Excalibur (1st series) #36

Issue Date: 
April 1991
Story Title: 
“Xs and Os”

Scott Lobdell (author), Dave Ross (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Chris Eliopoulous (letterer), Terry Kavanagh (editor), Tom deFalco (editor in chief)

Excalibur created by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis

Brief Description: 

Excalibur is called to Darkmoor Research Station, where Captain Britain used to work shortly before he gained his superpowers. There they find anti-nuclear power protesters and Kitty and Cap begin an argument over the uses and dangers of nuclear power, until Professor Walshe for whom Brian used to work invites them in. Before he can tell them why exactly he called them, suddenly Silver Sable and her Outlaws show up, claiming Walshe stole Symkerian technology. Of course, a battle between the two teams erupts until Kitty and the Prowler find Walshe did indeed steal the technology and used it to experiment on clones. Walshe is revealed as a former vessel of mad scientist Armin Zola, who has been obsessed with saving humanity from nuclear disaster ever since. Unfortunately, the clones and their shepherd break loose and the only way to stop them from harming people is “killing” Walshe, which Meggan finally does.

Full Summary: 

Five years ago, young Brian Braddock wasn’t a superhero named Captain Britain yet, but a dedicated research assistant at the prestigious Darkmoor Research Center. Back then, he was as dedicated to producing safe nuclear energy as he is to being a superhero today. Of course, at the moment, he is mostly asleep at his workstation.

His superior, Professor Walshe, wakes him, asking what he is still doing here after three a.m. Brian yawns and remarks he could ask the professor the same question. Except that he happens to run the place, Walshe retorts. Brian admits he must have dozed off. Again? Walshe asks. Dedication is admirable, but he can’t save the world without a good night’s rest. Sometimes he feels they are saving the world, Brian admits. By safely harnessing nuclear energy, they are ensuring their children a …

He sounds like a pretentious BBC documentary, the professor laughs. Brian apologizes. All this science and hands-on research, it’s all so new to a kid raised in a mansion. For the first time in his life, he feels he is giving something back.

Walshe helps him into jacket as Brian continues he may think he is daft but it’s as though he is making up for being born into a life of privilege. Never apologize for being who you are, Walshe advises him. It doesn’t become a gentleman.

Walshe sends him home. He is due back to work in five hours. Brian wishes him a good night and asks him to check the oscillator readings on the… , Walshe tells him forcefully.

Of course, that was five years ago. Brian has become Captain Britain and a member of Excalibur and Darkmoor has become the site of escalating anti-nuclear-power demonstrations.

One of those is going on when Excalibur arrive. Both sides, the protesters and the cops, believe the heroes are coming to help their side.

Captain Britain shouts they’ll have no more of this. Phoenix whispers to Nightcrawler that she is not really comfortable with this. Civil disobedience isn’t their forte. Kurt agrees. But they are here at Brian’s request. He must have reasons.

As he lands, Cap orders that, by the power invested in him by the country of England, he orders the people to disperse. Shadowcat whispers to Meggan… what about the people’s right to public assembly… They have that over here, don’t they?

The demonstrators angrily retort that Darkmoor is conducting illegal experiments! When they are not killing fish, they’re finding new ways to blow up the planet. No offence to Cap’s mates, another protestor adds, but some of them don’t fancy becoming mutants if they can avoid it. Angrily, Cap calls them idiots. They need nuclear power in order to prevent the strip-mining of their natural re—

Kitty interferes. Is he out of his mind? Nuclear energy is the pits! She thought they were here to help the protesters. With her science background, he begins to lecture… Finally, Rachel asks if they need to hold this discussion in front of everyone.

She has a point, Professor Walshe, who has just shown up remarks and offers them to come inside. They are honoured, Cap assures him. Seeing as these are the final days of the D.R.C, the honor is his, he replies as he leads the heroes inside.

The policemen give sighs of relief. More help like that and they’d have a full-blown riot on their hands.

