Revolutionary War


By Alan Cowsill, Andy Lanning, Kieron Gillen, Rob Williams, Glenn Dakin, Richard Elson, Dietrich Smith, Nick Roche, Brent Eric Anderson, Ronan Cliquet de Oliveira, Gary Erskine & Thomas Palmer (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-598-7

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting the company’s earliest US successes in the traditional British weekly format, and quickly carved out a solid slice of the market – even though the works of Lee, Kirby, Ditko et al had already been appearing in other British comics (Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, Eagle, Fantastic!, Terrific!) for years.

The characters and stories had also been seen in paperbacks, Christmas Annuals and the ubiquitous anthologies of Alan Class Publications (which re-packaged a mesmerising plethora of American comics from Marvel, Charlton, Tower, Archie/Radio Comics and ACG amongst others in comforting, cheap black and white) as well as in the their original imported form since their inception thanks to the aggressive marketing and licensing policies of Stan and the gang.

In 1976 Marvel decided to augment their output with an original British hero in a new weekly – albeit in that parochial, US style and manner so well-beloved by English comics readers. Yes, that was sarcasm…

Although the new title included Fantastic Four and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. reprints to fill out the issues, one bold departure was the addition of full colour printing up front for the new hero, and the equivalent back quarter of each issue. Captain Britain Weekly lasted 39 weeks before being absorbed into the far more popular Super-Spiderman title…

He later returned in new material in Hulk Weekly – guest-starring in Arthurian fantasy strip the Black Knight. Other original material included British-created Hulk stories based on the TV show, new Nick Fury stories and a stunning period noir crimebuster named Night Raven

In 1979 Marvel UK – still primarily a reprint arm for the American parent company – started to stretch itself. Besides new material generated for Hulk Comic and licensed titles such as Transformers, My Little Pony and Dr Who Weekly/Monthly and many others, the lads and lasses were ready to produce US-style full comic books.

The world was a rapidly changing place in the 1980s and fledgling offshoot Marvel UK was (critically at least) rising high, thanks to an immensely impressive run of original Captain Britain material being created by Dave Thorpe, Alan Davis and Alan Moore.

Yet rather than dive in with full-blown costumed cut-ups like the still commercially disappointing Flag-clad hero, they wisely looked for a premise that would also resonate with established comics tastes. Thus was born The Dragon’s Teeth (which due to an unforgiving Intellectual Rights clash became Dragon’s Claws). On a roll, the company then attempted to expand its line with creator-owned sci-fi detective spoof The Sleeze Brothers and an ongoing title once more combining Arthurian fantasy with tried and true Marvel action.

Or so everybody thought…

Knights of Pendragon prominently featured Captain Britain on the covers but the epic tale which unfolded over the following months was far more a supernatural horror story (in the manner of prophetic TV show “Doomwatch”) than traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights slugfests – even by the often outré British standards.

Steeped in ecological hot-button topics, it starred, initially at least, a podgy, over-the-hill Welsh copper who had begun life as an authoritarian gadfly before becoming a solid, stolid comrade to Brian Braddock (Cap’s aristocratic alter ego).

KoP followed Chief Inspector Dai Thomas as he seemingly went off the deep end, plagued by horrific premonitions of grisly massacres all seemingly linked to environmental crimes perpetrated by globe-girdling conglomerate the Omni Corporation. However as the months passed a pattern slowly unfolded that indicated something far older and more dangerous than money was flexing long dormant fangs and sinews…

The publishing floodgates opened and from 1992-1994 the British annexe generated a vast number of ongoing titles and miniseries (nearly 40), many with big-name American guest-stars to goose the interest of fans.

Underpinning the entire line was a sinister cabal of undying wizards who were trading stolen souls to the demonic Mephisto in return for continued life and power. As the overweening Mys-Tech Corporation they had been feeding the beast for a thousand years and were now trying to find ways to get out of their Faustian pact without paying the horrific penalty clause which increasingly brought them into conflict with superheroes, assorted villains and dangerous folk a lot harder to pigeonhole…

For a brief period the UK titles were a meteoric success in the USA, regularly outselling the competition but also – crucially – Marvel’s American output. At the height of a speculator-fed comics boom, the House of Ideas unceremoniously pulled the plug on the British invasion during the fast-approaching climax of the Mys-Tech saga and hunkered down for bad times to come.

