Excalibur #1 is the latest X-Men franchise title spinning out of Jonathan Hickman’s House of X/Powers of X story. The results for these new X-Men franchise titles have been mixed. X-Men #1 was an excellent read. However, Marauders #1 was a real disappointment. Will Excalibur #1 be another hit or another miss? Let’s hit this review and find out!
Words: Tini Howard
Art: Marcus To
Colors: Erick Arciniega
Story Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin in Camelot in The Otherworld. Camelot is under attack. Morgan Le Fey is now Queen. Morgan Le Fey orders her top knight, Sir Gaheris, to come with her to look at a magic water well/portal. Morgan La Fey then holds Sir Gaheris’ head in the water with just one hand and tells him to look into the magic well and tell her what he sees. (How does she do that?! Gaheris is a big dude and Morgan Le Fey is small and her powers have never included super strength. And why does Morgan Le Fey even need to do this? This seems pointless.) Morgan Le Fey asks what is this weed that is entering the magical well and is trying to infect Camelot.
We cut to Braddock Academy in England. Brian Braddock(Captain Britain) and Betsy Braddock (The artist formerly known as Psylocke) are talking. Betsy is packing her clothes since she is moving to Krakoa. Brian looks at some of Betsy’s dresses and comments on how when she was a child she would cry when she had to wear a dress. Betsy responds that half of her clothes are suits, not gowns. (And I am sure those suits are pantsuits, not skirt suits, baby. Dresses and gowns are feminine and, therefore, for weak losers!)
Betsy and Brain walk to the Krakoan gate. Betsy comments that she wishes their brother, Jamie, could have been alive to see Krakoa and the rise of the mutant paradise.
We cut to Betsy exiting the Krakoan gate and being welcomed to Krakoa. We then slide over to Apocalypse. Trinary arrives on the scene. Apocalypse tells Trinary to call him by his new name which is just a mutant symbol. Apocalypse talks about mutants no longer having to run for their lives. Apocalypse talks about Krakoa being paradise.
Trinary tells Apocalypse that she, Sage, and Cypher have been studying a Krakoan gate that nobody is able to pass through. Apocalypse says that the answer is not in science but in magic. Apocalypse wonders if they can build Krakoan gates to other realms and realities like Otherworld. Apocalypse says that this Krakoan gate must lead to Otherworld and that Otherworld has built a barrier to keep the mutants out of this gate.
We zip over to Fairgreene Hall in England. This is the home of the Druids of Solar Blackwood. The high priestess, Marianna Stern, is battling some ghosts. We see the spirit of Sir Gaheris appearing and saying he is the herald for Mogan Le Fey. Then Morgan Le Fey’s astral form appears. Morgan Le Fey says that she is the reason that Marianna and her students can perform magic. That they draw their magic from her realm, Otherworld.
Morgan Le Fey says that a weed is polluting the holiest place in Otherworld: the waters of Avalon. Marianna says that the “weeds” are Krakoan flowers from the mutants. Morgan Le Fey says that all mortals are the same to her whether they are witchbreed (Mutant) or human.
Morgan Le Fey orders the druids to attack the mutants and destroy the Krakoan gate. Until this is done no human may channel the magic of Avalon. (Well, that makes no sense. Morgan Le Fey wants these druids to attack super-powered mutants and destroy the Krakoan gate but…Morgan Le Fey takes away the druids’ powers. So, know these druids are just normal humans with zero chance to battle super-powered mutants ensuring that they will fail in the mission that Morgan Le Fey has assigned them. Ooooookay.)
We hop back to Krakoa. Egg approaches Betsy and tells her to come with him. They enter the Hatchery and see that Jamie Braddock is alive and sitting in a rebirth pod and drinking a glass of wine. Egg says that Jamie won’t leave the pod and that he is doing gross stuff in it and that the pod must remain sterile. (What gross stuff is he doing? It looks like he is just having a drink in the pod. Was he jacking off in it? Blowing his nose in the water? Pooping in it?)
