Excalibur joins the Hellfire Gala with a very overstuffed offering that spends more time juggling its massive load of plotlines than really doing the gala and the characters the full justice they deserve. That being said there are several engaging moments and the art is really colorful and fun and captures the moments perfectly just as it does with each issue. Ariana Maher’s lettering is truly a delight to behold and her SFX elevates every single page it’s on, truly one of the best in comics.
The party is still going strong for the people of Krakoa as the Hellfire Gala is in full swing and moved into week two. So far, the books that make up this event that isn’t an event have been quite the mixed bag. That doesn’t change all that much as the Excalibur crew and their plotlines make themselves known at the party.
One of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of this series from the beginning is the continued long-form focus on Captain Britain/Betsy/Otherworld/British Pushback/Coven plotlines. While they were somewhat put on the back burner with the Malice stories, they are back in full force this issue.
Coven Akkaba is at the Gala represented through newly minted British Ambassador Reuben Brousseau who comes to tell the Krakoans just how Britain now feels about them. There is a lot that is happening here, but a lot of it feels like Betsy (who is clearly the main character of the book) is just a passenger to the events at times. Which unfortunately is just how the other members often feel alongside Betsy.
Tini Howard has a firm grip on these characters and who they are and has a clear vision of where this title is going that has a lot of interesting notes. At the same time, there was a bit of relief at Rogue leaving this book for X-Men because there might actually be more room for her to get bigger character moments and time over there compared to here. This is no slight against Howard at all, as I said I think she knows the characters well (Betsy & Rogue a few issues ago was great), but there just isn’t enough space in this tightly woven plotline for most outside of Betsy herself.
This disconnect also shows itself in how Jubilee hasn’t really had anything to do much outside of stuff to do with dragon Shogo many many issues ago, and how the group acts about Rictor. He’s made it very clear why he is mad before and his personality lends to him being Logan level of angry quite often. Yet here once again these other characters (who haven’t had a ton of interactions with him outside of this book) seem confused and just want him to stop being a party pooper.
There is a silly moment with Brian Braddock, Meggan, and Nightcrawler that brought some smiles. Then there is also an out of nowhere brutal moment at the end that was surprising but at the same time seemingly obvious in hindsight in some ways. More moments where these characters get to talk and grow and mingle would be very welcome going forward, maybe even a full issue just with that and no clan or druids or Otherworld stuff.
It doesn’t help that this issue is chock full of a ton of moments and things speeding forward plot-wise, including Pete Wisdom literally doing a giant plot dump with Betsy to showcase all the stuff that happened off-panel so that more of this issue works. It’s a lot to take in.
Long-form/long-term plot writing is not a problem or bad. In fact, I’m quite a fan of it. The thing here (and this book isn’t alone) is that the concept and cast of this book are so interesting it’s a shame to see them so laser-focused on the same storyline(s) rather than taking this book in so many directions and character routes.
Marcus To, Erick Arciniega, and Ariana Maher continue to do beautiful work in this issue, taking things even higher than normal as they capture all the colorful and great aspects of the Gala. The style choices of every character’s party attire look great overall but really pops in many scenes here. Everything is bright and colorful and inviting, making it a party that we all probably want to be at. It’s really fun to look at the background and try and pick out all the mutants like a Where’s Waldo except not just trying to find one cleverly hidden lanky man.
There is tons for the artists to pull off in this issue to dance around the multitude of plot moments crammed into the issue as mentioned above, and they make it work. A few scenes like the Rictor and Shatterstar reunion come off a bit strange, but still overall work with that is happening.
Maher’s lettering is a highlight of so many books at this point and Marvel giving her more and more work is the best. There is a ton of dialogue here but it never gets in the way or becomes just a block that you plow through. It flows and dances around. And then there is her usual excellent immersive SFX like the truly gorgeous panel with Meggan and the teleporting in Nightcrawler. One of the best BAMFs ever I would dare say.
Excalibur #21 is now on sale from Marvel Comics in print and digitally.