REVIEW: Excalibur #19 and #20 – Depression AND Possession

Kwannon looks down

When last we met, I made the comment how refreshing it was to see the X-Men dealing with basic depression, and how interesting it was that their first assumption would be possession and not depression. Well, Excalibur #19 wound up making me look like a big ol’ dummy because Betsy was in fact possessed, by none other than “That fucking gal” Malice. However, I was still partially right, as we got Malice’s origin in Excalibur #20.

Excalibur #19-20

Erick Arciniega (colors), Mahmud Asrar (cover), Ariana Maher (letters), Tini Howard (writer), Tom Muller (design), Marcus To (art), Matt Wilson (cover)
Marvel Comics
March 24, 2021, and April 7, 2021

This review contains spoilers for Excalibur #19 and Excalibur #20 and also contains content pertaining to suicidal ideation.

Kwannon attacking Betsy

There are two big concerns when talking about Excalibur #19. The first is the really, really problematic ties to British colonialism that the book has, and how little it does to deconstruct those, despite being the perfect book to cut into that. There’s not much I can say better than Alexandra Iciek did over at AIPT, so please go give her review a read, as she comes at this from a much better-versed angle than I could.

The second, which ties into the first, is the very concept of the Captain Britain Corps. In its heart, the Corps is a police force for the omniverse. Each Captain is given charge of keeping order over his or her world, and at times they come together to fight bigger threats. Given how peacekeeping forces can be handled, this poses a problematic risk, in which the stories turn into a form of propaganda for the British war machine. What has kept that at bay in the past is that previously, all of the Captains Britain have been the Brians Braddock of their world. And while he’s a big beefy boy, and has a bit of a temper, Brian at his heart is a dolt. He’s just not that bright, despite having a Ph.D. in physics. He’s a source of comic relief, the bumbling fool that falls prey to pratfall after pratfall. This makes the Captain Britain Corps of the past more light-hearted, they’re often the butts of the joke. And it takes the edge off of the metaphor they can represent.

After X of Swords, Brian is no longer the template for the Captains. Instead, each Captain is its Earth’s Betsy. And while Brian is a bumbling oaf, his sister… very much is not. She’s excessively competent, has a mean streak, and can be remorseless when the situation calls for it. This changes the very composition of the Corps into something more militaristic, more deadly. No longer is a source of comedic relief (despite the Violet Swan), but instead a shining example of Britain’s imperialistic tendencies. Now hopefully in future issues Tini Howard will deconstruct this and break it down better, but right now it is a bit worrisome.

Betsy, Kwannon and Rogue being assaulted by Malice

The issue ended with the revelation that Malice had been the one controlling Betsy’s body, and with her expunged Betsy’s soul is able to reclaim the body. What comes next in Excalibur #20 is a wild and unexpected swerve as the first of the issue dives into the origin of Malice, a character on who we’ve never had much background. Since her introduction as one of Sinister’s Marauders, she’s been a vindictively evil and malevolent force, wresting control over various X-Men to play cruel games with them. And while that doesn’t change here, we do find out the missing pieces of her story that have led her to this point.

Malice was born Alice MacAllister because her parents hated her and this is comics where bullshit names like Blackagar Boltagon run rampant. In actuality, it’s shown that her mother does very much love her, but that Alice has problems with loving herself. Alice is a depressed teenager, a girl who has decided there is only one path left for her, and she tries to take her own life. To her mother, it appears she’s successful, but the girl’s innate mutant power kicked in, and left her soul unshackled, searching for new homes.

Tying Malice’s origins to a suicide attempt is a decidedly dark turn for this book and one that doesn’t quite land, despite the actions that are taken throughout the rest of the issue. It’s clear that even without a body of her own, Alice’s feelings and search for lasting death have not changed, and when, at the end of the issue she’s given a new husk and the amnesty that comes with living on Krakoa, we are left with the feeling that this part of her story is far from over.

Excalibur #20 closes out this chapter of Excalibur’s story, but all in all, this arc left me a little underwhelmed. These last two issues fail to land, missing important unaddressed problems, and while Betsy is back, there is still much left to fix going forward.

Cori McCreery

Cori McCreery

Cori is a life long comic nerd residing in Northern California. A life long Supergirl and DC Comics fan, she is the DC Comics Beat Reporter for Women Write About Comics.