Movies & TV / Columns

411’s Comic Reviews: Excalibur #1, Joker: Killer Smile #1, More

October 31, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Excalibur 1

Hello and welcome to 411mania’s weekly Comic Book Review! Each week we’ll be serving up a warm dish of reviews (and previews) from Marvel, DC, and anything else that captures our interest. What did you pick up this week? Let us know in the comments. Want to write a review? If you can write at least one review a week, consistently, email me at [email protected]!  

Excalibur #1

Review by Jeremy Thomas

Mutants and magic in the Marvel Universe have always had, at best, a complicated relationship.  “Ill-defined” is perhaps the best definition of that relationship, whether it’s Magik’s teleportation power that takes her through Limbo or the vague relationship between the mutant powers and magical aptitude of Scarlet Witch, Wiccan, Selene, Pixie and so on. For all that vagueness, the magic/X-gene dynamic has always been best explored in Excalibur. While it may not have been the most iconic of the X-Men books, the UK splinter of the mutant family earned its own devoted legion of fans during its original run thanks to the often madcap, far-out adventures of Captain Britain, Meggan, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Rachel Summers and their other members.

With that in mind, it’s fitting that the first place Dawn of X explores the intersection between the Krakoans and sorcery is the latest volume of Excalibur. Tini Howard (Hack/Slash: Resurrection, Strikeforce) takes her first steps into the X-Men line with a book that examines how the new mutant nation is impacting parts of the magical world, specifically the Otherworld that makes up the magical aspects of the British Isles. It’s a good corner of Marvel’s magical world to examine in terms of the X-Men, considering Excalibur’s previous ties to it, and with an eclectic line-up of characters assembling Howard is able to quickly distinguish the title from the other two books we’ve seen thus far.

In the interests of keeping this relatively spoiler-free, suffice it to say that Excalibur centers on Betsy Braddock, who recently returned (essentially) to her own body after decades of being in the body of the ninja Kwannon. Betsy makes her way to Krakoa and finds that things aren’t entirely utopian for her there due to a couple of reasons. But that’s not her biggest problem; a gate opened to Otherworld is impenetrable, and Apocalypse (now going by •┤Ȧ├•) is trying to puzzle it out. As it turns out, Krakoa’s portal to Otherworld is none too appreciated by Morgan Le Fey, ruling Avalon in King Arthur’s absence. As various people are brought in to deal with the matter and related troubles, Betsy and her brother Brian (better known as Captain Britain) answer a summons from Avalon and find an unexpected command.

There is one notable potential flaw with Excalibur for some readers that must be discussed right off the bat. Whereas the first issues of X-Men and Marauders served as fantastic jumping on points for new readers, Howard’s book is somewhat less effective that way. Being as familiar with the original series as I am, it’s difficult to say exactly how impenetrable things are, but there are elements of the Braddock family and Captain Britain stories that are accepted as known heading into this. For example, if one doesn’t know that Jamie Braddock was an insane mutant with reality-warping powers who tormented his siblings, it’s not particularly explained here.

Similarly, Captain Britain’s mystical connection to his home country is mentioned vaguely, but not explained, nor is the whole Kwannon/Betsy situation.  (In fairness, both of those would take their own distinct issues just to recap.)  These aren’t necessarily killers for the book; doing a quick Marvel Fandom Wiki search should tell you everything you need to know on a skim. Still, it does make it a bit less of an ideal start for readers who are coming in blind.

Fortunately, Howard doesn’t make these moments crucial to the issue’s plot and has plenty of good character work to get us invested in the idea of these people as a team. Betsy gets the majority of that, being essentially the “main” character in this team book. There is a lot to unpack in regard to the former Psylocke and her relationship with Kwannon for example, and Howard brushes on some of that lightly, relying on some very good expressions depicted by artist Marcus To in order to say what would feel too much like exposition in words. Meanwhile, the dialogue itself feels like the truest expression of the character we’ve seen in a long time. Her relationship with Brian and her feelings about Jamie are faithful to continuity. Howard depicts Betsy as a woman who is trying to come to terms with who she is now that she’s not half-British psychic, half-shadow ninja, and that’s the kind of Betsy I’ve been wanting to see for some time.

The other character who gets plenty of development is •┤Ȧ├•, and for good reason. The former Apocalypse is the oddest fit on this team as one of the X-Men’s most iconic villains, and Howard has no problem letting those character dynamics play out. Gambit’s mistrust of him is authentic and of course earned; meanwhile, Rogue and Betsy have somewhat different reactions, which is understandable considering their spottier histories in terms of the hero/villain alignment chart. On the flip side, there’s an apparent regression in Rogue from the conclusion of Kelly Thompson’s Mr. & Mrs. X series that, if it’s playing out the way it seems, is a little disappointing. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here, but it does seemingly undo some of her personal development from the end of that series.

