Light and introspective character moments surround a deeper look at the nature of forgiveness and redemption as well as posing questions about the overall foundations of the Krakoan nation. This is all presented in a moody and energetic style as the art team continues to go above and beyond to nail every single visual aspect that brings this story to life.
At this point, it would be quite a task to find any significant mutant character at Marvel (those that have had at least a few impactful / important appearances) that has not had their origin story told in some capacity. Enter the Excalibur creative team who managed not only to find such a character, but tell a story mixing an origin with redemption that also takes time to poke some holes in the overall methods of the Krakoan society. Quite a heavy order for just one issue, but they pulled it off.
The ghostly body inhabiting ‘villain’ Malice has appeared off and on since being created by Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr. in the late ’80s. Yet, the former Marauder did not even have a known real name or backstory before the events of this issue.
Tini Howard creates a simple but relatable origin moment for Malice, real name Alice McMasters, which ties together with the continued message of redemption and moving beyond one’s past that has permeated this title and the line overall since the big relaunch. A number of the X-books, this one included, have been focused on some really long-form storytelling, but this issue, while touching on some of the previous plots, shows a way that even with that, a book can still do something semi-stand alone.
One thing that Howard excels at with her writing is making every issue feel bigger than its actual page count. Within just this issue there is the aforementioned origin story, some pages catching up on the recent events of the book, quite a number of smaller character moments, and numerous battles both in the real world and within the psychic realm. Not once though does it feel too much or feel like it is dragging in any way.
Malice’s new backstory adds more dimensions to her past villainous behaviors beyond just being a villain for villain’s sake, though her actions were still terrible and breached all realms of consent. Not all mutant powers emerge in a way that is beneficial to the holder and not all got to be at Xavier’s school or other associations that kept many mutants on a brighter path. It’s fitting that Betsy and Kwannon, who have dealt with their own heavy past baggage as of late, are the ones fighting to give Malice a second actual chance at life on Krakoa.
Marcus To, Erick Arciniega, and Ariana Maher continue to be a solid team as they once more dance between the variety of settings required of this story with seamless ease. There is a palatable moodiness that radiates in each panel depending upon the colors that Arciniega chooses to highlight moments. The visualization of the use of psychic powers is always so wonderfully done and is by far some of the best that we have seen over the years. Definitely near the top of the list. Greatly helped by the well-placed and well-chosen lettering sfx from Maher that bring new dimensions to the different way that Captain Britain, Psylocke, and Emma Frost all use their abilities.
Mutant kind gained the ability to build their own society and culture after the events of House of X/Powers of X and with that change came their own rules and laws. Charles Xavier’s insistence that they do not have prisons on the island, because of how abusive & unjust the prison system is around the world, led to another alternative being created. Those that break the laws are instead cast into the pits within Krakoa, forced to be awake and aware, but unable to move or act for potentially eternity.
If that sounds just as cruel as prison or even crueler, this is a thought that is shared by some characters in this issue as they discuss the fate that should befall Malice. Howard, like other writers in some other X-Books, has not shied away from having characters questioning the way things are happening on Krakoa. Well-rounded writing within a world like this comes with not being afraid to have those in the world poke at the pillars of that world. Mutants are the protagonists of these books, but that does not mean that the ways they are going about building their society are not without fault.
Whether or not this issue and others actually get dealt with in the future, after the upcoming Hellfire Gala plot which is brought up a bit here, will be the real test. It’s one thing to question them and bring them up, but if they are not dealt with in some way in the future it makes the point moot.
Excalibur #20 is now on sale from Marvel Comics in print and digitally.