Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men


  1. All that talk about mail order monkeys made me shoot my morning coffee out my nose this morning.

  2. I genuinely remember the sheer scale of that ultradense infodump and was never sure whether to be impressed or appalled, but decided this was Alan Davis Excalibur, he’d earned this.

  3. With the combined power thing – while my brain somewhat went to Captain Planet first as well (as set up by the title) – once the sheer cosmic scale of the thing started getting involved, my brain shifted gears (and went into Count_Zero Contextualizes Comics Through Anime/Manga territory) and went straight to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, even more so when I saw the cosmic versions of Rachel and Necron smashing solar systems (with the conclusion of Gurren Lagann having the Anti-Spiral using Galaxies as weapons against Gurren Lagann’s ultimate form).


    Actually, come to think about it, several major members of the staff of Studio Trigger, who are Gainax Alumni – and which was founded by people who worked on Gurren Lagann (and Panty & Stocking) – are fans of the X-Men (and even made a major reference to “House of M” in an episode of Inferno Cop), I kind of wonder if this was a deliberate reference. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about asking what other references to X-Men and Excalibur they’d done in their earlier and more recent work (I had a possible thought that Space Patrol Lulu-co was paying reference to the Crosstime Caper) when they were at Kumoricon last year. Hopefully they come back to Kumo again, and I can take advantage of the opportunity to ask.

    1. Gurren Laggan! I’ve seen about half of that, although it’s been ages – I really need to get around to finishing it, especially given that tease about its climax.

      1. That specific tease is what got me to bump the show to the top of my to-watch list myself.

        I believe the show is on Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll – which is good, because the current physical disk release is through Aniplex USA, and their whole thing is (ahem) prestige editions, which I find harder to justify recommending people get for shows they haven’t seen yet. There was also a really nice Bandai Visual boxed set that should be more affordable (I managed to pick one of those up – and when I went to Kumoricon I got it signed by the members of Studio Trigger who were there and who worked on Gurren Lagann).

  4. Excalibur #50 has some of the hands-down best comics art I’ve ever seen. Both beautiful and remarkably innovative.

  5. Oh yeah, as for the logo, I agree the original was best. I recall finding a pencil from Excalibur casino in the US, which to my surprise used a near-identical logo. Wikipedia tells me the comic came first, but I wonder if there were any legalities involved one way or the other. I recall fondly when DC comics tried to sue DC clothing for the logo being so similar, only to get countersued when it turned out the comics company had forgotten to trademark the logo.

  6. Scattered thoughts:-

    – Davis’s Excalibur remains so much better than anything in the other X-books (if this still counts as an X-book, that is). Night and day.

    – Feron not being able to touch the ground or Something Bad will happen is taken from Irish mythology. (Oisín comes back from Tír na nÓg, is told that he can’t touch the ground, doesn’t float and takes the more mundane precaution of riding a horse everywhere. This being a myth, he inevitably ends up touching the ground, because he leans out of his saddle to get a stone out of the way for somebody who’s building a road. The moral of the story is, apparently, don’t help people. Or possibly that infrastructure is bad.)

    I think you can push that a little further. Oisín connects with the Yeats reference, seeing as Oisín is the subject of one of Yeats’ more famous engagements with Irish myth. And Oisín is significant as the main interface in the Fianna cycle between Ireland’s pagan past and its Christian present (a big thing in Yeats, obviously). (Oisín, now an old man, ends up meeting St. Patrick and telling him the stories of the Fianna.) This connects to the island-of-saints-and-scholars monks at the beginning, who evoke that Christian “present” of the myth, now another mythologized part of the Irish past. This is particularly evident in the classic romantic-ruins depiction of the monastery* on the first page of #48. And in their role as guardians of Feron, the monks also exist as interfaces between the present and the magical (and so “pagan” past).

    Leaving aside the specific reference, this detail is the sort of weirdness that’s all over Irish myth, in which you can have any kind of completely insane geas imaginable that means that you have to go your entire life without doing something normal. It’s a nice little touch that suggests the setting without overdoing it, and I’ll be interested to see what happens with Feron going forward.

    The Black Boar is also very Irish-myth. (Even if the best Celtic mythological boar is Welsh. Actually, the best mythological boar, period. That’s right, Calydonian Boar, I said the best.)

    – I think the first part of #48 makes it clear that Miles is correct and that Feron has been, for essentially mythological reasons, kept hermetically sealed from information about the modern world. There’s another nice little touch that gets this across. Feron is so cut off that he has absolutely no idea who Yeats is, despite the fact that he even lives in Sligo. Leaving aside the general unlikeliness of an Irish person never having heard of Yeats, there’s a specific point here. As the monk mentions (talking, it must be said, very strangely: “nineteen-hundred and thirty-nine”), Yeats died in 1939. This comic came out very shortly after the 50-year anniversary of Yeats’ death, and Yeats was all over the media in Ireland as a result.

