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Thursday, October 21, 2021

X-amining Excalibur #104

"Buried Secret"
December 1996

In a Nutshell
Excalibur gets to the bottom of Douglock's identity while the MLF attacks Muir Island!

Plot: John Arcudi 
Script: James Felder
Pencillers: Bryan Hitch, Rob Haynes, Scott Koblish
Inkers: Paul Neary, Scott Koblish, Rick Ketcham
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Araine Lenshoek
Editor: Matt Idelson
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Douglock continues to struggle with the question of who he is, something not made easier by Kitty's insistent belief that he is her old friend Doug Ramsey. This triggers an argument between Kitty & Wisdom. While Colossus questions his place amongst the team, Nightcrawler & Moira debate what to do with the Xavier Protocol information. When Wisdom pushes Douglock to confess his secret, Douglock jumps out a window and must be calmed down by Colossus and Kitty. Ultimately, they decide to visit Doug Ramsey's grave in Westchester, accompanied by Wolfsbane. Meanwhile, the Mutant Liberation Front attacks Muir Island, seeking its Legacy Virus data as well as the Xavier Protocols. They manages to take out Captain Britain and Meggan while shutting down communications, but MLF member Dani Moonstar begins to quietly sabotage their plan. Meanwhile, the rest of Excalibur visits Doug Ramsey's grave. Kitty, insistent that Douglock is Doug, phases through the ground into Doug's coffin. She expects it to be empty, but is shocked to discover Doug's skeleton inside. 

Firsts and Other Notables
The beginning of two-part story bridging the gap between Ellis' departure and Ben Raab's arrival, it grapples with the question of who Douglock is (a resurrected Doug Ramsey, a resurrected Warlock, or both) before affirming he is, in fact, a wholly original being (at least until a later story comes along and says no, he's a resurrected Warlock). 

The question of whether he's a resurrected Doug Ramsey is definitvely answered on the issue's closing page, as Kitty (grossly) sticks her head in Doug's coffin and finds a skeleton with blond-hair(?) still inside. Putting aside the logistical questions of whether or not the birth of a techno-organic version of Doug would have resulted in his skeleton disappearing from his coffin, this seems like an eminently sound way to confirm at least that part of his identity that Kitty probably could have done much earlier. 

There's a brief bit in the opening sequence in which the art zooms in on Douglock's eye; I have no idea if this is an intentional callback to the opening of New Mutants #53 (which first teased the idea of Doug being infected with the transmode virus via a similar eye-zoom), but it made me think of it. 

The MLF appears in this issue, consisting of Moonstar, Forearm, Wildside and new member Selby (who only appears in this story). As in some of the group's earlier appearances, they are accompanied by some kind of generic foot soldier, though who they are and why they're working for the MLF is unknown. 

They last appeared in X-Force #43, but it was in X-Force Annual #3 that Moonstar's status as a double agent inside the MLF was confirmed; we still don't know who she is working for (it'll turn out to be SHIELD), but she is shown to be directly working o sabotage the MLF's mission here. 

A Work in Progress
Nightcrawler & Moira decide to send the entirety of the Xavier Protocols (Xavier's files on how to beat all the X-Men, as revealed in issue #100) to Beast at the X-Mansion in this issue, in case you're paying attention to their status (if you're not, that's okay, no one else is, either). 

The Reference Section
Douglock is in the process of discovering Dr. Who. 

Young Love
An issue after affirming their love for one another, Kitty & Wisdom are sniping at one another throughout this issue, which is a perfectly normal thing plenty of loving couples do, but stands out just for the sudden shift in presentation. 

