The Hellfire Gala is over and Captain Britain and Excalibur have been reunited again. Otherworld is in their domain, but at what cost? An escort mission will reveal unrest among Saturnyne’s court. And a brutal sacrifice bears fruit. Has Saturnyne’s gamble paid off? We’ll find out in Excalibur #22 from Tini Howard, Marcus To, Erick Arciniega, and Ariana Maher.
Charlie Davis: Well, the Hellfire Gala is over, and we’re onto a new adventure which is also an old adventure! There is a lot to navigate in Excalibur #22, which seems to be getting denser as we go.
Mikey Zee: Well, when you can do magic… you can do many things, Charlie. Of course, that can also mean a lot of things happen to you. So let’s dig into them all, shall we?
Charlie: Away we go!
Are we just playing D&D?
Charlie: I can’t figure out if I like the fact that we’ve entirely divested ourselves from the Hellfire Gala in the opening of Excalibur #22 or not. I don’t know if I would have preferred to show a bit of how we so suddenly got from point A to point B? The semi-cold open sets up what I think is starting to show at the seams of this book. Excalibur wants to be X-Men playing Dungeons & Dragons.
The only problem? It doesn’t stop to wonder if it’s a concept that might actually be compelling. The idea of Otherworld is a good one. Still, I feel a bit bored as we go through this world that’s supposed to be very visually engaging. Not to mention that the character voices, outside of Betsy and Gambit and MAYBE Wisdom in this issue, seem like we grabbed them off the stock Non-Player Character (NPC) shelf. Excalibur is at its best when it focuses very tightly on one or two characters and explores deep continuity with them. It feels belabored when it shoves too many characters together. It makes it difficult to focus.
Mikey: Yeah, as soon as you put that title up, what felt off about the theatrics of the issue clicked into place. It feels like I’m reading the graphic novel adaptation of a D&D actual play. Not only that but, remember how Excalibur #21 felt like the culmination of a bunch of things? I thought we’d get the issue afterward to process them. Instead, we get a bunch of scenes that essentially work as if we’ve time-skipped past the last #21 without exploring the ramifications.
Again, it just feels as if too many storylines are happening at once. The purpose of a time skip is to move past the events and allow the audience to see how the status quo has changed due to the events we’re skipping past, right? At the very least, to see how the characters have changed. I didn’t get a sense of the characters of Excalibur in this issue at all, let alone how the events of the recent issue have affected them. Perhaps, and still only superficially, in the case of Pete Wisdom.
Charlie: Good old Pete seems to be the only one processing anything from the last issue. Mostly because he died.
We don’t get any real follow-up or fallout to the fact that Rogue left the team. In fact, Gambit seems to not care so much, and uh… no Shatterstar insight. I know I might sound like some sort of broken record on that front, but dammit, give me some kind of character beat to move people forward.
I think Excalibur‘s greatest weakness is that aside from two characters, you could swap them out for literally anyone else. That’s… Not the best. We have a huge cast, but it often feels like a bunch of NPCs cycling in and out.
Mikey: Not only is there not a Shatterstar insight, but Ric got a huge level up in his powers in Excalibur #21 without any real explanation, right? Excalibur #22 doesn’t touch on this either! Instead, we get some very literal dungeon-crawling, complete with Gambit functioning as, well, the team rogue. It seems even more like every member of Excalibur has been slotted into a “class” if you will. Some of these class designations, however, feel ill-fitting.
Take Ric. The team/party needs a magic user, so Ric is the magic-user. But what that means for him is, unfortunately, less important than making it past the tricks and traps of the dungeon… and for these characters, that doesn’t feel great?
Charlie: Ric had maybe four or five lines in the whole book? I don’t know. This D&D actual play riff happening in my X-Book is starting to feel really frustrating.
Mikey: The one escape from the Excalibur #22 mega-dungeon is Pete Wisdom. He has a rude awakening when Meggan pries him from his golden egg to tell him that he’s stuck on Krakoa. We then get a montage that shows he feels stuck in the day-to-day routine of a Persona video game while everyone else is in the Castle phase.
Well, maybe I’m trying to extrapolate his mental state a bit because while we do see the montage, we get nothing about how it’s affecting Pete. Is he upset? Is he frustrated? We see a panel of him staring longingly at sunset, but he had been kind of a secret agent earlier, right? So unless I’m missing something, he’s still kind of a black hole…
Charlie: Pete Wisdom has honestly been one of the most interesting parts of this book. He had a grim outlook on Krakoa to start with by not wanting to live there. He actually is the character who illustrated loyalty to England, knowing he had a home there. It was one of the best examples in all of X-line.
Seeing there were people with lives who didn’t want to be on the island despite being a mutant. I’m thankful for the close-up of his character. Pete’s mourning over the loss of his ability to go home is one of the most genuine components of the book. Still, I find his motivations a little muddy.
Mikey: And those muddy motivations make it more than a little worrying that he’s utilized the resurrection protocols to create his own private strikeforce crewed by… STRIKE.
Charlie: I know that STRIKE is a deep continuity pull. I appreciate it for that. Still, I know so little about the Captain Britain side of comics, I’m failing to see how it could resonate with people who aren’t already achingly familiar with this team. I can’t help but think about the tweet:
Good for everyone involved. It just went completely over my head, much like the rest of the lore and all the things involving Otherworld. Speaking of which, we should touch on that too.
Mikey: I know we’ve kind of done things in a backward order, but I honestly didn’t know how to tackle this Saturnyne scene and everything else going on.
I’ll be frank. I love some good politicking and fantasy monologues. I watched most of Game of Thrones. Yes, even though the latter seasons of the show when they were way too up their own ass. I watch The Expanse and GoT because I love Big Picture shit and picking apart character motivations.
The scene between Saturnyne, Merlyn, and Captain Britain? It was just saying words at each other? Maybe that’s too uncharitable?
Charlie: I know someone loves this. I know this is for someone to enjoy; unfortunately, that person is not me.
The through-line here is that Betsy continues to fight to claim her spot as Captain Britain. Then, Saturnyne maybe begrudgingly accepts her? At the very least, her instinct to push past all the insults she can throw at her. Those are the things I enjoyed about these scenes.
I can say it’s nice to see the large spreads in Otherworld because Marcus To has been designing the hell out of some of the inhabitants. I enjoyed the wasp people I’d been waiting to see since X of Swords.
Mikey: Yeah, I will absolutely agree there. I’ll also add that getting to see Sherriff Whitechapel and her posse again was cool too! I think of all the threads in this issue, I’m most intrigued by what the perhaps not-so-good Sherriff is really up to, letting Excalibur live.
Charlie: I hope it’s threading other things. I thought we were done with Merlyn, who, I have to say, seems like a much more significant threat than he’s currently portraying. I would like to build up other villains, not just classic ones we’ve already had to move through. Otherworld is a rich place; let’s push some new talent!
I know we’ve been pretty critical of Excalibur #22. I know a lot of stuff is playing to an audience I am actually not a part of. The large plot has always been the thing moving this volume of Excalibur forward. I just wish I was invested in that instead of starving for character moments. The cast keeps revolving around so many people, the writing can hardly get a lock on one. Adding more and more and more seems like a mistake.
Mikey: I think I would be more interested in how the large plot pushes the story forward if it didn’t feel so dry. I want more life, more stakes, and less monologuing. Show some backroom deals, some favors exchanged! Sharing a sprinkling of “secrets” can fan the flames of intrigue. I only hope this slow burn doesn’t sputter.