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.

James Bond 007: The Phoenix Project

James Bond: The Phoenix Project 

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-312-2

Titan’s run of the newspaper strip Bond nears its inevitable conclusion in these tales from the mid-1970s, but the superlative work of scripter Jim Lawrence doesn’t slacken its pace or its grip on our action-hungry imaginations. The Phoenix Project examines some of the super-agent’s darker edges as he deals with the threat of a technological battle-suit that could revolutionise the way war is fought.

The Black Ruby Caper once again features a black lead heroine in a convoluted yet enthralling tale of duelling subversive organisations and a mysterious plot known only as Operation: Black Storm. As well as the usual fights and chases Bond has to use blackmail and coercion to achieve his goals. The exotic locales of Zurich, Paris and Ghana are no challenge to Horak’s gifted pens and brushes, and the increasing abundance of beautiful, naked women (it is the mid-1970s, after all) keeps everybody’s attention focussed.

Till Death Do Us Part is more traditional 007 fodder, as Bond kidnaps/rescues the daughter of a foreign “asset” to prevent a scandal. This is notable more for the inevitable introduction of the eccentric gadgets that had become an increasingly large part of the film version than for the adventure itself, but there are still thrills and flesh aplenty on view.

The volume closes with the brief but enthralling The Torch-Time Affair, wherein the search for a list of Latin American communist secrets leads to bodies on the beach, breathtaking chases over roads and through jungles and an intriguing detective mystery as 007 must save the girl, get the goods and kill the villain. Or must he..?

All the glamour and menace of James Bond is here in abundance and the chance to see two comic strip masters at their peak is very welcome and oh, so satisfying.

© 1974, 1975, 1976 Glidrose Productions Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd.
James Bond newspaper strip is © Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. All Rights Reserved

Death’s Head Vol 1

Death’s Head Vol 1

By Simon Furman & various

Marvel/Panini UK ISBN 1-905239-34-3
(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Marvel UK had very few long-term successes in its twenty-plus years as a semi-autonomous company, but the robotic bounty hunter — sorry, free-lance peace-keeping agent — was certainly one of their most eccentric. Now the current regime have released the almost complete adventures in a cheerful bookshelf edition for your nostalgia tinged enjoyment.

Along with some welcome background on the big tin guy, there’s the very first one page adventure, the team-up with the Sylvester McCoy incarnation of Dr Who, the preliminary guest shot with the futuristic paramilitary sports team The Dragon’s Claws, and then the first seven issues of his own comic book series, all lavishly re-presented for a manic metal-head’s enjoyment. The only fault to find is the necessary exclusion of the battles against those other big robotic staples of the 1980s comic scene, The Transformers. Due to pesky copyright reasons the battles from Transformers # 113-151 have been left out, but this shouldn’t mar your enjoyment of this good old-fashioned comedy action-fest.

Always played as much for laughs as thrills and mercifully short on the breast-beating angst of his Marvel contemporaries, Death’s Head was created and written by Simon Furman, and this volume has artwork from Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, Liam Sharp, John Higgins, Mark Farmer, Dave Hine, Paul Marshall and Jeff Anderson

© 1986-1989, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Charley’s War: Book III (17 October 1916 – 21 February 1917)

Charley’s War: Book III

By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-270-3
                    ISBN-13: 9781845762704

After much too long a wait the third volume collecting the greatest war comic strip of all time is finally out. Charley’s War, originally published in the weekly comic “Battle” (beginning in issue #200 – 6 January 1979 and running until October of 1986), tells the story of underage East-Ender Charley Bourne, who lies about his age to enlist in the British Army setting out to fight the Hun in 1916.

By the beginning of this volume he has already survived the hellish conditions of trench warfare, endured the cruelty and stupidity of his own leaders and lost most of his friends. The introduction of Tanks has brought a furious response from the Germans, many of whom consider the innovation to be an atrocity weapon. In retaliation, they unleash a savage attack using “Judgement Troopers” whose “total war tactics” overwhelm the British Lines.

Book III opens with the brutal battle for the British positions in full swing, with neither side gaining any real advantage, and ends for Charley when he is wounded sufficiently to be sent home to England (called “getting a Blighty”). Naturally, things are never that simple and the callous indifference of the doctors behind the lines means that any soldier still able to pull a trigger is sent back into battle. Once more facing the Judgement Troops, Charley and his mates are forced to experience fresh horrors before the bloody battle peters out indecisively. Charley is again wounded, losing his identification in the process and returned eventually to England as a shell-shocked amnesiac.

Mills and Colquhoun now begin a masterful sequence that breaks all the rules of war comic fiction, by switching the emphasis to the home-front where Charley’s family are mourning his apparent death and working in the war industries, just as the German Zeppelin raids on British cities are beginning. The writer’s acerbic social criticism makes powerful use of history as the recovering hero experiences the trials of submarine warfare, bombing raids and the callous exploitation of British munitions magnates who care more for profit than the safety of their workers or even the victory of their homeland. The book ends as Charley attempts to rescue his mother from a bomb factory as Zeppelins drop lethal payloads all around them…

Included in this volume are a rare interview with artist Joe Colquhoun, a feature on the history of Zeppelin warfare and writer Pat Mills’ wonderfully informative chapter notes and commentary. Not just a great war comic, Charley’s War is a highpoint in the narrative examination of the Great War through any artistic medium.

© 2006 Egmont Magazines Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

James Bond 007: Trouble Spot

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak

Titan Books ISBN: 1-84576-269-X
                      ISBN-13: 9781845762698

Jim Lawrence strengthens his position as the premier Bond scripter with these tales from 1971-1973. “Trouble Spot” is a traditional tale of espionage as 007 replaces a lost agent in an effort to recover a mysterious box and prevent its falling into the wrong hands of the gloriously baroque Baron Sharck. His heroic efforts are abetted and hindered by the beautiful if morally ambiguous Olga and the blind wife of the agent he’s impersonating.

“Isle of Condors” features a rare (it is 1972, remember) black lead heroine and a kidnapping leading Bond to a plot to turn nubile young beauties into programmed assassins.

The contemporary fascination with the occult becomes grist for the creators’ mill in “The League of Vampires”, when Bond investigates a fashionable cult that is the mask for a plot to destabilise the British computer defence industry.

The volume closes with the racy “Die With My Boots On”, as 007 yet again tangles with the American underworld in search of the secret of a new designer drug that no-one can afford to ignore or possess. As usual there are thrills and glamour in abundance in plot that still form the basis for all those modern summer blockbuster movies. Sexy women, evil men and organisations, relentless action and hairsbreadth escapes make these timeless thrillers an absolute necessity for any fan of the medium.

© 1971, 1972, 1973 Glidrose Productions Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd. All Rights Reserved