Sunday, 21 July 2019

The Return of (an) Excalibur, 2019.

Hi all.

After a 3+ year gap you would be forgiven for asking such questions as 'Where did you go?' and 'Why did you stop blogging?' But I've largely come here today because while I elaborated in detail on this on Twitter last night the wonders of its modern algorithm appear to have somewhat fragmented my train of thought.

So... yesterday evening I started to receive questions from people about the following image unveiled at an X-Men panel at San Diego Comic Con:

That's right. An Excalibur reboot.

Some had questions. Others just wanted a gut response. Me being that guy who used to blog about all things Captain Britain, Excalibur and Marvel UK.

Well... until I effectively mothballed this site. Largely because there wasn’t a lot of any of the above going on at Marvel anymore.

So I suppose it’s natural for those who remembered this site to go ‘Hey! Mark/Sword, surely you’re all over this? Does this mean you’re coming out of retirement?’

Firstly can I say that it’s actually kinda flattering that some of you even remembered. It has been a long time. Thank you for that. But to be clear here I'm afraid that I don't quite have the readily available time and resources to more actively update this site in the way which I once did. Life changes for all of us. I don't quite have the readily available bandwidth I had a few years back.

But I would like to answer a few of those questions. Because while it would be wrong to judge an entire series based off a single image, and while I also know very little of Tini Howard or Marcus To's other work, I would be lying if I were to say that this didn't trip some early warning systems in terms of Excalibur.

I am a huge Excalibur fan. No bones about it. That series will always have a definite place in my heart, and I'm not daft enough to think that any relaunch can ever take that away. But I also appreciate that it’s not a book which appealed to everyone and also that it truly was an exceptionally rare beast.

Excalibur is what happens when a writer at the very top of their game and influence wants to play with a set of characters which they can’t easily fit into their current work. But yet they manage to find a way.

In the mid 80s Chris Claremont was one of the biggest names in the comics industry. Never underestimate that. And for good reason. This is the man who made the X-Men *work*! The man who turned them from a failing single book (which had never really gained proper traction) into a high selling franchise. But he was also the guy who had created the more obtuse character of Captain Britain for Marvel UK. And having seen what wonderfully strange and interesting things Alan Moore, Alan Davis and Jamie Delano had been doing with Captain Britain since he stepped away? He wisely wanted back in.

There was, however, one problem. Namely that there was no way that Marvel were going to Green Light a US market Captain Britain series. No way. A British character on their own in the US market? They thought that had sales flop written all over it.

So instead Claremont chose a sleeper approach to distract Marvel into letting him do what he wanted.

He and Alan Davis created Excalibur. The X-Men satellite book which intentionally *wasn’t* an X-Men book.

It featured X-Men *characters*, yes. But for half of its decade in print Excalibur tried to do literally everything it could to avoid connecting any way other than circumstantially with the X-Men books.

Instead we got stories using Captain Britain’s rogues gallery, mythos (often with surprisingly little explanation to new readers) and other offshoots from Marvel UK.

And. It. Worked. Really well.

The reason that Excalibur was such a brilliant title was that it just did whatever the hell it wanted. Across the multiverse. Across Marvel’s Britain. The Captain Britain concept elaborated on. That’s why people were buying it. It was a superstar creative team producing something utterly unique.

It is also worth noting that when the decision was made to *make* it an X-Men book? That is what almost killed it the first time (under Scott Lobdell) and finally got it cancelled the second time (under Ben Raab).

While Excalibur featured some X-Men characters (10 years of brilliant development for Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey which I wish Marvel would have acknowledged so much more than they have) it had nothing to do with Mutants. Nothing to do with either X-Genes or X-Men. It was really was only circumstantial that X-Men appeared in this book. It was playing in a much bigger ballpark. It was a Marvel Universe title which just happened to be coming out of the X-Men Office.

Every incarnation of Excalibur which has been closely tied to the X-Franchise has failed. This is not coincidence. I’d say it’s fundamental failure of those creative runs to understand *why* the original book worked.

To readers and Excalibur is a super team book set in Britain, about Brian and Meggan Braddock, with Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, Phoenix, Widget and Lockheed, getting up to weird shit and having fun doing it. For some it also has the addition of characters like Pete Wisdom, Colossus and Wolfsbane. Those from Warren Ellis' brilliant run in the late 90s.

A run which (sadly) Marvel dropped the ball so badly with, in following it up with more generic stories trying so desperately to hang on to vague plot threads from 20 year old (and very much no longer All-New All-Different) X-Men stories.

And most bizarrely of all? Even to this day it seems that Editors and the X-Office in general seem so quite spectacularly blind to this. Seriously, Excalibur remains the only X-Men satellite book not to have been rebooted using its original cast. Not once. Not even close. Perhaps even more bizarrely the cast of Excalibur, as characters, have so very rarely even been allowed to interact with each other at all in the past 20 years. Though there was an Excalibur reunion in an X-Men Gold annual last year. That was an all too brief, but welcome, thing.

Which brings me to that House of X Excalibur cover, I guess. And if you’ve read my comments above you’ll probably have an inkling of my thoughts on it. A little disappointing, certainly.

