Retro Review: Excalibur by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer

Excalibur - the team

Review by Luke Williams

Chris Claremont and Alan Davis are credited with being the creators of Excalibur, touted as the “European X-Men”. This is odd, as the title just brings together what some regard as the flotsam and jetsam of the X-Men universe, anchoring them to Captain Britain’s back story and world. Both creators had history with Cap: Claremont was the co-creator of Captain Britain, the staff-wielding, amulet-wearing, lion-bearing version, and Alan Davis re-designed his costume for his relaunch at Marvel UK a few years later.

Captain Britain and Psylocke

The team are flung together when Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat and Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, are convalescing and recovering from their injuries following the “Mutant Massacre” crossover, distraught from the news of the apparent death of their X-Men team-mates. They encounter Phoenix, aka Rachel Summers, the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from an alternate future, on the run from Captain Britain baddies and alien mercenaries / bounty hunters, the Technet. Guided by a vision, Meggan arrives on Muir Island as the Technet overwhelm Kitty and Rachel. Kurt escapes, enlists Captain Britain and Excalibur are born.

Claremont and Davis took the team across alternate realities in “The Cross Time Caper”, with larks aplenty, a lighter touch than the X Men titles. Davis jumped ship after issue 24, Claremont with issue 34, leaving plotlines dangling, including Cap’s clumsiness, Rachel Summer’s past, and the Brian-Meggan-Kurt love triangle, and hints at the team being manipulated.

The title drifted, with no steady creative team, before Davis was called back in by editor Terry Kavanagh. He returned with a vengeance in #42, this time as writer and artist, tasked with sorting out the mess that Excalibur had become.

Davis’ first step was to break the team apart. Attacked by Gatecrasher and the Technet again in pursuit of Phoenix, their Lighthouse base destroyed in the ensuing melee. Gatecrasher escapes, and Excalibur take on the remaining Technet as Lodgers. The increased friction between the team members and their new roomies leads to long simmering tensions between Brian and Kurt erupting violently. The team split. Meggan and Phoenix take a road trip to find themselves, Kitty leaves for Ireland on a geological expedition with Alastair Stewart and Brian gets pulled to Otherworld, home of the Captain Britain Corps and the omniversal guardian Merlyn and his daughter Roma, to stand trial for the crime of attacking Kurt . This leaves Kurt with his alien mercenary charges.

Excalibur - Captain Britain - Fight

The time apart allows Davis the time to re-establish and redefine the characters. Rachel and Meggan explore their heritage, Kurt learns to be a leader and gets rid of some old ghosts, Kitty and Alastair discover an ancient, looming threat which will bring the team back together, and Brian gets clued in to the grand multiversal conspiracy. Along the way, they pick up Kylun, a child refugee from our world who had been brought up in a different universe, where time moves at a different rate, coming back to our universe as an adult. Feron, the would-be host of the Phoenix, Cerise and alien with the power to manipulate light.

It turns out the formation of Excalibur is the end game of a gambit established by Merlyn thousands of years ago, to prevent Necrom from obtaining the Phoenix force, currently possessing Rachel Summers. The multiverse begins to collapse, and only Excalibur with their combined powers can set things right. Phoenix and Necrom face off in deep space, the energy matrix that powers the multiverse’s Captain Britain Corps is destroyed, but the multiverse is stopped from collapsing in on itself. Necrom is destroyed, but leaves Rachel in a coma. Her inert body is carried to the stars by the Phoenix force.

Using Necrom as the ominversal threat, and tying in the Captain Britain back story with Phoenix and the various team members powers, Davis ties in disparate plot threads and clears the decks for the rest of his run. 

Excalibur Cover #42

The team and its members are redefined. Davis lets the dust settle with a few amusing one offs, including stories starring the Crazy Gang and an alternate Excalibur where dinosaurs never died out, the reappearance of Satyr 9, siblings Betsy Braddock, aka Psylocke, and Jamie Braddock. Scott Lobdell returns for a few issues drawn by Joe Madureira when the series goes fortnightly. Davis and Farmer take a break with issues 53, 57, 58 and 59 and Davis goes script only for issues 51 and 52, with able art stand ins Dougie Braithwaite and Will Simpson and a team of inkers.

Continuing the theme of digging up the past and resolving plotlines, the next storyline has the team captured by a shadowy government organisation bent on controlling super powered beings and sees the return of Braddock Mansion, Mastermind, the Cherubim, Seraphim and Warpies. Manipulated again, this second arc is slower than the first but establishes the new status quo for the team. In the meantime, the Phoenix force goes soul searching across the universe, before releasing Rachel and allowing her to return to Earth.

Almost as an epilogue, Davis then throws the team into the future for his take on Days of Future Past. He’d been sowing seeds all the way through his run, linking Widget with Katherine Pryde, the Shadowcats of the future, guest starring future versions of Marvel UK’s Knights of Pendragon, Motormouth, and Dark Angel , before he calls it quits.