Due to poor sales and the junk bond manipulations of Marvel’s new owner Ron Perelman/Andrews Group, Marvel filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection at the end of 1996.

They got out and got better…

At the beginning of 2014 the twentieth anniversary of those heady days when the UK’s angelic upstarts outsold their parent company – and everybody else – was celebrated with a semi-reunion and wrapping up exercise in the form of a stylish mini-event. That interlinked tale, as seen in thematic bookends Revolutionary War: Alpha #1 and Omega#1, bracketing the Revolutionary War prefixed one-shots Dark Angel, Knights of Pendragon, Death’s Head II, Supersoldiers, Motor-Mouth and Warheads (all released between January and March), is now available in a single wondrous – and, if you’re a Brit, nostalgia-evoking – tome which combines the best of the old with the thrill of the new…

Before the unfinished symphony resumes writer/editor Alan Cowsill supplies all the background and narrative colour you could possibly want in ‘Unfinished Business’ after which the heady (re)introductions commence in Revolutionary War: Alpha #1 ‘Tramp The Dirt Down’ by Cowsill, Andy Lanning & Richard Elson…

A Crossrail Extension excavation beneath Canary Wharf brings Captain Britain and MI-13 operative Peter Wisdom into conflict with Mys-Tech’s demonic Psycho-Wraiths unearthed during the digging.

The monstrous myrmidons haven’t been seen since the Battle of London Bridge when a motley collection of super-powered individuals became unlikely allies to finally finish off the fiendish world-wrecking cabal. Of course these days nobody – including the mutant superspy – seems able to remember that horrific clash at all…

Now with this new eldritch eruption Wisdom discovers that the “bloody Yanks” of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been keeping secrets – as well as most of the wizards’ confiscated weaponry and artefacts – and are only now sharing the fact that old Mys-Tech bases and enclaves are suddenly waking up all over Britain…

With unknown forces in motion, Nick Fury and British opposite number Commodore Lance Hunter want Wisdom and the Captain to seek out the survivors of that forgotten Armageddon: especially the turncoat mercenary who betrayed the cabal who employed him to save the world at the cost of all he held dear…

The years have not been kind to Colonel Liger. It took years of drinking to drown the memories of the moment all his comrades and innocent child super-warrior Killpower were sucked into Hell, sealing a breach to the Inferno with their bodies and souls, and he’s not happy to be picked up, unwillingly detoxed and dumped into the fire again.

The only consolation is that he’s reunited at last with his sentient alien supergun Clementine, but even that dubiously unwholesome reunion is soured when the cabal’s long-dormant global prognosticator the UnEarth Chasm flares into arcane life, predicting doom and destruction for a select band of his fellow long-scattered survivors… and the entire planet…

Soon after, as Captain Britain rushes to warn one of the depicted endangered paladins, he is treacherously ambushed by another of them…

The tale continues in Revolutionary War: Dark Angel where Kieron Gillen & Dietrich Smith focus on Shevaun Haldane whose father was once a Mys-Tech mover-&-shaker whose evil she swore to amend and atone for. Now however she is stuck paying off his karmic debt to Mephisto. She is also close friends with Captain Britain and when he is abducted she sets out to save him. Instead she interrupts another Psycho-Wraith incursion which leaves her ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ and stupidly agrees to accept assistance from that selfsame satanic loan shark who doomed her dad…

The epic revival resumes in Revolutionary War: Knights of Pendragon (Rob Williams & Simon Coleby), where former mystical avatars Dai Thomas and Kate McClellan travel to the Lake District. Their investigation into an Omni Corporation fracking operation uncovers an attempt to mystically taint and suborn the heart of the nation…

Wisdom meanwhile has joined with Union Jack – another ex-Pendragon knight – and translated to the realm of Avalon only to find the totemic Green Knight overrun by evil growths. They are just in time to witness England’s WWI Superman Albion awaken from a daytime TV-induced stupor and rush them all to Earth where Kate and Dai have unleashed the corrupted, voracious Zombie King Arthur and his Zombie Knights of the Zombie Round Table

With the land imperilled by a corrupted prophecy, the assorted Pendragons are re-empowered to stop them in ‘Swords of a Thousand Men’ but it’s Wisdom’s 21st century cynicism and nous that really save the day…

Marvel UK had very few long-term successes in its decades as a semi-autonomous company, but the time-travelling robotic bounty hunter – sorry, free-lance peace-keeping agent – Death’s Head was certainly one of their most eccentric and long-lasting main contenders.

