Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

276 – Wizard Problems

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

In which Excalibur gets a regular writer again; we judge a book against against its covers; nothing good ever comes from being sexy on Muir Isle; and the soul sword’s real power is cutting through continuity.


  • Stegron
  • Dinosaur powers
  • Excalibur #83-85 (The Soul Sword Trilogy)
  • Warren Ellis on Excalibur
  • Excalibur (more) (again)
  • Bends Sinister and Bend Sinister
  • Outsider days
  • Mail
  • Boundaries
  • Darkoth
  • Gravemoss
  • The Winding Way
  • Shrill
  • A problematic prosthesis
  • Roger Corman’s The Raven
  • A large number of continuity errors
  • Gratuitous dickery
  • An untold tale
  • The semantics of skin removal
  • Possession vs. retrograde amnesia
  • The circle of nostalgia

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  1. Okay, I have a Soulsword theory to try and explain some of the issues, so bear with me on this. (Cracks metaphorical knuckles)

    (I’m not a fan of it being a separate “thing”, but Ellis didn’t create that idea. Excalibur 37 did that and I’ve had to work around that since you covered that issue, so this is sort of your fauly guys!)

    Ahem… Magic users in Limbo can create extensions of their inner nature and their form differs from user to user. Storm had acorns, Illyana had her sword, because they suit their different natures.

    So suppose the manifestation of their inner self comes from their soul, but makes use of natural Limbo-sourced resources for a material form. Storm accessed Limbo based plant life to create her purifying acorns. Illyana’s magic reached out and drew on the unique metal of Limbo, on the soulsteel, to create the sword.

    That doesn’t lessen her creation of it in any way (I hope), but does explain why it’s something can be physically transferred between users (though modulated queerness should never be underrated as a medium, of course), it has an existence beyond Illyana herself. The fact other things are made out of soulsteel suggest that it’s some sort of resource.

    Tnis might also explain some of the inconsistencies with the sword later. it was intangible to everything except magic when weilded by the person who created it, but everyone beyond the end of Inferno, including Kitty and Illyana 2.0 from Infernum aren’t her, so it acts more like a normal metal sword with them, though it CAN still work like that if the stars align and their motivation is 100% pure, like Kitty freeing Kurt.

    It has to be said the end of Inferno makes pretty much no sense in terms of Magik continuity, as it undoes what happened to her without undoing anything she’d actually done (not a sentence that should ever be said by anyone other that a temporal mechanic, or Stephen Moffatt), so I can easily handwave away some inconsistencies at that part.

    But to with it, older Illyana somehow passing the soulsword to her younger self, possibly without realising it, almost makes sense in it’s own right. The souldsword exists (and magic is selfish, it wants to exist and persist) and is part of Limbo as well as Magik, so for the sake of cosmic balance, it shifted into the viable host (Li’l Illyana).to allow it to continue exist even if older Illyana did away with herself… somehow.

    Alternately, the sword passed to Kitty and she “shared” it with Limbo after Illyana “undid” herself, where the Darkoth stuff happened, but when Li’l Illyana’s Legacy Virus started flaring up later on, her nascent powers drew the sword back into her, and she then passed it to Kitty as shown.

    1. I don’t really know that one even needs the Soulsword to be made from Limbo-stuff to justify either independent existence or the term “soulsteel.” It could be part of Illyana’s soul, transmuted into something that looks like metal — and a magician’s technical term for this metal-like soul substance could indeed be “soulsteel.” Shrill’s eye is then another soulsteel artifact made from someone else’s soul at some point.

      1. Sigh, there’s always someone who brings things like “logic” and “elegant simplicity” into my over-complicated continuity mish mash… grumble grumble


  2. Scattered thoughts:-

    -They say that the essence of a good story is conflict, and you can always count on one source of conflict when Warren Ellis does Big Two superhero comics: the titanic struggle between a writer and his hatred for the genre he’s writing in. One can feel Ellis reassuring himself about how much he’d rather be writing a Vertigo book when he makes Gravemoss say “Preening spandex clowns.”

    Not that Gravemoss is the only voice of the author here. There is, oddly enough, a character who combines smoking with sarcastic contempt for others. Yes, she’s ostensibly evil, but note how possessed Kitty suddenly develops a line in mockery of the rest of the cast that doubles as mockery of the book itself: when she imitates Moira, is that making fun of Moira’s intradiegetic Scottishness or of the Claremontian dialogue with which Moira has traditionally been characterized?

    -Ellis’s productively tense relationship with the superhero genre is obviously part and parcel of his at best ambivalent attitude to Americanness. Ellis is that is the first British! writer of this comic book set in Britain. British!, not just British— obviously, Alan Davis wrote from a British perspective, but Ellis is a writer who is much more self-conscious about his Britishness, and defines it in opposition to Americanness in a way that not all British creators do — Ministry of Space is probably the most extreme example of Ellis doing this, but you can trace it in various places in his work (not to mention plenty of explicit comments that he made back in the era of his very prolific online presence).

    So, Brian, the most British character, isn’t just reverted to normal. I felt that you could feel Davis dialing down on Claremont’s buffoonish portrayal of the character, but Davis was careful to maintain continuity with it. But this Brian goes far beyond ditching the Britanic characterization — he has now become highly intelligent, calm, knowledgeable, and is generally speaking (although hardly in this comic) coming across as meant to be the mature grown-up in the room. I’ll be curious to see where this goes.

