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Thursday, October 15, 2020

X-amining Excalibur #96

"Fireback"
April 1996

In a Nutshell
Shinobi Shaw asks Captain Britain to infiltrate the London Hellfire Club as its Inner Circle puts their plans in motion. 

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Ariane Lenshoek
Separations: Malibu Hues
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
In Westchester, Jean Grey finds Alistair Stuart at the gates of the X-Mansion, asking for help in reaching Excalibur, before they are all killed. Meanwhile, at the New York Hellfire Club, Shinobi Shaw laments his lack of agents inside the Inner Circle of the club's London branch, and reluctantly decides to reach out to Brian Braddock. At Muir Island, Nightcrawler is showing off his new look to Kitty & Colossus while practicing soccer, when Meggan interrupts to tell him he has a phone call. At the London Hellfire Club, the Black and Red Kings verbally spar as they discuss their plans for Black Air. Back on Mur Island, Nightcrawler, Kitty, and Colossus take a call from Alistair, who warns them of trouble afoot involving Black Air. Nightcrawler says he will take the Midnight Flit to retrieve him. Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw meets with Black Air agent Scratch, trading him a mysterious box for files, before departing for a rendezvous with Tessa. Back on Muir Island, Nightcrawler departs in the Flit as Brian receives a call from Shinobi, who asks him to infiltrate the London club, warning him that the Inner Circle has a new member: Mountjoy. Outside, Douglock contemplates his being, and decides to put aside logic in favor of chaos. Later, as the Midnight Flit crosses into British air space with Alistair aboard, it is attacked by Black Air attack helicopters, which send it crashing to the ground. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue introduces the London branch of the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle (the branch itself was previously mentioned in X-Men #29, when Psylocke noted she and Captain Britain's father was a member). Whereas the American Inner Circle featured a black/white pairing, the London Inner Circle has Black and Red royalty, with each member favoring a specific type of weapon: The Black King has a revolver, the Black Queen a whip, the Red King a sword, the Red Queen magic. 


All of them are appearing here for the first time, though the Black Queen is meant to be the 616 counterpart of Damask, who appeared in X-Calibre during "Age of Apocalypse", while the Red Queen introduced here will later be revealed to be Margali Szardos, Nightcrawler & Amanda Sefton's sorcerous mother. 

Shinobi Shaw has a Tessa-esque assistant in this issue named Martine, but this is her first and only appearance to date. 

Both Nightcrawler and Meggan get new looks this issue, though Nightcrawler's full redesign is held for a future issue (here it's just a shaved head and a very mid-90s goatee). Meggan's new costume apparently also came with breast implants. 


Alistair Stuart, who last appeared in issue #65, returns in this issue. He sticks around for the next issue and will make a couple more appearances after that. 


Both Shinobi and Sebastian Shaw show up in this issue, with Sebastian trading a mysterious box to the London club in exchange for information, ahead of his appearances in X-Man (in which he'll form his own Inner Circle, which will include Madelyne Pryor). 


The Midnight Flit, a smaller version of the Midnight Runner intended to serve as a medical vehicle, debuts this issue, and is promptly shot down. 


Mountjoy, the body-hopping villain from the Bishop limited series, returns in this issue, and is said to be working with the London Hellfire Club. 


Lockheed is shown talking for the first time, something only Pete Wisdom experiences, as Lockheed remains protective of Kitty and distrustful of Wisdom.  


Douglock has a brief scene in which, contemplating his existence, he decides to try a more chaotic approach, with his current use of logic coming up empty. I don't think much of anything comes of this, but presumably, this is meant to callback to Douglock's role in the future events of issue #94 and serve as a bit of ominous foreshadowing. 


The Chronology Corner
Cyclops and Phoenix appear here between Uncanny X-Men #333 and #334. 

A Work in Progress
Kitty references the mysterious call she received from her dad back in issue #76. That's about it; she just mentions it, to remind the readers it happened. 


