|Excalibur (1st series) # 21|| || |
Issue Date: April 1990
Story Title: Crusader X
Staff: Chris Claremont (writer), Chris Wozniak (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Brad Vancata (colorist), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), Terry Kavanagh (editor), Tom deFalco (editor-in-chief)
Claremont & Davis (creators)
Excalibur has arrived on another alternate Earth. When local versions of Captain Britain (here called Crusader X) and WHO search their train, they come to believe that they are agents of hostile Prussia, sent to sabotage the world summit. Crusader X manages to capture Nightcrawler. Rachel, in the meantime, has been distracted, as she psychically senses the seduction and eventual destruction of the local version of Jean Grey by the Hellfire Club, which is ruled by the Shadow King. Unable to stop Jean’s death, Rachel vows vengeance.
Back on Earth 616, Nigel Frobisher, with the help of Jamie Braddock, replaces local crimeboss, Vixen, while Nigel’s boss, Sat-yr-9 (still posing as Courtney Ross), bonds with a vulnerable abandoned Kitty Pryde.
Another dimension. That world’s version of Brian Braddock, Crusader X soars over London, enjoying the early morning and his role as the Empire’s foremost superhero. He is keenly aware of the irony that many of the people who cheer his exploits as champion of the realm wouldn’t be seen dead with him in his civilian identity, even though he is heir to one of the proudest, most honoured names in England.
Suddenly, Crusader X hears the noise of military helicopters flying to Euston Square. Troopers hit the ground and the Crusader recognizes their shoulder flashes – WHO, the Weird Happenings Organization. Already on scene are WHO’s commander, Brigadier Alistaire Stuart, its chief scientific advisor, his twin sister, Alysande, and their police liaison, C.I.D. commander Dai Thomas. What has roused them so early that morning is the inexplicable arrival of a train, powered by a dragon. WHO has already sealed off the station.
They are joined by Crusader X, causing Thomas to make some disparaging remarks. Brigadier Stuart points out that actually he intended to summon Crusader X anyway, causing Thomas to go on a rant as to why even bother having a police. Stuart apologizes to the Crusader, while Thomas states that he is simply speaking his mind. He’s not the enemy, Crusader defends himself as they turn to the train. No, in many ways he is worse, Thomas bluntly states. Alysande addresses Crusader X, remarking that Thomas still cannot forget that his wife was killed in a superhero battle. Crusader knows that.
As they enter the train, they see sheer chaos and Crusader caustically commends Thomas for a most thorough search. Not amused, Thomas explains that his people found it that way. Nobody aboard but clear evidence of passengers. A soldier has examined the train and reports that this car consists mainly of sleeping berths, bigger than the BritRail standard. Impossible to be smaller, Thomas quips.
The soldier continues by describing one of the rooms which has a really wild collection of outfits, the size of a teenage girl. In addition, there are some posters relating to a place she has never heard of in the Americas called “Chicago.” Hardly the sort of threat to warrant this full-scale report, Crusader X remarks. Thomas proves him wrong as he shows him a picture of Nightcrawler and identifies him one of Imperial Prussia’s top agents. Does the Crusader think that his presence on the eve of the Queen’ convening a summit of the great powers is coincidence?
Crusader agrees that Thomas is right. There is reason to be worried. He begins to glow, as he uses an aspect of his powers, sensing the residual aura left behind by Nightcrawler. He is capable of tracing it to its source. Like a bloodhound following a scent, Thomas observes unkindly. Except that, unlike dogs, he cannot be thrown off the trail, Crusader retorts.
Earth 616, Brian Braddock’s London townhouse, where Kitty Pryde awakes from what she believes is a wild dream. She can’t wait to tell the others until she gets a good look at her surroundings and remembers how she was separated from the others and is now trapped on Earth.
That moment, Courtney Ross enters with a tray of tea and wishing Kitty good morning. When Kitty asks if this isn’t Brian’s house, Courtney blushes and explains that Brian gave her a key, back when they were… She muses that she hadn’t thought of Brian for ages until he walked into her office weeks ago and bang, all the old feelings are back. Kitty tries to take the teacup but phases through it. Frustrated, she throws a temper tantrum. She is so sick of intangibility being her natural state! As she flails about she turns solid and inadvertently tosses the tray from the bed with the tea spilling on Courtney.
