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BritForce #1 & #2

Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010
By: Kelvin Green

Andrew Radbourne
Andrew Radbourne
Moonface Press
More than ten years ago, BritForce were Britain's premiere superhero team, but tragedy led to them disbanding. With superpowered threats increasing, a beleaguered Prime Minister reactivates the group, although initial turnout is a touch disappointing. There's a fun little conceit at work here--BritForce really were in action over a decade ago, but their title came to an abrupt end, all of which lends this revival a sort of authenticity it might not otherwise have had.

The title has its origins in the '90s and that's true even of the update, as there is a definite Marvel UK feel to proceedings, except without the crappy paper, dodgy coloring, and gratuitous Death's Head II cameo. The downside is that like many of the products from that ill-starred imprint, things are a little rough around the edges here--the lettering is inconsistent, switching size and type on occasion, and the contrast between the digital fonts used for the dialogue and the hand-drawn titles and sound effects is a little jarring at times.

On a related but more positive note, Andrew Radbourne's layouts and figure drawing can be compared favorably to the early art of Carlos Pacheco. For those with short memories, much of Pacheco's earliest work was for Marvel's British imprint, so I've always associated the two. That said, the closeups have a definite Philip Bond feel, and he didn't work for Marvel until well after the UK imprint disappeared up its own arse, but he's a Brit so I'm counting it. Radbourne's art has a busy, kinetic feel, and his storytelling is strong and clear, even without the assistance (or hindrance, see above) of color. He doesn't shy away from backgrounds or multiple characters, and he does a good job of capturing Gordon Brown's likeness, which given recent events perhaps makes this comic a collector's item. On the other hand, the switch in styles between action sequences and closeups can be a bit abrupt and inconsistent, with characters sometimes undergoing a drastic change in appearance between panels.

In terms of writing, Radbourne has a bit of a mountain to climb, as there is a certain generic feel to the setup, as even British superheroes aren't much of a gimmick nowadays, nor is the idea of a team reforming after tragedy tore them apart. The Avengers have done the latter three times in the Bendis era alone. All that said, there are attempts to make this title unique--the team battles a clone of Jesus Christ in the first book, and a pair of bank robbing Celtic gods in the second, events which prompt some discussion of religious themes. The team's Union Flag costumes come up for examination too and there is some upfront questioning on whether a superhero wrapped in the flag is a symbol of unity or an icon of the far right. Such efforts go some way to giving the title a measure of depth, and on a far less intellectual level, a flame-wielding clone of a religious figure is exactly the kind of thing I like to see in my superhero comics.* It's up there with fighting Dracula on the Moon in my mind.

On the other hand, the dialogue is a little flat. With a couple of exceptions, the script doesn't convey the distinct personalities of the cast, and there's also a bit of a US action movie flavor to some of the lines which seems at odds with the British setting, although one could argue that the pervasive influence of American media has affected British speech patterns, so it's a fair reflection. A more significant flaw is the excessive verbosity of some parts of the script. The creator's blog indicates that there was some script editing involved, but it could have done with one or two more passes to trim some of the fat from the more bloated speech bubbles. On the other hand, there are a number of moments where the script shines with some effective one-liners and throwaway jokes, further suggesting the wisdom of a "less is more" policy.

BritForce benefits from strong art and a writer who clearly wishes to examine some big ideas, but it is hindered somewhat by a generic cast and some minor scripting issues. Somewhere in here there is a great superhero comic, just below the surface, trying to get out and make its mark.

*Apart from Clor, obviously.



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