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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

X-amining Black Knight: Exodus #1

"The Bond"
December 1996

In a Nutshell
Black Knight & Sersi meet Exodus in the 12th Century and battle Apocalypse. 

Writer: Ben Raab
Penciler: Jimmy Cheung
Inker: Andy Lanning
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Tom Zuiko
Editor: Kelly Corverse
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Trapped in another universe, Sersi desperately tries to send herself and Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, home. However, she only succeeds in transporting them to the 12th Century, where Dane's consciousness gets subsumed in that of his ancestor, Eobard Garrington. He wakes up next to a familiar face, his friend Bennet du Paris. The pair are on a quest to a pharaoh's temple in Egypt. Along the way, they encounter a woman being attacked for being a sorcerer; it is Sersi. Dane's consciousness leads Eobard to save her. Bennet objects, worried it'll delay their quest, rending their friendship as Bennet goes off on his own. Eobard and Sersi follow after Bennet, and along the way, Sersi tells him about Dane, and Eobard sacrifices his soul to allow Dane to emerge. Meanwhile, Bennet battles Scarab, a mutant agent of the pharaoh, Apocalypse, and learns he himself is a mutant; Scarab names him "Exodus". Eventually Sersi and Black Knight arrive at the temple and are captured. Apocalypse orders Exodus to use his newfound power to destroy Black Knight in battle, but his fondness for Eobard wins out, and he turns his power on Apocalypse instead. Apocalypse in turn puts Exodus in a coma, and entombs him in Switzerland. Six months later, Black Knight finally finds Exodus' tomb, and places two guards outside, to protect his friend until Apocalypse's curse is lifted. Black Knight then tells Sersi it's time for them to go home. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue ostensibly explains how it is that Black Knight recognized Exodus during the Avengers/X-Men crossover "Bloodties", by revealing that Exodus is a 12th century crusader named Bennet du Paris (a name first used by the alternate Exodus in "Age of Apocalypse") who was friends with Black Knight's ancestor Eobard Garrington, and that, in the midst of trying to return home after their trip to the "Ultraverse" (a different universe comprised of the characters Marvel bought from Malibu to which they journeyed in Avengers #375), Black Knight ended up in the body of his ancestor for a time. 


This seemingly doesn't work, since the consciousness of this Black Knight is from a point in time after he thought he recognized Exodus, but what this story doesn't mention is that at this point in time, Black Knight's consciousness from earlier in his personal timeline is already on Eobard's body, as Merlin transported it there and he inside Eobard until his death (circa Avengers #226). So simply making Exodus a friend of Eobard (and assuming there's some kind of chronal/consciousness drift that makes that memory hazy for Dane) gets the job done, but the issue complicates things by putting the present day Dane in Eobard's body as well. 

This issue also reveals that Exodus encountered Apocalypse (and received something of a power boost from him) in the 12th Century, and that the regenerative chamber in the Swiss Alps Exodus emerged from in Cable #30 (during the Cable/X-Man crossover) was actually a tomb he was placed into by Apocalypse, and then guarded by Black Knight and/or his agents. 


Ben Raab, who previously wrote X-Men: Time Gliders and the second story in X-Force & Cable '96, writes this issue. Previously an assistant editor on multiple X-books, this marks the beginning of his larger involvement in the X-office as a freelance writer; he'll shortly become the new regular writer on Excalibur for the rest of that series, and from there work on a number of different one-shots, fill-ins, and miniseries. 

Art comes from future "Young Guns" artist Jim Cheung, his first work for the X-Office; he'll soon pencil the solo Maverick series, and then become the regular artist on X-Force before leaving for CrossGen (and then returning to Marvel). 

A Work in Progress
Bennet battles a beetle lady named Scarab, a servant of Apocalypse, who christens him "Exodus" for...reasons. 


Apocalypse is operating as a pharaoh of sorts in the 12th Century. 


Austin's Analysis
So this is kind of a mess. Certainly, I can't begrudge anything which exists, at least from its starting point, as a means to address an unresolved bit of continuity or a narrative dangler, but the best of those kinds of stories are the ones which couch that effort in an entertaining, well-crafted story that would be just as enjoyable without the arch-narrative clean-up work it's performing. This, unfortunately, isn't that kind of story. It does, at least, address the narrative dangler that seemingly gave its existence purpose - Black Knight recognized Exodus because Exodus was best buds with Black Knight's ancestor during the Crusades - though even there, it muddies things up by having the present day Dane take over the body of the ancestor he was already possessing and not making that clear (despite the fact that without that info, the "revelation" simply doesn't work), and by including Sersi, it introduces the question of why she didn't recognize Exodus during "Bloodties" as well (the easy answer, of course, is that she did, but didn't say anything, which, sure, but that seems against the spirit of what this issue is trying to do). To its credit, the story technically closes the loop by ending with Exodus being entombed in Switzerland & watched over by Black Knight and/or his agents, as previously established, but it gives no reason why Apocalypse has this Swiss tomb and uses it for Exodus (or even why 12th Century Apocalypse doesn't just kill Exodus when he turns on him), other than, the previous story set the tomb in Switzerland and established that Exodus spent centuries, so that's where he ends up. 