When taking with Cyclops & Phoenix, it's mentioned that Psylocke is still in a coma following Sabretooth's attack. That phone call also represents the first time any of the X-Men have talked to Colossus since he joined the team.  

As the Midnight Flit starts to crash, Nightcrawler laments "not again", a reference to the original Midnight Runner's crash at the end of issue #86. 


Austin's Analysis
After a prologue/tease of sorts in issue #94, Warren Ellis kicks off his next big story arc here, one which will carry the series through to issue #100 and, really, the end of his run, involving the British chapter of the Hellfire Club and their Inner Circle. Like many of the post-"Dark Phoenix" iterations of the Hellfire Club, this group is, ultimately, cooler in concept than execution, but they will serve as an effective enough mechanism to tie all of Ellis' various plot threads together. To that end, this issue is, of course, mostly setup, as Ellis starts putting all the pieces into play: Alistair Stuart returns, Shaws Sebastian & Shinobi pop up to help introduce the new Hellfire Club, something weird is going on with Douglock, and Excalibur's plane gets shot out of the sky (again). Through it all, Black Air hangs over everything, tying the happenings to previous events and connecting all the pieces in this, while adding to the ominous feeling throughout. All in all, it's an issue heavy on plot mechanics and tone, but it does both of those things quite well.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, more Cable/X-Man shenanigans in X-Man #14. Next week, Wolverine #100!

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3 comments:

  1. At last, my first issue of EXCALIBUR! I think I mentioned a while back that, while I eventually read the Ellis run in full years later in trade paperbacks, for the longest time, this was where it started in my head, simply because this was where I began reading it. I think it was a combination of Carlos Pacheco, the London Hellfire Club, and Colossus reunited with Kitty and Nightcrawler that got me to finally start reading it. I stuck around through the end of Ellis's run and for a while into Ben Raab's, before ultimately dropping it somewhere around issue 112 or so. (Though had I known it was going to be cancelled about a year later, I probably would've just stuck it out to the end.)

    Marvel never did much more with the London Inner Circle, but I'll admit that I got some mileage out of them in the MARVEL SUPER HEROES ROLEPLAYING GAME campaign that I ran through high school and college. My brother's character, an amnesiac immortal aristocrat, found out at some point that he held the title of Black Rook or Bishop or somesuch.

    "Both Nightcrawler and Meggan get new looks this issue..."

    I hate Nightcrawler's new look. I see what Pacheco is trying to do with it; making him look more like a swashbuckler, but it's way too ugly and busy for me. I think I could've lived with either the shaved head/goatee with his original costume (as we get in this issue and the next) or with the new costume and his old hair/no goatee. But all of it together is way too much.

    "Meggan's new costume apparently also came with breast implants."

    I mean, she is a shapeshifter... (Also, I was fascinated by that image as a teen. I don't think I'd ever seen an "up-boob" shot quite like it before, but I seem to recall it was something Pacheco did somewhat regularly for a while.

    "Mountjoy, the body-hopping villain from the Bishop limited series, returns in this issue..."

    I've always been curious whether this was Ellis's idea alone, a suggestion from editorial, or even a suggestion from new penciler Pacheco since he designed the character in the first place.

    "As the Midnight Flit starts to crash, Nightcrawler laments "not again", a reference to the original Midnight Runner's crash at the end of issue #86."

    I've also always taken this as a little reference to Nightcrawler's complaints early in the "All-New, All-Different" era that every vehicle the X-Men boarded tended to crash somehow. I may be overthinking it, but considering I worship those issues, I like to imagine Ellis had it in mind.

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  2. I remember the "No! Not again! Not another plane destroyed!" as a recurring gag in the Claremont years. In Uncanny X-Men #135, for example, just after Dark Phoenix destroys the X-Men plane, while everybody is shouting "Jean, no!", Nightcrawler is saying "Ach, nein... Not another aircraft destroyed!".

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  3. I love comics and I usually search books from Amazon store. Ellis had it in mind - it is ok.

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