Excalibur #13 (Chapter 9)
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: RB Silva
Colors: Nolan Woodward
Letters: Vc’s Ariana Maher
Design: Tom Muller
X-Men #13 (Chapter 10)
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Sunny Cho
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Design: Tom Muller
The challenge draws near and the Mutant’s of Krakoa are growing anxious and worried about their fate. Half of the 10 champions have claimed their swords and await their brethren for the approaching battle. Yet while the champions assemble the history and animosity of their enemies clears while the intent of the gamemaster becomes more apparent. Welcome to X of Swords Week 5.
Excalibur may be the most important book in the build-up to X of Swords, and we the readers had no idea. Tini Howard, Marcus To and company have crafted a super hero fantasy tale that is somehow original and dipped in Marvel UK roots. Since its inception at the beginning of the Dawn of X Excalibur has been the book that dealt with Apocalypse’s obsession with Otherworld, the home to Captain Britain whose roots are firmly entrenched in Otherworld and more notably the Omniversal Majestrix Opal Luna Saturnyne. As X of Sword’s approached it became apparent what was going on in the pages of Excalibur was going to be incredibly crucial to X of Swords. Now Excalibur #13 is here and it not only fits into the wonderful overarching narrative but it answers many questions and is dripping in nostalgic roots going back to the earliest days of Captain Britain.
I was lucky that when I was a young comic reader my local comic shop happened to obtain some comics from Marvel UK(Marvel’s imprint that made exclusive content for their United Kingdom market) and among these offerings was the original comic Captain Britain. Captain Britain was an interesting title with a very cool lead hero in an awesome costume (I’m talking about the classic red costume with the lion on the chest). The good Captain was Brian Braddock and his adventures were centered in England. These stories introduced a lot of Brian’s supporting cast, including his twin sister Betsy who becomes the mutant Psylocke, his older brother Jamie Braddock, the crazy omega level mutant who can warp reality, and eventually the Omniversal Majestrix Opal Luna Saturnyne. Eventually Brian learns that he is one of many Captain Britain’s spread throughout the Marvel Multiverse who comprise the Captain Britain Corps (an obvious nod to the Green Lantern Corps). To become a Captain Britain (or Captain Albion or Captain UK as they were known throughout the multiverse) one must be offered the Sword of Might or the Amulet of Right by Merlin or his daughter Roma. If one were to choose the Sword they would be disqualified because it is a choice of violence. If one chooses the Amulet of Right, they will become Captain Britain and empowered by the country. Brian’s adventures as Captain Britain saw him transverse the multiverse through Otherworld, which is connected to all worlds through each earth’s Great Britain. He found himself in amazing adventures and in the ‘80s his adventures became more prevalent to American audiences as he joined Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Phoenix (Rachel Summers), and his girlfriend Meggan in the first incarnation of Excalibur.
I adored this series and its crazy absurdity. I think this is why I gravitated toward the latest incarnation of Excalibur as it has the vibe and feel of that original series but with a completely different cast and story. It also has a new and different Captain Britain as Brian chose the Sword of Might after being controlled by Morgan Le Fay in the first arc of the current book and was denied his mantle. As Brian recovered from his poor choice his twin Betsy retrieved the Amulet of Right and became the newest Captain Britain, holding the title until Brian could resume the role. While this was not a role Betsy desired it’s a role she’s accepted and thrived at over the course of the series. Yet not everyone enjoys Betsy as the new Captain Britain and chief among them is the Omniversal Majestrix herself. So, with the contest of Champions on the horizon and the mention of Captain Britain and the Starlight Sword who that Captain Britain will be is the question of Excalibur #13.
Opal Luna Saturnyne has always had an affinity, an attraction even, to Brian Braddock. Amongst all of her Captain Britain’s she always found herself attached and enthralled with Brian’s adventures. Now that she has orchestrated the challenge between Arakko and Krakoa, and it was revealed that Captain Britain would wield the Starlight Sword, made from the structure of her Starlight Citadel. While Betsy is the current Captain Britain, Saturnyne would prefer Brian to wield her Starlight Sword and will use every trick in her book to make this so. Her plan begins by calling the current King of Avalon, Jamie Braddock, and his champion, the current wielder of the Sword of Might his brother Brian Braddock to the Starlight Citadel. Betsy and her team, now the current Captain Britain Corps due to Jamie’s reality warping powers, are also occupying the Citadel as Saturnyne decides what to do with a Corps she does not want. It’s been some time since the Braddock family were all alive and on speaking terms, considering Jamie has tried to kill his siblings several times throughout the years. Excalibur #13 was a great new addition to the Braddock chronicles. Tini Howard really captures the family dynamic, with all its love and dysfunction. The love and jealousy of Brian is apparent toward his twin while Jamie is just an absolute unknown but his character arc is perfect for where this series began and now where X of Swords seems to be going. There were great twists, and to see Saturnyne outwitted was satisfying as hell. I loved the twists and turns of the book, the unknown alliances and was a little blown away by the end and the current state of the Braddock twins. I hope this is the status quo going forward and that Brian has a bigger role in the post X of Swords Excalibur… if he survives the contest.
