Excalibur was one of many groups that came out of the X-men. Back in the day, the group was very popular and you’d already seen the New Mutants and X-Factor. Let’s take a look at how the group started with Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn (1988) and look at the first five issues. (88-89)
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the X-men comics, I’ll briefly explain the events leading up to Excalibur. Basically, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat had both been injured and left on Muir Island, the rest of the X-men, along with Scott Summers’ wife Madelyne Pryor, seemingly sacrificed themselves to save the world. The group decided not to tell Kurt and Kitty that they were alive and well out of concern that they’d try to rejoin and exacerbate their injuries.
We open with Kitty Pryde having strange dreams about the believed dead X-men as actors and the lost Rachel Summers appearing to speak to her when the X-men peel back their skin and reveal themselves to be monstrous creatures called War Wolves. Meanwhile, Captain Britain’s lover, Meggan hears the news of Psylocke’s apparent death and finds Brian sitting in his costume and drinking. The group eventually comes together against a strange group of bounty hunters and the War Wolves from Kitty’s dream. Rachel suggests that they protect Xavier’s dream in much the same way as Arthur’s knights protected his and they become Excalibur.
Issues 1 and 2 place the group against the loose War Wolves. Issue 3 sees the team face off against The Juggernaut and some escaped prisoners. Issues 4 & 5 put them in Murderworld against Arcade and Captain Britain villains The Crazy Gang.
There are a lot of strong moments in these comics. Nightcrawler shaking Brian out of his drunken stupor & Rachel’s big speech that inspires the characters to group up both stand out from the special. Shadowcat deceiving and then bursting from a War Wolf stand out about the first two issues. As does the ending. Meggan standing up to the Juggernaut and then getting comforted by Nightcrawler stand out in the third. Then we have Shadowcat figuring out how to break Arcade’s plans and Lockheed guarding Arcade’s control console.
We also see all of Claremont’s signature strengths at play. He really excels at using every member of a group to their full potential and balancing things so that every character gets their moments and the “more powerful” characters don’t dominate things. He’s also fantastic at pacing, with some slower moments for build up and to allow the characters to reflect on things they’ve been through along with the more intense action sequences where we see our heroes in action. We also get a lot of build up for future stories with the implication that Rachel escaped from Mojo, some sequences involving Opal Saturnyne and the implication that Rachel is some kind of threat she wants to deal with and scenes with a strange robot head that causes a mutant child to vanish. It makes you want to read more and find out where he’s going with all of it.
It’s also interesting to see the team try and come to terms with living together, even though Captain Britain and Meggan don’t know the rest of the group all that well. And there is something compelling about seeing Kurt and Kitty try to overcome their problems while making a difference. With Nightcrawler finding his teleportation extremely limited and Shadowcat having trouble staying solid.
The one negative I’ll bring up is that Claremont doesn’t do the best job of showing The Crazy Gang as a threat. I mean, the group is basically made fools of by a normal human woman and then they only put up something of a fight by switching bodies with the members of Excalibur. Although, in all fairness, the comic does categorise them as inept. But it seems odd to bring in an entire group of villains just to use them for a one-off gag.
They also don’t have the strongest introduction. We see Tweedle -Dope in the first issue along with a poster, but we don’t know anything about them as characters. Unless you happen to be from the UK and have read the Captain Britain issues with them. But given that Excalibur was the first time the group was seen in America, it would have helped to get some background. And Juggernaut feels a bit under-used in his appearance. We get to see him toss Captain Britain around for a bit before being quickly shut down by Phoenix.
The cast of heroes is really good. Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Phoenix, Captain Britain and Meggan are all interesting characters. Having three of them know each other really well and two of them be romantically involved also leads to some interesting dynamics and interactions. There’s an early implication that Kurt is attracted to Meggan but doesn’t want to get between her and Brian but she also seems to be attracted to him, subconsciously transforming to have skin and eyes like his and nearly kissing him at one point.
Rachel and Kitty also have a really interesting dynamic. With them being close to the same age but Rachel also being familiar with a much older Kitty Pryde from a dystopian future.
Alan Davis did the pencilling and Paul Neary did the inking. The pair worked on the art for all six issues and they did a really good job. The colouring is vibrant. The characters look good. The action flows well. About the only negative I have is that they have the common comic practice of only having backgrounds when they need to. So, a lot of panels just don’t bother. You do have to give them some leeway since they came out monthly and this was back when everything was drawn by hand.
Areas of Improvement:
- Have stronger introductions for the Crazy Gang so that readers outside of the UK know what their deal is. Besides the obvious them being a group of loonies.
- Let The Juggernaut do a bit more.
These comics are pretty fantastic. They have strong characters, fantastic story-telling and a lot of build up for future adventures. If you’re a super hero fan, this is a series I would recommend getting into. It has a lot of heart and showcases just why Chris Claremont is one of the best writers in the business. As a group, I give them a 9/10.