Current Reviews


Captain Britain and MI:13 #10

Posted: Tuesday, February 10, 2009
By: David Wallace/Thom Young

Paul Cornell
Leonard Kirk (p), Jai Leisten (i), Brian Reber (colours)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Captain Britain and MI:13 #10 arrives in stores tomorrow, February 11.

"Vampire State: Prologue"

Dave Wallace:

Thom Young:

Dave Wallace: This issue of Captain Britain and MI:13 kicks off a new arc for the book, entitled "Vampire State." As with issue #5, the prologue issue that began the previous arc ("Hell Comes to Birmingham"), Paul Cornell uses this moment of downtime to allow readers to get to know his team members a little better, adding some depth to their inter-personal relationships and developing certain characters a little more fully than we've seen so far.

Thom Young: Well, I'm brand new to this series with this issue, and as a prologue to a new arc I didn't find it to be "new reader friendly." I was not lost in the story (as there isn't a lot of "story" in a prologue), but it was quite obvious that all the characters have been interacting with each other for a few issues. I felt the way I would feel if I suddenly watched an episode of a daytime soap opera that I knew nothing about--albeit a soap opera in which Dracula, Doctor Doom, and Blade the Vampire Hunter have featured roles.

Dave Wallace: Yes, as you mention, the most significant plot point of the issue (and the part that has got people talking, even in advance of the issue being published) is the appearance of Dr. Doom and his collusion with Dracula, who appears to have taken up residence in a castle on the moon. It's a tie-in of sorts to Marvel's current "Dark Reign" event, but doesn't get too bogged down with any details relating to Norman Osborn's rise to power. Instead, it shows Dracula attempting to enlist Doom's help in order to take over Britain.

Thom Young: Yep, as with this series, I also know nothing of the "Dark Reign" event other than what I read in the first issue of Dark Avengers--namely, that Norman Osborn has assembled a collection of fill-in members for the Avengers--so, I'm glad Captain Britain and MI:13 doesn't get too bogged down with detailed connections to another story of which I know next to nothing about.

Dave Wallace: I enjoyed reading Doom and Dracula's exchange in the issue's opening scene. The banter between the two characters is antagonistic to an extent (Doom insultingly refers to Dracula as the "little prince"), but there's also a sense of familiarity here, with Doom referring to Dracula by the name "Tepes" (the surname of Vlad the Impaler, considered by many to be the inspiration for the fictional Dracula).

There are also some interesting parallels drawn between Dracula and Doom: both characters are proud leaders of their people, and both are men of science and magic (Doom mentions that his armour contains mystical defences against Dracula, including "splinters of the true cross"). Indeed, Warren Ellis' "Ultimate" version of Dr. Doom was even shown to be a direct descendent of Dracula, but Paul Cornell doesn't go quite so far here. Still, given these similarities, their close relationship feels plausible--especially given the proximity of the fictional Latveria to real-life Romania (much of which was once known as Transylvania).

Thom Young: Yeah, I enjoyed the exchange between Doom and Dracula. I also liked how the illustrator here, Leonard Kirk, obviously based his presentation of Dracula on Gene Colan's depiction of the character in the classic Tomb of Dracula series that Marvel published from 1972 to 1979. It was in that series, mostly written by Marv Wolfman, that the Marvel version of Dracula was established to be Vlad Tepes.

Dave Wallace: Ah, I wasn't aware that the earlier Dracula stories that Marvel published had established that he was definitely Vlad. You're right, we definitely get a sense of Colan's character design from Kirk here.

Thom Young: I appreciated seeing both a Colan-inspired version of Dracula as well as the Vampire Hunter known as Blade--who was created by Wolfman and Colan in Tomb of Dracula. These nods to the Tomb of Dracula series made it obvious that the creators here are not against doing their homework as they prepare their stories. I do wonder, though, about Doctor Doom's ability to adapt his suit of armor into a spacesuit for visiting the moon. I guess we'll just chalk it up to "artistic license" and move on.

Dave Wallace: Cornell also throws in a couple of little details that shows that he's done his homework in other ways. In particular, Dracula's fierce anti-Muslim sentiment rings true (given Vlad the Impaler's hatred of the Ottoman Empire, and his murder of thousands of Turkish Muslims in the 15th century). This detail gives Dracula an instant connection to one of Wisdom's team members (and Cornell's own creation), the British Muslim Faiza Hussain. I'll be interested to see what happens if and when the two characters face off against one another.

Thom Young: I also liked the details about Dracula's reaction towards Muslims--within the historical context of his family's dealings with the Ottoman Empire. I don't know anything, though, about Pete Wisdom or Faiza Hussain--but what you mentioned sounds intriguing.

