Best Shots review: Excalibur #16 "a pleasant throwback to classic Chris Claremont era storytelling"

Excalibur #16
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

With the 'X of Swords' event's battles for Krakoa and Arrako over, the mutant team Excalibur needs to deal with the events that happened on Otherworld. Betsy Braddock, the last remaining Captain Britain, was seemingly killed, shattered into shards of glass while Apocalypse left Krakoa to join his family, making a sacrifice that united mutants from the two lands. In this week's Excalibur #16, Tini Howard and Marcus To address the aftermath of the recent big mutant event and in the process give us something that serves as both epilogue and prologue. This issue closes off the event while looking at the future and charting the path to what happens next.

Excalibur #16 credits

Written by Tini Howard
Art by Marcus To and Erick Arciniega
Lettering by Ariana Maher
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In a lot of ways, it is pleasant to see an event that didn’t shake everything up so much that everything coming after it was unrecognizable. House of X/Powers of X was so seismic that everything after it charted out a brave new world with little reflection on what came before. Over at the distinguished competition, Dark Nights: Death Metal looks like it will give way to the new two-month status quo 'Future State' which springs from but isn’t really a part of that event. But for the Excalibur team, 'X of Swords' had consequences that they have to confront and figure out how to move forward from.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Howard gives each of the characters room to respond to the loss of Betsy Braddock and Apocalypse in their own ways, from grief to determination and consolation. The two hit hardest emotionally are Rogue and Rictor, one for the loss of a friend and the latter for the loss of a leader. Howard even sets up their dueling grief as Rogue has no love lost for Apocalypse's manipulations. Gambit and Jubilee pick up the roles of comforters, looking to help heal their teammates and move on from here. And with the status quo on Krakoa where death leads to resurrection, Howard gets to bring in some of the original Excalibur team, Rachel Summers and Brian Braddock, beginning the road to bringing Betsy back.

Moving through all of these emotions and motivations for action, To jumps from scene to scene and character to character with a steady hand, bringing a stability to the chaotic states of the team and everyone that they encounter. For a comic filled with a lot of talking heads, To stages each scene to carry the weight of 'X of Swords's ramifications. Any conflict in this comic is due to the conflicting desires of all of these mutants and their comrades. To has an easy style that settles nicely into this more soap opera-ish groove. 

For as much as this issue is dealing with what's happened before, Howard and To have their eyes pointed to the future, setting up the return of Betsy to the team, defining the role of Brian and Meggan Braddock and their daughter in Otherworld, and creating a truly amusing rivalry between the powerfully insane Jamie Braddock and the flamboyant Mister Sinister. Howard and To use this issue after a big event to catch their breath a bit but to also map out where they go from here.

Among the current crop of X books, Excalibur #16 is actually a pleasant throwback to classic Chris Claremont era storytelling as Howard writes an issue that's juggling a lot of different story strands and acknowledging a wider world existing outside of the drama of the main characters. While it's firmly planted in the modern Hickman version of Krakoa, Howard brings out the camaraderie and the competition that exists between these characters. Just because they're all mutants, it doesn't need to mean that they're one big happy family. There's a great push and pull between these characters that just feels like it's the purest modern distillation of everything Claremont did when he was writing X-Men and Excalibur.

Howard and To pack a lot into this issue, giving a large number of characters moments to have their own story. They're reacting to what has happened even as they plot out their next actions to bring back the people that they've lost. That could be said for both the characters as well as the creators of this comic. Excalibur #16 bridges what was and what is to come. With this fascinating mix of characters, Howard and To have built a corner of Krakoa that feels firmly rooted in the past, reaching back to the mythologies that Chris Claremont laid the foundations for, while finding fresh directions to take these characters in.

You don't need mutant powers to keep up to speed on what all the new X-Men books are. Check out our list of all the new X-Men comics, graphic novels, and collections.

Freelance Writer

Scott is a regular contributor for Panel Patter, GamesRadar, and Newsarama, covering comic books since 2002. He specialises in comic book reviews, and also runs the blog I Lost It At the Comic Shop.