Thursday, January 1, 2009

EXCALIBUR #100 – August 1996

London’s Burning
Credits: Warren Ellis (writer), Casey Jones, Randy Green, & Rob Haynes (pencilers), Tom Simmons, Jason Martin, Rick Ketcham, & Rob Haynes (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Ariane Lenshoek & Jim Hoston and Malibu (colors)

Summary: Excalibur arrives in London, as the city riots under the demon’s influence. Outside of Black Air’s headquarters, Peter Wisdom spots Scratch running away. He demands that Nightcrawler drop him off so that he can take care of him. The rest of the team enters Black Air’s headquarters, where the agents are going mad. Wisdom and Scratch fight throughout London, and the battle doesn’t end until Lockheed burns Scratch with his fire-breath. Meanwhile, Amanda Sefton teleports on to Muir Island. She tells Moira MacTaggert that her mother, Margali Szardos, has taken a new body and used the Soul Sword to kill all of the magicians ahead of her on the Winding Way. Margali told her personally that there’s a devil under London and she’s going to control it. Amanda’s story is interrupted by the arrival of the X-Men, who inform Moira that Professor Xavier has gone insane. Moira takes them to a secret room Xavier kept under Muir Island. When they enter, a pre-recorded message from Xavier plays. He unveils the Xavier Protocols, which are detailed plans on how to kill any X-Man, should they go rogue. Included is a blueprint of an anti-psionic armor that should protect the wearer from Xavier’s powers.

Inside the Hellfire Club, Brian Braddock emerges in his Captain Britain uniform. The Black Queen, who has just killed the mad Black King, tells him that she’s immune to the demon’s influence because she’s a mutant. Captain Britain assumes she’s Mountjoy, but he’s attacked from behind by Scribe, who is actually the member overtaken by Mountjoy. Captain Britain uses his newly enhanced suit to defeat the Black Queen, leading Mountjoy to target him with mutant bullets. He evades the bullets and punches Mountjoy into unconsciousness.

Meanwhile, Excalibur faces techno-organic versions of the Brood, and the Red King, who is still in love with Margali. Nightcrawler defeats him in a sword fight, and soon discovers a comatose Margali, who is still connected to Douglock. Amanda Sefton teleports in, telling them that the demon under the city has to be contained. Amanda teleports with Wolfsbane under the city, where she uses her claws to sever the link between Douglock and the demon. Amanda then recreates the prison that caged the demon. Margali suddenly begins screaming and disappears. The team emerges and is saluted by the local authorities. Wisdom tells Nightcrawler that he’s used his connections to make sure they get the credit for saving London.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue is a Clash song (and apparently a UK TV show).

Continuity Notes: The X-Men scenes are supposed to be a continuation of Uncanny X-Men #335, but it doesn’t work. Cannonball didn’t leave with this group of X-Men to travel to Muir Island, and Moira is only now learning about Xavier, even though she was told by videophone in the UXM issue. Excalibur were also shown in the meeting with Moira in that issue, but here they’re in London fighting the Hellfire Club. Moira also doesn’t know anything about the Xavier Protocols here, even though she’s the one who brought them up in UXM. While I’m nitpicking, I’ll also point out that Psylocke’s facial tattoo is missing.

In the Xavier Protocols, Xavier claims that the enhanced healing factor that resulted from Wolverine losing his admantium skeleton means that attacks that were lethal “three years ago” wouldn’t work now. Three years ago is the amount of real time since Wolverine lost the adamantium, so it seems as if Ellis might be under the impression that these stories happen in real time.

Brian Braddock unveils a newly designed Captain Britain uniform. He claims that it’s his previous costume, and he’s spent weeks altering it. I’m not sure what exactly happened to the Captain Britain uniform after he was lost in the timestream and came back (in another outfit) as Britanic. The narration says that the suit now enhances his inherit powers rather than restricting them (a reference to an old Marvel UK storyline). Captain Britain uses the forcefield that surrounds his suit to attack the Black Queen, which seems to be a new use of it.

