Review by Karl Verhoven
Excalibur’s earliest incarnation incorporated Captain Britain, and utilised a fair amount of the back story created in Alan Moore’s UK only Captain Britain stories, most notably the idea of Otherworld, a nexus of assorted fantasy kingdoms. That’s central to Tini Howard shunting the series definitively into fantasy territory, gradually to begin with, then headlong over the content of what will presumably follow as Vol. 2.
However, any readers not infatuated enough to pick up the wider selection of X-Men related titles rebooted in 2019 are granted no concessions. Even basics such as explaining who people are or their capabilities are absent, and it’s not until the following stories that Howard really gets to grips with explaining her ideas. This isn’t just a matter of teasing with mysteries to be resolved later, but a fundamental lack of coherence, and additionally solutions to problems that will occur to readers are never explored.
Howard starts with sorcerer Morgaine Le Fay angered that the vegetative teleporting technology the X-Men use is intruding into Otherworld. “What is this weed that pollutes Camelot?”, she asks while plunging her advisor’s head into a pool of water. That leads to an attack on Excalibur. Apocalypse, or as he’d now prefer to be known as per the new language devised by mutants, proves to be the most interesting character. His past ensures no-one entirely trusts him, while he continues to keep secrets and press ahead with his own agenda, but given the threats faced, largely generated by Otherworld and those who access it, his knowledge and power is a valuable asset.
So is artist Marcus To. He’s required to skip from world to world, and he differentiates them skilfully and decoratively. He commits to ensuring the environments are fully rendered, giving a far greater sense of place, and his floral locations are especially decorative, although he’s convincing with other fantasy trappings. Over a couple of chapters midway through Wilson Santos is equally committed to visual emotional depth, and because Howard’s unclear about much that’s happening, this is important.
The primary change is Betsy Braddock now becoming Captain Britain, and the focus on her only becomes stronger as the series continues. She’s someone with a foot in two worlds, and a confident personality who wants to do the right thing as she sees it. She’s frustrated off Earth at being treated as somehow lesser than her brother in the Captain Britain identity, and that partly also feeds into a different twist on anti-mutant sentiment. On the fantasy worlds mutants are referred to as Witchbreed, which isn’t entirely logical for characters quite happy to use magic to further their own ends.
A continuing lack of clarity means this opening half of Howard’s Excalibur isn’t easy reading, which is a shame for a series that looks very good. That, though, is a problem solved for the next volume. It’s not apparent to begin with, but much of what happens here sets up the very readable X of Swords crossover uniting all X-Men related titles.