Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

02 December 2011

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 3

Collects: Excalibur (v. 1) #59-67 (1992-3)

Released: July 2011 (Marvel)

Format: 216 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785155430

What is this?: Writer / artist Alan Davis wraps up his run on X-Men spinoff Excalibur.

The culprits: Alan Davis, with help from writer Scott Lobdell and artist Scott Kolins

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 3 wraps up Alan Davis’s work on Excalibur, a team he co-created with Chris Claremont in 1987. And when I say “wraps up,” I mean “wraps up” — Davis, as the writer and artist, isn’t making a half-hearted attempt to give closure to a few storylines. He’s trying to put an end to almost all of the storylines he worked on during his second run of Excalibur, some of which — like what exactly Widget is — started in his first run with Chris Claremont at the beginning of the series.

In other words, if you haven’t read v. 1 and v. 2, you should probably do that. If you haven’t read them for a while, you might consider reading them again, just to make sure everything’s fresh in your mind.

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 3 coverDavis puts an end to the stories of Widget, the Warpies, and Alistair Stuart, even tying the last two into one neat bow — a bit of craftsmanship undercut only by my complete disinterest in the Warpies. The culprit who framed Alistair’s sister, Alysdane, faces justice. Roma resets Captain Britain’s status quo so that future writers don’t have to understand what gives Brian Braddock his powers, and Davis gives a definitive direction to Brian and Meggan’s romance. Rachel confronts her place in the universe and the Phoenix; all the manipulations of her body and mind are wiped out so that she can begin again. (And be jettisoned in quick order by another writer, but that’s not Davis’s fault.) He even wraps up the Days of Future Past timeline, although I question the wisdom of doing it by having Excalibur team up with Marvel UK and Marvel’s UK characters. C’est la guerre, I suppose.

It’s always satisfying when a writer gives closure to a storyline he or she introduced. But that doesn’t necessarily make writer’s material good, and I have a hard time deciding whether the stories in v. 3 are good. I didn’t enjoy them that much, but that doesn’t mean much; I don’t care about the Warpies, all of whom might have well had “Disposable” tattooed on their backsides, and the Rachel / Phoenix relationship (and all that entails) never interested me either. That leaves Scott Lobdell’s forgettable two-part fill-in and the Days of Future Past story, and neither one hooks me either — the latter might be one that could interest me, but piling up loads of supporting characters I don’t recognize dampens the attraction.

So are they good? Yes, I think so, although I can’t know for sure. In my negative of review v. 2, I counted the haphazard whipsawing between plotters and the overall roster flux against the book. But that isn’t a problem in v. 2. The major and minor characters are given a little room to express themselves outside the needs of the plot, which steadily moves forward after Lobdell’s story. The stories put characters in genuine danger that readers of the time might have felt was genuine, and the book culminates with the deadliest X-story of all time, Days of Future Past. Yes, they’re good. But I can’t make that connection viscerally, as I didn’t enjoy the stories.

A few loose ends remain, of course, and their importance is magnified only by other writer’s unwillingness to deal with them. What will happen with Feron (disappeared three issues after Davis), Kylun (ditto), Micromax (double ditto), and Cerise (again, ditto)? They’ll be ignored, that’s what. Feron is the most glaring case, as he is a character with nowhere else to go, other than Excalibur. There are a few danglers remaining, of course, beyond the confusion of the Phoenix / Rachel interaction of v. 2 — no word on the missing / regenerating War Wolves from early issues of Excalibur, for example, but that’s not much of a loss.

Davis’s art is excellent, as always — fluid, beautiful, expressive. Reading v. 3 is a reminder of the days when, rightly or wrongly, the X-books automatically got all the best artists. Those days are gone now, but for those of us who remember those days, it’s a nice bit of nostalgia. This collection also includes the art from a few of the trading cards Davis did fearuting Excalibur characters. The reproduction does them no favors, but it’s a better page filler than most.

This is an Alan Davis volume, so I should warn you: The book should be released with a bright yellow sticker saying: “Caution: May contain traces of Scott Lobdell.” Since Lobdell’s presence hangs over most of Marvel ‘90s titles, this warning can be take the same way as those labels that warn you a product and peanuts were processed in the same plant. Lobdell was in the X-book offices throughout the ‘90s, and he had a hand — if only invisible, like with everything that crossed over into Onslaught — in almost all of them.

Lobdell’s contribution to this volume, #59-60, is a goofy (although not in a fun way) two-parter in which Shadowcat, Captain Britain, and Meggan head to Wakanda to shamelessly team up with Captain America, Iron Man (in War Machine armor), and Black Panther. Lobdell gets in some good lines, especially about the paucity of African superheroes, but the plot is much too sparse for two issues, and the heroes defeat the villain by just being annoying.

There’s something wrong with artist Scott Kolins’s cheesecake-y full-page shot of Shadowcat in a swimsuit, but I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is. It doesn’t help, though, that it’s the first page of the collection. Otherwise, his work is fine, with a few glitches of figure placement — Meggan looking like she must be standing up to her knees in mud, another character appearing to be standing on air when he should be falling or on a branch, etc. — and his work suffers when compared to Davis.

This volume wraps up Davis’s run on the title. Excalibur readers would have to wait a couple of years before Warren Ellis returned the book to relevance with #83, although his work is much different from the gentle humor team book that Claremont, Davis, and Lobdell (who, all joking aside, contributed more than a fifth of the first 75 issues) built over the years. This material is obviously a wrap-up, meant for fans who have been following the title for years. But it’s also done pretty well.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol (3 of 5)

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