By various (Marvel/Panini UK)
This fourth wonderful volume collecting the complete adventures of Marvel’s Greatest British super-hero gathers together the remaining black and white episodes of The Black Knight strip from Hulk Comic (# 42-55 and 57-63, 1979) in which Captain Britain co-starred, before going on to his peripatetic wanderings through a number of UK titles beginning with Marvel Super Heroes #377-389 and continuing in The Daredevils #1-11. Eventually he got his own second short-lived title, but that’s a bunch of tales for another time and hopefully a future graphic novel review…
The Lion of Albion was in character limbo until March 1979, when a new British weekly, Hulk Comic, launched with an eclectic, if not eccentric, mix of Marvel reprints the editors felt better suited the British market. There were some all-new strips featuring Marvel characters tailored, like the reprints, to appeal to UK kids.
The Hulk was there because of his TV show, Nick Fury (drawn by the incredibly young Steve Dillon) – because Brits love their spies, and the all-original period pulp thriller Night Raven by David Lloyd, John Bolton and Steve Parkhouse. Hidden deep within and almost trying not to be noticed was The Black Knight.
The Knight was a sometime member of the super-team The Mighty Avengers but in this engrossing epic, costumed shenanigans were replaced by a classical fantasy quest which began in modern Britain but soon evolved into a desperate search through the Tolkien-esque (or perhaps Alan Garner derived) myth-scape of legendary England in a last ditch attempt to save the soul of the land by locating the spirit of our Arthurian/Celtic roots. At that time the addled wits and broken soul of Captain Britain would also be restored…
This comprehensive volume continues and concludes the quest with the discovery of Camelot, the rebirth of the legendary King (originally seen in issues #42-55 and #57 through 63 at which time Hulk Comic folded) and a cataclysmic last battle with the forces of evil. These two and three page episodes are a truly classy act executed with great panache by writer Steve Parkhouse and John Stokes (with occasional penciling from the multi-talented Paul Neary) which captured the imagination of the readership, becoming the longest-running original strip in the comic (even The Hulk itself reverted to reprints by #28) and often stole the cover spot from the lead feature.
After a brief informative afterword and some impressive colour covers – including a pin-up of Captains Britain and America by Jack Kirby – the drama resumes with the return of Captain Britain, revamped and redesigned by Editor/plotter Neary and a new creative team; neophytes writer Dave Thorpe and artist Alan Davis for the monthly reprint anthology Marvel Super-Heroes (#377, September 1981).
Lost in the gaps between alternate worlds the hero and his elf sidekick Jackdaw are drawn back to Earth but upon arrival they discover it is a hideous parody of Britain, bleak, distressed, hopeless and depressed – a potent analogue of the country Margaret Thatcher was then dismantling. Thorpe’s desire to inject some subversive social realism into the feature – and the resistance he endured – is documented in his commentary in this volume but suffice to say that although the analogies and allegories are there to be seen, pressure was exerted to keep the strip as escapist as possible, and avoid any controversy…
That’s not to say that the awkward-but-improving-with-every-page tales weren’t a dynamic, entertaining breath of fresh air, with striking superhero art delivering a far more British flavour of adventure. In short order the confused Captain met anarchic bandits The Crazy Gang, reality-warping mutant Mad Jim Jaspers, British Nazis and a truly distressed population in ‘Outcasts’ (MSH #378), an animated rubbish monster (‘The Junkheap that Walked Like a Man’ (#379), and was introduced to the pan-Reality colossus The Dimensional Development Court and its sultry, ruthless operative Opal Luna Saturnyne, who intended to compulsorily evolve the whole dimension, beginning with ‘In Support of Darwin!’, ‘Re-Birth!’, ‘Against the Realm’ and ‘Faces of Britain!’ #380-383).
‘Friends and Neighbours’ is a pretty-looking and thoroughly de-clawed examination of sectarianism and racism (see Thorpe’s commentary for clarification) which was followed in #385 by an “untold tale” by Neary and Davis. To get the saga back on track this diversion related an event that occurred in Limbo – the ‘Attack of the Binary Beings!’