Starting out as a bit player in Transformers and Dr. Who he graduated to his own short-lived series and a number of guest shots in American titles like Fantastic Four.

In 1991 he was drastically retooled when AIM savant Dr. Evelyn Necker created the Minion warbot. Minion was sent through time and space to kill and absorb more than a hundred of the universe’s greatest killers – including Death’s Head – but after the murder machine succeeded the bounty hunter’s personality took over his killer’s perfect body…

Now in ‘Synchronicity II’ (Lanning, Cowsill & Nick Roche from Revolutionary War: Death’s Head II), the autonomous amalgam is betrayed by Mys-Tech after carrying out a profitable commission for them.

Targeted by an army of Psycho-Wraiths, he is only saved after sidekick Tuck hires the original Death’s Head from the depths of the time-stream to go save him…

Revolutionary War: Supersoldiers then reveals how the top secret warriors designed to be Britain’s Captain America are handling being put out to pasture. ‘Stop the Cavalry’ (by Williams, Brent Anderson & Tom Palmer) finds Hauer, Guvnor, Dalton and Gog in a small Scottish village watching a biopic of their careers being filmed.

Watching idiots bowdlerise their reputations is so awful they’re almost glad when Wisdom turns up with a warning of real action in store, but when a legion of Psycho-Wraiths begin slaughtering the locals they barely have time to regret their rash dream of one last glorious battle…

The emotional core of the saga comes in Revolutionary War: Motormouth (by Glen Dakin & Ronan Cliquet de Oliveira) which reveals how reality and two kids caught up with the most free-spirited and anarchic of the old anti Mys-Tech brigade.

Although Harley Davis is stuck in poverty on a council estate and crushed by guilt over the fate of simpleminded partner Killpower, she is not beyond the reach of the rampant Psycho-Wraiths.

Unfortunately for them, though, she kept some of the tools and weapons picked up from every corner of time and space and still has a few friends who are a bit handy with their fists (knives, guns, baseball bats, ray blasters etc etc)…

Liger stars in Revolutionary War: Warheads (Lanning, Cowsill & Gary Erskine) as the true story of that last battle emerges and Dai Thomas gets an inkling that not all the bad guys are on Mys-Tech’s side. Even though a traitor is exposed and the true scheme revealed, it’s too late and the entire Earth is overrun by demonic horrors.

As every superhero everywhere engages in a furious holding action, the tattered remnants of the British brigade of champions unites to battle one of their own and all the hordes of Hell in Revolutionary War: Omega#1 (Lanning, Cowsill & Elson) in a burning place where there are ‘No More Heroes’

This engaging epistle also includes a host of covers-&-variants by Mark Brooks, Barry Kitson, Salvador Larroca, Neil Edwards, Liam Sharp, Dave Gibbons, Declan Shalvey, Erskine and Jamie McKelvie, a ‘Behind the Scenes’ glimpse at the original series proposal, page after page of original art, pencils, roughs, character designs and sketches plus incisive afterthoughts from Dakin and Gillen in ‘The Final Word’.

Grim, explosively action-packed, slyly sardonic and deliciously satirically tongue-in-cheek, Revolutionary War is a delight for old-timers that will spark a lot of interest from neophyte readers in search of a different take on Fights ‘n’ Tights adventure.
™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Captain Britain: End Game


By Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison & others (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-459-1

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting the company’s earliest US successes in the traditional British weekly format, swiftly carving out a solid slice of the market – although the works of Lee, Kirby et al had already been appearing in other British comics (Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, Eagle, Fantastic!, Terrific!), and the anthologies of Alan Class Publications (which re-packaged a mesmerising plethora of American comics from Marvel, Charlton, Tower and ACG among others in comforting, cheap black and white) since their inception thanks to the aggressive marketing and licensing policies of and Stan and the gang.

In 1976 Marvel decided to augment their output with an original British hero in a new weekly – albeit in that parochial, US style and manner beloved by English comics readers. Although the new title still included fan favourites Fantastic Four and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. reprints filled out the issues, one bold departure was the addition of full colour printing up front for the new hero, and the equivalent back quarter of each issue.

