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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

X-amining Excalibur #102

"After the Bomb"
October 1996

In a Nutshell
Excalibur deals with the fallout of Onslaught

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Casey Jones & Rob Haynes
Inkers: Scott Koblish, Jason Martin
Letterer: Comicraft 
Colorist: Ariane Lenshoek 
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Amidst news reports of the deaths of the Avengers and Fantastic Four in New York, Nightcrawler & Moira mourn their passing, Meanwhile, Kitty & Pete Wisdom have breakfast on the mainland, discussing the situation in the states and how the British Prime Minister is looking more favorably on Excalibur than the view of mutants held by the Americans. Meanwhile, Brian reminiscences about fighting alongside Captain America. Outside, Moira, Nightcrawler & Douglock oversee the transfer of Muir Island's prisoners to the new British intelligence agency. In Germany, Amanda Sefton, Colossus, and Wolfsbane return to Amanda's childhood home in search of her mother, Margali, but depart when their search comes up empty. As Kitty and Wisdom finish their breakfast, they are accosted by US government agents, sent to warn Kitty that she and her American teammates in Excalibur are no longer welcome in the US. Wisdom & Kitty respond by thoroughly beating them up, then including their bound-and-gagged leader in the prisoner transfer, sending along instructions to mail him back to America. Later, Excalibur receives word that Professor X is to be arrested by X-Factor, though Wisdom notes at least that means he's alive, then proceeds to lead the group out to the local pub. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Amanda Sefton, Colossus, and Wolfsbane seek out Amanda's mother Margali in this issue, who disappeared in issue #100 after her connection to the demon beneath London was severed. This is considered the last appearance of Amanda until X-Men Unlimited #19, as, at some point between this issue and #108, Margali trades places with her daughter, taking over Amanda's body and placing Amanda's mind in Margali's body which, it will be revealed, is being held captive by Belasco. 

In the wake of "Onslaught", Meggan prompts Brian to set a date for their wedding (they've technically been engaged since issue #61); that date isn't given here, but their wedding will occur in issue #125, the series' last. 

The issue concludes with Excalibur learning that X-Factor has been given orders to arrest Professor Xavier in light of his actions as Onslaught, a reference to X-Men (vol. ) #57, though ultimately it was just Val Cooper and not the entirety of X-Factor which brought him in. Wisdom suggests they all look on the bright side that being arrested at least means Xavier is still alive, which is better than when they thought he was effectively dead after transforming into Onslaught. 

A Work in Progress
Wisdom and Kitty talk about the differences between Excalibur and X-Men, during which Wisdom (and, of course, by extension, Ellis) hangs a lampshade on some common bits/tropes, like Cable's big guns or the fact that you can always tell where the X-Men have been due to the destruction they cause.

In the wake of his apparent death, Brian reminisces about the time he and Captain America fought alongside each other (seemingly a reference to a story from the original Captain Britain UK series in which they teamed up to fight Red Skull, though he would have been in his original costume there). This prompts some musings from him about he has never been has unconditionally loved in the UK as Captain America is in the US, though he suggests some of that is down to the different nature of the British people. 

The new British intelligence agency headed up by Alistaire Stuart & Rory Campbell (apparently called just "The Department") takes control of Muir Island's prisoners this issue, meaning the former Acolyte Spoor is moved off island.  

Human/Mutant Relations
The broadcast about the apparent deaths of the Avengers & Fantastic Four (while the X-Men survived) notes that it has left people wondering why the X-Men couldn't have been the ones to die. 

The action set piece in this issue comes in the form of a beatdown Pete Wisdom and Kitty give to a group of agents from the US, who came to warn Kitty that she and the rest of Excalibur's American-citizen mutant contingent are no longer welcome in the country (it's not clear if these are regular government agents, or members of Operation: Zero Tolerance). 

Austin's Analysis
This is, for all intents and purposes, a Post-Crossover Quiet issue, dealing with the fallout from both "Onslaught" and the Hellfire Club/Black Air story. Yet unlike, say, Uncanny X-Men #297 or #318, which focused on specific characters dealing with the events of the crossover, this is much more a series of vignettes, featuring both "characters responding to the crossover events" and some deck-clearing & plot setup: Nightcrawler mourns the loss of the Avengers & Fantastic Four, Captain Britain reminisces about Captain America, Amanda searches for her mom, the "Muir Island: Mutant Prison" era comes to an end, the team learns about Xavier's arrest, etc. The connective tissue of the issue is largely the Kitty/Wisdom stuff, as Ellis presents a surprisingly clear illustration of where things stand for mutants in the wake of "Onslaught": worse than ever in America, but still largely okay in England, at least, thanks to Excalibur's recent heroics - though it's also clear Excalibur's mutants aren't welcome in America anymore, either. 

It does a lot to sell the whole "Onslaught has made things even worse for mutants" idea that is meant to inform the entire line and is critical setup to the (already) looming "Operation: Zero Tolerance" crossover, though it is a little odd to see that effort being made here. Warren Ellis has certainly played ball within the larger X-office but has also more or less carved out his own little corner within that universe, where he does his own thing largely unbeholden to the happenings in other books (the occasional X-Man crossover aside). Yet here both interests align, as a point is made to show just how bad things are getting for mutants even while Excalibur is riding a bit high. At various points in its history, Excalibur has flirted with the notion of its team as a sort of European Avengers, and Ellis seems to be teeing up that idea here - though whatever he ultimately has in mind will, with this being his penultimate issue of the series, be cut short. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, X-Factor meets Bastion in X-Factor #127. Next week, X-Force #59 and X-Man #20!