    – On a related note, isn’t it refreshing to have a Marvel comic with Irish characters in it who have no connection to the IRA whatsoever?

    – I continue to have the sense that Davis is recentering the comic on Captain Britain and Meggan (esp. Captain Britain) after Claremont.

    For instance, it’s interesting how the merger works visually. The original Excaliburs don’t merge together to create a composite entity (which is what the dialogue suggests and would be the way this would usually work in a comic). It works like Russian dolls. Kitty into Rachel, Rachel into Kurt, Kurt into Meggan, Meggan into Brian. The upshot is that Meggan gets the most emphasis on the first page, with the three X-characters downgraded. And this serves to allow Captain Britain visually to dominate the sequence that follows.

    Other similar things: Meggan and Brian destroy the tower (again downgrading the trio of Claremont imports) and Brian is the person who explains it to the others. Also, Brian has the last word — I think it’s really significant that he is the figure to whom Davis assigns the authority to explain the meaning of the narrative to the other characters and the readers.

    – Also, Kylun, Cerise, and Feron dilute the X-characterness of the book.

    – There’s also a slight but I think real shift in how Brian is handled, following on the “He was jinxed!” explanation for all the Claremont-era pratfalls. It’s very old-school, trying to work with what precedes, and not just ignore it. So we do still have comic Brian as he deals with his frustrations at being too large for his surroundings. But I think it’s toned-down compared to at least some of the equivalent Claremont-era stuff, and it’s balanced by having him emphasize how great it makes him feel.

    – Of course, there’s an extensive element of the plot here about the Phoenix, and Rachel gets her own enjoyably destructive sequence. But the above gives me a sense that all that, as part of the overall sense of closure in #50, is saying goodbye to Excalibur as an X-book.

    Also, Davis’s Phoenix (the force, not Rachel) arguably is about appropriating Claremont’s Phoenix and turning it into something else entirely. The Irish-mythology stuff comes in here, as does Merlin and Necrom. Claremont’s Phoenix is space-opera and science-fiction; this Phoenix is fantasy and magic. Basically, I think Davis is making Phoenix something that fits into a Captain Britain story.

    In fact, overall, I’d say that where Claremont was trying to incorporate Brian and Meggan into the X-books, and have an X-book with a comic tone set in Britain, Davis is trying to incorporate three X-characters into a Captain Britain book.

    – And while the book is still obviously set in Britain, it’s not as much Set in Britain, and specifically not as much set in Claremont’s twee “‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, what’s all this then?” PBS comedy** version of Britain. Not, again, that there’s none of that (although I would say that it’s subtly different: the pun nickname in “Inky” Blott comes from a tradition of that sort of thing most obviously represented by P. G. Wodehouse). But there is a sense here of Britain as the default norm, not the exotic place in implicit contrast with America as the default norm that it was for Claremont. To put it another way, one has the feeling that in Davis’ Excalibur, Americans would get the phonetic accents.

    – But I wonder if this is partly responsible for something that our hosts noted, that creations of this era like Kylun and Cerise have been forgotten about. I don’t know that this is an X-book any more. It’s certainly not part of the same X-line as the other books that I’m reading to follow along with the podcast. So it’s not perhaps surprising that it feeds back in so little, much as one wouldn’t expect material developed for, say, the New Warriors to be particularly likely to show up in an X-book.

    This may specifically have played a role in one of the more obvious problems with the modern X-books, which is that they really don’t know what to do with Rachel Summers, formerly Grey, formerly Summers. (Calling her “Prestige”? Definitely not it.) This *should* be a defining period in Rachel’s past that helps with that, but it’s basically erased (most notoriously in how little her relationship with the Phoenix came up in AvX). Rachel nowadays is a character whose personal history contains her origin story and then… umm, somehow, she’s still around?

    OK, Kitty and Nightcrawler don’t suffer from the same problem. But they have longer histories that give them more purchase on the classic Claremont era. You can forget about them living in Britain and it doesn’t remove as much, relatively, from their personal histories.

    – Note: I have only read as far as #50, so I may discover that I’m quite misguided as I read further.

    *Compare the way in which Davis draws the monastery to the castle that Cockrum gives to Sean Cassidy. I have a head-canon in which Cassidy Keep is really a Victorian folly. Also it is very unlikely that a member of the aristocracy would go into the guards, and he’d probably be Protestant. The Cassidys need a miniseries about their family history to do continuity surgery to explain all this.

    **Disclaimer: I am almost certainly overreacting because of my personal experiences. Because when I moved to America (not too long after this comic came out), I was somewhat disturbed to discover that not only was Are You Being Served?*** still on television in the US (on near-continual rotation on PBS), but that I kept meeting Americans who thought it was (a) funny, (b) typical of where British television comedy was at that point (in the mid-90s!), and (c) representative of actual Britain, at least as an element in a mashup with Masterpiece Theater prestige literary adaptations about the lives of the aristocracy in times past. I will say that this has gotten much better since then, with the increased salience of Britain (more exactly, London) on American screens.

