Issue(s): Excalibur #61, Excalibur #62, Excalibur #63, Excalibur #64, Excalibur #65
This arc does two main things: it brings back Rachel Summers and it closes the loop on the Warpies. I didn't necessarily need Rachel to ever return. To me she's the ultimate unresolved Claremont plot thread. The very existence of her character is problematic; most likely the unexpected (to Claremont) return of Jean Grey destroyed whatever plans he had for her, and since then she's stuck out for having no real connection to the Summers/Grey family in our timeline and for just being too powerful to be on a team. She's still somehow managed to fit in Excalibur, mainly by becoming a foil for Kitty in that she's noticeably sexy while Kitty is theoretically (i.e. it's not always so distinct in the art) still a developing teenager. But that's actually a very odd role to play for a character whose origin is that she fled a dystopian future timeline. Alan Davis already did some interesting things with her during this run, and it ended with her being comatose and taken out to space by the Phoenix Force. It might have made more sense to just send her back to her own timeline at that point. But in this arc, Davis separates her from the Phoenix Force, bringing her back down to normal power levels so that she can rejoin the team. I definitely understand the reasoning behind that, and Davis does it well, but considering how Rachel has (or, for the most part, hasn't) been used since Davis' Excalibur run, in retrospect it feels like it wasn't the right idea for the long run. Rachel is mostly an inconvenient footnote when talking about the Summers family tree ("Cyclops had a son with the clone of Jean Grey, and the baby was sent to an alternate future where he grew up to be Cable, and he also has a sort-of daughter who was born to Cyclops and Jean Grey in a different alternate future") or the Phoenix (see every message board discussion about AvX).
On the other hand, i'm really glad that Alan Davis decided to bring up the Warpies. The Warpies were babies that were mutated during Mad Jim Jasper's reality warp in Alan Davis' original Captain Britain run. We really just kind of saw them in passing in that story, and they had a random unexplained appearance in Uncanny X-Men #254, and that's all we've ever seen of them. So it's another longstanding loose end that Davis is tying up. And as with the other such loose ends in his run on Excalibur as a writer, he does it with grace in a way that makes me feel like he's had a plan all along. Unlike Mark Gruenwald at around this time, Davis doesn't just bring up old elements for the sake of it; he has a story to go with it. And unlike Claremont, he doesn't leave the loose ends dangling forever; we get an actual resolution.
And don't let my musings about Rachel Summers give you the wrong impression. The stories that Davis delivers here are really great, regardless of how much or little was done with Rachel later. I soured on Excalibur very early in realtime and whenever i went back to try it i went to the Claremont issues and they just confirmed my suspicions that the book was too silly for me. So even though i heard good things about Davis' "second" run (his writer/artist run), i figured if i didn't even like the Claremont issues i certainly wasn't going to like anything else. And that was really the wrong conclusion. Davis' run is much better. Going into this era, i knew that Peter David and Jim Starlin's books would, for me, be the islands of sanity in a sea of dreck, but Davis' Excalibur has turned out to be a surprise addition to those, with the added bonus of the art being consistently great.
We start with the Phoenix still in control of Rachel's body. She encounters Galactus...
...and tries to get him to stop eating a planet because it contains life. She accidentally ends up destroying his harvesting machine, releasing all of the energy that he's collected so far. Galactus is not happy about that.
Issue #61 intersperses awesome splash panels of Galactus and Phoenix fighting in between scenes focusing on the other characters.
Galactus calls Phoenix a hypocrite and tells her that while he might eat the occasional planet, she draws her energy from "the sea of life yet unborn". In other words, she is preventing new life from occurring. This is said to not be the case in her natural state; only when she needs to maintain her existence on this plane (i.e. when she is occupying a host body).
Phoenix later finds that she's willed herself to meet with Death. She learns that she can't die without the universe dying. But she doesn't want to live because of the energy she draws from the universe. She eventually comes to realize that the solution is to let go of Rachel. The next time we cut back to a Phoenix scene, Rachel has woken up, and the last thing she remembers is her fight with Necron. She finds the Phoenix Force floating beside her, and it explains the situation. The Phoenix Force leaves, but not before returning Rachel to Earth's orbit, and Rachel also says that she's fully free of Ahab and Mojo's psychic programming and the false memories that Phoenix had previously given to her. We get a little tease as Rachel transforms her costume into the red Dark Phoenix version, but we'll learn that she only did that because she likes the colors better. We'll learn in the next arc that Rachel still retains a small portion of the Phoenix Force; enough to return to her own timeline with her physical body.
