REVIEW: Excalibur #25 Serves Up Arthurian Romance

Betsy averting her eyes from a reclining Saturnyne

I’ll always be a fool for a good Arthurian romance, and the important parts of Excalibur #25 certainly scratch that itch for me.

Excalibur #25

Erick Arciniega (colors), Mahmud Asrar (cover), Joe Caramagna (letters), Tini Howard (writer), Tom Muller (design), Marcus To (art), Matt Wilson (cover)
Marvel Comics
November 10, 2021

This review contains spoilers for Excalibur #25.

Captain Britain and King Arthur locked in sword combat falling from the Starlight Citadel

But before I talk about the part of the book that screams Arthurian Romance to me, I want to talk a bit about the actual conflict in the issue. In the couple of issues that we’ve missed coverage on in the past couple of months, King Arthur has returned and aims to reclaim Avalon. The big reveal of this arc turns the Marvel Universe’s version of the Arthurian myth on its head, revealing that Arthur’s son Mordred is a mutant, and that was the source of the blood feud between them.

Turning Arthur into an anti-mutant bigot is a bold choice. But throughout this arc, Howard makes it work. And it works because while Arthurian myth is couched on chivalry and righteousness, those traits aren’t always attributed to Arthur himself, but rather with those he surrounds himself. Arthur is a born leader, but he’s not without flaws, and that holds true in the Marvel Universe.

The Arthur depicted in Excalibur #25 is dripping with toxic masculinity, which goes hand in hand with his other prejudices. As he states that “Only women and bards shed tears for broken things,” his face hidden in shadow, he’s a shell of the Arthur audiences are most familiar with, and it makes him a terrifying force of a villain. He’s a villain who sees what he’s doing as righteous because Merlin has conditioned him to believe that and is willing to lay waste to all who he considers an enemy of his kingdom.

The art team does a lot of great work in this issue, doing a great job of capturing the chaos of a fantasy battle. The multi-page combat is full of magic and wonder, but also plenty of swordplay and violence. Arciniega’s colors shift from a muted and dark pallette on the battlefield to vibrant and bright when magic is involved, and it’s an incredible contrast. Credit also to Joe Caramagna for the fun effects that he threw in for Merlin’s spellcasting.

Betsy Braddock holding a metal sword in shorts and a crop top in front of green mist from Excalibur #25
My kingdom for Betsy’s abs

So if I described this issue as an Arthurian Romance, but also described Arthur as the villain of the story, what could I possibly be referring to? Well, Arthur isn’t the hero of Excalibur, that’s Betsy Braddock, and she fulfills the role of the chivalrous knight to incredible effect in this issue. It’s something that’s been building for much of the run, but as we approach the new post-Inferno status quo, it seems like Betsy’s arc of self-discovery is reaching its apex. Indeed, as she rescues her damsel in distress, it’s very much coded in the way of Arthurian Romance.

Captain Britain catching a falling Saturnyne in front of sparkling starlight in Excalibur #25
A knight and her damsel

That’s a feeling that holds for the remainder of the issue, and though I don’t expect Marvel to allow Tini Howard to follow through, it’s clear to me that she’s drawing from that inspiration. I desperately want this ship to sail, but for now I will settle for longing and hope for the best.

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.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Excalibur #25 Serves Up Arthurian Romance

  1. I have come to be fascinated this book for its utter lack of self-awareness when it comes to imperialism. Betsy putting down the natives for the sake of her brother, a racist slave trader who’s kept on the throne for the sake of Krakoa’s geopolitical interests, masked behind rhetoric of bringing civilization and equality and ancient mutant claims to the land. It’s amazing how Betsy can be a paragon of colonialism even when she’s not literally colonizing an Asian woman’s body.

    At one point in Betsy’s imperialist rant to Arthur she claims that mutantkind is too wise for tyrants when every mutant state we know of is a tyranny led by the strong. It’s astonishing. I don’t think Tini Howard actually realizes what she’s writing, I think this is meant to be read as empowering instead of horrifying. A classic case of white feminism.

    It really feels like Tini Howard is of the opinion that there are certain people-certain cultural or ethnic groups-who are naturally superior, their leadership is naturally superior, and it’s the jealous and grasping lesser people that want to keep them from achieving their destiny. I wonder if she’s thought about what that ideal people, those Elect, look like, or if they’re a hazy idea and are only mostly white in her X-men books because X-men are mostly white?

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