X-Men #13 takes the story back a step and picks up in the wake of X of Swords: Creation and X-Factor #4 with an Apocalypse near death from his injuries suffered at the hands of his past disciples, his first Horsemen, and the current leaders of Arakko. While the Resurrection protocols are broken for those who die on Otherworld since Apocalypse made it back to Krakoa the five are cooking and egg to resurrect Apocalypse if he does die. But anyone who knows Apocalypse his core belief is in Darwinian terms the survival of the fittest and with Healer and Hope mimicking Healer’s powers there is no need for the resurrection egg.
With Apocalypse’s survival it’s time for answers for the remainder of the Quiet Council, Krakoa’s ruling parliament. X-Men #13 is written by X of Swords architect Jonathan Hickman it’s only fitting that this comic, the final comic of this first cycle of books, would fill in the history of this Krakoa – Arakko feud. It’s been shown before but here it becomes clearer that there was a previous mutant island nation, Okkara- the One Land, where Apocalypse, his wife Genisis, and their Four Horsemen ruled a nation of powerful mutants. It was an idyllic nation and a sanctuary for earths earliest mutant offshoots, that is until the Twilight Blade split Okkara into two- Krakoa and Arakko. Through the chasm of the two islands spilled the unknown enemies who split Okkara. It took the full strength of the mutants to defend their land and then 100 champions entered the chasm and forced a stalemate that brought the enemy to the bargaining table, but the enemy won’t bargain and we get our first look at the Golden Helm of Amenth, the powerful being that instigated the entire conflict. We discover why Genisis and the First Horsemen left to Arakko and more importantly we find out why Apocalypse stayed.
While reading X-Factor #5 (1986) I would have no idea how important of a character Apocalypse would become. He was an interesting character with the power set of being able to adjust his molecules and make his body malleable. Since that first appearance Apocalypse’s origin has expanded to him being an ancient being from Egypt, having merged with Celestial tech to augment his strength, and he is a rare immortal mutant, one of the externals. It was during the Fall of the Mutants and the turning of Angel into Archangel were I really took notice (the Walter Simonson art didn’t hurt) and I wasn’t the only one who took notice as Apocalypse became a recuring and important villain for the entire X-Men line of books, so much so that for a few months in 1995 they released the Age of Apocalypse, an event that replaced all of the X-Books for several months. Since that event Apocalypse is easily one of the most popular and utilized villains in the X-Universe. Yet at his core as a character has always been that through challenge comes strength and for mutants to survive only the strong can survive, as I stated earlier, very Darwinian. The root of that core value is finally revealed in X-Men #13 and it is brutal and shockingly heartbreaking.
X-Men #13 ends with Apocalypse returning to his Egyptian roots and the pyramids of his youth. Amongst the ruins of these Egyptian temples was buried Scarab, his ancient blade. As one of the chosen champions it makes sense that Apocalypse’s sword would be rooted in his historic past. Joining Apocalypse is Gorgon, the blind mutant swordsman with the ability to transmute people into stone. His twin swords, Grasscutter & Godkiller, are the opening text piece for X-Men #13 so it was common sense that he would join the champions. Grasscutter and Godkiller have an interesting back story as the Greek God Zeus and the Japanese God Amatsu-Mikaboshi were feuding and each went to an unnamed metal smith to make a sword. This smith forged Grasscutter, which was a perfect blade, and Godkiller, which was a flawed blade. He then let the two gods fight over the swords. Over the years the blades have moved around but in the modern era they are in the hands of Gorgon, a master swordsman and current citizen of Krakoa and an excellent addition to the 10 champions.
X of Swords continues to impress me week after week. This week was a whole ton of fun with great writing and beautiful artwork. They relaly rolled out some great art with RB Silva on Excalibur #13 and Mahmud Asrar on X-Men #13. Both artists are at the top of their game and bolstered by amazing writing with Tini Houward and Jonathan Hickman it is amazing the quality of work that is going into this event. X of Swords is really heating up and by the end of X-Men #13 we have 9 of our 10 champions and with X of Swords: Stasis release next week I’m sure that X of Swords will take yet another twist, and I for one cannot wait.