Meanwhile, the rest of Excalibur are doing some training, with Cerise having generated a forcefield for Nightcrawler so that he can fight Captain Britain. We've reached the point of self-awareness in comics where i'm now seeing more jokey So Big, So Fast sequences than earnest ones.
Nightcrawler actually manages to hurt Captain Britain during the fight, another sign (as we saw in the last arc) that something is wrong with Brian's powers. Brian says that it's because he's distracted because all he wants to do is hunt down Courtney Ross' killer, Sat-Yr-9. This upsets Meggan. Nightcrawler gives Brian some advice, telling him that he ought to make an effort to show Meggan that he loves her, even if it means giving up vengeance for Courtney. Brian later takes that to heart and asks Meggan to marry him.
We next see an arrogant radio personality named Scott Wright get attacked by someone pretending to be his chauffeur. Scott Wright turns out to be Micromax's secret identity. The attackers, we'll learn, are Warpies.
Later, Kitty Pryde and Feron are investigating why the Mastermind computer underneath Brian's mansion isn't working (and having a nice character moment)...
...when Widget briefly returns, talking about Sentinels.
Kitty starts to discuss Widget with the rest of Excalibur (minus Captain Britain and Meggan), but she's interrupted by a phone call from Alistaire Stuart, and the phone call is interrupted when Alistaire is attacked by Warpies as well.
Alistaire wakes up to find himself in the presence of a Nigel Orpington-Smyth, who Alistaire knows to be the director of a covert government agency known as the RCX. It was Orpington-Smyth's organization that framed Alistaire's sister. Orpington-Smyth callously says that that is ancient history, since Alysande is now dead (for unrelated reasons). Orpington-Smyth is in control of the Warpies, and he deliberately allowed Alistaire to contact Excalibur before capturing him, because he wants them too.
So the Warpies are waiting when Excalibur (still minus Captain Britain and Meggan, and also Feron) come to investigate. I don't know about you guys, but if i were to see something like this on an adventure, i'd probably just turn right around and go home.
The rest of these Warpies aren't quite so creepy.
By the way, there are lots of sub-groups of Warpies - Cherubim, Seraphim, etc.. I'm not going to get into that.
Excalibur are captured. Nightcrawler makes an attempt to escape once they are in the RCX compound, which is called Cloud Nine. But in the escape attempt he accidentally releases some more feral Warpies (and we learn that Peanut is even creepier outside of his exo-skeleton).
Nightcrawler manages to defeat all of these Warpies, but then Orpington-Smyth shows up to announce that Nightcrawler and the rest of Excalibur are officially under arrest for being illegal immigrants in the UK. But it turns out that Orpington-Smyth wants - or claims to want - Excalibur's help. He says that the Warpies are dying. First they lose their powers, and then they die. So he's been putting them in suspended animation when the malady is first noticed. A cute exchange between Kitty and Cerise during that sequence.
As i noted above, the origin of the Warpies is that they were children - unborn children, in fact - during Mad Jim Jasper's reality warp back in the Moore/Davis run. So it seems a little odd that the Warpies are all different ages (although they are all said to be children). Some of that might be related to the nature of their warp/powers, but the fact that in the scene above some are specifically identified as children suggests that's not enough of an explanation. One thing to note is that in the final issue of the Captain Britain series, it was said that the problems relating to Jasper's warp, including the births of the Warpies, continued until Captain UK was taken out of our dimension. So the Warpies definitely weren't all born at once. There still wasn't really enough time to account for what seems like large age differences, especially considering Marvel's Sliding Timescale, but maybe that's somehow part of it.
Excalibur agree to help, and they settle in with the Warpies, and one of them gives Nightcrawler a new costume.
(A little later in the story, Kitty thinks to herself that it's odd how she used to change costumes all the time but she's been wearing the current one for years. She doesn't actually change costumes in this story, though.)
RCX also runs tests on Nightcrawler, theoretically as a baseline since he's the only adult human with the group. His wide array of abilities is noted, and it's suggested that it might mean that he is a second generation mutant.
Alan Davis even brings back Nightcrawler's ability to turn invisible when he's in shadows.
This is something that i thought was basically excised from continuity when Marvel chose to remove the scenes showing that power from the Classic X-Men reprints (see Uncanny X-Men #103). The invisibility power is later explained as being a portion of the dimension that Nightcrawler passes through when he teleports, which distorts light.
