Now this isn’t the first time I’ve delved into my shameful love of unpopular comics characters, but this one is far nearer to my heart.
I grew up in what was probably the height of the X-Men’s popularity, at least in the world of comics. But this was before Marvel learned to cash in on every opportunity to make a cheap buck, so X-titles were few and far between; There was the flagship Uncanny X-Men title, which was always a good time (even when they were in Australia). Then there was The New Mutants, my personal least favorite, which featured a team of X-Men in training. There was X-Factor, which featured the original students of the Xavier Academy discovering and enlightening young mutants (and getting into epic battles). And then there was Excalibur. Excalibur was a horse of a different color.
Excalibur began as a one-shot which was, looking back, basically just a playground for some of Chris Claremont’s personal favorite characters. During the Mutant Massacre, Shadowcat and Nightcrawler had been moved to the Disabled Roster (sports reference!) due to injuries sustained in fighting the Marauders. So, as they recuperated on Muir Island, the X-Men’s base of British operations, the remaining X-Men met their demise in Dallas (or so it seemed! But that’s a guilty pleasure for another day) during the Fall of the Mutants. After their makeshift family died, Kitty and Kurt were naturally feeling a bit disillusioned.
Brian Braddock, better known as Captain Britain, and his girlfriend Meggan (a metamorph who could shapeshift and adapt pretty much any power) were also having some trouble. Brian’s sister Betty, also known as Psylocke, was among the X-Men killed in the Fall of the Mutants, and Brian had subsequently been finding comfort in the shape of a bottle. And while he preferred his poison straight up, their relationship was undeniably on the rocks. Hey-ohhhh!
Lastly, we have Rachel Summers. Rachel is the adult daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from the Days of Future Past timeline. She inherited her mother’s good looks, red hair, and link to the omnipotent celestial being known as the Phoenix. She had been an X-Man as well, but after she attempted to kill one of their enemies, Wolverine stabbed her through the chest. That’s kind of like being fired from the X-Men. In her weakened and wounded state, she was taken into the custody of the other-dimensional TV executive Mojo.
The storyline of Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn (the retroactively named one-shot that launched the Excalibur series) gets moving when Rachel escapes from Mojoworld and makes it back to the X-Men’s reality. She’s being hunted separately by several parties, and the rest of the heroes come to her aid and afterward resolve the fill the gap left by the X-Men’s apparent deaths.
I have to admit that I’m an enormous Captain Britain fan, probably the biggest on this side of the pond. I met him through this book as a kid, but I’ve since gone back and read most of his stories. Alan Moore and Alan Davis reinvented the character in the early 80s and the book was so much fun. In those pages, you could see two men who would arguably grow to be the finest in the respective arts cut their teeth in an unregarded corner of the Marvel Universe. It’s Alan Moore’s only substantial work for the company, and I think it’s some of his best.
Claremont and Alan Davis took all of the high concept science fiction fun of the Captain Britain series and mixed it in with the mainstream Marvel universe. And then they came up with a recipe for even more fun… In Captain Britain, it had been established that there were many, many Earths each with it’s own Captain Britain. Beginning with issue 12 of Excalibur, Claremont and Davis took the book on a sojourn through these worlds, each with its own version of the heroes to offer. While originally advertised as a nine part storyline, the Cross-Time Caper ended up stretching out a bit to contain the insanity.
So this book became Claremont’s playground for zany alternate reality stories, and a fun time was had by all. But the real star of the book was the artist Alan Davis. Davis, as previously mentioned, had worked on Captain Britain for quite some time earlier in the decade. He’d then went across the street to DC for a bit t work on Batman and the Outsiders and Detective Comics before returning to Marvel and doing a few insanely gorgeous issues of Uncanny X-Men. To me, Davis is the perfect superhero artist. Sure, there are people who photorealistic work, there are guys with a beautiful art deco style. But when it comes to capes and tights, Alan Davis has it down to a science.
Alan Davis left the series after intermittently drawing the first 24 issues. Shortly thereafter, Claremont followed. But then, around the time of the big X-Book relaunches, Davis came back as writer/artist and turned the book back into gold. He picked up storylines from the initial run and proved his mettle as a storyteller on par with Marvel’s golden boy Claremont. The book was goofy and it’s often regarded in hindsight as a mere footnote in Marvel history, but it was the top of line in my young eyes and that sort of thing doesn’t change.
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