The X-Men have often ventured into different genres apart from the standard superhero fare, and the more fantasy-oriented Children of the Atom have defended the Marvel Universe as the magical superhero team Excalibur. First created by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis as a British offshoot of the X-Men, the title is part of the first wave of series in Marvel's line-wide relaunch of the X-Men franchise Dawn of X. The new series, by Tini Howard and Marcus To, feels like a natural extension of the dramatic new status quo for Marvel's Merry Mutants while forging a direction unlike those of the previously launched ongoing series out of the publishing initiative.
As mutants around the world rally to the newly founded mutant nation-state of Krakoa, Betsy Braddock -- finally reunited with her original body as Psylocke instead of the ninja assassin Kwannon -- answers the call, leaving behind her twin brother Brian to join her fellow mutants in celebration. As the idealistic new future for mutants around the world is embraced, longtime X-Men villain Apocalypse adjusts to living among his former opponents. And as these unlikely figures come to together, an ancient evil from Arthurian England rises to present a new challenge for the modern-day Marvel Universe.
Right from the outset, it's clear that Tini Howard has a strong affinity for the cast she has begun to assemble for her series. This is especially true of En Sabah Nur. Howard often plays the hulking former antagonist as a knowledgeable and unintentionally comedic foil as he overcomes his history opposing the gathered heroes. Howard has a similar sense of fun capturing the voices of relative newlyweds Gambit and Rogue.
Meanwhile Betsy is more of an uncertain P.O.V. character who will likely come into her own -- both as a vital figure on Krakoa and to her own fractured identity -- as the series progresses. And in selecting a decidedly mythical threat of the new incarnation of Excalibur to confront, the relaunch certainly revives the mission statement of mutants leaning into fantastical (often British) threats outside of the main X-Men's usual purview.
Having said all that, this opening issue is very much dedicated to setup. In her previous Marvel team series, Strikeforce, Howard hit the ground running, occasionally sacrificing coherence and voice to get the action going. Here, Howard is much more deliberate with her pacing, taking the time to introduce and establish each of the key players. There is certainly magical superhero action in the issue but much of it is spent on exposition; fortunately, Howard's enthusiasm in crafting each character's respective voice and a snarky sense of fun help keep things moving along.
Marcus To, joined by color artist Erick Arciniega, builds a world not unlike the bold, new vision for the X-Men that debuted in House of X and Powers of X. The art team's visuals feel like a natural extension of this; Arciniega's past experience as the color artist for other series in Dawn of X certainly helps carry this distinction. And while the art team makes this feel like an organic part of the relaunch, they really go above and beyond when the more mythical elements enter the narrative, carving their own artistic niche among the different titles.
With Excalibur, Tini Howard and Marcus To are meticulously crafting the first real fairy tale for Dawn of X, one that proudly embraces its fantasy inspirations and possibilities, which are distinct from the rest of the X-Men publishing line. The new series takes its time introducing each of the major team members while reestablishing the impromptu ensemble's status quo in the face of a threat that very much falls in line with the classic team's original mission statement. For those looking for something markedly different from the rest of the X-Men titles in subject matter while completely in keeping within the Dawn of X vision, this series will get Captain Britain and X-Men fans together again.