“Xs and Os”
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Davis Ross
Inks: Al Milgrom
Colours: Glynis Oliver
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Original publication date: April 1991
We’re (still!) back and so’s our first returning guest, Dr. Michael Hancock, talking what makes a bad comic re: Excalibur #36, “Xs and Os!” It’s a teamup/throwdown with Silver Sable and the Outlaws, featuring dubious understandings of civil rights, Rachel’s sexuality, and nuclear power (it involves clones and monsters, right?). We didn’t love this comic as much as Brian Braddock loves nuclear power, but we have a lot of fun anyway, parsing the mess and setting up Anna for a lengthy tangent about the gender and sexual symbolism of everyone swallowing Sandman.
On a different kind of doppelganger:
“I always like the idea of the ‘foil team,’ where each one of the villains gets a moment where they contrast with one of the members of the hero team. I have a great fondness for that type of plotline. Unfortunately, this is not the best example.” -Michael
On different types of bad:
“To me, the difference between a good-bad movie and a bad-bad movie is that a good-bad movie is weird enough to be funny and interesting. A bad-bad movie is just boring. Same goes for comics. This comic is weird, but it’s not the right kind of weird.” -Anna
On what makes a bad comic:
“For me, one of the pivotal things that makes a comic ‘bad,’ and that specifically makes Chris Claremont’s work good, is self respect. Not of the author, but of the medium. You want a comic that wants to be good. Not a comic that feels like someone was lazy, and just trying to go through the motions. And Lobdell is going through the motions here.” -Andrew
On Bad Girls:
“Originally, Silver Sable was a pretty generic character. Her gimmick was she was a bounty hunter who was a woman. But as you move into the 90s, the concept of being a lady who is a violent bounty hunter was more and more in vogue. So she gets a big push around this time.” -Mav
On the treatment of Rachel:
“We’ve talked before about using emotional vulnerability to get Rachel off the board. But this is by far the most egregious example we’ve had. Rachel gets stunned, Paladin kisses her (which is assault), she swoons, and is totally pacified. We don’t even see Rachel react to the kiss. If you’re someone who cares at all about Rachel as a character – this is an issue that’s going to make you want to put it on a dartboard and throw knives at it.” -Anna
On wasted potential:
“There are potentially interesting questions here, about the superheroes and their relationship to nuclear power, and fossil fuels, and protestors, and politics. It’s only when Excalibur arrive at the nuclear plant that they realize they’re on different sides. But it goes away after page 5.” -Mav
On Meggan's (first?) kill:
“I think the idea of Meggan using her powers violently, but from a position of empathy – that’s a really cool concept for her character. But it would have to be cultivated more to stick with me.” -Andrew
“When Sandman de-forms his body – everybody swallows him. He represents a particularly threatening type of fluidity, that resonates with Cold War fears about both Communism and homosexuality. It’s a seeping, engulfing, identity-destabilizing fluidity.” -Anna
Want more Michael Hancock?
Find him on Twitter (@PersonofCon), and every month talking comics with Anna and Andrew on Three Panel Contrast!
The latest ep features some stark but striking contrasts, as we pit Junji Ito’s horror manga adaptation of Frankenstein against Bruno Enna and Fabio Celoni’s Italian Disney adaptation of the same classic story staring Donald Duck.
And as usual:
You can find Andrew on Twitter (@ClaremontRun).