The second half of the 1990s was an interesting time for the X-line. Marvel was still trying to capture the financial magic of the comic speculation boom, having the X-Men stagger from crossover to crossover, promising ever greater stakes and world-shaking revelations, all while the books attempted to find a lush vision for the line. This collection of issues (Excalibur #104-115, New Mutants: Truth or Death #1-3, Kitty Pryde, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-3 and a Colossus on-shot) is hardly required reading, and while it’s spotty in its execution and vision, it is a curious assortment of late ’90s ideas.
Excalibur was an odd duck in 1996-97. When the book first began in the late ’80s, it was ostensibly Claremont’s pet project (along with Alan Davis), letting him play with characters and themes close to his heart. It was a book that allowed the team to explore the British mythos and icons with a loose assortment of X-Men along for the ride. Warren Ellis had redefined the title around his sensibilities around issue #83, adding secret agent Pete Wisdom to the mix. When Ellis left the book, many of his ideas are carried forward under the leadership of Ben Raab, who took over as writer for the book. Unfortunately, the book clearly suffers from a lack of purpose and direction, with all the beloved characters present but without any clear bearing or reason for existing.
The Excalibur run printed here isn’t all bad. Raab is a capable scripter, and he did fine work on previous X-related runs like the Psylocke Crimson Dawn mini that was relatively well-received, and he builds on characters and concepts from those earlier arcs. On the face of it, this hodgepodge of minis tacked on might appear like padding but ends up including some character development relevant to the current status-quo in the Krakoan era. Douglock, and his relationship to the once-deceased Doug Ramsey and Warlock, is explored as well as the development of Kitty Pryde into the capable fighter and leader she is today in the current Marauders title. Colossus, Moira McTaggart, and Nightcrawler get plenty of page-time as well, and some of their character’s contemporary ethos is surveyed in these issues.
For better or worse, Excalibur undeniably becomes a standard X-book at this moment in time. Many of its eccentric British qualities are washed away, and a laundry list of X-characters make their way into these issues. In many ways, this reads like a title paving the way to reincorporate these characters back into the X-Men mainstream (something that will happen about a year following this run).
Raab’s dialogue, unfortunately, trends towards giving some of his characters a comical level of British accent. Especially when compared to how some of these characters are written in the current books, it can get distracting when reading these characters talk back and forth. The art is also spotty; Pete Woods carries many of the Excalibur issues, and while he has a discernable style, the design work looks cheap and rushed, with some unintendedly distorted visuals with sparse backgrounds. The Salvador Larroca art in some of the earlier issues fair better and offer a better visual vision than what comes towards the end of the run.
Excalibur: The Battle for Britain is not required reading. In fact, in many ways it is the perfect representation of a book continuing forward via historic momentum but without a distinct purpose. With that in mind, it is an interesting snapshot of an era within the X-books that hasn’t been well-collected or curated. I recall reading these issues when they were released, but this was my first return to them since their initial publication, and it was was generally enjoyable. On that front, we should be thankful Marvel continues to keep these odd corners of its canon in print, and with the prominent role some of these characters play in the X-line, fans can enjoy the narrative examination provided in these issues.
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