A duel and a wedding send shockwaves through Otherworld in Excalibur #14, the 15th chapter of the 22-part 'X of Swords' crossover event. The champions have been chosen and the swords have been drawn, now the only thing that remains is the start of the actual tournament.
Spoilers ahead for Excalibur #14.
Written by Tini Howard
Art by Phil Noto
Lettering by Ariana Maher
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
But when an upset during the first seed battle of Captain Britain and Isca the Unbeaten shakes the Krakoan champions' resolve, Opal Luna Saturnyne, Omniversal Majestrix and High Priestess of the Starlight Citadel, starts to ring wedding bells turning the next planned duel of Cypher/Warlock and Bei the Blood Moon into nuptials. This gives 'X of Swords' a super strange and character-focused feint, right after arguably its biggest twist (and loss in the scale of the event).
The end result is tonally jumbled, but still fairly enjoyable. Especially if readers have already bought the ticket and taken the ride with the more theatrical, magic-infused antics of Excalibur as a title and Saturnyne as an antagonist. Writer Tini Howard brings more of that Dungeons & Dragons inspired fire to the issue, as well as her keen character work, spreading across the large cast of mutants and champions. But I worry how well the more broad comedy beats of the issue's last half will go down as a part of the overall crossover. Even if they are given a wonderful life and expression by fan-favorite artist Phil Noto. They always say that 'anything can happen in an X-Men event,' and for good and ill, Excalibur #14 proves them right.
Starting with the obvious, Isca the Unbeaten lives up to her name against Captain Britain. And despite the broader beats of the latter pages, which somewhat undercut Betsy's defeat (that we also have to assume will be reversed eventually), Tini Howard and artist Phil Noto play it like the real moment it is. After some choice Mad King Jamie snarkiness and a wonderful moment between the combatants, the first bout of the tourney is underway. And it is a genuinely thrilling sequence. Howard has been steadily growing her abilities at action pacing for a while now and Phil Noto's expressive and near-lifelike character models, coupled with the combatant's fantastic design, really shine.
But it is with Betsy's defeat, literally shattering with the might Isca's Mercy, where things start to take a turn. From there Howard and Noto shift into a sort of comedy of manners like energy, sweeping Saturnyne into the driving character, ferrying poor, confused Doug Ramsey through a hasty courtship with Bei the Blood Moon, ending with the pair at the altar and the score sitting at 2-1 in favor of Arakko. Saturnyne explaining it as prudent to offer both teams a point as a "wedding gift" to the "happy couple".
It is...a wildly weird turn for the event to take, but Howard and Noto really work to make it make as much sense as possible. They do so with some genuinely interesting turns after Betsy's 'death.' Turns like how Doug can't understand Bei, as she speaks in a language his powers can't crack just yet and Jubilee's introduction into the whole event, coming to the "rescue" with Dragon-Shogo after Betsy fails to check-in with her for their annual after-lunch psychic contacts. These scenes really shift the power dynamic of the event as well as add a neat vein of character work to the whole tourney, but I do still worry this turn might be a bit too weird for the more casual X-readers and/or hardcore 'Marvel Zombies.'
Even though Excalibur #14 looks downright tremendous thanks to the steady hand of Phil Noto. Standing well in tandem with the equally expressive and stylish pencils and colors of regular series art team Marcus To and Erick Arcinegia, Noto's work feels right at home within the title's energy and tone. Better still, he adds a wonderfully slick, cinematic energy to the title, finally allowing it to stand out visually amid the 'X of Swords' efforts like Rod Reis' New Mutants and Stefano Casseli's Marauders issues. Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening Isca vs. Betsy fight, which leans into the muscular builds of the women and blocks them beautifully across the sequence only to explode into a sudden turn into psychedelia as Betsy 'shatters' under the power of the Unbeaten.
Even the latter scenes, where Doug is literally shoved to the altar after getting a Midsommar-esque primping (which feels too specific to not be an intentional gag on the part of Howard and Noto), display Noto's keen sense of expressionism. Every character in the scenes feel alive and bursting with emotion that radiates from his reaction shots and character blocking throughout the issue. Again, I feel like some of it could be too broad to hit really hard, but it looks too good to be completely mad or disappointed with.
I will always appreciate when event crossover comic book get weird and Excalibur #14 is certainly that, on top of some fantastic artwork and character beats. That said, it might read a little silly amid the overall high stakes of 'X of Swords.' All we can do is hope that Excalbur #14's changes to the scoreboard matter once the game is done.
Stay apprised of what's coming next with our list of the new X-Men comic books, graphic novels, and collections on the horizon.