‘Excalibur’ continues to dig deep to show love to all the magical and fantasy continuity and lore from Marvel’s past as the war for Otherworld takes a decided turn. Not an ounce of page space is left unused as the artistic team brings their A-game as usual, giving us one of the most gorgeously detailed books around.
Comic books within the United States have long been known for their monthly format, giving you bite-sized chunks of a story or a world every month. Over time there was an evolution from mostly stand-alone issues that might carry over plots month to month, to the modern multi-issue arc format that nicely fills up a trade paperback. There are a lot more creators that are going beyond that now, stretching their stories across a vast number of issues to tell a grand tale. As with most things, this is a strategy that can vastly pay off, or it’s one that can sometimes fall flat.
Excalibur is a book that seems to fit somewhere in the middle of all of that.
Tini Howard has brought a ton of interesting ideas and concepts to the pages of this book, giving us a really great look at Otherworld and its varied realms and characters. All wrapped up in a book that has given Betsy Braddock the most exploration and spotlight that she has had in a good number of years. This issue has a ton of great moments with her and delves into some older characters and moments. The old STRIKE team reconnecting with Betsy, her fight against Arthur, and the moments with Saturnyne at the end to name a few.
That being said, it’s a book that often feels like it might read far better once it’s eventually collected in maybe some giant omnibus. A ton has been dropped in the 25 issues so far, including being part of a few crossovers, and it’s truly a lot to remember and take in especially since some plotlines or characters don’t get touched on for months at a time. It’s not a major flaw of the book, but it’s definitely something that at times can lead to perhaps not reaching the peak level of excitement that one could have.
In the past one of the criticisms that I have levied against this book revolves around the expansive cast that often just feel like interchangeable extras populating Betsy’s world and story. This issue changes that as there are a lot of good moments for a lot of the cast and supporting cast, and while Betsy still gets the lion’s share of the big moments, others have their parts to play and things to do. It’s very clear that Howard has a deep love and respect for some of the realms and concepts that had been left in the past when it comes to the UK-centric stories and magic realms.
Despite the mentioned criticism, there is a ton to like in this issue. It moves things forward in a great many ways and seems to be setting up a lot more of what is to come with this story. Whether we’re close to an endgame or not is hard to say, but as long as the issues are like this it’ll be a fun ride to that point.
As usual, the issue is just truly gorgeous because Marcus To and Erick Arciniega make every setting, character, and moment sing. Often places that are vast realms or areas can look gorgeous but still feel flat and like set pieces. That’s not the case with this book, as there is such a depth on every page that never lets you forget that Otherworld is vast and varied and the different areas take up space. It speaks to the work being done here that an issue that is heavy on the greens and blacks and shadows for a lot of the pages, still just looks hauntingly gorgeous.
Not a bit of space is wasted, as even the background elements and characters have a weight to them whether they are detailed or out of focus. There are a ton of words that fill these pages, as there is a lot that has to be revealed about what is happening, but the art perfectly does a ton of the speaking itself. As mentioned in the last review, each of the realms of Otherworld has its own distinct looks that tell us so much, and the same can be said about the various characters and groups that populate these realms and these pages.
When there are the aforementioned words, they have Ariana Maher there to give them life and purpose and space within the world. Much like how the various realms have their own quirks to them, so to do the various bubbles and captions that are on the pages. This is helped by how Maher uses sentence case for most of the dialogue, increasing or decreasing the font size for yelling or whispering respectively among other ways to emphasize what is being conveyed.
Just like every other part of a comic, SFX to me are a very integral part of this medium. They help add additional impact to a scene, and they can be a very fun thing to have pop up. Especially when Maher is behind them, as they are all so different and colorful and have a fun edge to them, even when they are part of a hard-fought war. Sure we can ‘hear’ the events of this issue without the SFX, but that’s no fun at all. Knowing that this one moment causes a ‘Kabooom’ and another causes a “Bwooomm” is very important.
Excalibur #25 is now on sale in print and digitally from Marvel Comics.