Hellfire Gala Week Two Excalibur Introduces Some New Threats
In Hellfire Gala week one, Emma Frost kicked off one of the strangest events in recent comics. A fancy party? How is that going to be interesting? But then again, these are the X-men we’re talking about, so some things are bound to go wrong. However, the way the X-team structured this event, we feel like we’re always on the edge of catastrophe. And in Hellfire Gala week two, Excalibur #21, the Krakoan representatives are starting to ruffle the feathers of the worlds’ governments – and vice versa.
Hellfire Gala Week Two: Excalibur #21: The X-Men Make Their First Enemies of the Evening – And Rictor Gets the Best Moments
Betsy and Rachel sharing a dance after some rough developments in Hellfire Gala week two (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: Marcus To
Colorist: Erick Arciniega
Excalibur #21 has a lot going on, so much so that it’s hard to know where to start. There are two big narratives here. Firstly, we have Rictor getting more character development than he has since Peter David’s X-Factor Investigations run. That’s not a slight to other writers; Howard and other writers have written wonderful stories with the Earth-moving mutant. But in Hellfire Gala week two, Howard throws a lot at him: loyalty, anger, love, and power. Secondly, there’s the British government and the member of Coven Akkaba that is now their ambassador to the UN. Just a reminder: Coven Akkaba wants to kill Betsy Braddock for becoming Captain Britain (which wasn’t her choice at all) and just really, really hates mutants. Oh, and they might be wizards. Let’s start there.
A Brief Explanation of Coven Akkaba
If you remember your Akkaba, Krakoa, Okkara, Arakko, and Arak Coral vocabulary flashcards, Clan Akkaba was the name of the society made up of Apocalypse’s mutant descendants. But it turned out that Apocalypse had human descendants too – which he banished from Clan Akkaba. Those descendants formed Coven Akkaba and pledged their allegiance to a non-mutant magician. For now, however, let’s look at their actions in Excalibur #21 during Hellfire Gala week two.
An Enemy Gains a Very Powerful Political Position in the British Government
The only Ruebens I trust are the ones made with pastrami. (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
Ever since the magic of Merlin chose Betsy Braddock, a mutant, and Krakoan, as the next Captain Britain, she’s had a target on her. She might be British by ancestry and birthplace, but she became a citizen of Krakoa. To add insult to injury, the rest of Excalibur featured an Asian-American woman (Jubilee), a deep south Southern Belle (Rogue), a Cajun (Gambit), a Mexican (Rictor), and an ancient Egyptian (Apocalypse). Only Betsy carried any British heritage. However, that matter should have been settled way back in issue four, when the Queen sanctioned the team – and Captain Britain – as protectors of the realm. She even made all of Excalibur honorary citizens. But none of that mattered to the Coven.
This is through manipulation and fear, especially with Betsy’s disappearance in Excalibur #14: X of Swords Chapter Fifteen. Well, to them, she disappeared and “abandoned” them. In actuality, she was shattered to pieces, swept into a locked chest, had her conscience lost somewhere in the multiverse, came back possessed by a malevolent mutant spirit, and then gained control of her new body. Excalibur is weird. During that time, the Coven amplified the British’s fear of Krakoa and hatred for Betsy, the “false” Captain Britain. And eventually, Coven leader Reuben Brousseau became the UN ambassador. Bad news for Krakoa. Worse news for Great Britain, even if they don’t realize it.
Hellfire Gala Week Two: Excalibur #21 Features the First Shattered Alliance of the Evening – Probably Not the Last
Brousseau is as pompous as his name implies, and he only attends the gala to try and embarrass Krakoa on their big night, by doing this:
See? No Rueben is a good Rueben. Except for the ones at Junior’s in NYC – holy piles of pastrami, are they good. (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
This doesn’t actually do anything except piss off Excalibur and the Quiet Council, leading to Great Britain losing all of the miracle Krakoan drugs. Rueben even threatens to take over the Excalibur lighthouse – we’ll get to how that ends later. This was a smart move from Tini Howard. Some readers have complained that Excalibur has been spinning its wheels since X of Swords ended…even though it dealt with a lot of the fallout of the event. But now Excalibur has a new villain. Well, a new one and an old one.
One of Marvel’s Most Powerful Characters Returns in Hellfire Gala Week Two: Excalibur
Betsy’s busy dancing with Rachel right now; please try again later. (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
The poor guy in the panel above? Pete Wisdom, the leader of Great Britain’s MI-13 and one of the few mutants who saw the mutant promised land of Krakoa and said “pass.” Now he acts as a mediator between Krakoa and Great Britain. Or did. Sure, he’ll come back shortly thanks to the Resurrection Protocols, but what we need to look at here is how he died: sacrifice.
Coven Akkaba used to have magical abilities, but Excalibur cut off their source. Oh, that source? Morgan Le Fey, a magician who can rival Merlin. Since the early days of Krakoa, Apocalypse kept her prisoner in a dungeon beneath Avalon. He kept her alive and chained up so that he could experiment with her magic nature. When Le Fey lost her thrown in Avalon, the Coven lost their power, and they’ve been trying to bring her back ever since.