Among the crowd are Silver Sable and the Sandman. He asks what they do now. They continue according to plan, she decides. One doesn’t travel to England without expecting to encounter Excalibur.

Inside, Walshe addresses Cap as Brian. How did he know? Cap asks. Please, Walshe replies, he would sooner not recognize his own son. The members of Excalibur note the place is deserted. Walshe explains that with Thatcher’s resignation the tide of public opinion is turning. Funding is scarce and they are reduced to a skeleton crew. Anyone who deals in nuclear reactors is automatically labelled a monster. And he dare say it’s a reputation they have earned.

Excuse her as she sheds a tear, Kitty states sarcastically. The mob accuse Walshe of illegal experiments, true or not? Shadowcat! Cap exclaims.

Please, Brian, Walshe tells him. Every child should be so concerned with the welfare of the planet. Pat her on the head and she’ll clock him one square in the chops, is Kitty’s reply.

No doubt, she would, he replies, still calm. He can with a clear conscience take full responsibility for everything that happens at Darkmoor. That doesn’t answer her question, Nightcrawler points out.

Below them at a workstation, a young black man in lab coat looks up agitated. He doesn’t believe this. Three weeks undercover to study the layout of this place and two seconds before rendezvous in the building’s most obscure sector the Queen’s version of the X-Men decide to show up! He can hear the bones breaking now…

And, as if on cue, a wall is shattered apart. Why can’t they go anywhere without this kind of thing happening? one of the heroes sighs. In comes Silver Sable’s team of mercenaries: Silver Sable herself, the reformed villain Sandman, the Paladin, Rocket Racer (and already present in disguise – the Prowler). The world at large considers them bad guys. Fact is, they are heroes for hire. You need a job done and you have the money to foot the bill? Silver Sable International are the people you want!

The white-haired merc orders Excalibur to stand away from Walshe. As representatives of the Symkerian government, they’ve come for the return of stolen technology.

Forget it, Cap warns them as he stands protectively in front of Walshe, there’s no way they are turning the professor over to mercenaries! Even if the charges are true? Kitty asks.

Well, they tried it the easy way, Sable decides. Sandman! she shouts. With his sandfists, he takes out Cap and Phoenix at the same time.

Nightcrawler orders the professor to head for an exit while he covers him.

If these wimps don’t put up a fight, Sandman remarks, he ain’t even gonna make time and a half for this gig. If he’s trying to cheer her up, it’s working his boss Silver Sable remarks. Prepare to be depressed, Meggan warns her as she heads for her.

Nightcrawler tries to get the young man in the labcoat to get out of danger. That’s gratitude for you, he mutters one moment later as he reveals himself as the Prowler and hits him away.

Sandman changes his sandlimb into a giant mace and pummels Cap with it. Head’s up, Captain Blimey! he shouts. Avoiding the next blow, Cap tells him to at least learn the language, if he’s going to hurl ethnic slurs. Nobody in England actually says “blimey” anymore. It’d be like an American saying “golly gee whiz.” What say they finish this like gentlemen? He flies toward the Sandman.

He means man to man, or should he say “bloke to bloke?” Sandman asks and traps him between two sandbenches. Or don’t nobody say bloke anymore either?

Silver Sable smashes Meggan to the wall as she protests that this must be a mistake. Why would D.R.C need to steal technology? Silver Sable orders her to look around. This place is a tomb, a shadow of its former glory. She smashes Meggan to the ground as she continues that the device Walshe stole - a bionuclear simulator – is worth millions. And its very existence threatens every living being on the face of the planet!

That’s insane! Meggan shouts, who would create such a device? Sable handcuffs her as she explains that when you’re one of the smallest countries in Europe like Symkeria it pays to have “insurance.” She offers Meggan to hold still and she’ll make it as painless as possible…

Then she’s a better woman than she, Phoenix warns her as she lifts Sable in the Phoenix raptor’s claws. She doesn’t intend to let Silver Sable’s discomfort bother her in the least.

