Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Carlos Pacheco (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Ariane Lenshoek & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)
Alistaire Stuart approaches Jean Grey at the entrance of Xavier’s mansion, asking to speak to Excalibur. Meanwhile, the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club’s London branch meets. The Black King blames the Red King for the destruction of the Dream Nails facility, and tells him that Black Air needs to be ready for the next phase of their plan. Elsewhere, Sebastian Shaw exchanges a mysterious package with Black Air agent Scratch. Scratch kills Shaw’s guards when they annoy him. Excalibur answers Jean Grey’s call, and learns from Alistaire that Black Air wants him dead. Nightcrawler and Meggan leave in the team’s new Moonlight Flint aircraft to bring him back to Muir Island. Shinobi Shaw contacts Brian Braddock, asking him to join London’s Hellfire Club undercover, because they’re using telepaths to block the American chapter from learning their plans. Braddock reluctantly agrees when Shinobi tells him that Mountjoy is posing as one of the members. Elsewhere, Lockheed leads Peter Wisdom on a chase to reclaim his stolen clothes, as Nightcrawler and Meggan head home with Alistaire. Suddenly, they’re attacked by Black Air helicopters.
This is the first appearance of the London Hellfire Club, although they’re not named outside of “Red King” and “Black King”. A character named Scribe, who mystically keeps minutes, is the only one who’s named.
Alistaire Stuart ran the Weird Happenings Organization, the government agency that Black Air replaced. It’s the first time he’s appeared in this title in years. Kitty Pryde mentions that her father is still missing, which is a subplot that had been ignored for almost two years at this point.
Black Air agent Scratch tells Sebastian Shaw, “You made use of the Legacy Virus data I handed over last time, I saw.” I think there is a future X-Men storyline that involves Shaw trying to cure the Legacy Virus.
Nightcrawler debuts a new look in this issue, a buzz cut with a goatee. I remember questioning at the time how someone covered with fur could grow a goatee. I also remember Wizard pointing out that the dark shadows around Nightcrawler’s mouth were already supposed to represent facial hair. This issue also establishes that Lockheed can speak English, which came out of nowhere.
This is the fourth issue in a row that only has nineteen pages. I think this run has now passed Liefeld’s early X-Force era in the short issues department.
The narrative captions introducing Sebastian Shaw, which reference his mysterious return from the dead, have clearly been re-lettered.
There’s not a lot to say about this issue, since it mainly consists of vague conversations between mystery characters and some setup scenes for the future issues. Ellis keeps things from getting dull, and manages to work in some character moments, too. Bringing back Alistaire Stuart is a nice nod to the previous issues of the series, and it really highlights just how much the tone of the book has shifted under Ellis. You could argue that a light-hearted series like Excalibur should’ve never taken a dark turn, but I prefer this over the weak “comedic” attempts to mimic the brighter issues of the series, and the long run of generic fill-ins that preceded Ellis’ run. The idea of a London Hellfire Club was hinted at in earlier issue of X-Men, so bringing them into Excalibur feels like a natural connection rather than a cheap attempt to shoehorn knockoffs of existing villains into the book. The Black Air storyline had been building in the background for a while, so I’m glad that it finally seems like it’s going somewhere. Pacheco’s art is dynamic and interesting, especially for an issue that mainly consists of conversation scenes. I’m not sure if he’s the cause of the shortened page count in this issue, since the two issues preceding him also ran short, but it is starting to get on my nerves. Aside from only having nineteen pages, four of them are splash pages. Ellis tries to work entire conversations into the splashes on two pages, but it still feels excessive.