Austin's Analysis
It seems fitting that this story is mostly about Douglock and his identity, given that the introduction of Douglock was one of the signature events of the book's previous "treading water before a new creative team comes aboard" periods. It's also telling that despite a (relatively) lengthy run by Warren Ellis in between Douglock's intro and this issue, so little was done with the character that a "what's Douglock's deal, really?" story was still necessary. And, of course, there's something funny/sad about a story which sets out to make a declarative statement about a character that is penned by three different writers across two different issues. I don't know if that's more an indictment of the editorial-driven nature of the X-books at this time or of Douglock's status as a character, but either way, it doesn't exactly help make the character more compelling. Certainly, it's fun to see the MLF popup even if their heyday is well behind, but like Douglock's origin, it seems odd to have fill-in writers furthering the "Dani is a mole" subplot (though kudos to whatever combination of Arcudi, Felder and Idelson remembered that and didn't write Dani as straight-up evil). Ultimately, it's hard to complain about a story with pinch-hitting creators trying to actually advance characters and plotlines, but the small army working on this one makes it hard not to see the seams, and Douglock has yet to become a compelling-enough character to carry something like this on his own. 

Next Issue
Next week: Generation X '96 and X-Force/Youngblood

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  1. I'm still pretty disappointed in this plot twist, largely because having Douglock be a new character with elements of both Doug & Warlock would have been a better reveal with more potential than "it's Warlock, he just THINKS he's his dead friend". It's part of the "proud" tradition of writers screwing over my favorite character, unfortunately, and "he's still dead" is somehow better than "he's completely disconnected from humanity by his powers cuz that's how smart people are", "he's getting no-homo'd by Warlock so we can explore how robots bone", "he's a drug addict who gets murdered cuz this writer is incredibly bleak & cynical", and now "he's married someone who he can't communicate with at all cuz somehow that's the foundation for a healthy romance and also we're trying & failing to get a Scott/Barda dynamic going".

  2. It's interesting in a "two ships passing in the night" way that Warren Ellis leaves the book, only for Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary to show up and do some of the next issue. A near miss for the Authority team. I didn't actually buy any more Excalibur, but I recall flipping through this issue, and my memory of the time was that Ben Raab picked up right away. Memory's a funny thing.

  3. I know I read this issue way back when, but I remembered absolutely nothing about it except for Kitty phasing into Doug's coffin on the final page -- which I find a creepy but cool application of her power. Most heroes usually have to dig up coffins to check whether they're occupied (looking at you, Daredevil)!

  4. I had forgotten about John Arcudi doing some fill-ins. I wish he had stayed on the book a bit longer. Though, maybe his writing was a little too individualized to fit into the march into mediocrity that Marvel was forcing on the X-Books at this time.

    I love it when a comic asserts, "This is the truth! This is exactly what is going on and it is impossible to be anything else but what you are reading!" And then someone comes along with the next change. Probably because that happens in my own life so much.

  5. There are just so many issues with this issue.
    1. The whole Douglock issue was tied to Zero from Stryfe and Rob's run with X-Force, so it's years worth of continuity at this point for anyone still interested and even then, it's a Z level character. Zero was in those Deadpool issues and then appeared here in Excalibur and I still can't remember what that eventually lead to.

    2. Doug is a New Mutant that was killed off mid-way through it's run. How many of those fans were still excited for Doug to be back? Many of us got into comics in the early 90's, Marvel Series 1/2 time period and Doug wasn't in those sets and he was before my time. I didn't care for these characters and just wanted them gone quickly.

    3. It would be easy to bring Douglock into the world with todays understanding of social media/tech, easily making him something like the Caprica TV series or the Black Mirror episode where he had taken a piece of Warlock and his own cells and programmed them to merge together if they were both deceased and take this online persona as their personality.

    4. MLF - what a waste of cool characters. I didn't remember that they had added a random other character in this, that was surprising to read in the review.

    5. Remember when this series was fun?

    6. Doug's body really decomposed quickly for an embalmed body in the Marvel timeline, yet he kept his blond hair? Writer/Artist doesn't know how this works.

    7. Just like Zero, I don't remember what even happened to Douglock. I think I was really hit or miss on buying/reading Excalibur at this time.

  6. Moira says (thinks) “it’s the middle of the night in the United States” right before Kurt bamfs in and says “guten abend [good evening]” — pretty much exactly the opposite of how Salem Center and Muir Island’s time difference works.

  7. This one was terrible! So much exposition and stilted dialogue.


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