    -Obviously, all that’s also relevant to Ellis’s disdain for continuity. But in fact, not all the continuity divergences are necessarily Ennis’s doing, and some of the main ones definitely aren’t. The opening credits say that the story is based on an idea by Scott Lobdell, and we can’t know how detailed the plot was that Ellis was given. At any rate, the basic premise of the story must be Lobdell’s, and that means that the big changes — the stuff about the Soulsword — are presumably just details that Ellis was given.

    -“They make John Wayne look like George Burns.” Well, there’s an up-to-date pop culture reference. Makes one miss Peter David. (No, not really.)

    -“Trapped in here with me.” Sorry, still not OK with it. Quite apart from anything else, it perpetuates the long tradition of reading that issue of Watchmen as showing Rorschach as being Just So Awesome. (Don’t get me wrong — that’s in there. But that line’s got an element of horror as well as “#$%@ yeah!” in its original context.)

    -In particular, don’t reference Watchmen, which despite its many flaws is the opposite of sloppy, if you’re going to commit a crime against storytelling like that ending page.

    1. I think that that approach works better with Excalibur, because Excalibur has never felt like a superhero team in the more typical sense.

      They don’t go on patrol, or have archenemies, or do much in the way of handle supervillains. They’re a bunch of people with powers who get caught up in adventures (much like the New Mutants did in their early days) or get called into inestigate things/handle things beyond the norm.

      I also question the extent to which Alan Davis didn’t stand in opposition to American writing norms. I doubt an American writer of this ear would have come up with the likes of Horatio Cringebottom and Bert. But Davis comes at it from a more cartoony angle, mocking the tropes in a way that Ellis just doesn’t seem to bother with when he can push them over.

      Brian is an interesting case too, as Ellis remembers his science and engineering smarts, which he had had in his distant past, but which had been somewhat overlooked in all the Otherworld and superpowers stuff. I like this Brian.

      If pushed, I’d have sworn that “I’m not trapped in here with you…” predated Watchmen but couldn’t have told you where it was from. Live and learn.

      1. Reading it over, that probably came across as too negative about Ellis. Ellis is obviously a genuinely significant writer – easily the most significant writer to work on an X-book since Claremont. This is obviously not going to make anyone’s list of his significant work, but it’s interesting to look at a major artist’s minor pieces.

        For instance, I ignored the point that Ellis’s disdain for continuity is about details, not character (except for Brian, where I think it’s a conscious choice not to let the side down in front of the Americans) — when it comes to the characterization of Kitty he zeroes in on something *essential* to the core of the character, her relationship with Logan, and uses the past there more effectively than anyone has done in a long while.

        (Also, it immediately puts the lie to the “Ellis got Kitty’s age wrong” canard. The contrast with the flashback makes it clear that present-day Kitty who is *meant* to have grown up. Ellis didn’t get anything wrong — Claremont did when he attempted to reset the character to a younger age.)

        But I’d stick to my contrast between Davis and Ellis on Britishness – Davis certainly wrote (and drew!) in a British nonsense tradition in a way that no American is likely to do, but there’s a distinction to be drawn between “different from” and “opposed to,” or between “British” and “British and emphatically not American.” At the same time, Ellis is fascinated by America — I don’t think you can be as interested in the history of technology in the 20th century as he is and not be. But that second point wasn’t something that came out here — I have no doubt it’s coming up.

        On Brian – I don’t know. I sympathize with Ellis’s reaction – as I’ve noted before, on the axis British-American, British is not the privileged position, and neither Claremont or Lobdell showed any awareness of that in how they handled Brian. On the other hand, our hosts were dead right about Brian being ridiculously privileged in every other imaginable respect. A Brian who is rich, gorgeous, upper-class, superpowerful, a brilliant scientist, calm, competent, levelheaded…. But I’ll see what Ellis does with him – I suspect it will be more interesting than the rather bland character that we have here, because I don’t see Ellis writing anything that boring.

  3. This was the first issue of Excalibur I ever read and I had absolutely no context for any of it. I was quite confused.

  4. I love Kitty’s outsider day, because I suspect those would be useful things to have in her sort of life.

    “Ghost of a dead boy, filled with wires” made my heart break a little back then, and even after all this time, still does.

    You miss my other favourite, Kurt being one of her best friends, depsite looking a bit like a blue hearthrug.

    No Lucas, you did not fly halfway across the planet to deliver millinery unless hats were involved which, in fairness, they might well be.

    I’d spotted “The Dark Adapted Eye” quote but hadn’t heard of the Nabokov novel for “Bend Sinister”, I thought it was just a reference to Gravemoss having an illegitimate claim to the Soulsword.

    And yes, the Raven is wonderful

  5. I remember reading an interview with Warren Ellis back around the time this came out (I think it was in Wizard) where he talked about his plans for Excalibur. Specifically on Kitty’s age where he said he was going to make her 18. Though it’s been a while, I seem to remember him repeating a conversation with his editor where he basically said “Kitty is going to f**k”. His editor’s reply was “… make it tasteful”.

    If I’m also remembering correctly, the editor then had a change of heart but issue #90 was already in the can, so to speak.

  6. Tarot does use at least two decks in continuity, because one of them is the Tarot of the Cat People (real deck, Andre Norton wrote real books inspired by it, which is delightful) and the other is not. So I think she’s at least not tied to one exact deck.

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