Editor's Note: Captain Britain and MI:13 #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, May 14.
"The Guns of Avalon: Part One"
I never expected to be actively picking up a Captain Britain book, let alone be looking forward to one as much as I've been looking forward to Captain Britain and MI:13. Despite being British myself, I've never held any particular affection for the character, even as Avalon's answer to Captain America. In fact, I've never even read a Captain Britain book before--not even the much-lauded issues by Alan Moore and Alan Davis (although I'm sure I'll get round to them at some point). What I have read, however, is the six-issue Wisdom miniseries that Marvel published last year by British writer Paul Cornell (of Dr. Who fame), which took former X-Man Pete Wisdom and threw him into a series of fantastical adventures with the paranormal British Intelligence division of MI:13. My eager anticipation for this issue can be traced to the good work that Cornell accomplished in the pages of that book, and I was keen to see whether he could pull off the transition to a more mainstream superhero title with stronger connections to the modern Marvel Universe.
Thankfully, Captain Britain and MI:13 #1 doesn't disappoint.
Kicking off with a pre-credits sequence involving Wisdom's John The Skrull and a high-ranking government official who is revealed as a Skrull impostor, the book firmly establishes itself as a continuation of Cornell's previous series, but one that is also an integral part of the present-day Marvel Universe. This year's Secret Invasion crossover allows the title to make use of the Skrull threat as an exciting, action-packed backdrop, but thankfully Captain Britain and MI:13 has loftier aspirations than just being a spinoff book for a larger event. Cornell uses this first issue to introduce several subplots and an interesting character dynamic that promise to give the book a life far beyond Secret Invasion, and I'm keen to see what kinds of challenges the writer cooks up for his team once the Skrull threat has passed.
Despite the difference in scale and scope between this book and Wisdom, Cornell shows that he hasn't let himself get carried away by the opportunity to play around with a greater number of pre-existing characters and concepts than he used in that title. In fact, this issue seems even more character-centric than Wisdom was, allowing readers to fully invest in the cast before sweeping them up in a grand adventure that builds towards a cliffhanger climax--all in the space of just one issue.
Readers who haven't read Wisdom won't feel left behind, as this first issue allows us to spend a lot of time acquainting ourselves with the book's key players. We meet both Pete Wisdom (who seems slightly less abrasive and cynical than before, and appears to be experiencing strange supernatural "visions") and Captain Britain (who is presented as just as iconic and reliable as his American cousin), two characters that work well together and share the spotlight comfortably, without feeling as though they're competing for attention. I was pleased to see Cornell eschew the easy option of creating a forced rivalry and false drama between the two characters, opting instead to imbue them with a sense of mutual respect and comradeship that makes their rapport feel far more natural and believable.
More minor characters also get their own chances to shine, albeit briefly: the Black Knight, Spitfire and John the Skrull all get a comparatively small amount of page-time, but Cornell still manages to establish them quickly and efficiently. As a writer who also does a lot of work in television, he seems to have a particularly strong grasp of the maxim "show, don't tell," with Spitfire's introduction to the book a perfect example of how to condense a lot of information about a character into a small space.
Finally, we meet the much-talked-about Faiza Hussain, a new character that Cornell has talked about as being our "gateway" character for the series. We only get a quick glimpse of her here, but she already feels well-rounded and interesting (I enjoyed her acknowledgement that she's a complete superhero fangirl), laying to rest any fears that she could be a one-note cliché character who has been introduced solely to crowbar a British Muslim point of view into the story. At this point, she reminds me slightly of Dr. Who's Martha Jones due to her medical background, but I'm sure that Cornell will do more to distinguish her personality in the next few issues.
My only real complaint is that Wisdom's Captain Midlands doesn't make an appearance, but there's still plenty of time for that yet.
The book's artwork is provided by Leonard Kirk. I know Kirk from his work on the much-loved Agents of Atlas series, and if anything, his work seems even better here. There's a cleanness and consistency to the visuals that makes the story easy to follow (even during the more crowded scenes), and the artist seems to be having fun with the concepts he's playing with, such as the weird and wonderful combinations of Marvel-Universe powers and physical attributes that are displayed by the numerous Super-Skrulls that populate the issue. There are some fun touches of background detail (I loved the scared reaction of the Super-Skrull to Spitfire's attack), and Kirk also shows a real knack for dramatic visuals--especially during the powerful closing pages of the issue. He even manages to avoid making the Captain Britain costume look silly, which itself is no mean feat. Jesse Delperdang's tight, delicate and detailed inking is just as good here as it has been in the pages of Batman recently, really enhancing the overall package. Finally, Bryan Hitch's cover rounds things off beautifully, creating an iconic, poster-worthy image of Captain Britain that sells the book well.
Many readers may be buying this book due to its ties to Marvel's big crossover event. However, whilst this first issue certainly plays up to some of the themes of Secret Invasion (there's more than one reference to the idea that the superheroes are "playing characters," and there's some subtle allegory for real-world events in the "War on Terror"), it's worth buying for many more reasons than that. Cornell's enjoyable and individual sense of humour has survived the transition from Wisdom wholly intact (what other Marvel title will give you references to Norman Wisdom, Abba and Frankie Goes To Hollywood?), the characters are distinctive and original, there's plenty of drama and large-scale action, and it's great to see a book take such pride in its sheer Britishness ("They want summat we've got." "What Britain has more of than anything else - magic!"). I get the sense that this book isn't going to be ashamed to be a fun, fast-paced and reasonably traditional superhero comic, with as many concessions to the conventions of the genre as there are attempts to do things differently. I haven't read a stronger first issue than this in a long time, and I can't wait for the next.
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