When I first started reading comics in the late 80s, Excalibur was not a book I picked up. Thanks to my neighbor’s collection, I was able to catch up on numerous important runs in the X-Men’s history, so I was very familiar with many of the British team’s roster. I loved Nightcrawler and Kitty Pride, but the book’s tone seemed out of place with what I was experiencing in the core mutant titles and the general early 90s comic book scene. Thus, I unfortunately missed out on some of the best X-books from the era.
Consequently, the newest addition to Marvel’s Epic Collection demonstrates just how agreeably discordant Excalibur was in the early ’90s marketplace. This collection, gathering a select spread of Excalibur issues between 1991 and 1994, is clearly meant to showcase the incredible work of Alan Davis. It’s shocking that the pencils on these issues were not enough to force my young self to subscribe to the book, as I already developed sentimental thoughts associated to his work on the X-Men and New Mutants. With the creeping uniformity in comics during the speculator period, you can see why Davis would be passionate about working on a book like Excalibur at this time. Here he was given near free reign to bring his vision to life and break conformity with the litany of other X-books on the shelves. As much as that era had a positive impact on my love of the X-Men, the issues presented in this trade will stand the test of time, where many that actually ended up in my collection will not. These Excalibur issues are comical, buoyant, and most importantly, fun. This was a book proud to be its own thing and chart its own tonal path.
While this book is for enthusiasts of Davis, it also features some strong plotting from Scott Lodbell and Barry Dutter. When Davis’ linework is not present, the book took great care to find artists with an interest in replicating the out-of-this world approach only a comic book can deliver. More than a dozen artists are represented here, with excellent work from Dougie Braithwaite, James Fry and a young Joe Madureira.
Throughout this selection of issues, you can see why Davis’ work on Excalibur is so adored. Even when the book veers into fantastical, cosmic-minded elements, it retains a focus on its select group of characters and develops their interpersonal relationships soundly. The first issue in this collection (#42 from 1991) has all the hallmarks of Davis’ work from this time period: wacky villains with a nod to the eccentric, beautiful line work, exploration of Marvel’s fantastical side and a clear love for its core cast of characters. It’s a great read that still holds up today.
In an era of on-demand comics from the near century of Marvel’s catalogue, it is nice to see them put out non-chronological trades of this nature. This type of curation is a great place to dip your toe into an important run if you missed it in the past. For longtime X-Men fans like myself, this trade is a testament to all the wonderful times I overlooked in the ’90s.