Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Following Chris Claremont's departure from EXCALIBUR in 1991, Scott Lobdell wrote seven issues until a new creative team took over with issue #42. As it happened, that team would turn out to be writer Alan Davis and penciler Alan Davis, both returning to the series they had launched years before with Claremont.

Per Davis, his only directive from editorial was to tie up any loose ends that remained from the Claremont era, and he does so with flair. Though not known primarily as an artist, Davis demonstrates an unexpected aptitude for juggling sub-plots and maintaining a clear long-term narrative while interspersing a number of smaller stories along the way. And as you might expect from Davis, he brings the neglected Captain Britain mythos back to the fore.

Davis's run begins with the Technet continuing their pursuit of Phoenix, until they are trounced by Excalibur and then their contract is riscinded by Opal Luna Saturnyne, who then exiles them to Earth. The group turns on Gatecrasher, who retreats, and Excalibur finds themselves with no choice but to allow the Technet to move into the lighthouse with them.

Soon, Captain Britain finds himself frustrated with the Technet and convinced that Nightcrawler is making moves on Meggan. Cap attacks Nightcrawler in a jealous rage, breaking his leg, but the two eventually reconcile. Cap admits that he has been doubting himself ever since the formation of Excalibur, which seems possibly to be a veiled commentary on the part of Davis regarding Claremont's handling of the character, who was largely portrayed --at best -- as an ineffective buffoon after the first few issues of the series.

Before he can reflect further, Cap is abducted to Otherworld by members of the Captain Britain Corps. and court-martialed for using his powers irresponsibly against Nightcrawler. His defense counsel is Captain U.K., not seen since Davis's original CAPTAIN BRITAIN run. The prosecutor is Hauptmann Englande. The trial ends with Cap's sentence commuted by Saturnyne, on behalf of Roma.

Cap explores Otherworld for a while, learning along the way that Roma engineered the formation of Excalibur by manipulating its members. She admits to doing so when confronted, but she is uncertain why. She was simply carrying through a plot begun by her late father, Merlyn.

Davis uses this conversation between Roma and Cap to mercilessly ret-con the previous year's EXCALIBUR SPECIAL EDITION comic, which was apparently (I haven't read it) so filled with plot holes that he felt it could not be left to stand. The sequence is extremely funny for the dialogue between the two characters, which does not try even a bit to hide Davis's displeasure with the writing, art, and colors in the annual ("That's Alistaire," Cap says, viewing a "memory" of Alistaire Stuart meeting with a comically illustrated government official, "but who is that fat ogre in pajamas? He can't be real...").

Meanwhile, on Earth, the rest of the team have had their own adventures, meeting a few new characters along the way: size-changing British government hero MicroMax; Kylun, a mutant from another dimension (but originally from our Earth -- he is the young boy Colin, who disappeared very early in the series); and beautiful alien warrior named Cerise. The Technet also depart during this time, finally closing a long-standing time loop by joining the Special Executive. Davis also reintroduces Dai Thomas during these Earth-bound scenes.

All of this culminates with Excalibur, reunited, inadvertently freeing a being called the anti-Phoenix from an underground cell. In the process they meet Feron, a young monk who has trained his entire life to become host to the Phoenix Force -- and who finds his destiny shattered by the fact that it already inhabits Rachel. The anti-Phoenix joins with its creator, an evil wizard called Necrom, and it takes the combined power of all the original Excalibur members to defeat it.

It seems this is the reason the group was formed by Roma, as revealed by her father -- Merlyn, returned from the dead. He engineered everything so that Excalibur would defeat Necrom before he could take control of Merlyn's "energy matrix" on Otherworld. Irritated at being Merlyn's pawns for years, Excalibur destroys the energy matrix themselves, leading Merlyn to vow vengeance against them before disappearing.

I know the death of Merlyn is not considered one of Alan Moore's major stories, but nonetheless, it pleased me to see it overturned. Not necessarily because I like Merlyn, but more because I like seeing someone -- even if it is just the other collaborator on that same story -- realize the beloved Moore can be overturned and ret-conned just like any other writer.

The above comprises a very concise (no, really!) summary of Alan Davis's first nine issues back on EXCALIBUR. As noted previously, he juggles the plots and sub-plots like an expert, which makes me wish he'd done more long-term writing over the years. The man is a natural at the sort of serialized storytelling which defines the superhero comic. His issues are dense enough to feel like a solid read, but not as over-written as latter-day Claremont, either. It's really a perfect balance, and the first part of Davis's EXCALIBUR is probably one of my favorite comic book runs.

Unfortunately, following issue #50, he loses some of the focus and depth of those nine issues, and several fill-ins mar the run before his next extended storyline, as we shall soon see...


Next: Alan Davis's run continues with the returns of the Crazy Gang and Sat-Yr-9!


  1. This is the era of Excalibur I've never read, but whose characters I'm familiar with thanks to the trading cards.

    I didn't know Lobdell filled the gap between Claremont and Davis - was that some of his earliest work with the X-office, or had the Image Exodus already happened by then (I have no idea how Excalibur maps to the rest of the X-books until issue #71)?

  2. I may be mistaken, but as far as I know, EXCALIBUR fill-ins were Scott Lobdell's first association with the X-Men. He was doing them during the Claremont run, as well, which would've been around 1990 or so. Prior to that, I think he was just doing things like WHAT THE--?!

    I believe Image was founded possibly during the Lobdell run. At any rate, I know it existed by the time Davis started.

    Though I recently read that Davis was going to take over EXCALIBUR immediately after Claremont left, but contract negotiations delayed his arrival. Originally he was going to co-plot with Paul Neary, but Neary had to drop out (I think maybe I read that Marvel didn't want to pay for both of them?), so Davis had to re-plot his first several issues since he couldn't use material Neary had helped with but would not be paid for. Which makes the astounding story structure on display here even more impressive, in my opinion.