Betsy is not happy to see Jamie alive again. (Worst. Sister. Ever.) Betsy tells Jamie to get cleaned up and dressed. Betsy wants Brian to see Jamie for himself and for him to decide if he wants Jamie in his life. Betsy says that she has not decided if she wants Jamie in her life. Jamie replies that he is never leaving Krakoa. Jamie says that he as the right no never see Brain again if he does not want to.
Betsy then blasts Jamie with a psychic attack. (A cowardly heelish attack by Betsy. Jamie is just exercising his personal freedoms.)
Betsy then leaves the Hatchery. Apocalypse then approaches her and says that he needs her to breach a Krakoan gate that is being blocked by Otherworld. Apocalypse says that Captain Britain’s amulet can breach the barrier.
We cut to Betsy at Brian’s home. Brian is in his Captain Britain outfit. Captain Britain says that he has been called to Otherworld. Betsy says that she is going to go with her brother to Otherworld. Betsy says that she thinks this is all a trap. Brian says that Betsy wanting to go with him even though she thinks it is a trap is the noblest thing she could do. (It is also pretty much the most hackneyed plotline where heroes knowingly walk into a trap.) Brian kneels before Betsy and says that he would be honored to have her with him. (What the fuck? Betsy isn’t Brian’s queen. Why would he be genuflecting to her like that? I have a sister, too. And even if she did something cool for me I still would never kneel before her like a servant. But, Howard is hellbent on her Roman Reigns styled push of Betsy’s character.)
Captain Britain and Betsy teleport to Avalon. They appear in front of Morgan Le Fey and her coven next to the well of the water of Avalon. The Krakoan flowers are growing out of the well. Morgan Le Fey wants Captain Britain to hunt down the mutants who are infecting her water with the Krakoan flowers. Morgan Le Fey tells her coven to drown Betsy in the well. (Why? That makes zero sense. That has nothing to do with the mission at hand. Betsy has literally nothing to do with the Krakoan flowers infecting the water of Avalon. What is going on?)
We shift to Rogue and Gambit in Krakoa. Rogue tells Gambit to be careful touching her. Rogue says that she is not wearing her power-dampener bracelet in paradise. (Huhbutwhat? That literally makes zero sense. Being in Krakoa is the absolute perfect time for Rogue to be wearing her power-dampener bracelet. Rogue is literally in paradise where she is completely safe from any threats. She does not need to be all super-powered up. She can be depowered and be able to have a healthy normal physical relationship with the man she loves…in paradise.)
Trinary appears on the scene and tells Rogue and Gambit to come with her. The three characters then arrive at the Krakoan gate to Otherworld. Apocalypse is standing there. Apocalypse asks Rogue and Gambit to go to Otherworld. Jubilee then appears on the scene. Apocalypse also wants Jubilee on the mission.
We cut to Otherworld. We see Captain Britain and Betsy fighting Morgan Le Fey. Morgan Le Fey then takes control of Captain Britain and commands him to attack Betsy.
We hop back to Rogue using her powers to try and breach the Krakoan gate to Otherworld. We slide back to Captain Britain fighting Betsy. Betsy then uses her psychic sword to destroy the gateway to Krakoa.
We cut back to Rogue being thrown back from the force of Betsy destroying the gate in the Otherworld. Suddenly, flowers come out of the gate and completely encase Rogue as she falls into a deep sleep.
We shift back to Betsy squaring off against Morgan Le Fey. Captain Britain then stands in the way and takes down Betsy. Betsy gets possession of Captain Britain’s amulet. Captain Britain says that he does not need the amulet now that he has Morgan Le Fey’s powers. Captain Britain then breaks free from Morgan Le Fey for a moment and tells Betsy to put the amulet on and be gone.
We hop back to Krakoa. Rogue is native and encased in the flowers. Gambit blames Apocalypse for what happened to Rogue. Suddenly, Betsy teleports onto the scene. Apocalypse says all hail, Captain Britain. (So, I guess Betsy succumbs to the Marvel formula of robbing female characters of their own unique identities and agency. Cool.)
We hop over to the Druids. Marianna Stern has poisoned all the members of her coven. Marianna then goes to the secret hideout of the Coven of Akkaba. The Coven of Akkaba welcomes Marianna as a new member. End of issue.
