Excalibur is a book that loves its mystical malarkey. We’ve got druids, we’ve got cultists, we’ve got fairies. It’s the closest thing to high fantasy in the Krakoan cabinet now that X of Swords, a true fantasy epic, has ended.
Here, dealing with the aftermath of Swords, Tini Howard proves that she’s on top of her mystical game. The book excels at its weirdness, diving into the magically tinged multiverse in search of The One True Betsy Braddock, who was lost during the tournament of Swords. Now that Betsy is Captain Britain, this can only mean magics.
Indeed, all but the final two issues collected in Excalibur Vol 3 take Betsy as their narrative center—her team looking for her, finding her, confronting someone using her body, etc. The joy of Howard’s handling of the ensemble team, though, is that each character manages to have their own spotlight moments. Never does it feel like a member of the team is being shuffled off to the background too deeply to have a hand in the proceedings (even if distantly).
In issues #16 and #17 — in which we learn Betsy’s true location is a reality in which she is the Queen of England, which seems like a narrative center that could take up both issues and more — we have Rogue leading the charge to find Betsy, we’ve got Richtor mourning the loss of ▪︎-|A|-▪︎, Meggan connects with her true land, and Pete Wisdom establishes his stance on Krakoa (while juggling the politics boiling over in the UK).
This all goes on while Betsy, in her other reality, gets involved in some Mission Impossible: Magic hijinks to find her way home. . . and as an anti-mutant arcane cult attacks the lighthouse. It sounds like a lot because it is a lot, but the book never feels too packed to hammer home emotional and personal growth — each event is measured, impactful.
Even more, the book goes about delving into the origins of Malice, a character seemingly created back in the ’80s to be a plot device and nothing more. Up until issue 19 of this series, the character lacked a real sense of humanity. To land a heart-wrenching origin scene of a teenaged Malice manifesting her powers and the tragic nature of her loss in the midst of the huge action sequences and major plot advancements without muddling it or phoning it in is an incredible feat.
Excalibur is also one of the best looking X-Books (and, for my money, one of the best looking Marvel books at-large). Marcus To creates clean, uncluttered figures, each character with a distinctive flair. His takes on these characters feels both fresh and iconic, with feet planted firmly in the ’90s school of X-costumes while somehow updating the aesthetic for a modern era. Hands down, Marcus To draws the best Meggan since co-creator Alan Davis’s run on the original Excalibur.
But it’s really Erick Arciniega’s colors that make the book so distinctively itself. All this magic—and all that Betsy Braddock mauve — really glows in this book; indeed, even the most muted of the colors pop against the essentially dark tone of a book where so much happens at night or in dark spaces. To’s iconic costumes are great alone, but Arciniega’s rich greens on Rogue and lush crimsons on the Captains Britain are indelible.
As a whole, then, Excalibur Vol. 3 is firing on all cylinders, a book that’s taking the already incredibly weird Krakoan Age of the X-Men to even weirder, more abstract heights while never losing the heart of any one character — indeed, while inventing whole new reasons to love them.
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