Sunday, 9 October 2016

Captain Britain!

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #1

This week in 1976 was a good week for all rampant nationalists, as Marvel UK gave us their first ever super-hero.

Admittedly, he wasn't really their first ever super-hero because they'd already given us the epic legend that was Apeslayer but this one was at least their first ever British super-hero.

I'd like to claim I was blown away by issue #1 of this mag but I never saw it. I don't think I got hold of a copy of the title until it hit its third issue.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #3

What I recall of that comic was that it was mostly in colour, with one page generously left in monochrome so we could colour it in ourselves.

The other thing that most struck me was its rather magnificent smell which was like that of no other comic I'd ever owned. When it came to scents, it was somewhat in the marker pen envelope and was therefore a good thing. Frankly, I could have sat there inhaling its fumes forever.

In all honestly, apart from the smell, the comic never particularly grabbed me. Captain Britain and his cast owed far too much to the early days of Spider-Man for my liking, and the Britain he inhabited was far more like Britain as Americans imagine it to be than it was like the Britain I actually inhabited. Thus we got cobbled streets, gas lamps, knights in shining armour, highwaymen, wizards, sceptres and the Royal Family.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #26, the Red Skull

After issues #3 and #4, I didn't see the comic again until after it had switched to the format of Marvel UK's other mags, meaning glossy covers and black and white interiors. To be honest, it was a format I preferred. The colour had always been a bit too bright for my liking and the matt covers had made it feel like it wasn't a proper Marvel mag.

Sadly, the loss of colour robbed it of its special smell - but it now more than made up for that by being drawn by John Buscema and Tom Palmer.

This did strike me at the time as being something akin to a miracle. Bearing in mind Marvel had initially refused to use Buscema  on Conan The Barbarian because he was too expensive, his presence on this title does suggest the paymasters in New York were taking the comic surprisingly seriously. As did the decision to team our hero up with Captain America and SHIELD in a battle to prevent the Red Skull bumping off Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan. It does seem like the parent company was making a genuine attempt to turn the thing into a success, even if they didn't really know how to achieve it.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #39

Sadly, Buscema didn't hang around forever and the art soon deteriorated, as did the stories. By the time his own title had failed and the good Captain had moved into the pages of Super Spider-Man, I'd come to regard it as a strip to avoid and I can't tell you how relieved I was when it was finally scrapped and replaced with something else.

Marvel UK, Super-Spider-Man and Captain Britain #231

But there was a surprise in store - because, some time later, a mysterious figure turned up in the pages of the Black Knight's strip in Marvel UK's Hulk comic.

It turned out that that figure was Captain Britain who was now involved in a strange Lord of the Rings type fantasy. It did strike me at the time that the new strip seemed classier than the old one but, not being a fan of that particular style of Fantasy, I couldn't be altogether sure. I have a feeling it was now being drawn by Steve Parkhouse but don't quote me on that.

Marvel UK, Hulk #31, Captain Britain

What I could be sure of was that when I next encountered him, I definitely liked what I saw. Now he was in the pages of the monthly Mighty World of Marvel mag and was being produced by Alans Moore and Davis. It was instantly obvious that the whole thing was a drastic cut above anything I'd seen from the character before, as he found himself in an alternate Britain ruled by a seemingly all-powerful Enoch Powell type intent on making Britain not at all a nice place to be. Reader, thank God that prophecy never came true and that Britain now has no one in power making Enoch Powell type noises. This tale was far darker, far more stylish and far more potent than we'd come to expect of the stiff Spider-Man knock-off we'd once been given.

Mighty World of Marvel #12, Captain Britain

Sadly, after a few months of this, I lost touch with him again until, in the early 1990s, I bought a trade paperback that reprinted his adventures from the immediate post-Moore era.

My knowledge of his career since then can only be called sketchy. I believe he got dragged into Marvel's mutant corner, despite not being a mutant himself. Beyond that, I can say little. But I do know that his sister Betsy became Psylocke and somehow changed from being a blind, posh, non-mutant Englishwoman to being a Japanese mutant ninja martial arts expert. Comics. You have to love them.

So, was Captain Britain a good idea?

No. He was a terrible idea, a British super-hero, for a British audience, created by people with virtually no knowledge of Britain and cast from a mould far too derivative of already existing Marvel heroes. Still, after a number of false starts, he finally came good in the end, so I suppose we should be glad of his creation even if it was all a terrible mistake.


The Artistic Actuary said...

And that's the FF shunted into another comic by the look of things. We must have kept giving Marvel UK some pretty rubbish feedback on them. And that's years before the films.

Anonymous said...

The first issue of the original Captain Britain comic certainly blew me away, Steve - I'd never seen anything like Jim Steranko's work on the Nick Fury backups before. Amazing.

The title character though was obviously a dud, not least because Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe's version of England had the same kind of authenticity as Dick van Dyke's accent in Mary Poppins.
And he looked like a poster boy for the National Front in his original costume (CB that is, not Chis Claremont or Herb Trimpe)
Not that the later costumes are much of an improvement, but the visibility of the blonde hair was particularly unfortunate.

Btw, the monthly MWOM version of CB began life in the short-lived monthly Daredevils mag, which also included (funnily enough) Frank Miller's Daredevil. Moore's work was particularly impressive as it was (I think) his first ongoing series.


Anonymous said...

PS Hey, dangermash - aren't you forgetting the Complete FF? That was pretty good treatment for Marvel UK in the 70s...