Rachel doesn’t notice Paladin taking aim at her. The merc isn’t sure that “battling celestial avatars” is in the job description. But, if she fries his boss, who’ll sign his paycheck? He zaps her with his stun gun and Silver Sable is freed. Good work, she commends him. Phoenix is dazed. Dazed? he wonders, as he catches Rachel. Considering the setting he used, she should have been out cold for a month. Any suggestions? Keep her distracted! Sable orders. Distracted, huh? He decides to do that by kissing Rachel.

Rocket Racer is battling Nightcrawler, believing he is called Nightcreeper. He’s been doing this whole super battle gig for a while now; is it just him or can this genuinely be a lot of fun? Kurt corrects the name and the key is always keeping things spontaneous, he suggests. By taking advantage of whatever’s at hand or tail as the case may be. He rolls his tail around a pillar, meaning Rocket Racer sails on without him.

The next moment, he is attacked by a blast of air – courtesy of the Prowler – which he dodges. He can’t believe Sable hires people who fire blasts of air, how intimidating! The scientific term is “pneumatics,” Prowler announces, and he gets by, thanks.

Silver Sable is grabbed by a huge sand fist, not of her teammate Sandman, but of Meggan who is imitating him.

In the meantime, Nightrawler has hurled Prowler away and he lands against Shadowcat. Inadvertently, Kitty phases the Prowler alongside with her. She complains that she used to have better control of her mutant power. They pass Meggan and Sable and the still kissing Paladin and Phoenix.

Has she considered pneumatics as a cure? Prowler asks. It’s theoretically possible as a means to recalibrate the molecular bonding in the DNA matrix, she replies as they tumble though the wall. Landing in the dark, Shadowcat suggests they table this discussion for later. Does he see what she sees? How embarrassing, he admits, to think they spent all this time battling each other instead of that. He’s still new to this game, eh? Kitty sighs.

Tea and crumpets, how strong is this guy? Sandman complains, still trying to press Captain Britain together. Cap gives a slurred response. I wasn’t asking you, flagface, Sandman shouts back. Did anyone remember to bring the bazooka? He doesn’t know how much longer he can hold him! That moment Cap breaks free. Golly Gee whiz! The answer is “not long at all!” And for the record, bloke is still okay. He slugs the Sandman. But it’s Captain bloke to you!

Cap’s blow disperses the Sandman, making the rest of them see only dust and cough. Silver Sable tells her team he will be back together in moments. Nightcrawler coughs they’d rather Cap didn’t do that again anytime soon.

Brian suggests maybe now they can rationally discuss these ridiculous accusations against Dr. Walshe. On that very subject… Kitty announces that she and the Prowler have found something in the next room. Their presence is required now.

Cap and the reassembled Sandman break apart the wall. What they find behind it shocks Cap. Bodies hanging around a device. Clones, Walshe explains. Those bodies are lifeless clones. Test subjects. The device is the bio-nuclear simulator originally designed by the Symkerians as an experimental form of chemotherapy. Later, as a weapon of war. He stole it, he made… adjustments. Having extended its range considerably, he can determine the human body’s radiation saturation level. Then he will genetically create a strain of humanity capable of surviving a nuclear holocaust. Pretty neat, huh?

It’s insane! Brian exclaims. Even if man could survive, the planet would be nothing but ash and cinder. Walshe has been under a lot of strain, he suggests. If something’s wrong, maybe… Something’s wrong! Walshe repeats. Yes, you could say that… Something has been wrong for the past forty years, the recent demonstrations, the budget cuts…. Maybe it is time…

He pulls off his face and tears through his body… to reveal a human face on a screen in a robotic body.

… to make everything right!

Phoenix exclaims that it’s Arnim Zola, the master geneticist. Hardly, Walshe replies. He is only an empty vessel, a faulty construct that the original Zola had all but forgotten. The victim of a loose wire, a burnt circuit. He was foolish enough to believe he was alive. That by posing as Dr Walshe he could make a difference, that he could save the world!