The mutant bullets Mountjoy fires at Captain Britain are the ones allegedly designed by his father years earlier (first mentioned in Ellis’ earliest Excalibur arc). I’m not sure if this issue is supposed to clear the senior Braddock or not. Mountjoy says that Captain Britain’s father resigned from the Hellfire Club after he found out his designs had been sold to Genosha, because he thought that his theories were only being applied “to a benign mutant detector for the government.” If this is supposed to present him in a more sympathetic light, it still doesn’t address the earlier revelation that the bullets were taken from the actual body of a dissected mutant.

Mountjoy reveals that he infiltrated the Hellfire Club in order to take control of their demon project. He could then rule the world, and keep humans in pens as food. The Black Queen (the still-unnamed British one, not Selene) is presumably his accomplice, and is immune to the demon’s influence because of her psychic powers.

Review: I’ve always liked big anniversary issues that have a lot going on. This one certainly fits that bill, as we have Excalibur attacking Black Air’s headquarters, the revival of Captain Britain at the Hellfire Club, Wisdom’s street fight with Scratch, the return of Amanda Sefton, and some crossover material thrown in. Ellis has a huge cast here, but he tries to give each character something to do, even if it’s just assigning them specific threats to take care of (Meggan uses her elemental powers to disrupt the Brood-Phalanx, Shadowcat debugs Douglock, Colossus takes on the crazed Black Air agents, etc.). There’s not a lot of room for each character to shine, but I like the fact that there’s an effort to make each cast member seem useful. It makes the team feel less generic, and gives you sense that there’s more than a little thought being put into the action.

After so many months of leisurely buildup, it’s odd to read an issue with such a dense plot. I can see why Amanda Sefton’s revelations about her mother couldn’t have happened until Margali was revealed as the Red Queen, and reviving the Captain Britain persona is a great fit for a hundredth anniversary issue, but I think Excalibur’s infiltration of Black Air and the Wisdom/Scratch fight could’ve taken up at least some of the previous issue. (Even with all of the various threads, the issue rarely feels rushed, leading me to believe that Ellis could’ve created another storyline while building up to #100 and fit it organically into the previous issues.) I suppose you could argue that the Wisdom/Scratch fight goes on for too long in this issue, but it’s fun to read and it serves as a nice contrast to the “end of the world” drama happening in the other scenes.

The Onslaught tie-in is relatively unobtrusive, as the crossover is just used as an excuse to have the X-Men visit Muir Island and pick up some information. The previous issue implicated Onslaught in the Hellfire Club’s plan, but this issue thankfully ignores his role and just finishes the story. The Xavier Protocols scenes could’ve been a dull intrusion, but Ellis actually gives the scenes some emotional weight, as the X-Men realize that their mentor has spent a lot of time figuring out ways to kill them. The scene doesn’t offer any real judgment of Xavier for creating the files (and, considering how often heroes are mind-controlled, he had a reasonable justification for doing this), but instead just gives the X-Men a purely emotional reaction. Ellis also does an admirable job with Nightcrawler’s scene with Margali, when he realizes that his foster mother is responsible for what’s happened. It’s brief, but it works. Other moments, such as Brian’s return as Captain Britain, and Amanda’s repeated attempts to reach London and help the team, are memorable because Ellis' characterizations seem very real. The art also helps to sell the character’s emotions, along with the action. The pencils are split up amongst three artists and four inkers, but the art manages not to look like sloppy rush job. The final four pages aren’t as strong as the rest of the issue, which is a shame since that is the climax of the story, but it’s still a decent-looking issue.


Seangreyson said...

While the Black Queen remains unnamed on 616, her powers and appearance are generally identical to the character introduced in X-Calibre (the AoA Excalibur) as Damask.

Not sure if she ever came back anywhere else.

Matt said...

I thought the Black Queen's name was Ms. Steed? Most likely named after the male lead of the British TV series The Avengers...

Anyway, I loved this issue. I was always pretty upset, though, that Braddock dropped the Captain Britain identity yet again, soon after.

G. Kendall said...

You're right, she was given the last name "Steed" a few issues ago.

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