Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Excalibur #46, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated January 1992. Enjoy!
Alan Davis’ second stint on Excalibur was as writer as well as artist, and he decided to snip a dangling thread from the first, Claremont-scripted run, and so we get Kylun (I won’t get into how it’s a dangling thread, because it’s convoluted, but trust me – it is). In this issue, Davis brings Kylun into the 616 Marvel Universe, but first he has to explain what Kylun has been doing, hence this first page.
Davis is an underrated writer, and although this page doesn’t show off his skills completely, he doesn’t forget to get us interested. We learn we’re on an alternate Earth called “Ee’rath,” which until very recently was ruled by that creepy chap, known as Necron. Necron seems happy even though he’s losing his empire because he’s making the rebel leaders, Kylun and Sa’tneen, fight against, basically, zombie heroes who are now enslaved by the tyrant. Davis explains that the heroes tries to stop Necron some years back, and this is the price for their failure. So we’re all caught up!
Naturally, Davis knows how to construct a page, and we begin with the spooky eye of Necrom dominating the first panel (that it looks weirdly like Captain America’s shield is probably coincidental, right?). The eye disconcerts the reader, and then he pulls back to show the entire face, which is even stranger. Necrom’s unblinking eyes are the focus of the panel, centered and staring right at us, locking us in. Davis gives Necrom a bald head which looks slightly larger than a normal human’s head, and his pointed ears move our gaze up to the head. Meanwhile, Davis (and his regular inker, Mark Farmer) put shadows around his lower face, obscuring for a moment his smile, which makes it more effectively weird when we do spot it. As Davis continues to pull back, we see that Necrom isn’t actually looking at us, but at Kylun and Sa’tneen, who stand back-to-back, fighting the bad guys. It’s a nicely-designed panel – Necrom and his two enemies form a nice triangle, forming a balanced panel, and Necrom’s pet/thug/advisor doesn’t intrude too much on it, but enough so that we account for him. The bottom panel shows off Davis’ strengths – he’s very good at fluid fight scenes, and this panel shows some nice things. Sa’tneen and Kylun remain the focus, as they’re in the center, but Davis makes sure that each bad guy is seen clearly enough. The Spider-thing on the left features Wolverine-like claws and inhuman arms – I can’t decide if they’re spidery (as is likely) or ape-like (which would be bizarre but not out of the realm of possibility). Sa’tneen holds it off while also discharging her energy at the zombiefied Black Knight in the back of the panel. In the lower right, a version of Captain Britain gets gutted by Kylun’s sword (presumably) while the Zombie Thor looks as if it’s been slashed by the Captain’s sword, perhaps aided by Kylun’s own sword. Meanwhile, Kylun blocks Thor’s hammer with his other sword. The entire page feels dynamic, as if everything is happening so quickly that it’s hard for us to keep up. Some artists struggle with this kind of dynamism in their artwork for years, but Davis has always been good at it, and obviously, he’s gotten better over the years. Glynis Oliver, doing her thing, does a good job with the colors – Oliver dulls the orange in Necrom’s eyes so that it’s more sluggish and sly, while she colors his head that ugly green that looks like mud. Nothing about Necrom says “good,” so even if we didn’t know he was a tyrant, we could still infer it. Notice that Kylun’s orange hair is brighter than Necrom’s eyes, indicating that he’s “good” as opposed to Necrom. As blue is such a foundational color in comics, making the zombies blue was a no-brainer, especially considering how much red Spidey, Captain Britain, and Thor have in their costumes – it just makes them stand out more. Sa’tneen is virginal white, and while Kylun also has a dull skin color, the bright orange of his hair and the bright red and yellow of his costume offset that.
Davis is a superb artist, and he usually has really good artists around him to make his pencil work even better. He has that here, and that’s why this is such a pretty page. It’s not that hard to figure out!
Next: Another cool-ass independent comic from the 1980s! That’s always fun, right? There are some already in the archives, if you know where to look!