Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

359 – Meanwhile in Britain

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

In which Excalibur has a lot going on; Margali Szardos is never up to any good; Nightcrawler grows into leadership; we delve into the politics of superheroism; Pete Wisdom earns his keep; Miles catches a Prisoner reference; and we reach the end of Warren Ellis’ Excalibur.

X-PLAINED:

  • John the Skrull
  • Excalibur #100-103
  • The current state of Excalibur
  • Black Air (again)
  • The Hellfire Club (London Branch)
  • Australia
  • Margali Szardos (more)
  • Demonic ethernet
  • Captain Britain’s new-old suit
  • Emma Steed
  • Dune
  • Several fights
  • Combat IT
  • Boolean definitions of madness
  • The Department
  • Laserdisks
  • Patriotism
  • Many doppelgangers
  • Nightcreeper
  • Another reference to Dante’s Inferno

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16 comments

  1. Thank you two for answering my question! It’s fun to hear you talk process and to see how you’ve grown over the course of these many years of recording!

  2. I have a no-prize explanation for how Douglock can carry the bandwidth needed for demon powers in pre-cat 5 days: Warlock is from an unfathomably advanced techno-organic species, and is certainly running on cat 10 or cat 12 technology.

  3. It’s time for one of Icon_UK’s patented “lengthy random assemblage of barely collated thoughts!”

    This was quite a finale to a run that certainly shook up the concept of Excalibur. It may not have been as much dotty fun as it had been, but it did have some interesting ideas and explored a different sort of Britishness. And overall I enjoyed it more than I expected (and a LOT more than what was to come)

    I did like Kurt’s stressing that Excalibur are NOT soldiers and do not have a remit to kill. They can act to prevent criminality, but that’s it, and that has limits too.

    Creative use of abilities in a fight scene are definitely one of Ellis’ strengths, though the repeated “Leave me behind, you go on” gets old quickly.

    I thought “Computer genius” Kitty casually treating poor Douglock as as the product of a Windows Explorer file structure to be one of the … less impressive moments as I never really thought of the Technarch as being that straightforward in terms of coding.

    I wonder how long it was before they realised poor Douglock had forgotten everyone’s last names, or could suddenly no longer see the colour green, but on the plus side now got to re-read Moira’s Agatha Christie collection because, for some reason, he’d forgotten all the plots). The fact Kitty probably installed Comet Cursor whilst in there didn’t help.

    And the Independence Day comparison also occurred to me, and that doesn’t help Kitty’s case AT ALL, because even if I wasn’t already in severe risk of losing my eyeballs as I rolled them so hard so many times as the sheer… Americanosity of that movie, that moment almost caused me to hurt myself laughing. Not only is an alien OS compatible with Earth software, it was compatible with APPLE software?? Suuuure…. but I digress.

    Moira referring to Douglock as a “brazen hussy” is a little odd, since that’s a very gendered term and not the gender Douglock presents as.

    I always did like Pete’s probably entirely genuine offer to teach Douglock some properly antisocial habits!

    I’d also like to say I have NO idea what Pete and Kitty are eating for breakfast, I mean yes to the fried eggs and the sausages, and the box of Special K, but those look like… muffins on their plates? Where the hell would serve muffins as part of a breakfast fry up? I think I’m going to have to assign that one to non-British involvement.

    Pete and Kitty’s discussion about how the Avengers were the conservative heroes works with both a capital and a small C. The Avengers always felt like the heroes you COULD take home to mother, who probably combed their hair before missions, and didn’t leave socks lying around. Whereas the likes of Cable or Logan are… yeah, not that.

    (And the US casually sending an armed hit squad to a Scottish town? Not sure that’s entirely legal there chums… Maybe not TOO improbable though)

    I’ve mentioned before (probably) that Brian and Meggan’s discussion about how the British treat their heroes, and how the public doesn’t love anything THAT unconditionally I found fascinating at the time, and likely true, though that naive view was dented somewhat given that within a year or so we’d have the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, which was treated as a frenzied nationwide mourning event unlike anything seen before (Though to what extent that was what it really was, and what certain media barons reported it as being, is one for the historians.)

    And for some benighted reason the idea of Aberystwyth’s most dangerous mutant, the Crimson Goatgouger, has lingered in my memory for for longer than it has any right to. 🙂

    Not really seeing much of the Creeper in Kurt, but Amalgam was weird. (I mean Kurt’s natural doppelgänger in the DCU has to be Dick Grayson, flirty and charming former circus acrobat turned hero who stops criminals, but does it with STYLE… oh, and terrific derrière!

