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Thursday, April 2, 2020

X-amining Excalibur #91

"Baby, I Love You"
November 1995

In a Nutshell
Excalibur goes out for a night of drinking

Writer: Warren Ellis
Pencilers: David Williams, Mike Wieringo, Jeff Moy & Mike Miller
Inkers: Mike Miller, M. Christian & Philip Moy
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Ariane Lenshock
Separations: Malibu Hues
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Kitty & Pete Wisdom round up their teammates for a night on the town, and Moira brings them to a nearby pub that was once owned by her father. As the drinks begin to flow, much is made of the blossoming relationship between Kitty & Wisdom, and Kurt ultimately agrees to let Wisdom remain with the team. Eventually, Moira, Amanda, Meggan & Rahne end up dancing a chorus line atop one of the tables, and the various couples end up making out. Later, a deeply-intoxicated Moira admits that she drank to forget her problems, and the team stumbles home. After they arrive, Kitty & Wisdom stop & embrace in the moonlight, unaware that Colossus has just arrived on Muir Island.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the mildly-famous "pub" issue of the series, a character-driven tale centered around the team going out for drinks at a nearby watering hole.

Colossus, last seen in Uncanny X-Men #325 after the fall of Avalon and the end (for now) of the Acolytes), shows up on the final page, just in time to see Wisdom & Kitty snogging (as the Brits say), setting up the next issue and beginning his run on the book (he will remain a regular character in the series through to its conclusion with issue #125).

Kitty &Wisdom reveal their relationship to the team, asking that Wisdom remain on with Excalibur.

Nightcrawler agrees to it, but he and Brian give Wisdom the “don’t hurt Kitty” tough guy routine.

A Work in Progress
Moira is treating a heavily sedated Rory following the loss of his leg last issue (Wisdom makes some jokes about it).

Brian says the last time he and Meggan went to a pub was when he smashed up one in Glasgow, which may be a reference to Excalibur #28 (if it is a specific reference, it goes unfootnoted).

Also going without a footnote is Douglock referencing the time he and Kitty went to a bar in issue #81.

It’s established the Midnight Runner has a return home autopilot, making it drunk proof.

Moira’s father once owned the tavern Excalibur visits, much to Rahne’s shock.

Brian mentions he's not drinking; Captain Britain having a problem with alcohol is an established character trait at this point (with the aforementioned issue #28 having shown him similarly passing on drinks at a pub as a result), but it's not entirely clear if Ellis is aware of that, or thinks he's establishing something new with the character here.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing this in the middle of a global pandemic, but Moira probably shouldn’t be out drinking considering she’s infected with a deadly & highly adaptive disease.

Austin's Analysis
One part a Classic Claremont Quiet Issue, one part a Lobdellian Post-Crossover Quiet issue, and about three parts British pub tomfoolery, this issue is largely held up as one of the highlights of Warren Ellis' run (and therefore, coming during one of the series' three notable/highly regarded runs, one of the highlights of the series overall) and certainly, at least at this point in his run, it definitely is. Taking a step back from superhero action, from subplots involving future selves and killer viruses and evil conspiracies to show the main characters as regular people hanging out together, is almost always a recipe for success, and Ellis certainly rises to the occasion. There's some quibbles here, from the ongoing issues stemming from Ellis' misunderstanding of Kitty's relative age, to Rahne's horror at the concept of going to a pub (which reads much more like the reaction of early New Mutants Wolfsbane, even if the character is, like Kitty, still relatively young here), to the whole business with Moira's dad having owned the pub and Moira been a fixture there as a child (which is the kind of development that seems destined to be ignored outside this issue, and which mostly has - even before the Hickman retcon). And, of course, the shifting, varied art, featuring four different pencilers and three inkers, throughout the issue does it no favors, and largely holds it back from being an all-time classic within the larger context of the X-books.