Physics student Brian Braddock was in just the wrong place when raiders attacked the Atomic research centre on Darkmoor, but when he fled the brutal assault he stumbled onto a source of fantastic power and his inescapable destiny. Chosen by the legendary Merlin himself, Braddock was transformed into the symbolic champion of our Island Nation and battled incredible threats as the valiant Captain Britain…

This fifth volume chronologically completes the full-colour adventures of Marvel’s Greatest British super-hero prior to his being conscripted into the X-Men’s ponderous niche-continuity, gathered from Mighty World of Marvel #7-16 and the entire 14 issue run of Captain Britain volume 2 (January 1985-February 1986).

After a brief introductory reminiscence from multi-talented star-turn Alan Davis the action begins with ‘The Candlelight Dialogues’ by Alans Moore and Davis from Mighty World of Marvel #7 (and providing a plot-strand bled dry by Chris Claremont and successive X-Scribes over the next two decades in the US comicbooks)…

Two female internees converse in a prison camp after lights out: recounting tales of a legendary hero who will free them from bondage. The World has been taken over by fascist human forces incarcerating or destroying all the different ones… freaks, mutants, superheroes.

This tale introduces the amazing mystic metamorph Meggan who would become Captain Britain’s long-term inamorata, but the really big reveal is that our world also has a reality-warping Mad Jim Jaspers (see Captain Britain: the Siege of Camelot) – the big difference being that here he won and creation has become his instantly plastic plaything…

Issue #8 sets up a cataclysmic confrontation in ‘The Twisted World (Reprise)’ as infallible hero-killing super-weapon the Fury is still hunting, even though Jaspers has reworked the world into his own twisted version of a totalitarian paradise. Captain Britain, his sister Betsy, Omniversal fugitives Saturnyne and Captain UK, sole survivor of her murdered dimension, lead the last few rebels against the New Reality as Jaspers consolidates his psychotic hold on the nation. The fugitives’ consensus choice is “attack or die”…

Meanwhile in the higher realms, Merlin and his daughter move their human pieces in the great game to save our existence. In ‘Among These Dark Satanic Mills’ the good Captain struggles on but not without telling losses, confronting Jaspers as the madman begins his ascent to literal godhood in ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

Even so the cause seems hopeless until the long forgotten Fury enters the fray on nobody’s side but intent on taking out the greatest threat first in ‘Fool’s Mate’ – the beginning of an unbelievably intense and imaginative battle with Jaspers across the multi-verse using the building blocks of reality as ammunition. The chaotic clash continues in ‘Endgame’ with shocks and surprises aplenty, leading to unexpected victory, the death of a major player and in Mighty World of Marvel #13, ‘A Funeral on Otherworld’.

Moore left the strip with that wrap-up and re-set, leaving artist Davis to write (with the assistance of letterer Steve Craddock) the next episode ‘Bad Moon Rising’ which found the country recovering from the physical and psychic trauma of the Jaspers-Warp and the good Captain taking stock of the nation he represents. A less cosmic, more socially aware phase was beginning, and saw the hero meet the were-creature Meggan and make the most tragic mistake of his career.

‘Tea and Sympathy’ is a mini-masterpiece of sensitive, underplayed writing from Davis, following the hero as he meets the family of a boy who died as result of his actions and presaging the next extended epic, which begins in the Mike Collins co-scripted ‘In All the Old, Familiar Places…’

This last Mighty World of Marvel tale follows Betsy, Meggan and the surviving anti-Jaspers rebels as they take up residence at Braddock Manor, ancestral seat of Captain Britain’s family. However inimical forces are gathering to assault the weary champions and interdimensional raiders keep blipping in and out. Luckily Betsy’s psychic powers keep magnifying in strength…

The feature had been growing in popularity and was considered strong enough to carry its own title once more so in January 1985 Captain Britain volume 2 launched, with a selection of related strips and the Lion of Albion exploding into new adventures scripted by up-and-coming writer Jamie Delano.

‘Pictures, Puzzles and Pawns’ recapped the Captain’s career courtesy of Chief Inspector Dai Thomas, a cop with a grudge against metahumans, who had deduced the hero’s secret identity only to be sidelined by his own bosses. Meanwhile, not all the effects of Jasper’s reality-twisting had faded, and animated Alice in Wonderland characters the Crazy Gang were stranded on Earth with no visible means of support.

