfsbane joins the cast of the book, leaving the group just one member short of what will constitute the roster for the bulk of his run (that character'll turn up next issue).

In Black Air's secret machinations to weaponize aliens, Ellis is showcasing the kind of conspiracy-minded, "fighting dark forces moving against you in secret" conflicts that will dominate his run (the Hellfire Club even gets name-checked in the process). Carlos Pacheco, his most consistent artistic collaborator moving forward, draws a few pages. And, of course, Kitty & Wisdom hook-up by the end of the issue, kicking off the relationship that will be central to Ellis' run. "The Dream Nails Trilogy" itself, as a story, is fine -  a light X-Files pastiche which puts Kitty & Wisdom front and center but doesn't lose track of the rest of the cast/ongoing subplots, letdown somewhat by inconsistent art across its three chapters - but in hindsight, more than any other previous Ellis-penned story, it reads like his mission statement for the rest of his time on the book.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable says hello and Domino says goodbye in Cable #24. Next week, X-Force #47 and Wolverine #94!

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  1. I never realized Karma was planned to join but it makes sense given her appearance in the Days of Future Past issue coming up.

  2. Also poor Karma. It seems like many writers always had plans for her that never came to fruition.

  3. So whatever happened to Rory Campbell, anyway?

    1. He was transformed in to one of Apocalypse's Horsemen during the late-1990s, and I think that was the last we saw of him.
      Unless you count alternate reality versions of Ahab.

    2. Mikhail teleported Rory (as Famine) to a different dimension back in 1999. Hasn't been seen since!

  4. 'What if Warren Ellis did to Excalibur what he did to Stormwatch' is one of my favorite ideas now after re-reading this. Marvel would NEVER have let him do it but imagining Captain Britain and Nightcrawler being Apollo and the Midnighter; Wisdom and Shadowcat being Sparks and Hawksmoor; Douglock being the Engineer and Meggan and Moira eaten by Xenomorphs is an interesting pub game/ thought excercise if nothhing else.

    1. I always considered Excalibur to be the rough draft of his Storm Watch run myself. I don't think he gets to that without Excalibur first for him to start developing the ideas, but what really made the concepts he starts here explode was getting longer term artistic partners in first Tom Raney and then, of course, Bryan Hitch. Ellis tends to work better with a long run with the same artist, so before you even get to the fact that Marvel would never had let him do it, he had to overcome the inconsistent artists.

  5. I know there's been some "debate" about Kitty's age at the time and the appropriateness of Widom's relationship with her, but I do have to point of three things that add context to the discussion:

    1) Many people consider "18" (assuming Kitty is at least that old) to still be a "teenager". Keep in mind that numerous people had the same reaction when Archangel hooked up with Husk (although, to be fair, that might have just been a reaction to reading a Chuck Austen story.) Especially when you consider how uncomfortable editorial was when Colossus was becoming more receptive to Kitty's advances back in the 80's.

    2) Regardless of how old Wisdom is supposed to be, he generally serves as an avatar for Warren Ellis, so...this is kinda like Ellis writing fan-fiction about him boning a teen girl, which is kinda weird and pervy.

    3) Which is made even more icky if you take the above and add Ellis's real life behavior to the mix.


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