So does this ritual, sacrificing mutant blood, work to free her? Well…
Oh, this is not going to go over well with Excalibur. (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
A powerful enemy with a hundred reasons to hate Excalibur is back. The future of the series looks awesome. But this is only half of Excalibur #21 in Hellfire Gala week two.
Rictor Already Hates Parties, but What Happens to Him in Hellfire Gala Week Two: Excalibur Doesn’t Help
He’s attending the most important event in his species’ history, in an outfit designed by one of the most gifted designers in the world…I’d be upset too. (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
As we said before, a lot happens to Rictor in Excalibur #21. And the developments he goes through get bigger and bigger with each scene. So let’s start small.
When Excalibur gets ready to go to the Gala together, Rictor is already miserable. Before X of Swords, Rictor was Apocalypse’s pupil. The ancient mutant helped Rictor stabilize his power and started mentoring him in the ways of magic. Thanks to that tutelage, Excalibur was able to bring back Betsy. And because of that relationship, Rictor grew to love Apocalypse. Not in a romantic way, nor in a father/son way. The only way to really describe it is that Rictor loved Apocalypse the way a devote Christian loves Christ. Only, in his case, the Christ-figure was there, teaching him and counseling him.
However, X of Swords changed everything for Apocalypse. As part of the peace agreement between Arakko and Krakoa, he agreed to leave Krakoa and go to Arakko. Unfortunately, the entire world is in debt to Apocalypse, and Rictor doesn’t want anyone to forget. His devotion to Apocalypse has only grown since he left Krakoa.
Rictor’s loyalty to Excalibur Grows Too
“Hey, see that guy who can move the land itself? Let’s tell him we’re taking his land.” Good job, Ruebs (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
When Rictor and the other members of Excalibur hear what Rueben says to the Quiet Council, he goes a little ballistic – especially when they threaten the land their Lighthouse stands on. He immediately goes back to the Excalibur headquarters to defend it…in the most badass way possible.
Rictor Gains a New Title: King of the Druids
Ruebs is about to choke on his pastrami. (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
Man, Rueben is going to eat his words when he finds out what Rictor’s become. He called him a “false druid” – well, for a false druid, he sure looks pretty awesome as their new king. So when Rictor returns to the lighthouse, he calls upon the druids of that land – druids who offered him their help in the past. After becoming their new king, they take the lighthouse, and the land it is on, and move it:
🤯 (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
Yeah, he becomes a king of an island of druids. But that’s not the only good thing going for him.
One of the Best Queer Couples in Comics is Reunited – and It’s a Great Moment for Pride
How romantic – covered in the blood of his enemies. (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
In Peter David’s X-Factor Investigations, Rictor finally identified as gay after years of fan speculation. But that speculation wasn’t just about him. Several writers made it clear that Rictor and Shatterstar had more than a close friendship, but no one went the extra step to make it official. David? Yeah, he didn’t just make it official; he had them making out and sharing a bed. But as many things go, fates separated the two lovers. Until now. However, their first interaction doesn’t go all that well. If you look at the image above, you might be able to guess why.
Don’t make me choose! (Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
Shatterstar just escaped from the Mojoverse – literally. He’s still covered in blood and cables and barely dressed. So obviously, the best thing he could do is walk into a high-profile event and grab someone he hasn’t seen in years. But for some reason, Rictor’s not happy about that:
What Will Happen to Rictor and Shatterstar in Excalibur After Hellfire Gala Week Two?
I’m not sure if I’m using this right, but is this a “squee” moment? If so…squee. Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics).
I think these two will be all right, wouldn’t you agree?
Hellfire Gala Week Two Bonus! Children of the Atom #4 and Out Merry Non-Mutants
Don’t miss this underrated series! (Image: Children of the Atom #4, Marvel Comics)
Writer: Vita Ayala
Artist: Paco Medina
Colorist: David Curiel
According to Marvel’s official Hellfire Gala checklist, Children of the Atom #4 isn’t actually part of week two. However, the Gala still features in the issue, even if the COTA kids don’t end up there. If you haven’t been reading Ayala’s new series, know two things. Firstly, it’s a wonderful exploration about feeling different and trying to find the people who are your kind of different. Ayala explores this each month through the eyes of one of the five characters who, through stolen technology and cosplay skills, are pretending to be young X-Men. They see Krakoa and the mutant society, and it looks like home to them…but they aren’t mutants. Even if they are so convincing that the X-Men assume they’ve somehow blocked Cerebro, they just aren’t mutants (yet).
Secondly, any reviewer who bashes this series is a troll. They have to be. The art from Paco Medina and the character development from Ayala are both wonderful. And this issue, in particular, shows why. Krakoa is finally going to open the gates up to humans – but only a select few. Meaning, not five kids in high tech cosplay. But it doesn’t stop them from trying. They do some unethical things involving stealing a shirt from a mutant friend they upset, but it’s all for nothing. When they arrive at the gates, CRADLE, the agency policing teenage superheroes, arrives and kidnaps them…thinking they are mutants. They’ve been too convincing.
So, while it isn’t technically a part of Hellfire Gala week two, it deserves a mention.
(Featured Image: Excalibur #21, Marvel Comics)
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.