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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 248: Excalibur #27

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Excalibur #27, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1990. This scan is from Excalibur Classic volume 4, which was published in 2007. Enjoy!

Oh, Jamie, you rapscallion!

Yes, those credits are correct: This comic is written by Claremont, drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. Holy crap, that’s a team!

Claremont created Jamie Braddock back when he was writing Captain Britain, and he seems to have an affinity for the dude. He shows up in Claremont comics every so often, with “reality-warping powers” not unlike those of Proteus, another Claremont creation. Yes, Claremont has certain writing tics. I know, shocking. So in this issue, Jamie screws with reality a bit, and like a lot of Claremont stories when he’s paired with good artists, it seems to be much better-written than those when he doesn’t have good artists (like the issues in this trade drawn by Chris Wozniak). One thing that I’m sure annoys a lot of people, but not me, is the way Claremont writes certain characters, especially those with a tenuous grasp on reality. Yes, his narrative boxes are a bit excessive, but notice how the way he writes gives us a clear idea of the madness inside Jamie’s mind, even though it’s in third person. We get right away that Jamie is someone who can not only change reality, but who is also not quite right in the head. In Claremont’s world, there’s nothing more terrifying, and the non sequiturs in Jamie’s speech and the infantilization in the third caption box are indicators of how far gone Jamie is. Claremont might be a bit verbose, but from this page, we understand that Jamie can change reality because he thinks he’s dreaming, so it doesn’t matter what he does (well, to him, of course – other characters might disagree). It’s not a bad introduction to the character.

Notice, also, Tom Orzechowski’s wonderful lettering. Orzechowski is one of the best letterers in comics history, so it’s not surprising that he’s good at this sort of thing, but he takes Claremont’s free-form narration in the third caption box and makes it a bit dizzier with the italicized “wheee,” which is offset from the rest of the words and adds a bit of craziness to the entire phrase. Orzechowski also emphasizes words well – “imagination,” “reality,” “fast asleep,” and “fantasy” – perhaps these words would sound odd if emphasized when spoken, but because it’s narration, Orzechowski can get away with it a bit, plus they help drive Claremont’s point home. I don’t know if Claremont, Orzechowski, or Windsor-Smith tilted the caption boxes that way, but as we’ve seen before, that’s a good way to show that the character might not be quite in step with the rest of the world.

The pairing of Windsor-Smith and Sienkiewicz is an interesting one, because Windsor-Smith is a more traditional artist but also strong enough to resist Sienkiewicz’s more avant-garde stylings (this has not been the case recently, as Sienkiewicz showed up on DC books as an inker paired with artists who weren’t in his league, causing the art to grate horribly). So we get a Windsor-Smith drawing with jagged inks, making Jamie a harsher person and suiting the tone of the story well. While Windsor-Smith’s lines aren’t as traditional as, say, Alan Davis’ (the main artist for much of Excalibur’s early issues), he still has a more classic style than Sienkiewicz does. Windsor-Smith “colors inside the lines,” so to speak, and you’ll notice that Sienkiewicz doesn’t care about that too much, as he carves all sorts of darkness onto Jamie, from his wild hair to his scored flesh. Jamie’s relationship with reality is sketchy at best, and Sienkiewicz helps make that more visual than Windsor-Smith could on his own. It’s interesting that when the superheroics in this issue begin, Sienkiewicz reins it in slightly to give it a more old-school feel. It’s an interesting contrast, and I have to believe it was part of the plan concerning this issue, where reality breaks down but Excalibur still has to punch things.

I don’t have much to say about Glynis Oliver’s coloring. It’s a page of a nearly nude (a never-nude?) person sitting in a chair. What are you going to do with that?

Excalibur in the interregnum (Davis left the book with issue #24 and didn’t return until issue #42) was not a good comic, but this is a nifty little issue that is strengthened by the unusual art pairing. The first page might not be the most compelling, but how can you put down a book with “Windsor-Smith” and “Sienkiewicz” in the credits???

I’m still looking for suggestions for October – if you want to pick a first page for me to write about, send me an e-mail at gregorymburgas@gmail.com and I’ll write about it! You know you want to!

Next: A very funny series from the not-too-distant past makes an appearance. I know that doesn’t give much away, so I’ll just say that one of the writers has his very own day here at the blog! Prepare yourself by checking out the archives!

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