But even beyond the continuity clean-up, the story struggles to work as a story. The emotional core of it hinges on the friendship between Eobar Garrington and Paris du Bennet, and there's simply not enough pages (and/or Ben Raab isn't a good enough writer) to make us care all that much about their friendship; it's lots of telling instead of showing, so when the big confrontation in front of Apocalypse happens, we're neither moved by Black Knight's internal conflict regarding harming his friend, nor is it as a triumphant an occurrence when Exodus rejects Apocalypse in the name of that friendship. Additionally, characters come and go from the narrative with little explanation of who they are or what they want, such as Eobard and Paris' other crusading companions who end up guards at Exodus' tomb. Why are they agreeing to that job? Why are they there? What even are their names? The story does very little to provide any of those answers (yes, it gives their names and I could go back and check, sure, but I don't *remember* their names, so little was the impression they left). And while Jim Cheung will rightly become a superstar artist in his own right, and there's shades of that here, he's not ultimately operating at a high enough level yet for the art alone to lift the issue over its plot and characterization deficiencies. So while the intent of the issue can be appreciated by this continuity nerd, the execution of it is ultimately lacking.   

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Excalibur #104. Next week, Generation X '96!

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10 comments:

  1. I remember buying this issue back in the day as a regular Avengers reader and not being at all impressed. Raab doesn't seem to have the strongest grip on the characters or their continuity (e.g. in the page of Dane and Sersi trying to get home shown here she's thinking about the Gann Josin bond but Dane had broken it in Avengers #373 as their story headed towards its climax) and it's also complicated by a seeming legal restriction on being able to actually reference anything from their time in the Ultraverse. The ending of the Avengers/Ultraforce crossover had shown Sersi winding up back in the Marvel universe with the Avengers and going by the letters page this confused the heck out of readers but this one shot makes no attempt to explain away all the mess.

    And I'd completely forgotten that Dane recognised Exodus so the whole story came across as little more than using an Avengers one shot to tell the origin of a X-Men villain rather than restoring two characters to the Marvel universe.

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  2. When Exodus showed up back in Uncanny X-Men #304 I thought he was destined to become the next Big Bad in the franchise. I thought there would be the big moment in which the X-Men would fight him, but nothing happened. As time passed, he became more and more relegated to peripheral X-titles, to the point that the X-Men didn’t even remember he existed. What a waste!

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  3. I get the distinct feeling that Exodus was meant to be more than just a glorified henchman but everyone lost interest and this one shot was put out to answer a question that had mostly been forgotten. I am not a fan of the trope where you tease a mystery characters identity only for it to turn out it's someone you never saw before. It actually irritated me when I read this issue and got the anticlimax.

    Otherwise, I didn't mind the rest of this issue as I was unfamiliar with the Black Knight's past continuity. To sum it up, it was good enough for a single read and a mild disappointment for continuity.

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    1. Exodus was originally planned as the Third Summers Brother, his eyebrows, facial markings and hairstyle indicating a resemblance to the Shi’ar, along with his regally adorned costume. A pity that never came to pass compared with what did.

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    2. @Nathan: Oh, I've never heard that before! Whose idea was that (presumably not Nicieza's, since he probably already had the idea for Adam X in mind)?

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  4. I agree with Licinio and Drew above, that Exodus originally felt like he could (and even would) become something big. Maybe even the next Mister Sinister or Apocalypse. He certainly had all the right trappings -- a ton of power, a mysterious air, a cool visual (which is of course, subjective, but I liked it).

    And for a while, he sort of teetered on the cusp of reaching that level. His time as leader of the Acolytes while Magneto was catatonic gave him a few spotlights, most notably in "Bloodties", but also in UNCANNY 315 and as his alternate self in "Age of Apocalypse". Then there was the fall of Avalon, which again gave him some big moments, but also ultimately wiped him off the board to the point that any writers (and fans) who might have been invested in him soon forgot about him.

    It's really too bad nobody picked him back up again after that. He could've split from the now-disbanded Acolytes and started his own mutant "religion" or something; or he could've just become a one-man show. Even if the core books weren't interested, I could've seen him as a recurring villain for Cable and X-Force or something. Heck, Chris Claremont could've made him the leader of the Neo or something in 2000! It would've been an interesting use of a discarded character, and would've helped to tie Claremont's otherwise very distanced run in with things that had happened while he was away from the books.

    (And I know he does put in a number of further appearances throughout the 90s, but my point is that he never really lives up to the potential his earliest appearances suggested.)

    Lastly, I've never quite been sure what Exodus's ethnicity is supposed to be. His skin color is that weird reddish shade they used to to use in comics to denote Native Americans (see Dani Moonstar and Warpath, who even suggests in X-FORCE 25 that Exodus might be ingidenous) or other, err... "ethnic" types (Shakti from X-MEN 2099 comes to mind). Putting aside the fact they kept using that coloring (as well as golden yellow for Asians and gray for Middle Easterners) for way too long after they could've stopped, it alway suggested to me that he was not meant to be Caucasian. I take it he's French by nationality (even if giving him the name "Paris" is way too on the nose), but I've always been curious about his ethnic heritage.

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    1. Exodus did pop up some in the oughts after M Day, and Hickman brought him back in House of X, but yeah, he could have been a lot bigger than he was. Back then I had an odd affection for two villains that I thought had more potential than they ever displayed in Stryfe and Exodus, and what this says about me I don't think I want to ponder.

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  5. I've always liked Jim Cheung, but was he really ever looked as a superstar ?

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    1. Mostly when he was doing Young Avengers but yes, he was. If only briefly.

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  6. The 90's had some really cool villain characters and teams and because it was the "90's", those characters were never given respect or love moving forward even though the designs and basics were great. I'd blame that on terrible writing moving forward or taking "disposable" characters and devaluing them even further instead of amping them up and making them threats.

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