    I did notice that one of the Kitty’s is in flares, with a belt made of linked discs, which is a nod to Phantom Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

    I was unaware that that was Kitty being as a Messianic Jew, though I did wonder about the Star of David/Crucifix combination and simply thought it was something made up for the story. In those days, even though I remember passing a “Jews for Jesus” building a few times in London, it wasn’t something you could look up online and I certainly had no idea about the symbology. Always good to learn something new.

    At the end of the day, I think this run took most of the characters in interesting and plausible directions;

    Rahne confronting Reverend Craig will always be a high spot for me

    Meggan realising the power her elemental abilities gave her.

    Kurt becoming more of a leader

    Brian NOT being a leader, but being more of a scientist again.

    Piotr being seriously messed up after the never-ending shitshow his life had been,

    Douglock going from “The ghost of a dead boy, cast in wires” to his own person

    I think Kitty changed least, but she’d had so much character development over the years before, that this just seemed to be more her ageing up into being the terrifyingly efficient (it temper prone) young woman she had always been going to be. And yes, I will hold that the de-aging of her later on did her character serious harm.

    And Pete Wisdom was, well, an entertaining character. Even if one from what was already a rather familiar Ellis-ian mode.

    1. When they first met Dracula in X-Men, Kitty tried to use a cross and it had no effect on him, but her Star of David necklace burned him.
      Dracula: “Little fool, you have outsmarted yourself! The cross has no power over such as I if the wielder does not believe in it! You are no Christian, but a Hebrew!”

      1. Oh I knew that 616 Kitty was Jewish, from her very first appearance where she wore her Star of David pendant.

        It was that the alt-Kitty seen in this issue was a member of something which actually existed rather than a fictional faith for the purposes of the story which I was unaware of.

        Looking it up, it’s a complicated hybridising of partial sets of both belief systems (Following Jewish law, but accepting Yeshua as the Messiah) that seems to have grown out of some evangelical forms of Christianity but considers itself to be fundamentally Jewish. Though the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled it a Christian sect and so invalid for the Law of Return.

        Fascinating, but probably going beyond the scope of the podcast.

  4. – I miss W.H.O too! Alysande was such a loss

    – And I also love Margali’s Corinthian eyes

    – I’m also not a huge Dune person but omg yes the David Lynch visuals are GREAT

    – I really wish that Margali was given more personality and motive for her turn to evil. Because I feel there’s a lot of material there! She’s a Romani woman living in a version of Europe that seems perpetually stuck in an ambiguous Ren Faire time period, I feel like being a powerless and oppressed person for so long while KNOWING you could use your gifts to have a better life even if it’s at the expense of others fits SO WELL with the X-Men theme. Admittedly that’s a story in which a Romani woman is demonized and uses witch stereotypes but like. . .the story is doing that ANYWAY so maybe at least give her some sympathy. It frustrates me how she was the better mother to Kurt and seems to have been a good person when she raised him, yet her fall to evil is given so much less sympathy, nuance, and exploration than Mystique.

    – That’s a really interesting point about American patriotism and Cap.

    – I miss OG Moira. I was never a huge Moira fan, but I liked that she was a badass and brilliant lady who was devoted to helping mutants despite not being one and had good reasons for why that would be important to her. Having her get retconned into both a mutant herself and a genocidally self-loathing one seems like such a slap in the face to that.

    1. > “I miss OG Moira. I was never a huge Moira fan, but I liked that she was a badass and brilliant lady who was devoted to helping mutants despite not being one and had good reasons for why that would be important to her. Having her get retconned into both a mutant herself and a genocidally self-loathing one seems like such a slap in the face to that.”

      I didn’t so much mind Moira turning out to be a mutant herself. Mutant or human, she was still the same ally, standing with the X-Team mutants to the very end. Whether as Moira or Moira X, she never had the sort of powers that would allow her to defend herself in battle. But she still took up arms to fight alongside them when they needed her.

      But I felt that Inferno 4 really hastily tacked the “genocidally self-loathing” bit on, and… well, mutant or human, Moira deserved so much better than the way she was portrayed in that.

      From what we’d been shown of her previous lives, she didn’t even really seem self-hating in life 3. She saw her powers as a curse, she didn’t really understand the incredible variety of what mutant powers could be in others. She hated being stuck in an infinite time loop – she didn’t hate herself.