A little later Courtney is dressed in a dressing gown, as they are putting her clothes into the washing machine. Kitty apologizes profusely before explaining that her permanent intangible state is driving her crazy sometimes. Courtney remarks that Brian told her that Kitty nearly died from the wounds that created that condition. And Kitty is recovering, albeit slowly. One day she will be normal again. Isn’t that goal worth the… inconvenience?
Kitty muses that, to bring about her recovery, the X-Men were willing to sell their souls to one of the most evil men on Earth. And afterwards, when everything was going to be all right, they still died. She couldn’t be with them when it mattered the most. She begins to cry when stating that Excalibur was her second chance, but now they are gone too. She doesn’t know if she will ever see them again. Over and over, she reaches out to people she loves, but can’t hold on, like she is really a ghost.
Courtney takes hold of her shoulders, suggesting she still has her family. Her parents are in the federal witness protection program, Kitty explains. She isn’t allowed to see them, only write letters. If she goes back to them, she joins the program too. She loves her superhero life too much to give it up. Plus, she is afraid, if she goes to them, she will somehow destroy them too. Leaning into Courtney’s hug, she tells the woman that everyone is gone as if she has some terrible curse. Courtney comforts her and promises that, as long as she is with her, Kitty will never be alone.
Crusader X’s world:
Outside London stands Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, headquarters of the British Secret Service and its elite operatives, the X-Men. Jean Grey drives onto the mansion grounds when, suddenly, she feels something odd. She stops her car and jumps out. The next moment, she feel she has gone insane.
The house has changed. There are torches instead of electric light and a coach instead of her sports car. She is expected by a man, Jason Wyngardre, who has been haunting her dreams so she can no longer tell which is fantasy and which waking reality. Wyngarde takes away Jean’s cloak, revealing her dressed in a corsage and fishnets, as he proclaims her the Hellfire Club’s Shadow Queen. No! a voice suddenly proclaims forcefully as the Phoenix effect reaches for Jean.
Jean is herself again. She muses that that bird of fire seemed so familiar, like a part of her… just like the Shadow Queen. Then she notices that her outfit has changed to a skin-tight, red leather suit.
Elsewhere, Rachel Summers moans, not again, as the Phoenix effect fades. Her clothes have changed, mirroring Jean’s outfit. Her friends wonder what is going on. Rachel asks them to stop fussing. Her power is taking care of her. Captain Britain bluntly suggests she take a good long look at herself, because it’s not doing its proper job. Alistaire Stuart demands to know why she cried out and she explains that this dimension’s analogue of Jean Grey telepathically cried for help. She was in deadly danger. From whom? Nightcrawler asks concerned. Who else, where Jean Grey is concerned? asks Rachel. Mastermind and the Hellfire Club.
The London branch of the Hellfire Club, the rulers of the secret cabal are ruled by someone else – the Shadow King. He tsks as one of his pets, Emma Frost, has lost her life due to their attempt of seducing Jean Grey. Displeased, he turns to Mastermind. This was hardly the scenario he guaranteed. Emma’s telepathy gave him unrestricted access to Jean’s mind. Mastermind agrees that Jean’s corruption was within his grasp. Something intruded. There was a psychic backlash. He did his best, he babbles. His master rewards him with one minute of ultimate agony in silence.
Tony Stark, dressed in his Iron Man suit, inquires what the Shadow King is doing to Wyngarde. Nothing, the other man replies. Jason creates his own illusions and creates far better torment than he could. Of course, he monitors the event… out of curiosity. When he has recovered, they will begin again. This time, without mistakes. Considering what he is paying, there’d better not be, Stark states bluntly.
The Shadow King is bothered by Stark’s lack of faith. And by the fact that his psychic powers are limited against his technology, Stark spells out. What if Jean turns to Xavier for help? he asks. Is he ready to go up against him?
Drawing his other pet, Selene, to him, the King announces that he and Xavier will have their final accounting at the proper time and place. In the meantime, it will suffice for him to destroy his favourite student. That is why he chooses to help Stark. Jean will provide the key that will allow him to smash the world summit and strike a fearsome blow for American independence A pity that some of Stark’s fellow Sons of Liberty don’t seem to share his initiative.
