Are you all ready for this? BECAUSE I HONESTLY AM NOT.
The final arc for Chris Claremont's Excalibur III is called The Devil's Own and it runs for four issues (#11-14) which are also considered as preludes to the House of M storyline by Brian Michael Bendis (which is the next series I'll be reading the fuck out of, and you better believe it), particularly the last issue which was the finale; otherwise known as a twenty-eight paged massacre of all my shippy feelings for Charles and Erik, all bundled in one convenient package of Claremont-styled cheestastic narrative and dialogue exchanges. I've been reading nothing but Claremont since January of this year and it's hard to believe this is the very last X-Men of his I'll be perusing (until Age of Apocalypse, that is, which I scheduled during a midyear). Nevertheless, I am more than happy to end on this note. Excalibur III was sad and tragic and everything definitive in what I've always believed and cherished regarding the relationship between Professor X and Magneto. I maintain from here on out that Claremont is probably the only writer who can capture the beautiful subtleties of their friendship and baggage of losses, shame and guilt. The characterizations for their respective characters have almost destroyed me at times.
Now I have some heavy-duty investment on this last volume of this series, so my perfect rating is unbelievably based on that because I cannot force myself to be objective and detached from a story that spoke volumes to me. I will never apologize about the singular truth that I LOVE CHARLES XAVIER AND ERIK LEHNSHERR as characters and as a pairing so much. Hence, please be warned that this review contains some of the most dramatic insights I will ever publish online concerning the depths of love that I have for this uniquely devastating relationship.
Let me just warm up to that calvary. First, I'll glaze over the twelfth and thirteenth issues which is a separate plot concerning the supporting characters Callisto, Karima and Shola who decided to help out the new X-Men during an attack in New York City where they have to fight Viper and some of her allies. I thought that this plot thread was interesting enough, loaded with action, great character interaction and development, as well as a surprise twist concerning the nefarious aims of Courtney Ross, the new White Queen to the Hellfire Club, who apparently is eager to provide finance on Genosha, believing this will give her an opportunity to seize it under her control. That is a hell of a bad news for Charles and Erik who have just appointed themselves as the liberators of this island which is essentially what Excalibur III has been centered aorund.
Since her appearance in the second issue, Callisto has been consistently impressive for this. She may have some grit but there's a surprising warmth to her presence that makes her readable and fun. She's got style, a snarky attitude and tons of wonderful chemistry with almost everyone including Charles and especially with Karima and Shola. The three of them, accompanied reluctantly by the teenage teleporter Hub, are amazing as a unit, fighting the bad guys and helping the X-Men with everything they've got. These people have only known each other for a short time but they already have a sense of camaraderie together which actually isn't forced. I believe these three naturally gravitated towards one another because they want to do good and they know they can never do it alone. Their strengths and weaknesses in combat and leadership style balance together and I would love to read more about them in another title if there's ever going to be a spin-off.
Another noteworthy character is Archangel who is put in a more assertive position as he tries to lead the team of the X-Men who responded to the crisis in New York. It was nice that when all the commotion has been diverted, these heroes' actions were acknowledged by the general public. That's a sweet, touching wrap-up which seamlessly led to the much bigger story concerning Charles who has been trying to telepathically heal Wanda (Scarlet Witch and Magneto's daughter) for six months now since we last read his conversation with Erik in issue #11, but with no clear results. Desperate, he sought out the help of his old friend Stephen Strange, also known as Dr. Strange.
This is where we arrive to the momentous finale of this series which jump-starts the House of M storyline by Bendis later on.
First of all, my imagination has created the fantasy that the versions who are playing out this story are James McAvoy as Prof X and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, and you best leave this innocent delusion at that, okay? So let's proceed.
After Charles makes a telepathic contact with Stephen (he's still in Genosha at this point), we open issue #14 with a visit from his past, a memory lane in particular, when he used to be in the military. If this seems odd at first because we all know the professor as a pacifist, then it might make more sense if you accept his explanation that he considered himself as a shepherd rather than a soldier, whose primary aim is to find the lost flock and bring them back home to America. It was only when Stephen finally appeared when Charles realized that this was all a telepathic reminisce and that he is currently still in Genosha, tending to Wanda Maximoff's mental health. With Stephen guiding him inside the astral plane, Charles began to contemplate about the things he's been repressing for so long, and no one is as keen on repression like Charles Xavier. Check out this revealing set of panels:
In short: as Charles struggles to mend Wanda through mental contact, she herself is blocking him through channelling scenarios from his past she knows will be able to keep him preoccupied. As the Scarlet Witch, she has the ability to bend dimensions to her will including the astral plane so it's no surprise that she can manipulate Charles to a certain extent. She's resisting his help and by exposing him to his greatest regrets via mindscape, he's rendered unable to help her recover. It's a good thing Dr. Strange was here to remind him of his current goal and not to get lost in the winding pathways of his own mistakes. Basically, Stephen wants him to recognize the crippling effect of his guilt which is what is stopping him from getting through Wanda in the first place. How can he hope to save her when he is just as lost as she is? So, aside from this free therapy session with the Sorcerer Supreme, these two also talk about Erik. A LOT. Erik, after all, is the source of most of Charles' perceived failures. Here is a rather harrowing example of that:
"I believe in him, Stephen. To the core of my being, I believe he is fundamentally a good and decent man." *sniffs* Dammit, Charles. Why do you cling so tightly on Erik's capacity to grow and change like this, to his inherent sense of goodness and light, even when you know how much darkness and chaos he has brought to the world? If our actions and choices are the things that define our lives and whether or not we are good or bad people, then Erik is definitely a complicated mixed bag of both. BUT CHARLES LOVES HIM ANYWAY. He has faith in Erik, an unshakeable one that allows him to welcome and forgive his friend so many times, no matter how rotten things get because of Magneto's unflinching dedication to his extremist ways of mutant superiority.