Dave Wallace: Aside from these sinister machinations, Cornell devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation for the rest of his cast. The book's affectionate vein of authentic Britishness continues here, with a fun scene that sees Spitfire attempting to drink a Yard of Ale with her SAS chums, Pete Wisdom trying his best to chat up another potential love interest in a very British environment (the pub), and another reference to Britain as the "home of magic."

Thom Young: Yeah, the one thing I enjoyed was the authentic-sounding dialog, the type of which I haven't read in a comic since I used to read Garth Ennis's Hellblazer--particularly the issues Ennis would set in pubs in England and Ireland. As I mentioned, though, I also felt a bit like having been dropped into a random episode of a soap opera--albeit a well-written soap opera with good dialog that only occasionally sounds slightly elevated for the sake of spectacle.

Even that can have the ring of authenticity to it, though, as some people will elevate their conversations in public for the sake of "putting on a show" for others in the vicinity--strangers and acquaintances alike.

Dave Wallace: Yes, that's a good point. I wonder if Cornell is intentionally having the characters "play up" to their roles in the team. Or perhaps he's just indicating that a fair amount of beer has been drunk! Interestingly, Captain Britain himself seems least affected by the alcohol, perhaps showing the writer's intention to distance his version of the character from the buffoonish, borderline-alcoholic characterisation that has been employed by previous writers.

We also see the writer tidy up a bit of continuity with the Black Knight's recovery of the Ebony Blade from Wakanda, at the same time adding a little more depth to the burgeoning relationship between the Black Knight and Faiza, who share an emotionally conflicted scene together.

Thom Young: Yep, absolutely. The scenes with the Black Knight were all well-written and easy for me to follow with just enough exposition provided in a manner that was not awkward.

Dave Wallace: However, it's with the characterisation of Blade that Cornell manages to be most entertaining and original, eschewing the character's usual posturing and coolness for its own sake, and giving him some tender scenes that threaten to turn him into a (dare I say it) three-dimensional character. The relationship between Blade and Spitfire is perhaps my favourite of the series, and I look forward to seeing it continue--especially given their connection to the arc's antagonist.

Thom Young: I thought the scenes between Blade and Spitfire were well-handled soap opera bits--though I did wonder about Spitfire being a vampire. The Spitfire I recall from the 1970s was a British superheroine from World War II who was associated with The Invaders and who gained her superpowers after receiving a blood transfusion from the Original Human Torch (synthetic, android blood). I guess she must have been ret-conned into a vampire at some point.

Dave Wallace: Yep, that’s something that Cornell has played up this series. Apparently, the reason that she needed a blood transfusion in that old story was that she was bitten by Baron Blood, and this series has demonstrated that she has vampiric abilities as a result. Given that Dracula is shaping up to be the main villain of this arc, I wouldn't be surprised to see this explored in more detail in the coming issues.

What stops me from awarding the issue higher marks is that not a huge amount actually happens. Significant plot points are set up and characters are fleshed out more fully, but it's all preparation for the real story that begins next issue. Unlike the previous prologue issue (#5), there's little exploration of the dramatic developments that came at the end of the previous arc (bar Brian's brief mention of his wife, towards the start of the issue), and the cliffhanger ending doesn't provide quite as much of a shock as the ending to that issue did. It's just not quite as attention-grabbing as the moment when Blade stabbed Spitfire through the heart--and, without wanting to spoil it, it also didn't seem that logical to me.

Thom Young: Oh, the explosions. Yeah, I didn't take those as big cliffhanger endings since we've seen it all a thousand times before in various comics, TV shows, and films throughout our lives--protagonists get caught in an explosion, tune in to the next instalment to see if they will manage to survive.

Dave Wallace: Actually, I was talking about what happens on the very final pages, but I won't say any more about it for fear of ruining the ending of the issue. All I'll say is that it risks falling into the trap of having characters do unintelligent things in order that the plot can play out as the writer intends.

Thom Young: Oh, that cliffhanger ending. As a new reader of the series, that actually went over my head since I don't know who those characters are. I wasn't certain that the one who appears to be unconscious on the last page is actually the character whose voice is supposedly heard through the door.

I guess it doesn't really work as much of a cliffhanger if a reader is new and doesn't know the players--and, thus, doesn't have an emotional connection to them.

Dave Wallace: True. And to answer your question, no, that character isn't who (s)he was pretending to be, so that development didn't work for me.

Having said that, this is an otherwise well-written issue with some enjoyable moments. I just hope that those readers who have been turned on to the issue by positive word of mouth (and, lately, some heavy online promotion from fans of the series) will stick around for the next issue, as I have a feeling that that's when things will really get started.

Thom Young: I'll read the next issue if it falls into my hands because, as we’ve said, it's a well-written story in terms of dialog and believable moments between characters. However, nothing excited me so much about this issue that I feel compelled to seek out a copy on my own if I don't have a chance to read an issue for free.

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