Best Comic Book Ever Made (To Me)

Open with a prison somewhere in England.  A supervillianess in leopard print named Vixen is busting in with her cronies to free the Juggernaut.  He’s tearing through the walls, letting free a variety of no good doers in the process.  Then suddenly POW!  Captain Britain punches him square in the nose.  But instead of your typical grandstanding posturing, these two quietly discuss terms of surrender.  Of course there is nothing but sarcasm on The Juggernaut’s end of this.  We pull back some distance to the sound of several light punches then POW!  Captain Britain is hurled miles from the fight with one powerful punch from the unstoppable Juggernaut.

Excalibur #3 December 1988

This was the first few pages of Excalibur #3.  This comic, more than any other, cemented my love for comic books.  Sure, I dabbled here and there in various superhero titles.  I had already been a big fan of Groo the Wanderer.  I read my share of Spider-Man.  I had already read the two part stunner that killed Gwen Stacy in a Marvel Tales reprint.  I picked up the occasional G.I. Joe comic.  But I never had anything that hooked me like this.

Truth be told, I had somewhat of distaste for the mutant books in general.  On the stands during this time period where current issues of Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants, Classic X-Men, and now Excalibur.  I didn’t know the small details of the titles.  There was no clear sense to me what differentiated them from each other.  There was comfort in knowing that if I picked up a Spider-Man or Captain America book then I would have an adventure with that hero.  With the X-Men, though…I had no sense of what was what. I would see Nightcrawler on the cover of Classic X-Men and then I would see him on the cover of Excalibur.  I knew Cyclops was an X-Man, but he was in X-Factor.  The rhyme and reason of all this left me cold and I didn’t want to make an effort to dive in and figure it all out.

Page 1 pencils and inks by Alan Davis and Paul Neary
Page 5 pencils and inks by Alan Davis and Paul Neary

Occasionally my mom would pick up a comic for me when she went grocery shopping.  She usually went to Safeway at the Grand and Malvern intersection in Hot Springs.  At the time, the comic selection in that store was top notch.  It had the best selection in town short of the actual comic book store.  This particular time she brought home Excalibur #3.  I was probably put off at first, expecting a new issue of Groo in its place.  But hey! A comic is a comic.  And it was hard to not be intrigued after looking at the cover.  Captain Britain squashed into the ground with a big footprint on his chest with the Juggernaut walking off in the distance.

My introduction to Kitty Pryde

I can’t remember that first time I read the book.  But I do know the impression it left on me.  This was FUN.  These were a group of characters that genuinely cared about each other.  Each had a real, rounded out personality.  They could have been people I would know.  These characters were REAL.  I quickly became attached to Kitty Prdye in this issue.  She was in the middle of a fight with the bad guys, but she was also suffering from a cold.  She was feeling loss of personal items that she could never recover. Sure, big fights happen, but the mundane trivialities of life were also laid out in front of these heroes. I know now that this sort of realism with real world problems happening to big time heroes was commonplace in the Marvel Universe, but this was the first time I had come across it in such a way.   Before this point I hadn’t paid any attention to the names of the writers and artists on comics.  But I soon discovered that, in any book, if it was real characters that I cared about chances are the name Chris Claremont would be in the credits.  And not only were the characters great, but the action, humor, and drama were balanced out so well.  It was like really well made movie playing out in book form.

Each panel tells the story so well that you don’t even need captions

And the artwork was nothing like I had seen before.  Alan Davis is one of the absolute great artists in the field of comics and he was at the top of his game on Excalibur.  The fight sequence on page 10 with Nightcrawler was a perfect display of visual storytelling.  To this day I will read anything with his artwork in it.

Setting the seeds for stories to come

While the first half of the book is about the crisis at hand, the second half is all about the team moving into their headquarters.  Kitty is still suffering a cold, Captain Britain is having second guesses about having to share his home with this newly formed team, a hint of romance sparks between Meggan and Nightcrawler.  And Phoenix…wow!  I was fascinated by her.  She seemed almost all powerful.  (Of course, I would later learn of the overly convoluted back story of Rachel, but that’s a story for another time)  I couldn’t wait to find out more about all of these characters.  I read and re-read and re-read this book over and over.  I finally managed to get the previous two issues and the bookshelf format that introduced the team.  As a matter of fact, Excalibur #2 was the first back issue I had ever purchased.  I remember buying it, too.  It was at Alternate Worlds when it was located in Spencer’s Corner downtown Hot Springs.  My two visits to that store the short time it was in that location still resonates with me.

My copy signed by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis

Anyhow, that’s a thousand plus words about my love for Excalibur #3.  This book, along with Groo #5 (which I gushed about previously on this blog) rank very high on my list of all time favorite comic books.  Pictured above with the cover is my copy autographed by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis.  Thanks again to my friend Joseph for getting those signatures for me!