Now deeply involved in Saturnyne’s plan to make humanity evolve (just like forcing Rhubarb) Captain Britain was trapped in a clash between the underclasses and the government in Thorpe’s last story ‘If the Push Should Fail?’ which heralded the beginning of Alan Moore’s landmark tenure on the character.
Marvel Super-Heroes #387 is the first of the full-colour tales in this volume (presumably thanks to the frequent reprinting of these stories in America), and instantly kicks the series into high gear with ‘A Crooked World’ as the dying dimension unleashes its greatest weapon: a relentless, unstoppable artificial killer called the Fury.
Killing Jackdaw, reintroducing Jim Jaspers and setting the scene for a monolithic epic in ‘Graveyard Shift’ by vaporising Captain Britain, the series then folded.
After a brief text interlude from Mr. Moore (from Marvel Super-Heroes #389) the saga started again in a new home, as the lead feature in The Daredevils #1, with a revelatory new origin ‘A Rag, a Bone, a Hank of Hair…’ and a rebuilt hero returned to his own Earth just in time to see that world assaulted by another reality-warping Jim Jaspers intent on destroying all superbeings in ‘An Englishman’s Home…’
In issue #3 Brian Braddock’s sister Betsy reappeared in ‘Thicker than Water’ a purple-haired telepath being hunted by an assassin destroying all the old esper-agents recruited by British covert agency S.T.R.I.K.E – and yes she is the girl who became Psylocke of the X-Men. The battle against the killer Slaymaster concluded in a spectacular in-joke clash among the shelves of the Denmark Street Forbidden Planet – in 1982 arguably the country’s best fantasy store – so any old fans might want to try identifying the real staff members who “guest-star” – in ‘Killing Ground.’
Keen on creating a cohesive Marvel UK universe the Alan’s brought back another creation for their next tale. The Special Executive was a team of time-travelling mercenaries introduced in Dr. Who Monthly #51 (April, 1981), and in ‘Target: Captain Britain – Recommendation: Executive Action’ saw the legion of super-weirdoes dispatched to Braddock Manor to forcibly bring the hero as a witness in the trial of Saturnyne by the Supreme Omniversal Tribune in ‘Judgement Day’.
Meeting a number of alternate selves such as Captains Albion and England was disturbing enough but the trial was a sham, merely rubber-stamping the accession of Saturnyne’s successor Mandragon. His first act was to destroy the tainted universe that failed to evolve in The Push. Unfortunately for everybody the Fury survived, falling into another universe where it began again to eradicate all heroes…
Issue #7 ‘Rough Justice’ found Britain and the Special Executive in the middle of a pan-dimensional brawl to save Saturnyne whilst back on (his own) Earth, a woman was plagued by dreams of the Fury and Jaspers. In ‘Rivals’ the defenders finally escape back home to find the woman – Captain UK of the recently destroyed alternate universe – waiting with a warning and a prediction…
The Daredevils #9, ‘Waiting for the End of the World’ begins the final story-arc in this volume (and starts a plot picked-up by Chris Claremont for about ten years worth of X-Men and Excalibur storylines), a fascinating compelling war against an invincible, implacable foe, which was truly shocking at the time and still carries a potent emotional punch now, as cast-members and fan-favourites were slaughtered in the Fury’s unstoppable onslaught.
‘The Sound and the Fury’ continues the murderous mayhem before a surprise hero saves the day in the epic ‘But They Never Really Die’ to perfectly wrap up the story just in time for the Captain and his surviving crew to return in his own comic.
With the inclusion of some insightful and elucidating text pieces and plenty of cover reproductions this fourth volume of the chronicles of Captain Britain sees the character finally reach the heights of his potential. Here is not only a wonderful nostalgic collection for old-timers and dedicated fans but also a book full of the best that comics can offer in terms of artistry, imagination and gripping creative energy.
Some of the very best material produced by Marvel, this is a book every reader must have…
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 2009 Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries, licensed by Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved. (A British edition from PANINI UK LTD)