The Good: Excalibur #1 was a rather meh read. To be sure, this is not a bad read. But, this is definitely not a good read, either. There certainly are some bright spots to Excalibur #1. Tini Howard presents to the reader a decent about of action. Howard does a nice job balancing the dialogue-heavy scenes with enough action scenes to keep Excalibur #1 from being boring.
I love that Jamie Braddock is reincarnated in this issue. Jamie has reality-warping powers that make him immensely powerful. Unfortunately, those powers also make him mentally unstable. I have always liked Jamie’s character and am thrilled that Howard brings him back in Excalibur #1. Jamie’s powers are a cool literary tool that enables a writer to pull off some creative and wild stories.
Howard does a good job clearly conveying to the reader what type of story we can expect in Excalibur. This title is going to deliver a mix of magic and superhero stories featuring a female-centric team. The focus of the stories appears to be more on action/adventure entertainment than complex character work and intricate plot-lines. If this sounds interesting to you then you should certainly give Excalibur #1 a try.
Marcus To delivers a solid looking issue. To’s art is nothing spectacular, but it certainly gets the job done. To’s smooth style of art is a nice match for a mainstream superhero title. To particularly does a good job with the facial expressions of the various characters.
The Bad: Excalibur #1 is a bland and generic story that offers the reader nothing special or interesting to separate itself from the rest of the mainstream super-hero comic books on the market. While Howard does clearly convey the identity and mission statement of Excalibur, unfortunately, the story fails to captivate the reader’s attention or imagination.
The quality of writing on Excalibur #1 is pedestrian. Howard delivers incredibly basic storytelling with this issue. The story is shallow. Nothing about the story seems creative or engaging. Howard keeps things very simple and basic and installs the barest minimum of plot-lines in Excalibur #1. This is a thin story that does not warrant multiple reads. Howard’s story in Excalibur #1 comes across as particularly superficial and unimaginative compared to the superlative writing that Jonathan Hickman has been treating us over in House of X and Powers of X.
There are also way too many moments in Howard’s story where there was a lack of internal logic. There are too many moments where characters did or said things that just made no sense. It is obvious that Howard is forcing moments in order to push the story forward in her desired direction or further one of her goals.
Betsy is the clear focal point of Excalibur #1. In fact, Betsy is so much the focal point that Howard completely fails to do any team building at all with this new version of Excalibur. This is the same defect in the storytelling over in Marauders #1. It is as if Howard forgot that she was writing the debut issue of a new team comic book rather than the debut issue of a Betsy Braddock solo title.
Team building is a vitally important component of any debut issue of a new team title. The writer must clearly show the reader the various members of the roster, how they interact with each other, and what role each member is going to play on the team. Howard does none of this in Excalibur #1.
The character work is disappointing. The only character that Howard puts forth character work on is Betsy Braddock. Everyone else is as painfully generic as possible. This is an odd mash-up of characters for the roster of this newest version of Excalibur. It will be challenging for Howard to generate much chemistry between the characters. There is certainly zero chemistry between the characters in Excalibur #1.
Outside of Apocalypse, Howard’s male characters suck. They are either dumb or bland. Neither is an appealing quality. Gambit is as generic as possible. There is nothing to his personality at all. Gambit just exists to fawn over Rogue and to get mad when she goes into a coma. Howard treats Gambit as more of an accessory to Rogue than an actual fully formed character.
Jamie Braddock comes across way too much of a joke for such a powerful character. Maybe Howard was trying to play up a rakish personality for Jamie, but it just came across as buffoonish.
Apocalypse is certainly not written as a joke. However, he is written with a boring robotic villain personality. And Howard continually having Apocalypse telling everyone to call him by his new “the artist formerly known as Apocalypse” name in the new mutant language got old real fast. Howard’s Apocalypse is easily the least compelling version of this iconic bad guy.
Howard totally drops the ball with Captain Britain’s character. Howard employs Brian Braddock as a victim to make the story move forward and a literary tool to make Betsy look “cooler” and more “in control.” There is literally nothing to Brian’s character at all.
