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Thursday, December 17, 2020

X-amining Excalibur #98

"Fireflies"
June 1996

In a Nutshell
Excalibur takes out a Black Air base in search of Douglock

Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciler: 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 the wake of Douglock's abduction by Black Air, Nightcrawler decides it's time for Excalibur to strike back. Wisdom reasons that Black Air would have either taken Douglock to their acquisition station, or directly to their London headquarters. Nightcrawler proceeds to plot out a surgical strike on the acquisition station, which the team carries out efficiently & effectively. They discover Douglock isn't there, but do confirm he is at the London HQ. Meggan then uses her elemental powers to destroy the station. Meanwhile, Brian Braddock is briefed on the Inner Circle's recent activities by the Black Queen, after which he meets with Scribe, who is scared of the club's plans and tells him of the strange behavior of the Red King following the arrival of the Red Queen, prompting Brian to wonder if the Red King is Mountjoy in disguise. Just then, strange lights appear in the skies over London, which Scribe days is a glimpse of what is about to happen. Elsewhere, two Black Air techs begin dissecting Douglock and discover files about the Legacy Virus buried in his programming.  

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue features the debut of Nightcrawler's full new look (following his new buzzed haircut), featuring a more pirate-like spin on his classic "red V" costume and a new sword reminiscent of Corsair's in the Ellis/Pacheco Starjammers miniseries. It's generally a little loved look (I'm fairly ambivalent towards it; at the very least, I like the idea of the classically swashbuckling Nightcrawler having a sword), and doesn't really outlast Pacheco's tenure on the title much.  


The machinations of the London Hellfire Club are further teased, with Scribe confiding in Captain Britain, leading him to ponder Mountjoy's possible identity, all while strange lights begin appearing in the skies over London. 


In the closing panels of the issue, Douglock's conversation with Zero from the end of issue #80, in which Zero shares information about the Legacy Virus with Douglock, is replayed; Douglock, through that introductory interactions with Zero, is one of those characters who's been connected to the Legacy Virus in one way or another (like Moira and Cable as well), but like with some much else involving that subplot, Douglock's involvement with it never really goes anywhere. 


A Work in Progress
In response to Douglock's abduction, Nightcrawler reminds everyone that Excalibur came to operate at Muir Island in an effort to be more proactive, which they haven't really done (because no superhero team that insists they're going to be proactive ever really is), prompting his call for an all-out assault on Black Air (which Ellis is at least smart enough to have Nightcrawler point out is, of course, more reactive than not). 


Kitty's computing skills gets dusted off, as she hacks into Black Air's databases. 


Ellis seems to have become infatuated with the term "change form" to describe the altered forms of characters like Wolfsbane & Colossus when they use their powers, using it several times 

Brian drinks champagne in this issue during his interactions with the Black Queen, which seems to fly in the face of his established alcoholism, something Ellis was at least aware of in issue #91 (the "pub" issue), in which he pointedly had Brian not drinking with his teammates. It's presented here as something he tries not to do but felt compelled to join in given the circumstances, which doesn't seem like the way alcoholism works (or, at least, doesn't seem to be how it works as commonly presented in fictional stories). 


Austin's Analysis
Just as the previous issue was surprisingly plot-heavy for a Warren Ellis-penned issue of this series, this one is very action heavy, something else Ellis doesn't often do here. Which is a shame, because it's quite entertaining. Of course, the action sequence here is one designed to show the team striking back with impunity against Black Air, with little tension over whether or not they'll succeed against their foes (given that their foes are nameless grunts who don't really even appear on-panel). Still, it's a tightly executed sequence, with Ellis (via Nightcrawler) strategically utilizing each team member well (and really highlighting Meggan as this group's powerhouse, something not a lot of other writers have done). This sort of drama-free conflict wouldn't be sustainable on a regular basis, but there is something simply exciting in seeing Excalibur's righteous fury at Black Air's machinations executed with panache & precision. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable & Domino sort of fight Post in Cable #32. Next week, a look at the "Age of Apocalypse" and X-Men 2099 action figures! 

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5 comments:

  1. Man, I hated the Legacy Virus story. Especially all the "false leads" we keep getting before it kind of gets forgotten until just before New X-Men.

    Yeah, Nightcrawler's new look just doesn't pop for me. It's somehow cartoonish and boring at the same time. I wouldn't say i actively hate it though.

    I loved how effective as a leader Nightcrawler was in this issue and it feels like Ellis' run in general is firing on all cylinders. It's too bad he only has a handful of issues left.

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  2. "It's general a little loved look (I'm fairly ambivalent towards it; at the very least, I like the idea of the classically swashbuckling Nightcrawler having a sword), and doesn't really outlast Pacheco's tenure on the title much."

    It wouldn't be a bad look except for the buzz cut. Everything else fits the character, but that haircut seems too... military? for the rest of the look & for Kurt's personality.

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  3. I agree, Nightcrawler's new look just needs longer hair. No swashbucklers or pirates had short hair. Even if it looks dumb to the reader, there's an excuse that its in character. Kurt is a guy who can look at the original Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo and say it looked cool to him.

    "No superhero team that insists they're going to be more proactive ever really is"

    Gosh, I never thought about it until I read it here but... yeah! Even 90s Image and Ellis' later works the heroes are just reacting to the villains' schemes or attacks. The closest we get to X-Force being proactive vs the MLF is in X-Cutioner's Song, and that's just because of Stryfe shooting Xavier.

    It'd be nice to see, actually. Couple issues of the heroes gathering clues and build-up that the heroes know where the bad guys are and they might be planning nasty stuff. Then they open up next issue by attacking. Some henchman screams "It's StormBloodForce! But how'd they find us?"

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  4. Nightcrawler's look lands pretty well for me. doesn't have padded shoulders and/or bomber jacket levels of appeal, but it feels striped down enough to pass as a non-uniform uniform. would prefer a present or past jae lee re-style though..

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  5. This issue, to me, is the one that foreshadows how Ellis would approach superhero teams when he went to Stormwatch, where the early stories dealt with the team being more overtly proactive (and still not really managing it, because that's superhero comics for you.) This could have been re-written to be an issue of Stormwatch without trying too hard. I got to Ellis' Stormwatch late (it took me a long time to get over being burned by Image too many times in 1993-1994) and when I was reading it as I caught up, this issue of Excalibur came to mind.

    I can also say, with some certainty as a recovering alcoholic, that no, alcoholism doesn't work that way at all.

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