The last we saw of the Warpies (unless otherwise stated, excluding the ones we saw on Muir Island in the X-Men issue), they had been left under the care of the Mastermind computer, and an RCX agent named Michael was also sticking around to watch them. Alistaire winds up getting caught in the memories of a dying telepathic Warpie, and we see a little bit of what happened after that.
Kylun, who had left Excalibur a while back, is attacked by Warpies at his parents' house, and he's also captured and brought back to the compound. One bit of information that comes out of that fight is that Kylun's sword, which can't hurt the pure of heart, does not affect one of Kylun's Warpie opponents.
Captain Britain and Meggan are also attacked, and the attack coincides with Brian's powers going spotty again. Captain Britain is brought back to the base and Orpington-Smythe tells him that a common enemy is behind the power losses of him and the Warpies. Captain Britain accuses Orpington-Smythe of building a Warpie armor, and Orpington-Smythe says it's true, because the government needs the ability to respond to the growing number of para-humans. This is a rare reference to the Marvel UK line.
Captain Britain was tricked into hitting Meggan while they were being captured, and Orpington-Smythe tells him that the fact that she's still in critical condition indicates that she's being affected by the power loss too. All together, it convinces Captain Britain to work with RCX. But the rest of Excalibur realize that Orpington-Smythe is up to no good, and Captain Britain figures out that he's being duped, too. Orpington-Smythe is revealed to have a grudge about the British Empire falling apart, and he's trying to get all renegade super-heroes in the UK outlawed.
Excalibur work to free the Warpies and Micromax from suspended animation, and they also discover the RCX agents Michael and Gabriel, who appeared in the Alan Davis Captain Britain series. Michael was last seen staying at Braddock Manor to help take care of the Warpies, and i guess Gabriel was captured as well.
But then they are attacked by more Warpies still working for Orpington-Smythe.
Captain Britain is still separate from the rest of the group at this point, and his failing powers are a liability. We initially see a scene with Roma and Saturnyne, with Roma saying that she's not going to play a Deus Ex role in the lives of humans anymore (an oath she made previously). But she does wind up appearing to Captain Britain. She reveals that the costume that Brian took from an alternate universe version of himself (Captain Marshall from Earth-998) has actually been interfering with his powers, and she reconfigures the costume to stop that from happening any more.
Meanwhile, the Warpies continue to come over to Excalibur's side, and eventually Orpington-Smythe is stopped. Alistaire, Michael, and Gabriel say they'll take things from there.
And then Rachel Summers shows up at the end.
Fun issues. There is a lot of intrigue and clever power usage that goes on while Excalibur are at RCX that isn't necessary to cover for a plot summary but which add to the issue's entertainment. And Davis is really great with finding character moments throughout all of this. For myself, it's probably good that i'm forcing myself to read every Marvel comic because based on my initial impressions of Excalibur, if i just flipped through these issues and saw the HUGE cast of bizarre Warpies, i probably would have passed on this, dismissing it as more Excalibur zaniness that i didn't need. But while the Warpies are weird and there are way more than anyone can reasonably keep track of, the story is pretty serious (but still fun!).
I also think - and hold on to your hats because this is contrary to my usual philosophy - it would be very rewarding to read the Alan Davis issues of Captain Britain, then skip ahead to the Claremont/Davis Excaliburs, and then read these issues, without reading anything else in between. Because Davis is doing a lot of work to tie up stories going all the way back to those original issues, probably even to a larger degree than i realize since it's been a while since i've read them. I noted on the Captain Britain entries that one thing that feels like a flaw is the pacing due to the size of each issue, and that leads to the plotting feeling very hectic, and when characters like Michael and Gabriel and the Warpies show up, it's hard to know what to make of them before moving on to the next thing. But reading these issues, it feels like Alan Davis has had a plan all along. If he's really just coming in and tying up loose ends years after the fact, it doesn't feel that way. It feels like there's been a coherent story just waiting to come out, and i'm glad to not have missed out on it.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 170,825. Single issue closest to filing date = 138,950.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Next issue begins with Excalibur returning home from this adventure, so it shouldn't be placed too far from this issue and they shouldn't appear elsewhere in between (although Excalibur annual #1 takes place during Excalibur #66 and i'm placing it directly before it).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAC-DC, Alistaire Stuart, Captain Britain, Cerise, Death, Fern, Feron, Gabriel (RCX), Galactus, Giggles, Kylun, Lockheed, Lump (Warpies), Mastermind (Computer), Meggan, Michael (RCX), Micromax, Nigel Frobisher, Nightcrawler, Phoenix Force, Quill (Warpies), Rachel Summers, Roma, Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde), Widget
Goddam, that Phoenix/Galactus art is beautiful...
