The Hellfire Gala is in full swing after kicking off at the beginning of June with Marauders, X-Force, and Hellions, and this week we see more of the event play out in X-Men and Excalibur #21.
Erick Arciniega (colors), Mahmud Asrar (cover), Ariana Maher (letters), Tini Howard (writer), Tom Muller (design), Marcus To (art), Matt Wilson (cover)
June 9, 2021
This review contains spoilers for Excalibur #21.
Once again, I really do like the idea of seeing various moments of the Hellfire Gala through the lenses of the different ongoing series. I think it’s a unique narrative trick and that the titles are putting it to good use so far, and the way it’s playing out certainly is amping the mystery up, as little pieces are revealed here and there.
That said, parts of Excalibur #21 did not land for me. Particularly the coldness of the Rictor and Shatterstar reunion just felt off from what we’ve seen of the two recently. It feels like Howard is moving Rictor backwards towards the Peter David X-Factor years, rather than forward into something newer and healthier. The backslide could work but didn’t feel particularly earned in this case.
The stuff that did land for me in this issue landed well, though. As much as I don’t like Pete Wisdom as a character, everything that revolved around him was great and paid off things that have been building since the start of the series. Particularly Britain breaking off their agreements with Krakoa, as they’re being influenced by Coven Akkaba to not trust mutants of any persuasion, even one who is named the protector of the realm. This tension has been building for almost the entire run of this title and pivots the book neatly into the next chapter. For now, things like Otherworld are likely going to the back burner while we focus on the British stuff, and that’s fine.
I’m also excited about the prospect of another child for Brian and Meggan, though a little concerned as to why she’s keeping it secret from Brian. I love this family dearly and want nothing but the best for all of them, even the utterly clueless Brian. I am wondering if this secret being kept from him is hinting at some sort of drama about the pregnancy, which I would love for the book but hate for the characters, so we shall see where it goes.
And while we continue to beg for some textual relationships to develop for queer lady characters, we do get treated once again to a wink and a nod with Rachel and Betsy. I’m not as tired of subtext as some of my peers, but I really do wish we could get more than just a fancy dance at a gala when Iceman and Christian get to continue to be very textual with their relationship.
And finally, we get equal and opposite actions carried out by Coven Akkaba and Excalibur in regards to threats and statements made at the gala. Akkaba seemed to be threatening at the event that they would lay claim to the land that the Lighthouse sits on as British soil, and to that, Rictor came up with the solution of just making it not be British anymore. A clever answer resulting in a new island off the coast of mainland England. At the same time, Akkaba uses Wisdom’s blind faith in country over people to sacrifice him to free Morgan le Fay.
In all, the Excalibur chapter of the Gala will probably read better when combined with all the chapters but does move the title’s individual plots forward for the next stage after.