Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Man, doesn’t it bum you out when there’s some really underappreciated character or comic that you just know will never quite break out the way that you wish it could?

Worse? That has already kind of passed and it’s unlikely to ever return in quite the same form? Excalibur comes to mind.

I couldn’t say enough good things about this comic. And if you look around--in the back corners of the internet or hanging out at some booth at a comic con somewhere--you’ll find hardcore fans of this comic to this day. The sad thing is? I don’t think people really know about or appreciate just how dead-on these fans are about this being one of the greatest Marvel comics of all time.

Now, to be fair, there are some reasons WHY Excalibur remains a fairly obscure Marvel comics title (and yeah, relaunches and revamps have not done much better).

First, I think at the time Marvel had been playing around with using locations other than New York for their settings. In the 80’s, Hulk’s Mr. Fixit persona set up shop in Vegas among other places, the West Coast Avengers opened in L.A and Excalibur was Marvel’s first British superhero team (well, or they were one of the first, as I bet there was one in 1963 I don’t know about or something. But whatever). It was interesting.

Of course, it made it harder for Excalibur and Spider-man to just serendipitously bump into each other. Which was a lot of the appeal of the Marvel universe, right? So…this trend started to die out, I’m afraid. And nowadays it’s all about New York. In the long run, I’m not sure if the setting gave this book the longevity it deserved.

It's not that I’d change the setting because that’s how much I love Captain Britain. But I’ll get to that.

Second, it’s just straight up weird (intentionally so). Concieved by X-Men guru Chris Claremont and co-writer Alan Davis, Excalibur featured a cast of characters with what can only be described as close ties to the most truly bizarre (but cool) pieces of the X-Men mythology. Eventually Davis took over the book and really let it sort of soar in directions that you just didn’t see coming. Davis’ run on the book (somewhere in the realm of two to three years) is collected in trade paperback form if you want to check it out.

As for Excalibur’s cast? Well, Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler of Uncanny X-Men fame were the headliners I suppose. Previously knocked out of commission by the X-Men’s adversaries the Mauraders, Kitty and Kurt healed from their wounds only to be left with the false impression that the X-Men were dead. This, naturally, facilitated them up and leaving everything they had known behind.

(Sidenote- "Fall of the Mutants" is one of my favorite X-Men storylines, albeit forgotten and weird by today’s standards. Long story short…at one point, the world had actually watched the X-Men ‘die’ on television, fighting to save the human race no less. Reincarnated by Roma--a mystic entity closely tied to Excalibur herself--the X-Men had a spell cast on them that prevented them from ever appearing on film or camera. The end result is that the X-Men literally disappeared after this event, becoming virtual ghosts to the rest of the world. Weird, right?)

Kitty had practically been Claremont’s main character in Uncanny and finally got to show her stuff, gradually acclimating to the role of Excalibur’s team leader. Seeing Kitty mature like this into a leader with Cyclops’ strategy and the philosophical maturity of Xavier really made all those 80’s comics seem like they were headed somewhere. Nightcrawler, previously a much loved X-Men character, only got cooler, I think, during this book’s run. And I’d like to add: the whole swashbuckling, Three Musketeers thing, with the swords? That was all Excalibur era editions. It just fit so right for him, I think, making him that kind of Erol Flynn rogue with a heart of gold guy.

Okay hard to go wrong with these two, right? The other interesting addition was Rachel Summers. Born in an alternate future where the human race was enslaved by Sentinels, it didn’t take long before Rachel realized that the Scott Summers and Jean Grey of the timeline she was living in were NOT the same people as the parents she had known. Feeling estranged from the X-Men but possessing UNREAL psionic powers, Rachel didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Rescued by extradimensional kidnappers (Mojo and his goons, no less, as detailed in this post about Spiral if you want to know more about this guy), Rachel finally found a home in Excalibur. But the thing that brings the whole thing together? Captain Britain.

It’d be easy to assume that this guy is the product of some Super Soldier experiment designed to give Britain a fighting chance against the Nazis or something, right? Sadly, no. Just…no. That’s NOT what Captain Britain is about. Let me TRY to encapsulate some small part of this guys story. Chosen by the immortal spirit of Merlyn the sorcerer (yes, the guy who gave King Arthur the actual sword Excalibur), Brian Braddock was instilled with mystic superpowers in order to help defend all of reality from extra-dimensional threats.

Captain Britian’s biggest charge is to be caretaker of a structure, which currently appears as a lighthouse in Britian, that connects with every dimension in the entire multiverse. Roma, Merlyn’s daughter and a mystic entity who's enlisted the X-Men’s aid in defending all of reality before, frequently contacts C.B. for aid when needed. You heard me. That’s what I said.

Oh, and just to throw this in there, Brian’s sister, Betsy Braddock, was born a mutant and goes by the X-Men codename Psylocke. And YES Betsy was British before she ended up having her mind transferred into the body of an Asian assassin, but that’s a whole other story, right?

I think of these four as the ‘core’ team, although I could write a book about others: Megan, Widget, Cersi… But this was the essence of Excalibur’s mandate really: a group with ties to the X-Men going up against bizarre and alien extradimensional threats. In a way, Brian’s mission of protecting the safety of not just the universe but ALL universes becomes the bedrock that the team is set on.

So…Excalibur is an X-Men book that throws its characters into an epic, MYSTIC scope. It’s like Uncanny X-Men and Dr. Strange’s lovechild or something. I doubt you’ll ever see a comic do quite what it did the way that it did it ever again. That ‘era’ of comic book storytelling is just gone. But still, if you’re ever hunting around for a classic that you missed, I implore you to give the hardcore Excalibur fans a chance and read this. You won’t regret it.