X-Men: Tini Howard’s Excalibur Has a Rocky Start
Tini Howard's Excalibur is the latest book from the X-Men's Dawn of X but doesn't quite live up to the hype. At least not yet.
You know, out of most of the Dawn of X titles, I really wanted to like this book. I even ranked it as my 2nd most anticipated of the wave.
From the outside looking in, what is there not to look forward to? It had my favorite two X-Men, Gambit and Rogue, fresh off of Kelly Thompson’s Mr. and Mrs. X series. ‘90s darlings Jubilee and Rictor were also set to be featured, but two other characters got more attention, and rightfully so.
Apocalypse, the newly appointed member of Krakoa’s Quiet Council, for the first time in X-Men franchise history isn’t just an ally, he’s an active part of an action team.
The last component is the book’s lead, Betsy Braddock, formerly known as Psylocke. Currently in possession of the title Captain Britain.
Writer Tini Howard had more than enough on her plate to make Excalibur the next X-Men success story, and she may very well do just that. But what happened with the first issue?
Most of you know that Excalibur isn’t exactly a new series. Like Fallen Angels, New Mutants, X-Men, and X-Force, it’s a relaunch.
The original series came about after most of the X-Men from the ‘80s era went missing (they entered the Siege Perilous beginning what many refer to as the “Outback Era”). Believing their comrades had died, Kitty, Colossus, and Nightcrawler jumped across the pond to continue playing superheroes, but alongside Captain Britain, the twin brother of their thought slain teammate, Betsy.
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Captain Britain (Brian Baddock) was the leader of the team. Unlike his sister, Captain Britain isn’t a mutant, his powers are magical. After invoking the powers of the Amulet of Right he gains super strength, durability, speed, endurance, senses, and flight.
The book ran for several years before coming to an end in the mid-‘90s to be relaunched in several iterations including New Excalibur and Captain Britain and MI:13 in the following decade. Most of the stories revolved around mysticism and the going-ons of Otherworld (a parallel realm of magic).
Tini Howard’s Excalibur is poised to be much of the same, but instead of having Brian behind the mask, it’s, Betsy. As much of a fuss that some readers are making of it, it’s not exactly the first time it’s happened, thus it has precedence.
She’s been Captain Britain before she was ever an X-Man. It just comes during an era of storytelling where it’s become something of a habit of creators with less than robust imaginations to transplant the names and mantles of male characters onto their fairer counterparts.
Excalibur (2019) is obviously set after the events of House of X and Powers of X. The mutants of the world have a new home and nation to call their own in Krakoa.
Though Betsy wasn’t present for its formation, she’d decided to leave her London home to join her kind on their island paradise of edible trees. It’s not long before she’s informed by Goldballs (now calling himself ‘Egg’) that her reality manipulating brother Jamie Braddock had recently gone through the Resurrection Protocols.
The rest of the book goes as follows; Psylocke traveled back to England to inform Brian of their brother’s new lease on life when she found him suited up and ready to go to Otherworld. She accompanied him and the two were greeted by the current ruler, Morgan Le Fay, who blamed mutants or ‘witchbreed’ for disrupting her magic.
Back on Krakoa, Apocalypse summoned Rogue and Gambit to assist him in dealing with a blocked portal he suspected leads to Otherworld.
There, Brian and Betsy fought against Morgan and her minions. Morgan managed to take Brian under her sway and sent him to attack Betsy.
Meanwhile, Rogue was able to open the gateway but was left in a suspended state. With it open, Apocalypse sensed Betsy and managed to telepathically connect with her. He instructs her to disrupt the gate on her end by using her powers. She does so and escapes, but not before Brian used his last bit of will to pass his Amulet and powers onto his sister.
Not a bad story, but the problem came while it was being told. The dialogue felt choppy, the pacing was off in places, and many of the characterizations felt wrong.
Gambit hasn’t behaved this petulantly since the days when Peter Milligan was writing the X-Men. Rogue was robotic as could be, lacking any sort of sass or charm. Together, they were simply dull, apart from a panel or two. Apocalypse didn’t come off as the larger than life figure that he normally is. Which is a shame since Howard has written Thanos in the past.
Jubilee simply didn’t need to be there, and I still don’t understand what her purpose was.
The best parts of the book involved Betsy, Brian, and Otherworld. Much of everything else, in my opinion, felt mostly disjointed. Even hard to follow in places.
If nothing else, the premise is sound enough to build upon. The X-Men have always been mostly steeped in science and technology. Only Excalibur and New Mutants have ever spent any substantial amount of time around mysticism. It’s wide open.
The biggest problem with this book stems beyond anyone’s disappointment in Betsy becoming Captain Britain… something that’s been public knowledge for months, now.
Tini Howard, despite her experience writing comics, hasn’t completely grasped her cast of characters yet. Of the three Dawn of X books that have debuted, hers, while being the best illustrated, ranks at the bottom, which is a shame because I wanted to like it.
It’s the first issue, so I’ll give it another stab, but I have my concerns.