Best Shots Advance Review: EXCALIBUR #1 Delves Into 'Weird, Mythic Territory'

"Excalibur #1" covers
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Excalibur #1
Written by Tini Howard
Art by Marcus To and Erick Arciniega
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Raing: 8 out of 10

Credit: Marvel Comics

”The X has no above, no below.”

After weeks of hard sci-fi, the denizens of Krakoa veer into high fantasy in Excalibur #1. Delving deep into eldritch world-building and the tangled family saga of Betsy, Brian, and Jamie Braddock, writer Tini Howard delivers a whole new flavor to the X-Men here. Accompanied by the stalwart, heroic art of Marcus To and Erick Arciniega, both of whom lean into the off-beat swagger of the title, Howard builds up her own cross-dimensional corner of "Dawn of X." Though the baggage of the Braddock clan drags this debut down a bit, the witchy, larger-than-life potential of this new Excalibur is very much present in this first issue, along with more than a little trademark X-Men soapiness to boot.

Credit: Marvel Comics

War has come to Otherworld, and Queen Morgan Le Fey has taken the throne in defense of Camelot. But there is a problem - strange flowers choke the wellspring of Avalon, and Le Fey suspects mutants are the culprit. If that wasn’t enough of a hook, Howard then reveals who has been spreading the Krakoan flower through the ethereal planes - Apocalypse, who has taken it upon himself to be the new steward of “mutant magic.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

Deploying more densely entertaining pictographs, Tini Howard lays out a brand new world of Marvel Magic based around the brewing war between Krakoa and the Otherworld. Based around the axiom from above, Howard details the “rules” of mutant magic - which pretty well boil down to, “there aren’t any” - and starts building out an epic first arc for Britain and Kraoka’s new line of magical defense.

Unfortunately, while the general worldbuilding is strong, a lot of the scenes dealing with the Braddock clan and their new statuses do hamper the momentum a bit, as do the staggered “team-building” pages Howard has to burn through gathering our new incarnation, which now includes Rogue, Gambit, and Jubilee. While Howard finds an easy, engaging voice for everybody, anchored around the droll Betsy and the haughty, New Age-inspired Apocalypse (who now only wants to be referred to as a prosaic, unpronounceable symbol, strikingly rendered by letterer Cory Petit), I just wish it didn’t take quite so long to get everybody in the same scene.

Credit: Marvel Comics

But it does help that Excalibur #1 also has the luxury of looking fantastic, thanks to Marcus To and Erick Arciniega. Leaning into the more character focused and high fantasy elements of the series, To and Arciniega keep the visual acuity up throughout. Of course, the more dialogue-heavy expository scenes set in the stately interiors of Braddock Academy don’t pop as much as the lush setting of Kraoka, but Arciniega’s colors bring a real shine to the issue overall, as if reaching for an otherworldly feeling even in the mundane.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Excalibur #1 though really shines when it’s weird and To and Arciniega more than rise to the script’s strange challenge. Paying tribute to the title’s more arcane roots, Krakoa and Otherworld are provided appropriate trippy pencils and lush, neon-infused colors. In particular, the sequence setting up Betsy taking up the mantle of Captain Britain, which culminates in a poster-ready hero shot of Betsy in her new duds, seems ripped right from a fresco of yore. Meanwhile, a scene where Betsy and a mind-controlled Brian battle Le Fey and her minions feels kinetically detailed with richly colors throughout.

Though it isn’t perfect, Excalibur #1 is a lot of fun, and really commits to fleshing out the new, vastly weird empire of Kraoka. I feel once Tini Howard and company start tending to the Braddock family tree, Excalibur could be a real standout hit for "Dawn of X". One that isn’t afraid to walk in weird, mythic territory while seeding Krakoa further. The new rules say the “X Has No Above, No Below.” Excalibur looks to set it in stone.

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