Excalibur #15 is the penultimate installment of the X of Swords event. This issue, more or less, picks up where X-Men #15 leaves off, and is continued in X of Swords: Destruction. Its plot has the very difficult job of taking place in the middle of the concluding juncture of X of Swords, but overall, it does very well to tell its own story. There is little sense of it acting like padding between two bookends. There are, however, certain elements of this comic that come across far better than others.
The best thing about this issue is the way it develops the dynamics between the soldiers of Arakko. As the plot goes on, tensions rise and, in turn, some very interesting interactions are invoked. It goes without saying that Apocalypse continues to be the most fascinating part of Excalibur — Tini Howard has undoubtedly been the most important writer in the development of the character since his inception. If you told X-Men fans early last year that Apocalypse could be a sympathetic figure in the franchise, many would cast doubt. Yet Howard has developed this X-Men villain into a complex and tragic father figure—much like Shakespeare’s King Lear. As X of Swords comes to an end, it is arguable that the event plays out best via the arc of Apocalypse. His transformation from an unstoppable wicked force into a romantic and emotional being has been the most compelling part of this multi-issue saga. Howard does well to bring forward Apocalypse’s emotional metamorphosis in this issue of Excalibur: here we do not have a maniacal tyrant but a broken man.
The various character interactions, as well as the thrilling action sequences, are so effective largely because of the tremendous art in this issue. Artists Mahmud Asrar and Stefano Caselli have worked with colorists Sunny Gho and Rachelle Rosenberg to create a visually marvellous chapter for X of Swords. No matter the medium, when creating dark battle scenes, there is always the risk of making everything come across muddy and dull (I’m looking at you, MCU). The artistic team has unquestionably avoided this problem — Excalibur #15 is bright and colorful, whilst maintaining the high-stakes tone of the plot. One of the biggest developments of this chapter is bolstered to ascendency by the art. Without spoiling anything, Howard’s talent for writing Apocalypse is so good it feels like it overshadows the rest of the plot. The artistic team ultimately manages to put the reader’s focus back where it needs to be with some stunning panels.
For all its strengths, there are certain faults in this week’s Excalibur, most of which emerge from Doug Ramsey’s story—which I considered one of the best parts of Excalibur #14. It is hard not to love Doug, and any focus put on the character is going to be a delight. However, his scenes with his new wife, Bei the Blood Moon, feel somewhat distracting from the main action. This may be because so many other relationships in the X-Men titles have been confined to subtext. Fans have spent months speculating about the various romances that have been ambiguously hinted at between issues. So, to then focus on the abrupt marriage between Cypher and a new character, feels like a slap in the face. That said, there is a lot of potential in this relationship. I am interested to see where it goes.
Excalibur #15 excels when it focuses on Apocalypse and the history he shares between his extended family. The beautiful writing and art combine to make some truly theatrical moments. Certain narrative pieces of the story outside these interactions, however, subsequently come across as pale in comparison.
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