Jubilee got very little panel time and, as a result, got little character work. However, Howard managed to at least make Jubilee look like a smart and in-charge character. So, that is still better than the guys in this issue.
Rogue got a little more panel time. Rogue is a fantastic character and easily one of my favorite X-Men characters. However, Howard gives us a rather basic version of Rogue’s character. Rogue certainly seems more capable than Gambit. But, Rogue still comes across more like a bland stereotype of her character rather than an interesting and well-developed character.
Then we get to Betsy Braddock. Unfortunately, Howard fails in her objective to get Betsy over with the reader in her new role as Captain Britain. Now, much of this is not Howard’s fault. I am sure that Howard is doing nothing more than following orders from Marvel’s editorial staff. The reason for that is because Howard employs the exact same formula on Betsy that we have seen on numerous other female characters in the Marvel Universe. Marvel’s editorial staff seems to think that the best way to get a female character over with their readers is to strip that female character of her own unique identity and gimmick and then give her an identity and gimmick of an already established male character. The result is hardly inspiring. However, clearly, the editors at Marvel think that this is the proper approach to take.
Therefore, Betsy transforms from her own unique character into a character that is forced to carrying the gimmick and identity of an already established male character. This makes Betsy look like an unoriginal knock-off character. This move robs Betsy of her own unique character. It is a step backward for yet another Marvel female superhero.
It is a real shame to see that Marvel does not have the faith and confidence in Betsy for her to be her own person with her own unique gimmick and character. I understand that Marvel wants to give the Psylocke gimmick to Kwannon. Personally, I would simply give Kwannon a new gimmick and allow Betsy to keep her Psylocke gimmick. That seems like the more logical path to take. At any rate, even if Marvel was determined to make Kwannon the new Psylocke, it would have been a far wiser move to allow Betsy to get a new gimmick independent of any established character. This would have allowed Betsy to grow into her own unique character and add a new dimension and layer to the X-Men franchise. But, that approach requires creativity and hard work which are two things that Marvel’s editorial staff seems to think that their writers cannot handle.
Howard also employs Marvel editorial’s patented Roman Reigns style of pushing a character once they inherit a gimmick from an already established character. This is another common approach that is preferred by Marvel’s editorial staff. Howard also goes way too heavy in trying to push Betsy as this huge incredibly important character out of nowhere. The result is that the reader views this as completely manufactured and artificial and then resents Marvel’s editorial “shoving” the character down the reader’s throat. It is what Vince McMahon does over in the WWE all the time.
The far superior approach to getting a superhero over with the reader is to take a less is more approach. Slowly walk the reader to the conclusion that this superhero is really cool. Let the reader go on a journey with the character. Let the reader see the character struggle and show weaknesses and experience failures. Let the reader see the character struggle with self-doubt. Then let the reader see the character triumph.
This is a more natural and organic approach that makes the reader feel like they are choosing the character to become a star versus feeling like Marvel’s editorial staff is demanding that the reader view this character as a star because Marvel’s editorial says so.
Unfortunately, Howard goes way over-the-top in trying to beat the reader over the head with how amazing Betsy is in Excalibur #1. This leads Howard to do things that lack logic and get the reader rolling their eyes. It comes across as trying way too hard and it just makes Betsy look worse for it. There are several moments like this in Excalibur #1. However, having Brian bend his knee in a subservient fashion as if Betsy was the Queen of England was probably the more egregious example of this approach. This was an utterly bizarre thing for an older brother to do to his younger sister that simply served to make the reader snicker and roll their eyes at the ridiculousness of it all.
Overall: Excalibur #1 is an ordinary read. Tini Howard turns in a pedestrian debut issue that does little to get the reader excited or interested in coming back for more. Keep in mind that Excalibur #1 is a $5.00 comic book. There is no way in the world that Excalibur #1 delivers enough content and quality of writing to warrant such an expensive price of admission. Readers are well served to spend their limited entertainment dollars elsewhere. I would only recommend Excalibur #1 to die-hard Tini Howard fans or die-hard fans of Betsy Braddock.
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