Stark agrees, while his eye roams over the features of some of the Hellfire Club’s more attractive slaves. If Captain America knew what he was planning… But a Stark signed the Declaration of Independence and paid for it at the end of one of King George’s ropes. He died in good company – Franklin, Adams, Hancock, Jefferson… It’s time they were avenged. The King offers the company of his slaves to Stark. A most fitting supper for the condemned, he silently adds.
Earth 616, London, Hyde Park at night. From a limousine exits local crime boss, Vixen, and two of her men, Vivian and Vincent. Her men are worried, despite the many troopers they have assigned to guard the Vixen.
At a carousel, they meet Nigel Frobisher, who expresses delight at Vixen’s acceptation of his invitation. She always makes a point of hearing “offers she can’t refuse” Vixen states, and then dealing with them accordingly. That’s how you get to be top dog of the London underworld and stay there. Interesting turn of phrase, states Jamie Braddock (still only dressed in a speedo and clearly out of his mind) as he joins them.
Frobisher introduces him as his slightly eccentric colleague before announcing that this is a changing of the guard. Figuring that Frobisher wants her place Vixen orders Vivian and Vincent to shoot him. They men try to do so, but Jamie pulls at the cosmic strings that only he perceives and causes Nigel to turn into a giant puffball. The bullets pass through him harmlessly. Their weapons turn into bird cages and Jamie gleefully announces that he froze their army in the woods. The cages grow and engulf Vivian and Vincent while Vixen tries to run away.
Jamie pulls her strings and turns her into a real fox. He always wanted a pet. Shame this is all a dream, he muses. Nigel taps him on the shoulder remarking they needed Vixen alive… and human. Who’s to run her gang now? With a grin Jamie turns towards Nigel who realizes this was not a good idea.
A little later, Jamie and “Vixen,” followed by Vivian and Vincent, return to Vixen’s limousine. Inside the limo, Nigel transforms back into himself and moans how can women wear these high heels. Jamie kindly offers to fix his feet so that he will love them. Nigel politely declines Disappointed Jamie asks what the point of stooging around the playground of life is if not to play with the toys. People aren’t toys, Nigel protests weakly. It’s his dream, Jamie insists stubbornly. He’ll make them whatever he pleases.
Exasperated, Nigel stops trying to talk sense into him. In a moment of rare lucidity, Jamie explains that, whenever he needs to be Nigel, he is and if he needs to be Vixen, presto. What could be simpler? Nigel isn’t convinced. With a grin Jamie strokes his new pet fox and assures Nigel that there are worse fates.
Back on Crusader X’s world, on the grounds of the Xavier estate, a laughing Jean Grey fends off Wolfsbane’s attempt to play with her. As she pets the werewolf, Jean, at the same time, telekinetically fends off a sneak attack by Cannonball, without even looking. Rahne laughs at her classmate. They are joined by their teacher, Banshee, who tells Sam he is obliged to clean up the mess he made on the lawn. The three of them watch Jean enter the mansion. Rahne comments how happy she seems and wonders if she has a new boyfriend. Banshee muses that it must be a special man to make her change her look so dramatically.
Jean’s been troubled lately, due to her break-up with Cyclops, but nobody wanted to pry. As she intends to enter Xavier’s and Moira MacTaggert’s office, she suddenly falls prey to another hallucination, where she is once more the Shadow Queen and has slain Xavier and Moira in the name of her master.
At the London docks, Rachel tells Nightcrawler that they are after Jean. They are inside her mind, making her believe she has slaughtered Xavier and Moira and that she loved it. Her Mom’s right on the edge.
Nightcrawler interrupts, pointing out this is another Jean Grey, but not Rachel’s mother. Rachel doesn’t see a difference. Kurt reminds her that this isn’t their world. If Rachel gets involved and something goes wrong, they have no hope of returning home. Rachel doesn’t argue the point but retorts that they are supposed to be heroes. When an innocent life is threatened, how can they not get involved?
Suddenly, she yells at her teammate to duck, as a form approaches. Rachel telekinetically fends off Crusader X’s attack and the local hero lands in the Thames. She telekinetically raises him and keeps him imprisoned.
