Dawn of X's incarnation of Excalibur returns with perhaps its most pure team book experience in Excalibur #17.
Written by Tini Howard
Art by Marcus To and Erick Arciniega
Lettering by Ariana Maher
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Captain Britain Betsy Braddock is still missing and the fundamentalist British wizards Coven Akkaba and their leader Marianna Stern plan to capitalize. By storming the Excalibur Lighthouse, retaking it from the "witchbreed" team that now lives within its walls, awaiting the return of their beloved Captain. Meanwhile, across the veil of reality, Betsy wakes up in a world in which she is not only Captain Britain, but Queen of England, building the nation into what Krakoa is for prime timeline mutants; a haven of acceptance and sanctuary for mutants of all creeds.
Though Tini Howard has been delivering solid serialized storytelling both previously and during the 'X of Swords' crossover event, Excalibur #17 feels and reads the most like 'classic' Excalibur. Gathering the full might of the team (plus recurring guest star Pete Wisdom) against the forces of Akkaba, Howard delivers more shining, firmly in-character banter between the heroes as they fight and defend their Krakoan held territory.
More than that, both concurring plots, divided between Betsy in the other reality and the rest of the team (plus Wisdom) around the Lighthouse, really scream "Excalibur", firmly forming exactly the kind of weird, mythic stakes and plots readers expect from a title like Excalibur. All brought together by more tremendously emotive and eye-grabbing artwork from the series regular art team of Marcus To and Erick Arciniega. For those that have wanted that more high fantasy, soapy tone and look for Britain's champions, Excalibur #17 is a trip back to the heady, but impressive days of Marvel UK and the Claremont/Davis era.
Captain Britain is still missing and in her absence, chaos has started to boil behind British borders. Coven Akkaba takes this as a sign Betsy is unfit for the position. And in the wake of their realizing Brian Braddock too is missing from Earth and knowledge of the composite Captains Britain King of Avalon Jamie Braddock copied of the team in the opening arcs, they set on a warpath, aiming to retake the Lighthouse and burn the Krakoan gate within to ash.
While this plot alone could have sustained the issue, Howard however sweetens the narrative pot with a fun exploration of the omniverse centered around Betsy Braddock that sprung up in the closing moments of 'X of Swords.' Acting as this other timeline's regent and Captain, Betsy must navigate through a world oddly similar to her own, questing to return to the "prime timeline" through their version of the Lighthouse portal to Otherworld.
Now on paper this surely seems like a lot, but Howard deftly balances both plots, running them largely side-by-side, but untouched by one another. Meaning while Betsy works in the other reality to come home, the rest of the team don't actually help her, having to deal with their own problems surrounding Stern and Coven Akkaba's ongoing attack on their Lighthouse.
Better still, with the full might of the ensemble cast, supported by Howard's consistently improving (and wryly charming) take on Pete Wisdom, the title's characterization and still-blossoming dynamics between the roster really shine through in this issue. It all culminates in a weird, but character-focused new issue, one fully reveling in the near limitless story implications of the title (just like Claremont and Davis did all those years ago) while still holding up it's cast and guest stars well (also like Claremont and Davis did).
On the art and production side, Excalibur #17 also looks tremendous. While the middle section drags a bit, largely for the fact that it's very expository and calls for a lot of characters standing around an interior set, Marcus To and Erick Arciniega's artwork still stands tall. Cutting back and forth between the more gauzy and regal other timeline and the bright, lush urban high fantasy look of the Lighthouse, MI-13 HQ, and Krakoa himself, To and Arciniega continue to build out this title's specific look, again highlighting the character's expressions and the established sets so far. But this time they get to throw some wild magic and mutant powers around in the scrappy, but well-blocked action sequence between the team and Coven Akkaba. All coalescing as another gorgeous example of the team's consistent dynamic and sheen.
Though certain readers have bemoaned this volume's lack of team-based antics and wandering focus on elements of the 616's magic community, Excalibur #17 might be enough to change their tunes. Mustering the full powers of the title's cast and creative team, Excalibur #17 brings forth once again the old-school flair and appeal of this team without sacrificing its own feel and look as a 'Dawn of X' highlight. In fact, I would go so far as to say Excalibur #17 could be one of the best issues of the series so far. Equipped with the weird charm of the past and the slick production of the present, Excalibur #17 is a winner.
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