One of the significant things about Davis’s run on the title is the tight plotlines, never allowed to run for more than a few issues, never allowed to drag on for years and years, and the fact that, basically, he used his sadly curtailed run as a means of cleaning house, sorting out threads from Cap’s history and tidying up the meddling from other writers contributions.

Davis’ second run on the series is notable for his efforts in correcting continuity glitches, filling plot holes and resolving long standing plot threads. Davis runs a tight ship, a master of the smiley, happy go lucky, superhero comic. Many talk of the power of superhero comics and the wonder and awe that they can engender. Davis is a master plotter and deft at foreshadowing. 

Davis’ first arc whizzes along, and before you know it there are three new members to the supporting cast. If there is a drawback it is that the climax to the first storyline almost collapses under its own weight. Davis ties together years of plot threads, right back to the Marvel UK series. But he definitely brings back the derring-do and the fun to superhero comics. 

This storyline is now over 25 years old, but it is absolute genius. It is gentle, occasionally slapstick, and with little Easter eggs laid throughout the run: nods to Doctor WhoDad’s ArmyDick Dastardly and Muttley,even Miss Marple and the appearance of a much-celebrated UK comic shop – and a whole slew of other British pop culture icons. 

Excalibur is a labour of love for Davis. His pencils are beautiful, ably abetted by Mark Farmer on inks. The script and plot can occasionally be heavy on exposition, but that was necessary. He deals with years of tangled and conflicting continuity and Captain Britain’s wandering and spotted publishing history. He also has to introduce new readers to some plot threads originating in UK comics published five to 15 years previously.

You don’t need to have knowledge of Captain Britain’s history to read Excalibur, but it is a good excuse to go back through some classic superhero comics.

These are classic superhero comics. It establishes Davis and Farmer as one of the all time great art teams, and Davis as an amazing creative force.

Luke Williams

Excalibur Volume 1 Omnibus

Buy the Excalibur Volume 1 Omnibus from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Chris Claremont and Alan Davis’ 1980s classic EXCALIBUR gets the Omnibus treatment! The sword is drawn as Captain Britain and his metamorphic paramour Meggan band together with former X-Men Nightcrawler, Shadowcat and Rachel “Phoenix” Summers – plus Lockheed the dragon and the mysterious Widget! From their lighthouse base, Excalibur fi ghts to uphold Xavier’s dream, UK style -tackling the ruthless Technet, the ferocious Warwolves, the bizarre Crazy Gang and more!

But when the Cross-Time Caper sweeps Excalibur across the Marvel Multiverse, it will take a miracle to fi nd their way home! It’s cosmic adventure with a comedic twist in a beloved X-book like no other!

Collecting: Excalibur Special Edition (1988) 1, Excalibur (1988) 1-34, Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem (1989) 1, Quasar (1989) 11, Thor (1966) 427-429, Material From Marvel Comics Presents (1988) 31-38

Excalibur Volume 2 Omnibus

Buy the Excalibur Volume 2 Omnibus from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Continuing the offbeat adventures of the strangest X-team of all! Legendary creator Alan Davis returns to steer Excalibur to new heights of greatness – and oddness… but the sinister Technet aren’t far behind him! As the Captain Britain Corps puts Brian Braddock on trial, the rest of the team must face the fearsome threat of the Anti-Phoenix – but who has been pulling Excalibur’s strings since the very beginning? Rachel Summers takes a journey of discovery, the team expands with strange new members, faces from Captain Britain’s past resurface when the Warpies and the RCX return – and Excalibur fights the future with a trip to the Days of Future Past!

Collecting: Excalibur (1988) 35-67, Excalibur: Weird War III (1990) 1, Excalibur: The Possession (1991) 1, Excalibur: Air Apparent (1991) 1, Excalibur: XX Crossing (1992) 1, Sensational She-Hulk (1989) 26; material from Marvel Comics Presents (1988) 75, 110

Categories: Comics, Features, Reviews, US Comics

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1 reply

  1. Davis solo run on Excalibur was exquisite. It’s a masterclass in how to save a title. Like many on here I suspect, I was a child of Marvel UK, having grown up with CB, Death’s Head etc and I made my first forays into Marvel US and the dedicated ‘comic shop’ just as Brian and Betsy were making their presence felt as well. Excalibur was a strange animal that I often drifted away from whenever Davis’ pencils weren’t on show. The rather odd treatment of Cap and Meggan at times didn’t sit right with me. Indeed they didn’t feel like ‘mine’s anymore. I saw glimpses of old Braddock over in Knights of Pendragon but by the time Chris Claremont had departed Excalibur I’d long since bolted. Davis reignited my passion for the book. It’s not held up as high art but it’s far superior to a huge number of gritty 90s books that were it’s contemporaries.

    Just an absolute tragedy that one issue after Davis left it went back to being a complete cluster#@@$%

    Excalibur in the right hands (Davis’ hands) was something quite unique. I miss it dearly.

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