?As a writer, Chris Claremont is truly a grab bag of positive and negative qualities. Readers of comics in the mid-’80s to late ’90s may have fond memories of his work on Uncanny X-Men, the Dark Phoenix saga, Days of Future Past, and the stand-alone classic God Loves, Man Kills. Yet he also wrote some of the most insane crack ever featured in mainstream superhero comics (remember, Claremont also gave us Stilt-Man). Perhaps you remember a series penned by Claremont from 1987 to 1991? It was one of the many times when the X-Men were presumed dead, and a mutant superhero team was needed to fill the void. Thus Captain Britain, his not-entirely-emotionally-stable metamorph lover Meggan, Rachel Summers (the Phoenix-force-carrying alternate-future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey) and X-Men Nightcrawler, Kitty Pride and her dragon Lockheed formed Excalibur.
In its early days, Excalibur differed from X-Men in that it tackled more magical, mystical themes and focused on the heroes’ adventures as they jumped from one dimension to another. This provided a contrast to the darker comics at the time and allowed for surreal stories and wacky art. Some of these are enjoyably, awesomely trippy, but some of them are barely readable. While searching for the craziest moments in Excalibur is like trying to catch the raindrop that’s the most wet, there certainly are moments that stand out for us to boggle at. Here are eight of them.
8) Gatecrasher and the Technet
?The Technet exists as tentative proof that Claremont and artist Alan Davis probably tried hallucinogenic drugs together at some point. This group of intergalactic bounty hunters is led by Gatecrasher, a giant, ripped blue gal with punk-rock hair and a tiny, Salacious Crumb-type creature on her shoulder. The Technet also had the likes of Bodybag, who ate people and transported them in his belly; Scatterbrain, who made everything colorful bubbles; Joyboy, an overgrown baby-thing that floated in a chair and incapacitated people by granting their greatest wish; Ringtoss, who, er, tossed energy rings at people from her face; and many more. As a group of villains, they’re usually as incompetent as they are colorful, and normally end up running away from our heroes (especially when Rachel Summers, whom they are hired to kidnap, decides to go uber-badass), or fleeing from more capable villains.
6) The N-Men
?What does a team leader do with a group of aliens crashing at his lighthouse headquarters — aliens who happen to be Technet, the established villains of Excalibur? Take them under his wing, of course! To be fair, Nightcrawler was suffering some serious Claremont Brand? angst, hobbling around with a broken leg (courtesy of Captain Britian, who feared his girlfriend Meggan had a crush on Kurt, albeit rightly so), and needed to feel useful. So why not train up The Technet to be a group of superheroes? It’s not like they’re a motley group of evil alien bounty hunters or anything. Surprisingly, the N-Men proved themselves to be an okay team and helped fight off a deadly invisible foe. And one of them, Numbers, fell in love and had children with the dragon that lived in Excalibur’s basement, just in case you thought things weren’t weird enough.
5) Girls’ School from Heck
?In Excalibur, Kitty Pryde is often the character we’re supposed to sympathize with — she’s an awkward teen trying to prove her mettle, even though she also has precocious technological and combat skills. In essence she is a female, Jewish version of Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. “Girls’ School from Heck” is a Kitty-centric story that goes on for three issues but seems like it lasts forever: It has to be the most convoluted excuse to get Kitty Pryde into a cheerleader outfit ever, coupled with an annoying mix of British stereotypes and soft-core school girl-sploitation, as Kitty undergoes hazing by snooty British gals with horrible names. Basically, instead of one smarmy teenage girl, there is a whole squad, and they all can be described as “plucky,” and of course they bond and save St. Searles’s from bankruptcy through the magic of cheerleading at the end. At this point readers are eagerly anticipating the return of Hard-Boiled Henry.
?In which Rachel Summers is kidnapped and absorbed by a demon-possessed Empire State Building, Meggan’s powers make her transform into a demonic dominatrix named The Goblin Princess,” (and if you guessed this causes her heaps of woe in future issues, you’re 100% correct), and Captain Britain turns into a variety of Hollywood movie clich?s including action hero “Fast Buck,” which is pretty much the best porn star name ever. Also Nightcrawler is devoured by an anthropomorphic garbage truck. The evil Limbo demon N’Astirth, who is responsible for these happenings, must take a lot of acid.
3) Mojo Mayhem
?Mojoworld, everybody! Try to explain this concept to non-comic-reading folks (or even non-X-Men fans) and see how quickly they go cross-eyed. Probably the best way to describe it is as an entire world of reality TV ruled by a morbidly obese cyborg. Mojo is an unapologetically gimmicky supervillain, and basically just a vehicle to introduce baby versions of X-Men and one-off characters for cheap sight gags and puns (Major and Minor Domo, hardee har har). This sort of thing can be a lot of fun, but the “Mojo Mayhem” storyline is unfortunately painful to get through, if only because obnoxious baby-talk narration makes for tough reading. You really have to be invested in the fate of the X-Babies to get through this one, and honestly, who gives a crap about the X-Babies? Mojo can keep `em.
2) Kurt Warner, Warlord of ?
?This story amazingly manages to live up to its cover, which should definitely be the cover of Nightcrawler’s heavy metal album (or at least the side of his van). Alan Davis’s Nightcrawler is quite a dashing beast, and this storyline brings his intergalactic swashbuckling pimpery to the forefront. For example, he takes out a crew of blue space pirates using three swords at once, (wielding one in each hand and another with his prehensile tail), all whilst flirting shamelessly with his assailant. Then he sleeps with the villain. Everyone on the planet, including the heroes, gets rip-roaring drunk and has epic parties at least three times before the main conflict is even resolved. This story is as heavy on the WTF as it is pure fun, and comes complete with an eldritch tentacled horror that tries to eat everyone. Also Kitty Pryde stone cold kills the villain, which is something you don’t see too often.
1) Lightning Force
?Excalibur’s dimension-hopping Nazi doppelgangers were introduced in the “Two-Edged Sword” storyarc. Lightning Force (or is it Lightning Squad?) is indeed fantastically bad. Claremont’s Nazis are from a special Nazi dimension and ride a dragon-powered train, so it’s really hard to take them too seriously. Take Nazi Nightcrawler, for instance, who looks like he came from a more militant version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The one genuinely disturbing figure here is the alternate Kitty Pryde, the literal ghost of a deceased concentration camp victim. It’s incredibly disconcerting to see her there among the more ridiculous evil characters. How Claremont got this past Marvel, even in the fee-wheeling late ’80s, is totally inexplicable.
?Captain Britain once turned into a duck in “The Cross Time Caper.” Don’t you miss the days when comic book characters had “capers”?