That minor hitch and the lack of backstory explanation for the Braddocks aside, there’s a lot to like about this book. The team is an intriguing one, filled with popular characters who are destined to bounce off each other in interesting ways. The use of Otherworld delves into a fun corner of Marvel’s universe and examines an important part of the Dawn of X storyline: what happens when Krakoa starts expanding its influence past its boundaries? This is a story that touches on the idea of mutant imperialism in subtle ways, and that feels right for a book largely focused on mutants dealing with magic from British Isles. There’s still one piece of the puzzle left to arrive in the previously announced team member of Rictor, and I’m curious to see how the former New Mutant fits in.

Unlike Howard, this is not artist Marcus To’s first X-book; he did art for several late issues of X-Men: Blue and drew the Age of X-Men book NextGen. To’s pencils and inks capture the fanciful aspects of what a magic-oriented book should be without straying from the Dawn of X vibe while on Krakoa. The best part of the art comes with Cory Petit’s coloring though, which lays out the mood of scenes quite wonderfully. There’s so much said here with the visuals, doing some heavy lifting so Howard’s script can keep itself focused and not have to devote time to too much exposition.

The biggest takeaway from Excalibur #1 is this: this is almost certainly the most niche-audience book of the three Dawn of X titles released so far. I’m not sure what the Venn diagram between X-Men fans and mystical Marvel fans are, but I imagine it’s somewhat less than the idea of Kate Pryde leading mutant pirates and it’s definitely less than Hickman’s X-Men book. But that in itself makes it a true spiritual descendant of its titles’ previous volumes. For those who love the original Excalibur, this new volume gets off to a pretty decent start and leaves a lot of room to get even better.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Firefly #11

Preview by Steve Gustafson

BOOM! Studios unveiled a first look at FIREFLY #11 from New York Times best-selling writer Greg Pak (Star Wars, Ronin Island) and artist Dan McDaid (Judge Dredd), along with series creator & story consultant Joss Whedon (the visionary writer/director behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Marvel’s The Avengers and more) continue the iconic worldwide pop culture phenomenon’s sold-out return to comic books in partnership with 20th Century Fox. Available in stores November 2019.

War has come to the small planet, and Mal finds himself caught between the two sides. Will Mal be able to stem the tide of war, or is he already too late to stop it? And how will the sudden appearance of his outlaw mother, Maude Reynolds, affect Mal’s ultimate choice?

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special #1

Preview by Steve Gustafson

There’s no BBC Christmas Special this year – so we’re bringing it to you in comic form! Can the Doctor save Christmas? Is Santa a myth, a man, or a Time Lord? Are chimneys bigger on the inside?
A two-part festive special from Jody Houser!

Assassin’s Creed: The Fall & The Chain #1

Preview by Steve Gustafson

Daniel Cross has vivid hallucinations of a past life; that of Nicolai Orelov, a Russian Assassin living in the early 20th Century, and his son Innokenti. The Fall and The Chain tells the story of Daniel’s rise and fall through the ranks of the Assassin Brotherhood, and his subsequent rise through the ranks of the Templars.

Joker: Killer Smile #1

Review by John Pumpernickel 

Between Joker: Killer Smile #1 this week and The Batman’s Grave #1 last week, fans of the Dark Knight’s corner of the DC Universe have been treated to a one-two punch of comic book excellence. Joker: Killer Smile is a Black Label miniseries and it’s the first book that made me see the possibilities that can be untapped in that corner of the DC universe. 

Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino grab you from page one and immerse you in Gotham City and the madness that the Joker resides in. The story and art swirl around each other, gripping you from looking away. It’s a true experience and one that is best left to go into spoiler free.

While the story doesn’t seem to be a new one on paper, it’s execution is masterful and this has all the makings to stand the test of time as a classic Joker story. To give you a taste, we meet Doctor Ben Arnell, a mental health professional who is assigned to the Joker while he’s at Arkham Asylum. No surprise, Ben is lured by into the Joker’s chaos it bleeds into his professional and personal life. Like I said, it’s a story we’ve heard before but presented in a fresh way. 

With all the success Joker has found at the box office, this is a perfect companion book at those wanting to get more into the head of the Clown Prince of Crime. Just be careful you don’t stay too long. 

Rating: 9.0 out of 10

That’s all the time we have. Tell us what you’re reading below and see you back here next week! You can now find our reviews on!