Vicious, demented and painfully simplistic, the larcenous loons went looking for a leader in ‘Law and Disorder’ finding instead Captain Britain’s most dangerous enemy whilst yet another trans-dimensional transgressor continued to make life difficult for Brian Braddock and friends…

Issue #3 saw the hero captured by Slaymaster and criminal mastermind Vixen in ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ and heralded a new and darker hero, whilst ‘Sid’s Story’ (written by Collins and Davis) provided a moody change of pace to leaven a monster story with a mighty dose of pathos, before Delano returned for ‘Double Game’ as the multiversal mercenary squad Gatecrasher’s Technet whisked the Captain to a Britain ruled by Nazis, uncomprehendingly leaving behind his fascist doppelganger to run amok on our world…

Trapped ‘A Long Way From Home’ Brian Braddock and Technet had to fight their way back to our Earth, only to find Betsy’s terrifyingly growing psychic powers had already saved the day, whilst in ‘Things Fall Apart’ the Manor’s sentient super-computer Mastermind reactivated and revealed the true origins and heritage of the Braddock clan…

The secret of Meggan and her true nature came under scrutiny in #8’s ‘Childhood’s End’ and government intelligence unit Resources Control Executive invited themselves to stay, wanting the mansion as an orphanage for “Warpies” – super-powered children mutated by Jaspers’ reality-shifts. Naturally it all went wrong, resulting in a big battle but the ‘Winds of Change’ had unexpected repercussions and Brian and Meggan stormed off, leaving Betsy and Mastermind in the pocket of the RCX.

The Braddock twins had an older brother, and his past exploits dragged the lovers Brian and Meggan into a shocking ‘African Nightmare’ after which the disheartened couple went searching for Meggan’s Romany roots and became ensnared in the mystic horrors of ‘The House of Baba Yaga’, after which Gatecrasher’s Technet shanghaied them to the height of the Incan Empire for a nasty case of “Bait-and-Switch” in ‘Alarms and Excursions’.

Finally home the young lovers found RCX in charge and Betsy had become the new Captain Britain. Furious, Brian quit but was back in the very next issue when Betsy tragically learned the excessively hard way that ‘It’s Hard to Be A Hero…’ written, as was the concluding ‘Should Auld Acquaintance…’ by Davis, wherein the reunited but far from happy family experienced one last hurrah rescuing a Warpy from a exploitation at the hands of a Glasgow vigilante, and still finding space to wrap up all the plot threads in an expansive Happy Ever After…

But wait… there’s more…

One of the back-up strips in Captain Britain was a four-part tale starring a group of Warpy children dubbed the Cherubim, who had escaped RCX control at the end of #11’s ‘Winds of Change’. Written and drawn by Mike Collins with inks by Mark Farmer ‘Playgrounds and Parasites!’ told how the homeless wanderers encountered a Fagin-like young charmer who was gathering Jasper’s mutants into a band for their own protection – and his profit.

That complete saga is re-presented here in the original black and white after which a young Grant Morrison closes the entertainment with a prose tale of alternate champion ‘Captain Granbretan’, lavishly illustrated by John Stokes and ‘A New Vision of Captain Britain’ close the book with a selection of captivating sketches and rare or unseen artwork.

Captain Britain End Game sees the character finally reach the absolute heights of his potential and features some of the industry’s greatest talents at the top of their game. This is not only a wonderful nostalgic collection for old-timers and dedicated fans but also a book full of the best that superhero comics can offer… Some of the very best material ever produced by Marvel, this is a book every reader would be happy to have.

© 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 2011 Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries, licensed by Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved. (A British edition from PANINI UK LTD)

Knights of Pendragon: Once and Future


By Dan Abnett, John Tomlinson, Gary Erskine & Andy Lanning (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-431-7

The world was a rapidly changing place in 1990 and fledgling offshoot Marvel UK was critically rising high thanks to the immensely impressive original Captain Britain material being created by Alan Moore and Alan Davis. On a roll, the company attempted to expand its line with an associated title, once more combining Arthurian fantasy with tried and true Marvel superheroic action. Or so everybody thought…

The Knights of Pendragon prominently featured Captain Britain on the covers but the epic tale that unfolded over the next few months was far more a supernatural horror story in the manner of prophetic TV show “Doomwatch” than a traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights slugfest – even by the often outré British standards.

