New Excalibur #16–24 by Chris Claremont and various artists
I don't know why I do it sometimes. I used to like Chris Claremont's writing growing up; I'd been re-reading old Excaliburs because of the ClanDestine mini-series; and Paul Cornell was bringing back Captain Britain to his own title. Put all these together, and the appearance of this collection on the shelves of my local library, and I thought I might find out what Captain Britain had been doing. Serves me right, I suppose.
'This was marked as Claremont's 'triumphant return to New Excalibur' – err, really? Wow. I don't want to be harsh, especially after he had a cardiac illness that kept him away from writing comic books for some time, but there is nothing triumphant about this.
New Excalibur are Captain Britain, Pete Wisdow, Sage, Dazzler, Nocturne and Juggernaut, which is a strange group of people to have as a team. There is no reason for them to exist other than Claremont wants to write them. Dazzler, an old Claremont favourite, is looking strange, with the pink crop cut, and her powers have escalated so that she now has a light sabre and light shields. And she gets shot in the head, and then returns from the dead. And, apparently, this is not the first time in the series either – doesn't that cheapen death in stories?
There are a lot of annoying things in the book, perhaps none more so than having Wisdom say 'Petal' ALL THE BLOODY TIME. I wish that certain American writers, such as Claremont, didn't believe that all British people talked like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. FYI, we don't speak like that. In fact, nobody speaks like that. You could have yourself a drinking game with the embarrassing regularity that 'Petal' appears.
The book starts with a story that is a blatant 'Claremont dealing with his issues', as we deal with Nocturne having a stroke and her recovery. Reading someone recovering from a stroke does NOT make for riveting comic books. I can understand the impulse for an author to write about what he knows, but I don't think that superhero action is the place for talking about the process after cardiac illness.
The villain of the piece is Albion, who is an ersatz Captain Britain who chose the sword rather than the amulet when offered the choice by Roma and Merlyn; therefore, he must be bad. He is plugged in with a history of a war-ravaged planet, and that's all you need to know. He teams up with what seem to be an 'evil' version of the original X-Men (Why? Dear God, why? Chris, why did you do it?), who seem to be evil because they wear tight black leather, as far as I can tell.
More awfulness in the form of Juggernaut meets a villain mate in 'Old Arsenal Stadium, North London'. Oh dear. Are Marvel comics not allowed to talk about Highbury, the actual name for Arsenal FC's former home? And why hasn't it been turned into new accommodation after it was sold off in the Marvel universe? And why, if we allow for all this, are Juggernaut and his mate allowed to wander around the pitch and the stands freely, as if it's a public park or something?
And so it goes on, and on, and on. Another Claremont favourite, the Shadow King (who is apparently the 'master' of the bad X-Men), makes an appearance, then the leather-clad X-Men fight New Excalibur, and then Albion switches off technology in the UK – planes fall out of the sky, panic in the streets, that sort of thing (didn't Claremont do this with the X-Men and Kulan Gath?) – so he can claim London. There is even a rather blatant Tony Blair lookalike, giving orders and staying calm in the face of adversity and speechifying (they didn't mention that in the UK papers, did they?).
Another Claremontism rears its ugly head in the form of Sage pretending to be a bad guy (albeit accelerated in the story, due to the fact that the book was cancelled after the last issue); good guys are bad guys, bad guys are good guys, don't you see? It's all reflections and parallels and ... yawn. He keeps this up with the evil X-Men turning good at the end, before killing them (a two-page death scene for the evil Beast? Two pages? Of him saying really stupid things as he dies!), because no matter what evil dimension X-Men come from, they are intrinsically noble and die heroically. And with the final reveal – Albion is Brian Braddock from another dimension! Wow, what an amazing twist [Sarcasm Overload] – we see that Claremont is just doing the same thing over again, without any progress in his style or delivery. It's quite sad, really – it makes you wonder how this got to the published stage, rather than an editor looking at the story notes and saying, 'Chris, shall we take another run at this?' I shall have to be more stringent in my future selection of reading material, and not rely on any whims.