Posted by: Andrew | September 9, 2016 5:23 PM
Interestingly, the dialogue in this story makes it clear that Scott and Maddie told Rachel their baby's name shortly after his birth, but New Mutants 50 had Illyana say that Scott and Maddie were treating the baby's name like a state secret. (It can be easily explained by saying fact that Illyana forgot the baby's name or never thought to ask and didn't want to admit it.)
Posted by: Michael | September 9, 2016 7:52 PM
My, Alan Davis is _good_ with characterization! That is particularly remarkable in this time period. He may easily be the only writer who makes Kitty Pryde interesting.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 9, 2016 10:25 PM
The Warpies that attacked Micromax certainly look like the Cherubim we have seen before - AC-DC, Lump, and Fern.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | September 10, 2016 1:40 AM
Alan Davis should be the guiding hand of the MU, he blows most if not all writers and artists out of the water. I figure natural talent plus working as a young artist with young Alan Moore adds up to sheer bloody brilliance. Just imagine a Marvel event mapped out, written and drawn by Davis. With Kitty as the lead, it would be a treat!
He is so good, he seems criminally underused compared to, say, Mackie or Bendis.
Posted by: PeterA | September 10, 2016 5:57 AM
@Erik - thanks. And Giggles and Quill show up with them later to attack Captain Britain and Meggan. I've added tags for them.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 10, 2016 12:37 PM
Okay, one question: what *are* Rachel's normal power levels? I've always thought that her powers were that of Phoenix-as-Jean-Grey and Dark Phoenix...
BTW. Was Dark Phoenix more powerful than as Phoenix-as-Jean-Grey? Or just more aggressive with using her powers? I never got that...
Posted by: Piotr W | September 10, 2016 3:26 PM
I could be wrong about the power levels. She does change her costume at the end, which was something Claremont & Byrne used to show Jean's increased Phoenix powers.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 10, 2016 3:42 PM
One interesting oddity about this story is that Nightcrawler - as a German citizen - can't be an illegal immigrant to the UK unless this story is set after we leave the EU (and then only if we also leave the single market). Of course, it's also possible that the arrests are not exactly legit and that Kurt doesn't know his rights.
Posted by: Stevie G | September 10, 2016 5:19 PM
This story takes place 5-6 months before the EU formally came into force. Nightcrawler, as a technically non-economically active person, would not have enjoyed the rights of free movement prior to November of 1993.
Posted by: Mark Black | September 10, 2016 6:53 PM
I believe Stevie is talking in the context of Marvel's Sliding Timescale?
Posted by: fnord12 | September 10, 2016 7:23 PM
Ah! Sorry - didn't pick up on the sarcasm. My bad.
Posted by: Mark Black | September 10, 2016 7:34 PM
I also avoided Excalibur for the same reasons as you fnord but this stuff looks awesome. Awesome art and story.
Is it weird Galactus saying that he by choice only eats barren planets/ civilisations in decline? When did he get a change of heart? Wasn't Morg finding inhabited planets for him around this time?
Posted by: Grom | September 11, 2016 9:56 AM
I think that what Galactus meant was "if possible, I only eat barren planets or civilizations in decline, but if I can't find any of those, than I have to feed on healthy planets".
Posted by: Michael | September 11, 2016 4:41 PM
Which does not seem consistent with Galactus making Morg his herald and his behaviour in SS at the time.
Posted by: Grom | September 12, 2016 5:38 AM
Why is Micromax so skinny here? I thought his "secret" was that he was really kinda chubby and balding (that the way he looked kn later stories.)
Fnord, given that, in a few issues, Rachel is going to jettison into limbo for a whole decade, I'd say the editors eventually agreed with you (although honestly, I'd much rather have Rachel than any of the "Jean Grey wannabes" that followed her.)
Luis, I find your reactiin interesting since practically every other male on the internet (including a few future writers) talk about Kitty as some kind of "fantasy crush." (To clarify, this isn't a "criticism." I just find that viewpoint rather unique among the "nerd" set.)
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 14, 2016 11:39 PM
@Jon Dubya: Really? I tend to think of her as a Mary Sue instead. Maybe that connects to my lack of interest in Wolverine.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 15, 2016 8:13 AM
It's a wonder some writer didn't use the AC/DC characters in a story titled "For Those About to Shock, We Salute You" :-)
Posted by: Brian Coffey | March 25, 2018 10:10 PM
Comments are now closed.
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