Steeped in ecological hot-button topics and starring, initially at least, a podgy, over-the-hill welsh copper who had begun life as a authoritarian gadfly before becoming a solid, stolid comrade to Brian Braddock (Cap’s aristocratic Alter Ego), Knights of Pendragon followed Chief Inspector Dai Thomas as he seemingly went off the deep end, plagued by horrific premonitions of grisly massacres that all seemed linked to environmental crimes perpetrated by globe-girdling conglomerate the Omni Corporation. However as the months unfolded a pattern slowly unfolded that indicated something far older and more dangerous than money was flexing long dormant fangs and sinews…

This book gathers issues #1-9, July 1990-March 1991, of the first volume (a second far more traditional series followed in 1993) and sees the saga begin with ‘Brands and Ashes’ as Thomas is summoned by Captain Britain to a meeting of the clandestine agency the Weird Happenings Organisation. It appears the retired cop’s dream of 87 hungry patrons mysteriously suffocating in a spacious, airy well-ventilated burger-bar has come hideously true. Meanwhile Omni Corp exec Grace has sent her dashing leg-breaker Dolph to “reason” with the minister in charge of W.H.O….

As Thomas is briefed on an increasingly large and violent tide of bizarre eco-mysteries, down in Kent something horrible is occurring on an Omni farm using new and lethally dangerous pesticides. Rogue TV journalist Kate McClellan is circling too. She smells a big story and is ruthlessly open-minded. She wants and will publish the truth no matter how strange and impossible it might appear…

Thomas is getting worse. His visions now include blackouts and fugue episodes in which he sees himself as the medieval hero of the ancient epic “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” battling ogres, villains and monsters.

‘Skin and Bone’ finds him following a lead to Africa where ivory poachers are using helicopters and assault rifles to slaughter elephants in vast numbers. McClellan is there before him and has already discovered a link to smuggled diamonds and Omni but before Thomas can make an arrest the supernal force he is slowly coming to believe in exacts its own bloody justice, whilst ‘Oil and Water’ sees cop and reporter in Florida, investigating another bizarre Omni-related atrocity – smuggling endangered species – when an ambush goes wrong. Any doubt of supernatural involvement is abandoned when they are rescued from certain death by a creature that cannot possibly exist…

Thomas is gradually changing: evolving into a younger, fitter version of himself and the premonitions and dreams of Gawain are occurring more frequently. In ‘Blood and Feathers’, Grace decides to end the old copper’s interference with an elite squad of high tech mercenaries led by Dolph. After smashing another animal smuggling ring – with his bare hands – Thomas and McClellan are attacked in broad daylight. He overcomes the super-commandoes with ease, but the machinations of Grace have made him a liability to W.H.O. and Captain Britain is ordered to bring him in at all costs…

‘Hope and Glory’ reveals Kate is having visions of her own. As Thomas makes his way across Costa Rica hunting the thing that’s hunting Omni’s assorted enterprises, she is arrested by W.H.O. agents. Dai is close to the answers he’s been seeking as he enters an apocalyptic area of jungle deforestation, convinced he is Gawain reborn. The spirit of the planet has given man one final chance to live with, not against, the eco-system, but the forces of progress and destruction are subtle and have turned his greatest friend against him…

After a stupendous battle Thomas is beaten to death by Captain Britain, and in the concluding ‘Once and Future’ Gawain takes full control of his broken body, casually revealing the guilt-wracked superhero to be Lancelot whilst Kate houses the spirit of Guinevere. Attacked by demonic monsters the trio trek through the devastated rain-forest, making a pilgrimage to the home of the embattled animating force called the Green Knight, saving the Green Chapel, mystical heart of the world, from dark forces that have worked through Omni and other modern enterprises which value profit over the planet…

Its mission accomplished, Gawain’s essence leaves Dai’s body, resurrecting and healing him, but there has been no victory, only a truce. The Green Knight will no longer attack human greed and folly directly, but the latest Knights of Pendragon are expected to work in its stead. The second story-arc sees new men of goodwill chosen as hosts for the immortal heroic essences and a redefinition of the vague dark forces they must combat.

In ‘Revelations’ author Ben Gallagher is drawn to a remote Scottish island to bear witness to a brutal slaughter of dolphins, whilst in London a serial killer hunts successful businesswomen and in her technological ivory tower, Omni exec Grace is possessed by the Green Knight’s opposite number, a vile entity calling itself The Bane.

During the Great War the British Empire was championed by a pioneering band of costumed heroes. Union Jack was mere mortal who used brains, brawn and good British ordnance to battle the Hun in two world wars before being succeeded by his son. The third incarnation was Joey Chapman, a true working class hero who here finds himself the next recipient of the spirit of Lancelot.

