“O Captain! My Captain!” – Propaganda looks at Captain Britain and MI13 # 1
“O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths – for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning...”
by Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk
(Interesting mash-up of the Bryan Hitch cover to CB & MI13 #1 with extra ad copy produced by Mark Roberts, who writes a Marvel UK blog; It came from Dartmoor. I liked it so much I thought it deserved a bit more recognition.)
This review has been a long time coming. Initially I sat down to write it and produced the article on Captain Britain, Alan Moore and why they changed my comic reading life (see here).
And the fact that just thinking about Captain Britain brought out those feelings gives you an indication of what a tough job it is to be Paul Cornell writing this comic. To say that he has a difficult job with Captain Britain and MI13 is somewhat underestimating the task. After all, how do you top Alan Moore on Captain Britain? How do you continue the story on Britain’s premier superhero?
People have tried and failed with Captain Britain many times in the past, but the brilliance of the Moore and Davis stories remains almost an impossible comparison to overcome. After seeing the character written so originally it’s a huge letdown to have him feature over the years in so many standard and dull comics. And it doesn’t help that Captain Britain the character, the superhero, isn’t particularly original either. He’s another muscleman, another prissy boy scout doing his bit for what he believes in. And to be frank, most of the writers trying to use him since Moore have written him in just this way, making him truly dull. (And I say this as a big fan.)
Paul Cornell is the latest to try his luck with the Captain. And based on the evidence of the first issue, he’s at least started in the right vein.
(Another of Mark Roberts’ It came from Dartmoor mash-ups. This time his ad copy is over interior art from CB & MI13 #1 by Leonard Kirk.)
Captain Britain and MI13 came about following the demise of the New Excalibur comic that Cornell was being lined up for. But it seems that there was enough momentum behind the idea to spin it into a new ongoing series featuring a new band of British heroes.
I picked it up out of curiosity and nostalgia more than anything and was expecting to not really like it. But Cornell has almost pulled it off and managed to make a Captain Britain series that I may want to read some more of.
The one thing that could have killed it stone dead – the inclusion of the whole Marvel Secret Invasion thingy crossover – has been done in a simple and effective way that includes it in a matter of fact and elegant solution. At the start of this first issue we’re plunged into an all out Skrull vs Britain war with the members of the MI13 team being quietly introduced.
Currently MI13 consists of Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom (which Paul worked on last year with Wisdom: Rudiments of Wisdom), a casually attired Black Knight and possibly Dr Faiza Hussain whom the Black Knight comes across treating casualties. There’s the John Lennon Skrull, whom I’ve read was a feature of MI13 in the previous Wisdom mini-series – he’s a John Lennon impersonating double agent working for MI13. And Spitfire, the old British superheroine, who, thanks to a bit of vampirism in the family and the rejuvenating powers of a blood transfusion from the original Human Torch is looking spritely here. Although she does seem to be displaying some unwelcome family traits when she tackles those Skrulls. (And for a little more background on the various characters I’d point you in the direction of It Came From Dartmoor again).
The art is by Leonard Kirk (longtime Supergirl artist at DC). It’s good but by no means great. The earliest pages reminded me of Hitch’s Ultimates in style and tone somewhat, but after that it just became generic superhero stuff. Not my cup of tea. But something I can put up with easily enough if the writing holds up.
And the writing does indeed hold up. It’s well written, tight and doesn’t spend the entire issue doing the traditional gathering together of the team. That happens, naturally enough, off camera and in the quiet moments. The whole thing shapes up to be interesting and entertaining. The members of the team are sufficiently different to mark them out as worth reading about and Cornell has even injected a little controversy with Spitfire’s eating habits and the inclusion of the British Vampire Hunter Blade from the second story arc (Yes, Blade is British. Who knew?).
One aspect of the book that was a little surprising. The casual violence is standard superhero fare, but the gore is a little more. Spitfire ripping a Skrull’s throat out with her teeth and Captain Britain literally decapitating another with one punch isn’t what I expected from a standard Marvel book.
But aside from that, there’s very little I can fault with the writing. I enjoyed it and will definitely be coming back for more. Maybe there is a chance of life in Captain Britain yet?
Meanwhile the massed ranks of the media is having a field day with Gordon Brown’s inclusion in the comic:
Try this google search for gordon brown captain britain.
Or this piece from the Telegraph: Flash Gordon Brown; Space Warrior.
(Thanks to Matthew Badham for the heads up and the links on that one.)
Sadly Downing Street appears to be keeping to a strict “no comment”. I think they’ve missed a big comedy opportunity from a man desperately in need of something to take away the feeling of doom right now. Imagine if the response had been: “Prime Minister Brown can’t be contacted right now, he’s off fighting the Skrulls with Captain Britain and is then booked in to help Spidey take down The Green Goblin.”
I’m Richard Bruton and I like Captain Britain a lot. And prior to this I thought I’d never need read another Captain Britain story again.