      And the idea that she would see young mutants as needing to be subjected without consent to a form of conversion therapy? NO. Even if she had believed that, could she really have held on to that belief after being there as a mother figure to Rahne (and, maybe, Warlock/Douglock) for so long?

      It went against everything we knew about her. Both before HoXPoX and after.

      I’m headcanoning it as “she was at her lowest ebb by that point. She was lashing out verbally, hoping to hurt Mystique and Destiny with her words, having nothing left.” And we don’t even have evidence that she’d tried to actually create that cure in Life 10, or to inflict it on anyone.

  5. Re: anyone as beloved across the board as Cap – Betty White, perhaps?

    It’s interesting that – especially in light of him becoming a big character again the past 10 years or so thanks to the MCU – Cap seems to similarly occupy that universally beloved, in that both sides of the political spectrum will try to lay claim to him [don’t worry, despite using those dreaded two words, I’m not about to engage in false equivalence]. The right will tap into the iconography of someone wrapped in teh flag (see: Crenshaw’s Cap glass eye) whereas the left will point to the endless portrayals of Cap as someone who believes int eh American promise that has never been delivered (see: United States of Cap, Jay’s excellent MU mini). Naturally, as an ardent leftist and comics elitist, I know one portrayal is more accurate than the other 😉 BUT it’s still interesting in that for other characters, I feel more of an instinct for one side to distance themselves (e.g.., the average Twitter hot take on Batman as rich guy who beats up the mentally ill; the hating of “woke” heroes) or simply a lack of interest in teh character (Superman is an immigrant who fights billionaires, but there seems like of a political imperative to own superman as he’s not cool).

    1. *less of a political imperative. My kingdom for an edit button.

      Also, I suppose the Fantastic Four are conservative in some ways, but I also feel there’s something at least liberal – though not left – in its approach to science and future facing as a solution to problems, yet in needing a human element to science. Furthermore, when I think of their relations with Wakanda, Attilan, or even Atlantis, it does feel less imperialistic or colonialistic, as it seems often to respect their cultures and sovereignty and to at times learn from them. Granted, necessary disclaimer of my “definitive” FF is cobbled together panels here and there, etc.

  6. Kurt is from Germany, Rahne is from Scotland, Peter is from Russia. My jaw dropped. Maybe you walked it back later in the episode, but wow!

    1. What we intended to get across was that they were all from US-based teams before they joined Excalibur, not that they were themselves American. Phrased badly – curses!

  7. Overall, I think Ellis’s Excalibur is in a similar place to David’s earlier X-Factor — it’s the best comic of its era, but that’s not a very high bar.

    It’s genuinely interesting, even where I can see the problems — I started to write quite a long discussion unpicking the whole “British = incapable of really hating someone, unlike Americans” thought and its roots in certain British traditional self-idealizations, and realized that it was going to get very long. But how many X-books of this era would call for a comparison with Orwell’s “England, Your England”?

    At the same time, there are a lot of flaws. There are lots of interesting *bits* like the living bullets. But I’d be lying if I said that I thought there was a very memorable overall story or antagonist in the entire thing. Ellis has a gift for language, but he also steals shamelessly. (The “killing children is easy” thing that he uses for cheap effect here is almost certainly taken from Grant Morrison’s Dare where it was used in a much more significant way as one of the main thematic planks of the whole thing.)

    Characterization-wise, Ellis cares a lot about Pete Wisdom, his self-insert character, and his self-insert character’s relationship with Kitty Pryde. He wants to make Brian Braddock cool and awesome. Aside from that, not so much. Maybe Douglock? And in fact, I’d have to say that I don’t think Ellis ever communicates much of a vision for what the point of this book is: he calls Excalibur the “European X-Men,” but does not display any interest in Europe, he calls it the “international X-Men,” which it isn’t and can’t be.

    On the “conservative icons” bit: given the comics that Ellis went on to write, and indeed views that he went on to express explicitly, I think one should entertain that the point is not so much narrowly about those particular characters, as about conventional American superheroes per se. This is obviously a topic that is hard to get into without addressing Ellis’s personal behavior and his own uses of power — that so much of his work involves self-insert characters whom he presents as voices of scabrous moral authority in ways that makes them overlap with his own public persona makes it peculiarly difficult to discuss the work as something separate from the author in his case.

  8. I suppose I should clarify that when I wrote “best comic of its era,” I left out some crucial words: “best comic of its era of X-books.

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