Kate has a troubled son squirreled away at a remote boarding school. When Cam McClellan goes missing after being possessed by the Merlin analogue known as Herne the Hunter, the situation forces elderly history teacher Peter Hunter to reveal his darkest secret. ‘The Only Child’ describes how in the Great War the schoolmaster was masked mystic superman Albion, but with his surrendered Pendragon force now inhabiting a disturbed child he fears he must reassume the role he gratefully relinquished decades ago.

Captain Britain and Union Jack join the search for Cam but spend more time battling each other than actually helping, leaving the London serial killer free to attack his next target – the world-famous TV journalist Kate McClellan. However, even though the madman is old acquaintance he has not reckoned on her new status as a full-blown Pendragon.

Events take a truly dark turn when Grace arrives at the school to abduct the confused and immensely powerful Cam, intending to corrupt him as once she damned Arthur’s son Mordred…

Gallagher’s sensitively creative yet indomitable nature makes him a perfect host for the returned Sir Percival and in the untitled closing tale he sees the powers arrayed against the returned Knights in full flow, as an innocent dies and entire families of dolphins are sacrificed to the horrific greed and paranoia of humanity and the awful hunger of the Bane

The epic has been building across the nine issues of the series collected here, written with chilling passion by Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson and illustrated with stunning power by then fresh-faced new boy Gary Erskine, suitably inked by near-veteran Any Lanning.

With intriguing and revelatory reminiscences from the writers and original series editor Steve White describing the initial resistance and eventually outright hostility from upper management to the title plus a cover gallery by such leading lights as Alan Davis, Simon Bisley, John Bolton and others, this engrossing and still controversial epic revives a pivotal moment in British mainstream comics and still enthrals two decades later.

Ending on a pensive set of cliffhangers, this absorbing thriller is but half-done, with another utterly fabulous and morally challenging volume still to see. I can’t wait…

© 1990, 1991, 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

Captain Britain: the Siege of Camelot


By various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-433-1

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)

Captain Britain Vol 1: Birth of a Legend

Captain Britain Vol 1: Birth of a Legend
Captain Britain

 

By Claremont, Friedrich, Trimpe & Kida

(Marvel/Panini UK) ISBN 1-905239-30-0

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting their earliest successes in the traditional weekly papers format, swiftly carving out a corner of the market – although the works of Lee, Kirby et al had been appearing in other British comics (Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, Eagle, Fantastic!, Terrific!, and the anthologies of Alan Class Publications) since their inception.

In 1976 they decided to augment their output with an original British hero – albeit in a parochial, US style and manner – in a new weekly, although fan favourites Fantastic Four and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. reprints filled out the issues. One bold departure was the addition of full colour printing up front for the new hero, and the equivalent back quarter of each issue.

Unremarkable even by its own standards at the time, this first compilation volume (featuring issues #1 through 23) of Captain Britain’s adventures reads quite well in the hyper-tense 21st century. There is a matter-of-fact charm and simplicity to the adventures that is sorely missed in these multi-part, multi-issue crossover days, and the necessity to keep attentions riveted and hungry for more in eight page instalments sweeps the willing reader along. Chris Claremont was given the original writing assignment apparently due to his being born here, Herb Trimpe the pencilling chores because he was actually resident here for awhile. Gary Friedrich eventually replaced the unhappy Claremont, but the artist, inked by golden age legend Fred Kida (Airboy, The Heap) provided rip-roaring art for this entire first volume. Future artists will include John Buscema, Alan Davis, and, if the publishers include the Black Knight strips from Hulk Weekly, John Stokes.

As for content, if you like old fashioned Marvel-style comics you’re in for a treat, as young Brian Braddock learns how to be a hero with help from the likes of Nick Fury and Captain America, not to mention Prime Minister James Callaghan, against the likes of Hurricane, The Vixen, Doctor Synne, Mastermind and even the Red Skull. The only possible quibble to endure is the petty annoyance of the volume ending mid-story, although the next volume is not too far away, apparently. If this sort of stuff doesn’t appeal, you might consider that these stories are pivotal to understanding the Alan Moore, X-Men and Excalibur tales of the last twenty years. Or the fact that there’s a free Captain Britain mask with the book. Not so easy to resist now, huh?

© 1977, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.