Excalibur #6: Hail to the King, Baby

Betsy kneels before Apocalypse who sits on a throne surrounded by the other members of Excalibur

Excalibur #6 begins with a resurrection, jumping directly into action as the story forges ahead. The X-Men meet D&D in this issue as the team returns to Otherworld on a rescue mission, and finds themselves caught up in a war for the throne they didn’t anticipate. To rescue Brian Braddock, Excalibur travels further into the mystical corner of the Dawn of X, only to find another mutant on the throne of Otherworld.

Excalibur #6

Erick Arciniega (Colorist), Tini Howard (Writer), Tom Muller (Designer), Cory Petit (Letterer) Marcus To (Artist).
Marvel Comics
January 22, 2020

Excalibur #6 is a swords, shields, and sorcery quest into Otherworld, that sees the team flexing their powers at new heights. Now that things have settled down on Earth, following the newly settled political position of Excalibur in Great Britain and the halted incursion of Otherworld monsters through the holes in reality burned by Shogo’s dragon fire, there is finally time for the new Captain Britain to lead her new team to rescue her twin brother, Brian. In Otherworld, they discover Morgan le Fay’s army driven out of Camelot and fighting to regain ground from “Apocalypse and his witchbreed forces,” and le Fay entirely removed from the throne. Newly resurrected after the events of the issue before, thanks to his position on the Quiet Council, -A- steps in to arrange an end to the fighting. For the right to the throne, he proposes a duel between two champions: Betsy Braddock fighting for his forces, and Brian Braddock fighting on behalf of le Fay’s.

The issue is well paced, balancing fast-paced action with quieter character moments. Multiple twists change the circumstances of Excalibur dramatically, without resorting to shock value. The timing of these reveals is strong, propelling the issue’s story forward at a steady pace. The first data page of the issue tips one of the issue’s best laid twists, the question of Otherworld’s throne, giving away a development that could have been unexpected, even as it was set up well by the prior five issues. But even with the information given early in the issue, the actualization of the reveal is still effective because of the strength of response it garners within the story.

The character moments this issue are engaging, balancing out the energetic pace of scenes of battle. The depth and complexity of the relationships between the three Braddock siblings shine through in the interactions between Betsy, Brian, and Jamie. The status quo in the family shifts explosively this issue, as Jamie’s role in Otherworld and Brian’s status with the Captain Britain Corps are clarified. A conversation between Rogue and Gambit gives Rogue a chance to finally assert some agency, after many issues of silence, followed by an explosive response to that silencing. It’s a particularly welcome change of pace for Rogue to assert agency over her own body, after she spent so many issues in an intentionally inflicted coma, and the conversation feels earned, and reassuring.

Rogue and Gambit in a hot tub.

The art team remains as strong as they’ve been for the full run of Excalibur so far. The use of mutant powers in Otherworld give them some space to flex; pages dominated by Rictor exercising his earthquake powers or Morgan le Fay calling upon her green lightening showcase artist To and colorist Arcinega’s abilities.

Consistently, one of the strengths of the book has been the page layouts. Rather than relying on conventional grids, the majority of pages this issue loosen the conventional structure and shift individual panels around the page according to the flow and spacing of the art. To’s inventive, kinetic paneling leads the eye through the action of each page, directing the reading of each page with liquid fluidity, unobtrusive even without the guiding hand of a grid layout. Panels float over full page spreads, layering individual moments of the smaller panels over the scene set by the establishing spread. Unmooring panels from the usual grid of the page is more than just a visually dynamic choice, it’s one that reflects the central ideas of the book well. Magic has rules but that doesn’t make it predictable, and the page layouts echo that lawful wildness.

This has been one of the most engaging issues of Excalibur so far, propelled forward by the team letting loose with their powers in Otherworld, and grounded by checking in on their emotional states. In upcoming issues, I hope to see some equal focus on Jubilee and Rictor’s lives, as the focus has rested largely on the interpersonal affairs of the Braddock family or Rogue and Gambit or -A-‘s plots. Issue #7 will welcome a new artist, Wilson Santos, so the book will have a new feel in the issues to come. But even as To has been essential to establishing the tone of Excalibur thus far, it will be exciting to see what Santos brings to the title, and how the scope of Excalibur continues to shift and grow.

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).