But look what he has been reduced to. He points at the lifeless clones. Is this any way to conduct an experiment?

Um, now isn’t the best time to rant, Paladin remarks. His sensor goes off the scale. Walshe explains that his internal sensors confirm that their super battle must have affected the simulator’s delicate circuits. The nuclear energy is running rampant. They are talking major overload, death and destruction.

Any suggestions? Cap asks. He has a car round back? Paladin suggests. Sounds like her cue, Phoenix steps up. It’s going to take all her TK powers to keep this energy in check. And she doesn’t know how long she can contain it. Walshe explains it will take hours to properly disengage the device without destroying it.

Suddenly, the clones come alive. Kitty accuses Walshe of mentally controlling them. He did up until a moment ago, he replies. Kitty phases through Walshe’s antenna to stop that. He’d rather she hadn’t done that, he sighs. Suddenly, the chamber in the center of the clones opens. And a genetic monstrosity arises called the Shepherd. Under optimum conditions, Walshe explains he is a failsafe against the escape of the clones. Her phasing power has fused many of Walshe’s synapses. The ones used to psionically animate his creations. He fears the irradiated clones and the Shepherd will rampage out of control.

The Shepherd and the clones attack. Rachel uses all her strength to contain the radiation. Real good choice of role model there, Cap, Sandman snarks. The Outlaws and Excalibur try their best (if in vain) to stop them burning the outer wall. The next moment they are busy protecting the crowd.

Kitty tells Cap she’s going to help the others evacuate the crowd but he has to find a way to put Zola out of commission for good. Cap shouts after her to wait. What is he supposed to do?

What he must, Walshe tells him weakly. Finish the job the girl started; destroy the ESP box atop his shoulders and it’s all over. The clones and the Shepherd, even the simulator will all cease to function.

But… Brian stutters. But it will kill him? Walshe completes the sentence. He’s a machine. No more alive than a toaster. Brian begs Walshe not to ask him. Walshe orders him to look at what he is, not what he pretended to be. Destroy this soulless vessel before someone dies. Brian replies he can’t.

That moment, Walshe blows apart from within in a stream of sand. It was Meggan using the Sandman’s power to enter the mechanical body and disrupt the circuits. She explains that, with her empathic power, she knew it had to be done. He wanted to be destroyed, so that the rest of them could live.

Outside, the clones and the Shepherd too have fallen. The Rocket Racer addresses Excalibur. They do this stuff for free? The teams make up and Paladin and Rachel suggest the other should call him/her sometime.

With the Outlaws gone, Kurt wonders if Brian will be all right. Brian asks the dying Walshe if there ever was such a person as Dr. Walshe? Was he real? If a man’s life is measured by the love and respect of others, if he believed in the dream of a better world, then, yes, he was real. If not, then he’s very sorry. He breaks off, the screen goes blank. Brian tells him not to apologize for being who he is. It doesn’t become a gentleman.

Characters Involved: 

Captain Britain, Meggan, Nightcrawler, Phoenix III, Shadowcat (all Excalibur)

Paladin, Prowler, Rocket Racer, Sandman, Silver Sable (all Outlaws)

Professor Walshe





Story Notes: 

Walshe actually was Brian’s superior in Captain Britain (1st series) #1.

Page three mixes up the words “sight” and “site.”

Despite his claims Cap doesn’t have any official power invested in him and it would be the “United Kingdom,” not “England” anyway.

This story takes place before Sandman joined the Avengers.

Arnim Zola was a biochemist born with a frail, dwarfish body. Zola used his scientific skills to genetically fashion a new stronger body for himself. Having done so, Zola used the mind-transference technique he devised earlier to project his mind into the cloned brain of his new body, a brain that he situated in the chest cavity where it would be more protected. Since the brains of all of his genetic creations were grown from cells of his own, he can mentally project his intelligence into any of his creations.

"Thatcher" refers to Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.

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