Brian Braddock said...

The Black Knight in Hulk Comic was drawn by John Ridgeway.

Anonymous said...

I remember getting the cardboard mask as the free gift in issue one and the cardboard wristbands as the free gift in issue two. I desperately wanted a cardboard quarterstaff to be the free gift in issue three but was, sadly, let down. The Moore/Davis Jasper/Fury storyline that ran in Marvel Superheroes/Daredevils/MWOM was a cracker. The monthly Captain Britain title that followed (and was collected, as Steve notes), unfortunately lost Alan Moore, but Alan Davis and Jamie Delano put together a nice run. I think CB lost his charm once he joined the US Mutant titles. The fallout from the Marvel/Miracleman debacle, and Moore and Davis falling out, seemed to result in many of Moore's themes being ignored. The Special Executive becoming The Gatecrashers, being one example.


Anonymous said...
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The Artistic Actuary said...

I was only about 12 at the time this all happened but I remember thinking that SHIELD was a good match for the Captail Britain comic as it was very much a hipster strip (not that I had the words in my vocabulary back then - it was more of a gut feeling). Having FF in there was weird though. Maybe Doctor Strange would have been a better fit.

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to the other comics this month. Is this when Avengers moves to Titans? That would leave MWOM with Hulk, Conan and Daredevil? Three strips is about right for a portrait comic. And then Titans would have Avengers, Captain America, Inhumans, Ghost Rider,... Is Sub Mariner still in there? Or is another strip about to pop up? Time to bring back the X-Men? Roll on Thursday.

And good shout on the FF Sean.

Steve W. said...

Dangermash, I do believe that this month sees the arrival of a brand new strip in the pages of The Mighty World of Marvel but I don't want to spoilerise it, so I shall say no more than that.

Anonymous said...


You're right, it was a boomerang in issue two. The cardboard wrist bands came with the Captain Britain costume that you had to send away for. It was a piece of coloured polythene that tied at the back, with separate wrist bands and a new mask (identical to the free mask in issue one). To say that this was a let down, when it finally arrived, doesn't come close...


Anonymous said...

Another daft thing about Captain Britain was that his alter-ego, Brian Braddock, lived in Braddock Manor so he was obviously rather posh and privileged but he was portrayed as an "everyman" Peter Parker-type who went to "Thames University" rather than Oxbridge. Brian Braddock would have been more like David Cameron than Peter Parker :D

Lew Stringer said...

The Black Knight strip in Hulk Comic was written by Steve Parkhouse and drawn by John Stokes. It's reprinted in volumes 3 and 4 of Panini UK's Captain Britain trade paperbacks.

Steve W. said...

Brian and Lew, thanks for the Black Knight art info.

Anonymous said...

dangermash - Maybe Nick Fury seemed to fit well with CB because of STRIKE?

What a brilliant name for the British version of SHIELD, eh? How 70s.
Got to stop the Red Skull crossing those picket lines...


Dougie said...

Marching to a different drummer, I love everything about the original Captain Britain. Hurricane, the quarterstaff, the pipe smoking, the Flying Finish pub, Jacko Tanner, esper Kate Fraser and her uncanny death fixation. I was surprised Claremont didn't bring her into the X-Men, instead of Betsy Braddock.

The big mystery to me, though, is why Marvel didn't just introduce a modern-day Union Jack, who had made his debut a shade earlier in '76. He has a fantastic costume and would've been an early instance of the Legacy Hero

Anonymous said...

Long term reader, first time poster.
CB has always been the character that I've always wanted to like, but never really had a satisfactory reason; all I had was that he was/is a British Captain America, which kind of puts a whole confusion on things. The Fury storyline floats my boat (Of course), but Excalibur (vol 1)is a solid book, even if it puts Kitty Pryde front and centre most of the time. CB tends to be the muscle of the group, plus he's a bit of a sleaze and a moaner.
But the stories are fun and have a lot of character (It was a Claremont book after all; also probably why CB tends to be lumped with mutants).
Re: Dougie - it certainly would have made more sense to have Union Jack, what with the flavour of his stories being more akin to the war stories (a la Eagle, or Dan Dare even) young boys read at the time. I think CB was an attempt by Marvel to crate a 'Stan Lee' version of what a British hero would be like, which is to say, very American.


Steve W. said...

Hi, Peter, thanks for commenting. Come to think of it, Union Jack lived in a great big manor house too, didn't he?

Anonymous said...

Steve - Yes, the original was a Lord. His son took over later on.
Marvel did a mini series with the modern Union Jack a few years back along with some other less famous heroes from various countries which had a more international feel to it. I don't remember it being that bad.

For a more British hero I quite enjoyed Jack Staff by Paul Grist. Grist himself is also from Sheffield.


Dougie said...

I had the impression Jack Staff is something of an homage to CB and UJ. with elements of Dr. Who.

Peter, since Dez Skinn's late 70s version of Marvel UK was more in line with trad British comics, an updated Union Jack makes even more sense to me. But there may have been copyright issues with Union Jack Jackson, from Warlord.
Those comics do seem a bit UKIP, when I think about it.

Anonymous said...

Dougie - Jack Staff is absolutely an homage, a pastiche even. I certainly recommend it for anyone looking for a British hero without the 'Americanisation', which is something CB suffered from.

Having not been a Warlord reader, (though I have since considered looking for some issues) I can't comment on it's content. Though I can imagine the political leanings of the stories in a 70s Britain.