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  1. Cap came to Britain’s aid in CAPTAIN AMERICA 305-306 when the latter (second costume) was kidnapped by Mordred the Mystic.

  2. "Brian reminisces about the time he and Captain America fought alongside each other (seemingly a reference to a story from the original Captain Britain UK series in which they teamed up to fight Red Skull, though he would have been in his original costume there)."

    This was in issues #17-27 of the original weekly series. It was one of the signs of how this was a strip produced by Americans for what they thought was a British audience - just as the UK entered a year of patriotic celebration for the Queen's Silver Jubilee and one of those rare times when everyone was waving the Union Jack the strip offered a recreation of the American national myth of coming in and saving the British from the Nazis.

    "This prompts some musings from him about he has never been has unconditionally loved in the UK as Captain America is in the US, though he suggests some of that is down to the different nature of the British people."

    Pretty much. Rampant flagwaving and overt patriotism has traditionally not been a big thing here outside of a few specific national or sporting events (and there's a complication that the UK has separate teams in some of the highest profile sports like football, rugby and cricket) and I think is part of the reason why the original Captain Britain title failed (along with being set in a more idealised vision of Britain than the reality of readers).


  3. I saw the group shot at the end and was amazed to realize that, counting Moira but not Lockheed, there are ten members of Excalibur. Just feels high to me.

    Colossus removing his giant metal shoulder guards as silent background business is hilarious and much appreciated. Also the ’90s: Matt Idelson says in his lettercol intro that former editor Suzanne Gaffney has “departed to help bring Marvel Comics on America Online to life”.

    I liked this issue well enough until Wisdom told everyone to stop whining about Xavier, not upset so much about his point than how it was made and Kitty’s response. Still pretty nice art in spots though.

  4. "I saw the group shot at the end and was amazed to realize that, counting Moira but not Lockheed, there are ten members of Excalibur. Just feels high to me."

    Similar to when Davis when his second run ended, there were 9 members of Excalibur (counting Widget). And had Davis stayed on, Micromax would have joined the team as well...

  5. There were some choices made with those layouts. It's kind of strange to see Kitty's foot on Wisdom's face. I know it's a bleed from the earlier image but it takes a second to acknowledge when you're reading it.

    I really wish Warren Ellis could have just written this series to its conclusion. While he does a great job of finishing off most of his plots it feels like he finally nailed down his tone just in time to move on. Granted, he's got one more issue but I am not looking forward to Been Raab's run. Though, who knows? Maybe I'll appreciate it more without the high expectations?

    1. Do we know why Ellis left EXCALIBUR when he did? I mean, obviously his major Black Air/Hellfire Club story had come to an end, but if that was all he wanted to do, why not leave with #100? Unless he thought he had more to say, but quickly realized he didn't. I don't think I've ever read anything about why he quit.

      In any case, I feel the same way about Raab's run. I know I've said it here before, but I loved all the random mini-series he did at Marvel circa 1997-2000: UNION JACK, X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT, HELLFIRE CLUB, and I think one or two more I'm forgetting. I thought (and still think) they were all very good. Yet somehow his ongoing work on EXCALIBUR fell totally flat for me. I jumped ship after about half a dozen of his issues.

    2. I've never been able to find anything online. I think there might have been something about Ellis leaving Excalibur in an issue of Wizard at the time, but I no longer have those magazines, sadly.

      Been Raab left a bad enough taste in my mouth at the time that I didn't bother reading his Excalibur mini-series later on. I should probably give it a read since he does usually do well on mini-series. I think his initial run was probably hampered by the micromanagement of the X-Line at the time. Though, I've never seen anything about that either.

  6. Could it be that Captain Britain never took part in major battles to save an important British city or the world? I never read his British comics, but I can’t recall a time in which Excalibur did something extraordinary in the public’s eyes. Their adventures were mostly around their lighthouse or in alternative realities. Then how the British people would be crazy about a hero that, in their perspective, barely shows up?

    Also, I couldn’t stand the characters everywhere mourning the “deaths” of the Avengers when I knew that they were alive and would eventually come back. It felt flat. I can’t believe any reader actually cares about their deaths as well

    1. There were many instances of Captain Britain doing public acts of heroism, from his earliest days in his old costume to the pre-solo Davis Excalibur run. And Excaliber did the same as well. He and they may not have saved an important British city the way they did here, but the general public was aware of them and appreciated them.

    2. I had no problem with everyone mourning the departed heroes. We readers all knew they'd be back, whether in a year, two, or whatever. But if you suspended your disbelief in the moment and accepted that in-universe, everyone really believed they were gone, I felt the various books all did wonderful jobs of showing how the world would try to cope after losing the Avengers and FF.

      THUNDERBOLTS, of course, got the most mileage out of it, but you had several titles that devoted an issue or so to characters trying to soldier on, and I thought nearly every one did a good job of it. It certainly felt real to me, from the perspectives of the remaining heroes.

    3. I think the oddest series reaction was in Daredevil. A lot was made of the lost heroes' absence and the impact it had - but they had never been that major a feature in the series regardless. Only the Black Widow's one woman mission of vengeance against old foes had much resonance.

      But yes Thunderbolts was the series that took the change and worked best with it.

  7. Gimmickry! This issue with Onslaught Overpower cards in it and I bought 4 copies to get all the "Hero" Base Cards -- Post Dark Beast Holocaust and Onslaught.


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