Still, it's beyond refreshing to have a chance to see these characters as people first for a change, something which arguably hasn't happened since the Alan Davis days. It helps integrate Wolfsbane into the cast, it helps dull some of the edges around Pete Wisdom's author-insert nature, it completes the casting-off of the Britanic nonsense from Captain Britain once and for all. And that final page reveal is one of the series' all time great cliffhangers, as the newly-accepted relationship between Kitty & Wisdom is about to come face-to-face with its first big challenge. Ultimately, this is just a fun issue, and at a time when not just this book but the entire line is digging ever deeper into plot-focused & grimdark stories, that makes it significantly refreshing.

Next Issue
Cable goes back to the future in Cable #25. Next week, Uncanny X-Men '95!

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  1. As a kid, it always bothered me that the team brought Brian, a recovering alcoholic, to a pub. No one even asked, "Hey, you okay with this? We can stay home and watch the telly instead," or offered to drink soda in solidarity, or anything. I thought that was such a dick move. I suspected maybe Ellis didn't know about his drinking problem (though an editor certainly should've caught it); but then he references Brian consciously not drinking, so...?

    Then again, in Rick Remender's Secret Avengers, Thor goads Brian into drinking some Asgardian super-booze and Beast doesn't try to stop it, so I guess he just... isn't an alcoholic anymore?

    1. It does seem like a dick move, though to your point, it's certainly not the only time a character's alcoholism is handled poorly.

  2. I have issues with the pacing on this one. It's like a prototype for the early 00s "decompressed" style. Why do we need several pages opening the issue for the characters to talk about going to a pub, and then Kitty running around and inviting everyone there? Why not just start en media res with them already there (or on the way), and some exposition to explain how it happened?

    I also think the inconsistent artwork hurts this one. A single artist, preferably one with a good ability for casual situations and body language, would have really helped it.

    That said, the idea is good and most of the character stuff is enjoyable. And I love Moira's accent thickening as she drinks, to the point she needs subtitles near the end.

    1. The Moira bit is great. And yeah, the art really hurts this one.

  3. This issue wasn't published here in Brasil. It's a shame, because I love quiet issues. The art looks terrible and you inform us that the writing has some mistakes, but still...

    "Do you remember pubs, Doug?"
    "Yes, one drinks fermented poisons and then sits upon unconscious humans."

  4. Ellis cant be aware of Excalibur 28, as the reference to smashing up a Glasgow pub is from the last issue of the original Marvel UK Captain Britain series.

    1. Ah, very good to know! I've read very little Captain Britain pre-EXCALIBUR (something I should really rectify one day; maybe as part of a Patreon review series). I wasn't sure Ellis was referencing #28 but it seemed specific, so I'm glad it was a reference to something.

  5. Wait, what happened with the Britannic persona here?

    1. Everyone involved creatively basically pretended that it never happened, more or less.

    2. Pretty much, yeah. And in terms of this issue, it just feels very much like a punctuation mark on Ellis' gradual abandonment of the whole Britanic business, like he's saying, "here's Brian in a bar hanging out with his friends, talking normal, referencing his very human drinking problem, my work bringing him back to this baseline of normalcy is done." But that's very much an interpretation on my part; there's nothing overtly textual saying that.

  6. Having a cute Ringo cover, only to have a mish-mash of artists inside (with him being the best), was a pretty nasty fake-out.

  7. Yet another rough draft for Ellis; he did an issue of Stormwatch where the team bounced around the world going from bar to bar getting drunk and bonding. Which made a bit more sense considering that Ellis's Stormwatch was a team of superhuman soldiers that needed to blow off steam after a lot of conspiracy theory drama, and it wasn't really out of character for them to do a pub crawl.

    It also is one of the earliest cases of decompressed story telling, though I don't blame Ellis for what people like Bendis did with the notion. So weird looking back and watching Ellis basically invent how comics were written in the oughts in Excalibur.

    1. I read AUTHORITY but I really should go back and read more of Ellis' STORMWATCH just to see all the ways he's playing with those ideas here. At the very least, I appreciate your call outs.


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