  • No characters involved from the original book. No Brian. No Meggan. No Kurt, Kitty, Rachel or any other past member of that team. To what remains of a fanbase for 'Excalibur' that's a big no deal, right there. That's *not* Excalibur.
  • Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, Jubilee, some guy who looks like Apocalypse and... is that Rictor? This look pretty squarely like an X-Men book to me - despite the Excalibur name. And as covered above, when Excalibur goes full-on X-Book it doesn't tend to work out at all well.
  • No truly tangible connection to Marvel UK beyond Psylocke - who at this point doesn't have a lot of her Marvel UK iteration remaining in her as a character as it is. Too much damage done by a succession of writers getting her pretty badly mixed up. There are plenty of X-Characters *with* tangible connections of course. Pete Wisdom, Wolfsbane, Pixie, Chamber and others. Plus dozens of British characters outside of that. Marvel has plenty. They just aren't Mutants. Marvel UK didn't ever really *do* Mutants. But the X-Office keeps forgetting that, also.
  • Betsy Braddock is now Captain Britain. For... some reason. Despite turning it down on more than one other occasion in the past. And also despite the whole mutant-centric theming being a truly terrible match for all things Otherworld. Whenever an X-Men writer has tried to touch the Captain Britain and Otherworld mythos over the past 20 years the same pattern has repeated. They have made a whole new, complicated and contradictory mess of it all. And that's very, very easy to do. Very few X-Writers during this time seem to have done their research. Several have justified writing whatever they wanted to by simply saying ‘But others have written it so inconsistently. Why should I have to make any sense of it, why can’t I just write... whatever I fancy?’. The simple answer of course is ‘because you’re just making it worse’. It shouldn't be rocket science, here. Your own work will be viewed as just as inconsistent by the next guy, for exactly the same reason. 
  • With Brian and Meggan having had a daughter recently, in the form of Maggie (their super-smart beyond her years baby daughter), we got this glimpse of a really interesting new shift in dynamic on show, in that X-Men Gold annual.

We also got to see the strength of that original lineup playing alongside each other. Seeing those friendships, that chemistry, that Excalibur magic one more time. To tease that and then to abandon it seems like a huge missed opportunity. And one which is arguably a little tone deaf, also.

I will reiterate: Every iteration of Excalibur to have tied itself to X-Men lore, enemies, purpose and ethos has failed for exactly *that* reason. There is no such thing as nostalgia for the name ‘Excalibur’. It’s nostalgia for a specific set of characters in specific setting.

That is not what is being offered here.

Ranting aside though, I do not know the pitch for this new book. It could be amazing. I’m happy to be proven wrong if it is. But it's not the Excalibur which readers who bought that series at its peak will likely be interested in. For all of the reasons above.

I'm not saying that it can't, or won't, find its audience. But I can pretty conclusively say that the audience who this book *should* be there for? Probably won't be. Because it simply isn't what they will be wanting from a book called Excalibur. It is very difficult not to find yourself sitting here thinking 'We've been here before. Why haven't we learned from last time? Or from the time before that?' Long time readers will see that, and they'll probably be questioning why the X-Editors can't.

But as I said much earlier in this post any new reboot or relaunch doesn't (and cannot) change the original product. In its original incarnation Excalibur remains a rare and incredible beast. Something truly special. Maybe of its time, but a good time all the same. It's still out there in trades and back issues. If you've never read it? Go check it out. It's something I'd definitely recommend.

What are you own thoughts on this reveal? Let me know in the comments.


  1. I want to look forward to this and will be picking it up on launch for the name but I gave Exiles about five issues before dropping for being a bit naff and this will probably get less if it's not any good.

  2. I'd have to respectfully disagree...with *some* of this.....for now....until I see a finished product ;-) . I was never over enamored of 'Excalibur' whenever Alan Davis was absent. Especially when after his excellent writer/penciller run which did a lot of damage control/retcon of the first 40 issues. Over the years I've pulled away from the toxic environment of the forums and message boards, particularly as I saw a lot of false memes reoccurring that would invariably find themselves as plot points in subsequent new creative reboots. CB suffered greatly from this. Rick Remenders run on 'Secret Avengers' being a prime example. I saw a lot of vitriol spat in Mr Braddocks general much so that I believe it tainted his use for future writers. Only Paul Cornell seemed to care.......Whereas Betsy has always been given a favourable spotlight in the X. Maybe a tad more clothing would have been a good idea....but nevertheless she has a happier fanbase. This wipes the slate clean to build a new brand for Captain Britain. And she was CB before. I personally hope that they let Brian retire to run the Braddock Academy.

    Marvel of late have really pulled me back in. They're using characters like Blade and Death's Head (both will be written by Tini Howard also!).

    That said......I am totally miffed that none of the other original cast is here. AND Betsy is the only Brit! Now simply not cricket!

    1. Also - good to see It Came From Darkmoor again. You have been missed.

  3. I would've preferred to see Betts as the new Captain Britain, but along with Brian, Meggan of course, Pete Wisdom, Spitfire and Union Jack--and maybe one or two of the Clan Destine Brits (Vex/Dominic and Walter/Wollop). Supporting cast and guest stars could include Maggie (the kid), and Allison whom might be a good supporting cast member to help mind Maggie. Guests? Black Knight, Lionheart, Tangerine and any number of other British-related mutants and heroes. Hell, they coulda even put Chamber, Banshee II and Wolfsbane on this team and it'd have made more sense! Uh...I think I'm going to get off my soapbox now!