Chances are, if I see Tini Howard’s name on a book, I’m not only going to want to read it, I’m also going to drop whatever it is I’m doing and dive headlong into it; even if it’s an X-Men book. It’s no big secret that that I’m not exactly the world’s biggest X-Men fan, mainly because I’ve always thought that the mythology is clunky, cluttered and far too convoluted to give the characters and their story’s the room they need to breathe. However, my previous reticence is slowly beginning to disappear in the wake of Hickman’s reinvention of their canon, and while I’m still far from being a convert, the fact that mutant-kind are, at long last beginning to reach, and realise their full potential gives me hope for the future of the Children of the Atom.
Where was I? Oh yes, Tini Howard putting the full weight of her creative genius behind the House / Powers transformation and taking the reins of Excalibur. Beginning life way back in the eighties, if memory serves me correctly, Excalibur was a team of former X-Men led by the always dependable Brian Braddock, or as most folks know him, Captain Britain. Which is sort of where Tini Howard picks up the story for her reinvention of Excalibur, who are still a team of, for the most part, disenfranchised X-Men and who are once again led by Captain Britain. Except, it’s a different Captain Britain and a vastly different Excalibur, but despite the fact that the team, and their boss are shiny and new, this version of the multi-cultural superhero team who, back in the day at least, always used to feel like they were the B-feature to the X-Men’s marquee topping act, are punching well above the humble origins of their team.
As I said, there’s a new Captain Britain and she is magnificent. Flawed, energetic, dynamic and driven by a combination of determination to do the right thing and pure emotional response, Betsy Braddock is the Captain Britain that her brother always should have been. Then there’s her team, who are press-ganged into action by circumstance, which adds a touch of The Dirty Dozen to the story, but somehow manage to pull a rabbit out of their collective hat and emerge victorious. The tale that Howard weaves is bright, smart and faster than Quicksilver on his best day, and revolves around Otherworld, magical shenanigans, Camelot and an age old prophecy that Apocalypse is determined to see come to fruition whatever the cost. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it plot that pits the newest defender of Albion and her rag-tag bunch of “knights” against the ancient forces that have always controlled the destiny of the British Isles and the oldest mutant in creation. And it’s all kinds of awesome.
Exploring what it really means to be part a team while embracing the idea that family is about more than biology, Excalibur is Howard at the height of her powers. Tightly plotted, wonderfully executed and featuring the sort of intricate characterisation and interaction that would draw even the most staunch of naysayers into proceedings, Excalibur is a book that has the potential to run and run and run. And don’t even get me started on the simply staggering art of Marcus To that brings Howard’s story to life. It elevates this book to a level that leaves Excalibur’s supporting role past where it belongs, in the past, and smashes’ through the mutant glass ceiling to let the little team that could finally join the big leagues. Howard and To are a devastating double act and, if given the chance, could, and should, take over the Marvel Universe. Damn this book is good… Tim Cundle