    ***You know how Icon UK talked about Dad’s Army a while back? Dad’s Army was actually good — dated now, obviously, but still watchable as a nice comic exploration of the the memory of World War II, and in British media, one never runs out of interesting stuff to do with the monumental presence of the Second World War in the national imagination. Are You Being Served? Not so much.

    1. “Dad’s Army” had the advantage of being a time-capsule, a period piece from the outset, “Are You Being Served” was trying to be modern, and thus instantly dated itself (though I recall seeing it on first tun and is screamed “dated” even in the 70’s)

  7. Being picky here: Miles, you referenced the Phoenix/Selene battle as being in Uncanny #205. Actually, it was #207–205 was the Wolverine/Lady Death Strike issue drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. #207 is the issue that provided the image on my iPhone case, with one of my all-time favorite covers.

  8. I have very little to day about this episode other than that I love Davis and I love Excalibur. I remember reading an interview with Davis back in Comic World magazine talking about why Davis had left Excalibur first time and he referenced that there was an editorial error with the cover of issue 48. Kitty was meant to have a balloon saying something like “I know we look really heroic but I’m developing a cramp”. It explains Kitty’s pained expression.

    By the way I was feeling a little sorry for myself this weekend as I was planning on going to Portsmouth Comicon to tell Louise and Walter Simonson how much I love their work but I had to work as my boss had changed the Rota at the last minute so she could have the weekend off. I really was hating the World and then Sexy Dracula himself invited me to Castle Sexy Dracula and my mood was greatly lifted! Thanks Jay and Miles, you’re amazing.

  9. I think that’s a sharp observation, which could be extended to things that aren’t set in other periods. I haven’t seen Porridge in a long time, but I suspect that it probably holds up better* because its setting was exotic to most of the viewing audience and might have

    That being said, I think there probably are counter-examples. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin must hold up a lot better than Are You Being Served?, although it’s just as self-consciously “modern.” And, in fact, has probably dated more: its attitudes to midlife crisis are very 1970s and eventually it comes to center on Perrin founding a commune. Whereas workplace comedy remains a staple: quite a lot of AYBS? should remain familiar. (Although I am, admittedly, trying to think of a “standard” workplace sitcom from British television of that period that is still watchable and am failing.)

    And the thing is, Are You Being Served? seemed cringeworthily awful (at least to me) by the time when it went off the air. You can contrast something like Spaced, which is obviously later, but is now two decades old — but is still good. I think it’s the way that Thatcher era rewrote the rules, really: you’re either on one side of the rise of alternative comedy or the other, and if you’re a sitcom (sketch comedy is maybe different) that originated before that then you need to have had something there that was good.

    It is completely bizarre to me that The Young Ones and Are You Being Served? were on the air at the same time. Try as I might, I can’t get myself to remember that as having been the case. They just seem like products of two different worlds — surely the world that brought The Young Ones into being must have come into existence after the world of Are You Being Served? ended. Dragging this back on topic, it’s like imagining Rob Liefeld’s X-Force next to the 1950s Superman.

    *Disclaimer: I am a colossal Fulton Mackay fanboy. I will watch pretty much anything if you tell me that he was in it. I would watch an episode of Are You Being Served? if Fulton Mackay were in it.

    1. The original Porridge holds up superbly, and still outshines the more recent, not-bad, attempt at a remake. Ronnie Barker’s chameleon-like ability to inhabit a role is extraordinary. The fact they knew that Fletch could never “win” in any serious capacity meant they focussed on the small and petty “Little victories”. as one of the prisoners they consulted before writing, put it. Everything is small scale and that makes it incredibly relatable.

      Fulton MacKay was also a masterful actor, superb as the martinet prison officer, but if you get a chance try to find the 1983 movie “Local Hero”, where he plays a wise, whimsically charming, beachcomber, or his episodes as the UK’s human lead in “Fraggle Rock”, the equivalent of the US’s “Doc”.. in our version “the Captain” runs the lighthouse on Fraggle Rock, an island off the coast of Scotland. Thinking about it, and bringing it back on topic a little, it’s possibly quite near Muir Isle, which could lead the cutest crossover EVER! Imagine Rahne and the New Mutants meeting the Fraggles!)

      And on that slightly RE-railing note, I suspect I’d better stop here before this becomes “Jay and Miles Xchange Bemused Glances over Discourse about old UK Sitcoms”

  10. Love the fact that the ’90s trading card tradition you speak of involving releasing characters that nobody knows anything about so you make shit up has carried on in Heroclix (I’m looking at you Sentry & Hope) since I own so many of both.

  11. Whine!

    I’m listening to this ep again, and there doesn’t seem to have a tagged “As Mentioned In…” post.

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