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

27 March 2010

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 2

Collects: Excalibur #51-8, Excalibur: XX Crossing (1992)

Released: January 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 240 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785144557

What is this?: Alan Davis continues his second run on Excalibur with a little help from the Marvel staff.

The culprits: Alan Davis, writing and drawing, along with writer Scott Lobdell, penciler Joe Madureira, and others

Excalibur was a spinoff of X-Men that launched in the late ‘80s, featuring three ex-X-Men (Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Phoenix II), Captain Britain, and his girlfriend, Meggan. The book was written by Chris Claremont, drawn by Alan Davis, and set in the U.K., and it had some humor and some alternate reality plots that were a legacy of earlier Captain Britain stories. Pretty straightforward, really. By the time the stories in Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 2, came around, however, things were a little muddled.

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 2 coverPlotwise, this one’s all over the place. You start out with a serviceable cross-time / alternate Earth story, then dive into the confusing backwater of Phoenix continuity, before making a sidetrek into a non-Davis (and very ’90s) story of Captain Britain and Spider-Man fighting a group of foreign-exchange students who transform into various ethnic varieties of dogs and call themselves “the Litter.” (Is there a Eurotrash joke there? I can’t be sure.) After Davis returns to do a Crazy Gang story, readers would be well served to ignore XX Crossing — a pointless story where an assassin with time powers tries to prove himself to Dr. Doom by trying to kill Excalibur in one of the most convoluted ways possible. To finish out the book, there’s two two-part stories: one, a very dark story featuring Captain Britain and Psylocke’s flesh-warping brother, and the second, in which Excalibur fights very stupid trolls, guest starring the X-Men.

Is this a humor book, as it started out? Is it a satellite X-book, which is what it becomes? Is it a waste of time? I can’t be sure. Is Davis sure?

One point the reader has to keep in mind is that there are a few non-Alan Davis issues interspersed throughout the volume — #53 and XX Crossing most prominently, but #57-8 are only plotted by Davis. That’s both a drawback and a blessing; the volume is titled Alan Davis, v. 2, after all, and presumably the book is geared more at Davis fans than Excalibur completists. But it’s also good to keep telling the story; even though #53 is missable (it’s a fill-in flashback story about how Peter Parker made Captain Britain a better hero), leaving it out would create a hole in the sequence that readers would wonder about. On the other hand, XX Crossing isn’t in the sequence, it’s not a story you ever hear about, and it’s not that good, so it could have been omitted for … well, Davis didn’t work on #59-60 at all, but at least you could get it out of the way before Alan Davis, v. 3, collects #61-7.

So, when it comes to the Davis stories, what do we have? Well, there’s the silliness of the dino-Excalibur, then comes the Phoenix exposition, the Crazy Gang, and the very serious Jamie Braddock story, in which Excalibur finally discovers that A Big Secret. Other than the dino story in #51, this book feels like Davis is using his limited schedule to wrap up plotlines. He tries to explain Phoenix as best as he can; he puts the Crazy Gang, who was one of Excalibur’s first adversaries, off the board but somewhere where they can be called in again; and he not only brings back Jamie for the first time since #27 but he also allows Excalibur to discover something that happened in #4 — that Sat-Yr-9 has killed Captain Britain’s old girlfriend and replaced her, working against Excalibur and Meggan, Captain Britain’s new girlfriend. Davis then leaves other writers and artists to tell other stories.

But it doesn’t completely work. First of all, those stories are not up to Davis’s standards. Secondly, they make the stories’ subject matter feel haphazard — yanked in one direction by Davis, another by Scott Lobdell, then back to Davis, etc. Thirdly, the revelations feel sudden; Excalibur was going through roster changes at the time, and Davis’s plot-heavy revelations don’t allow new characters such as Cerise or Feron to express themselves. The seriousness and sadness of #55-6 is moving, but Davis doesn’t have the time to follow it up and make the consequences stick or register the emotional fallout.

Fortunately, Davis’s artwork is beautiful, as always. So crisp, so elegant — it’s a pleasure to read. He provides the art for #54-6 only, though. The cover of the book — taken from the cover of #55 — is ill-chosen, I think. It’s a nice Alan Davis image, but it makes it look like this is Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, v. 2, guest starring Psylocke’s legs and breasts (and all territories in between). The cover for #52, which is used on the back cover, probably would have been better.

Most of the rest of the art is provided by competent artists who come up short when put next to Davis in a volume named after Davis. Joe Madureira, however, stands out with his pencils in #57-8, although his work doesn’t show his manga influences as much as his later efforts do.

This is an up-and-down book that never seems to find its level. Having not read v. 1, I can’t say that reading v. 1 makes a difference. I suspect it doesn’t, although that book is completely written and drawn by Davis. More Davis is exactly what this book needs — the art, if nothing else. As it stands, there’s more disappointment than panels drawn by Davis.

Rating: X-Men symbol Half X-Men symbol (1.5 of 5)

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