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Excalibur #1 review: charming and alluring

Mixing equal parts character, conflict, and good storytelling, Excalibur is alluringly charming.

If you haven’t heard, the new Dawn of X line of X-Men comics is kind of a big deal. Jonathan Hickman reset the property, which included bringing back X-Men from the dead and making villains good guys. Tini Howard has taken up the new thread in Excalibur, which comes out this week. The book features Apocalypse of all characters as a lead, as well as Betsy Braddock. Everything that was old is new again, including the Otherworld, and from what we can gather from the preview Apocalypse aims to open a doorway to Otherworld and the Kingdom of Camelot.

This is a spoiler-free review, but I can safely say the identity of this book resides in magic. From Captain Britain and his ties to the Otherworld to Apocalypse’s desire to gain access–for likely selfish reasons–to its stores of magical energy writer Tini Howard and artist Marcus To are opening up mutants to a different kind of enemy. The identity of this book belongs to the yin and yang of Apocalypse and Betsy Braddock. Both are good guys but both have different definitions of good.

Ready yourself for X-Men meets magic!

It’s quite clear the new peace for mutants and nation of Krakoa isn’t black and white and it’s interesting to see how Howard tugs at the reader as we determine whether Apocalypse can even be trusted, let alone what he’s up to. On the other side, Betsy is very much all that is good and positive, clearly wanting to do the right thing while also having one foot firmly established in the world of humans thanks to her twin brother Captain Britain, who is human himself. While it’s clear some mutants will not leave Krakoa nor do they think of humans fondly, Betsy must view it differently. These two characters add up to an interesting juxtaposition that is subtle in this first issue, but evident.

I love his domain.
Credit: Marvel Comics

As far as supporting characters, Gambit, Rogue, Jubilee, and Trinary all play a part in the issue. We saw a few pages from NYCC showing Rogue and Gambit still partnered up. Howard and To do a good job establishing the dynamics between all these characters so that when things really gear up in future issues, who is good, bad, and an ally is quite clear. There is a layer here that longtime fans will adore too. While Dawn of X certainly sets things in a new direction, there is still attention given to reminding us where characters stand, be it with siblings or what adventures they may have been on recently. I’m obviously speaking vaguely to avoid spoilers, but know that longtime fans and new fans alike can easily jump into this without feeling confused.

A Dawn of X title you won’t want to put down

The characterization and general pace of the book keep your interest thanks to the main hook of the series requiring we check in to figure out where characters are at. It’s amazing how these new series can feel so new while also paying respect to past stories and histories of characters. For a team book, it’s not overwhelmingly filled with characters and it’s quite easy to pick up how supporting characters will factor in as the story moves forward.

If I were to seek out anything amiss I’d say the book never reaches out and grabs you, but instead has a strong pace that never quits. If I had to describe the pace in a word, it’d be “charming” — you don’t want to stop, but you’re also never taken aback or shocked out of your seat either. Another gripe might be the data pages, which are interesting, but read more like back matter that’s unnecessary to enjoy the book. They are there for fans who want to dig deeper, I suppose.

I never thought of him as a magic wielding character. Cool!
Credit: Marvel Comics

The pace of this book is strong and yet there is so much dialogue. I’d liken this in part to Marcus To’s pencils. The layout design and mix of close up, long, and mid shots keep your interest in characters when it needs to be. The lush world of Krakoa is on full display and it looks fantastic. Props go to color artist Erick Arciniega who uses a lot of purple and pink hues on Krakoa as if it’s some kind of heaven of brightness, while enemy locations are dark and green. Pages can feel quite dynamic thanks to a well-placed sword pointing right at us and spilling off a panel or even how characters are positioned on the page from mid to long shots. It is quite amazing how much drama character placement and layout design can add to an already tense scene without a single kick or punch taken! The lettering by Cory Petit also helps the general flow of the book. Gone are the all caps letters (Hickman pointed out that leaves you more room) which I think makes the dialogue flow easier. There’s a thinner line to the letters that easy easier and less punchy, too.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this first issue but found myself totally enraptured by the narrative flow, characters, and direction. Mixing equal parts character, conflict, and good storytelling, Excalibur is alluringly charming.

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Excalibur #1
Is it good?
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this first issue but found myself totally enraptured by the narrative flow, characters, and direction. Mixing equal parts character, conflict, and good storytelling, Excalibur is alluringly charming.
A strong yin and yang between Betty and Apocalypse
Sets the stage for a new kind of conflict for the mutants
Clean art that has quite a story unfolding via color and character position
The "data" pages are interesting but seem to be extra back matter more than anything else

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