Excalibur #5 and the Gospel of Dolly Parton

Rogue lies surrounded by flowers; large hands hover over her

The events of the past four issues come to a head in Excalibur #5, as the groundwork laid by the creative team comes together in explosive ways. With the long promised return of Rogue, Excalibur assembles its full team for the first time, just in time to change the status quo in a huge fashion. Excalibur has been one of the strongest and most consistent of Marvel’s Dawn of X initiative, and this issue brings the book’s first story to a conclusion that drives the book into the future.

Excalibur #5

Erick Arciniega (Colorist), Tini Howard (Writer), Tom Muller (Designer), Cory Petit (Letterer) Marcus To (Artist).
Marvel Comics
January 8, 2020

Mahmud Asrar's cover to Excalibur #5 (Marvel Comics, January 2020).

Excalibur #5 is hectic. The events of the issue are sprawling for just twenty two pages, and the issue ends far from the place it started. By nature of the threat facing the team, there is so much happening on so many fronts, and, at first, I found this a bit overwhelming to read. But this is an issue that rewarded a reread. My first read, I’ll admit, I was underwhelmed, compared to how much I enjoyed the past two issues. What, at the end of the #4, had felt like a massive crisis was wrapped up with the wave of a hand, after pages of dreamy exposition and a little too much time spent on Pete Wisdom uncomfortably flirting with Captain Britain. But upon a reread, my opinion of the issue improved as I gave the issue a more thoughtful look. Ultimately, while a solid issue, this issue fell flat to me compared to the strength of weeks past. But it continues to be a strongly plotted book, with a story that catches my attention anew.

Finally, Rogue is back! Her return is undeniably triumphant, and spending time in her head-space was an excellent, necessary choice. Her sidelining has been a recurring frustration to me so far in this series, even if it was temporary. Reading about the comatose plight of one of the strongest women of the X-Men from the perspective of her husband wasn’t what I was hoping for from Rogue’s role in the book, and until this issue, Rogue has largely existed in the book as a pawn of -A-‘s machinations and as Gambit’s wife. Excalibur #5 brings Rogue right onto center stage. Rogue reframes her magical coma as she explores her dream world, and begins to take action. Her assertions that men have always told her she doesn’t listen and that -A- would try and take credit for her waking, “like a man,” fall flat for me in the context of the story, which is one in which Rogue has been sidelined by the actions of one man and then woken when another man sent a telepath into her mind. But once, with the revelation of a telepathic guide, Rogue takes her fate into her own hands through a ritualistic dream sequence that is heavy with Arthurian imagery, and begins acting out in defiance of any man’s plans. In her own words, she goes rogue.

Interior art to Excalibur #5, art by Marcus To and colors by Erick Arciniega.

Rogue gets three different designs from Marcus To and Erick Arciniega this issue, all eye catching. The consistent greens give her looks continuity throughout the issue, and the colors Arciniega uses in rendering costumes and characters’ power sets to distinguish each continues to be one of my favorite artistic components of the title. The jacket to her new costume is a little too Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for my tastes, but the design choice calls back to the iconic brown jacket Rogue wore in the 90s, while sticking more closely to the design aesthetic To and Arciniega have established to unify the book’s roster.

Interior art to Excalibur #5, art by Marcus To and colors by Erick Arciniega.

To and Arciniega continue to do excellent work with the otherworldly in this issue. The designs of their monsters are as strong as they were last issue, and in Rogue’s otherworld dream sequence the landscape she explores is vividly beautiful and mysterious. The world Rogue walks through changes as she enacts a ritual, and the changing landscape fascinates. Much of the storytelling in Rogue’s dream scene is visual, and the art team executes this scene so well that it was the strongest part of the issue to me.

Another strength of this book remains the high concept data pages. Designer Tom Muller and writer Tini Howard collaborate incredibly well to give significant amounts of information in easily understandable ways. The use of a data page in this issue to illustrate a ritual demonstrated but not explained in the issue and to then explicate, from the perspective of -A-, on the larger magical implications of this ritual is very clever. Without tipping their hat on what exactly the ritual -A- has been setting up will mean going forward, this data page tied Rogue’s dreamscape ritual to -A-‘s earthly plans, gave wider context for the ritual itself within a culture of human or mutant magic, and provided data on developments within the issue. The data pages in Excalibur have been consistently inventive, and are some of my favorites in the Dawn of X in terms of how well they use the data pages to creatively advance the story, without becoming repetitive.


Interior page from Excalibur 5, designed by Tom Muller and written by Tini Howard.

Ending with a twist that could change the entire Dawn of X, Excalibur #5 is an issue that deserves more than one read through. With a great deal happening, the events of the issue do feel somewhat compressed, but the pacing shifts between the busy scenes on Earth and in Rogue’s dream slow the issue down enough for readers to catch their breath. Excalibur moves its characters into unexpected places with this issue, and sets the stage for an engaging first arc.

Emma Snape

Emma Snape

Emma is an Ohio native who has worked in film production and education, and writes about comics on the side. She loves thinking about the role of visuals in narrative storytelling, both in film and comics, reading comics set in cities she's lived in, and telling people to read X-Force (1991).