A country lane outbound from Xavier, where Jean drives away, fleeing from the Shadow King. The way she perceives the world, though, she is still the Shadow Queen riding a horse, the Shadow King on his monster and with his army following and gaining ground. She hopes for the Phoenix to save her again but, even as she calls out, the Shadow King pierces through her head with his claw and triumphantly announces that she is now his, body and soul forever.
At the Thames. Rachel cries out for her mother and flies away, the momentary battle forgotten.
While Kurt wonders what happened, Crusader X attacks. Considering his fighting style is similar to Captain Britain’s, Nightcrawler successfully evades him for some time, but eventually the stronger hero catches him and knocks him out and flies away with him to the police.
A little later, Captain Britain, Meggan and Alistaire land at the docks only to find evidence of a fight. Meggan morphs into a catlike being and catches three scents: Rachel’s Kurt’s and one very much like Captain Britain’s. She announces that the other Captain and Kurt left together, Rachel left earlier alone in another direction. Brian asks her if she can follow Kurt’s trail and Meggan says she can. When Alistaire inquires about Phoenix Megan coolly remarks that she ran out on her teammate. Let her take care of herself.
On a country lane, beside Jean’s crashed car, Rachel cradles the injured Jean, telling her she will be all right. She’ll add her power to Jean’s and will save her. Jean weakly replies it is too late. Whatever the King did to her is eating away at her. She has lost too much already. The moment Rachel ends the link, Jean will belong to him. Plus, the link is endangering Rachel as well. She prefers a quick clean death.
Calling her ‘mom,’ Rachel begs her to stay. Jean weakly tells her she is not her mom, though she wishes she was. Suddenly, her body language changes as, with an evil grin, she asks Rachel to give her a chance and maybe they will both get their wishes. Rachel realizes this is no longer the real Jean and lets her die.
Moments later, the Phoenix engulfs her, as Rachel swears that it won’t end here She vows revenge to the Lords of the Hellfire Club for having done this.
Captain Britain, Meggan, Nightcrawler, Phoenix III, Shadowcat (all Excalibur)
Alistaire Stuart (chief scientist of WHO)
On Earth 616:
Sat-yr-9 (posing as Courtney Ross)
The Vixen (crime boss)
Vivian, Vincent (Vixen’s guards)
On Crusader X’s world:
Crusader X (alternate Brian Braddock)
Banshee, Cannonball, Jean Grey, Professor Xavier, Wolfsbane (all X-Men or students at Xavier’s)
Dr. Moira MacTaggert
Brigadier Alistaire Stuart (commander of WHO)
Alysande Stuart (chief scientific advisor of WHO)
C.I.D. commander Dai Thomas
The Shadow King
Mastermind, Selene, The White Queen
Hellfire Club slaves
In Jean’s hallucinations:
Jean as the Shadow Queen
C.I.D. stands for Criminal Investigations Division.
The hostility between Dai Thomas and Crusader X in many ways harkens back to the similarly adversarial relationship the 616 version of Thomas and Captain Britain had, until the last issue of Captain Britain (2nd series), when Thomas swallowed his pride and actually sought the Captain’s help.
Kitty was separated from the rest of Excalibur and stranded back on Earth 616 in issue 19 (not #20 as the issue’s footnotes claim).
Kitty has been stuck in permanent phase, as a result of being hit by the Marauder Harpoon’s weapon in Uncanny X-Men #211. The X-Men struck a deal with Dr Doom to help save Kitty’s life in the Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men limited series.
While no reason is given for Kitty’s parents being in the Witness Protection program, this is most likely a result of Carmen Pryde’s dealing with the Japanese Yakuza (Kitty Pryde & Wolverine LS)
Jean’s hallucinatory seduction by Mastermind is meant to mirror the same process during the classic Claremont / Byrne run in Uncanny X-Men.
The Phrase “an offer one cannot refuse” stems from he classic Mafia movie “The Godfather”.
Poor Vixen actually has been turned into a real fox before, by Mad Jim Jaspers in The Mighty World of Marvle #8.
Rachel flipped the last time (as Nightcrawler remembers) shortly before Inferno, because she sensed her “baby brother,” Nathan, in danger in Excalibur #6 (not #7 as the footnotes state).
This Issue has been reprinted in:
Excalibur Classic Vol. 4: Cross-Time Caper Book 2 (Trade Paperback)
Issue Summary written by: Ruth