Why even bother, Dr. Strange inquires, loving someone so damaged who spent almost two decades of his life retaliating against his perceived tormentors, the 'inferior' homo sapiens as he, Magneto, personally deemed? And Charles' response was that all the things Erik committed later on in life was because of his experiences in the past when he only knew humanity in the darkest time of history, as a Jewish boy in a Nazi prison camp. He was tasked to haul bodies from gas chambers to the crematorium; these are people whom he may have known as neighbors, distant relatives--people who were discriminated against because they are thought to be different and therefore deserved to be oppressed. Witnessing hideous things has made him hideous but this doesn't mean he was worthy of hatred and scorn. Charles only believed someone like Erik Lehnsherr is worthy of his love because Charles is pathologically a martyr who finds relevance and joy in helping people, even to a fault. That's why these two are quite perfect for one another. Is it unhealthy in the long run? Won't they be better off without hanging onto each other since they merely go around in circles of break up, make up and break up again? Possibly. But neither of them would have made it this far if it wasn't for the fact that their friendship--even their conflicts, frustrations and disappointments--gave them purpose. Erik strives to be a better man for Charles' sake and Charles never stops believing Erik could be saved.
As much as the conversation is Erik-centric at times, this issue still delves into Charles' own psyche which was why we get these panels featuring his ex-girlfriend Gabirelle Heller whom he met around the same time as Erik back in an Israel hospital for Nazi survivors. Gaby was a catatonic patient whom Charles healed through telepathy AND THEN STARTED DATING. That is as creepy and amoral as it sounds. I'm so relieved that Charles finally owned up to that, admitting that he was guilty of taking advantage of Gaby at her weakest moment.
Being able to reconcile with that, Charles finally did something he has refused to do for so long, which is to forgive himself for being just another flawed man. See, Charles wants to believe he is always doing good because his intentions are noble most of the time but history has shown that he is just as capable of deception, secrets and detachment; inflicting indirect pain and stress on his own students which was why it makes sense that some of the X-Men have learned to trust him less lately, even Scott (Cyclops) who is more or less his surrogate son. This even soured once they found out he ran off with Magneto whom they all believed is dead. Heck, Charles even held a funeral even though they vehemently protested. It's no wonder Charles is on repression mode again, knowing he has sinned and failed his children but is far too stubborn to admit to it. He's just like Erik in that respect. Is it any wonder he wants to believe Erik can change because that means perhaps he too can repair his relationships with the ones he love? So after that reconciliation, he comes back to the present in Genosha with Erik tending to his daughter Wanda. HENCE BEGAN THE MOST HEARBREAKING 'BREAK-UP' BETWEEN THE TWO YET:
"Old patterns. Automatic responses. This is the way it's always been between us."
NO. JUST NO. GODDAMN FUCKING NOPE, NOPE, NOPE! Also, Erik was reading The Once and Future King.
"Don't leave me, Charles!"
"I'd want to know if you're truly the man I thought you were all these years OR SIMPLY REPRESENTING THE FALSE HOPES OF MY YOUTH."
Why does this exchange remind me of this scene in X-Men: First Class otherwise known as a CRIME AGAINST THE HEART?:
LOOK AT THOSE MEN LOOKING AT EACH OTHER WITH THAT FORLORN EXPRESSION! If you're suddenly hearing the chorus to Adele's "Rolling the Deep" while reading this issue, particularly with the panels above, then don't worry, you're not alone. YOU ARE GOING INSANE AND I AM HERE TO HOLD YOUR HAND THROUGH THE MADNESS, and sing the song along with you.
I am frankly exhausted as I type this. I think I reached my Cherik quota for the day with this review. So I'm just going to leave you with this final page of issue #14 where Charles once again defends Erik by saying the cheesiest and heartwarming of justifications ever as Dr. Strange weighs in. This conversation would be even more awesome and painful if you imagine James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch having it. Go on. Try it. And yes, this volume (issues #11-14) have a perfect rating for me for very subjective reasons. I will not apologize for any of them!