Saturday, December 08, 2007

Captain Britain back in the UK

Panini UK have just published Captain Britain: A Hero Reborn, the second trade paperback collection of the early Marvel UK strips. As with the first volume (Captain Britain:The Birth of a Legend) this material is from the original Captain Britain weekly, long before Alan Davis, Alan Moore, Dave Thorpe and others revamped the character.

Captain Britain: A Hero Reborn isn't Marvel's greatest hour by any means but the short seven page weekly episodes crackle with energy. It's fast paced, manic (and often slapdash) superhero nonsense that reminds us how much fun Marvel comics were before they ventured into "decompressed" storytelling. Back in 1977, when these strips first appeared, no one had any idea that one day they'd be collected into a "graphic novel" so there's no pacing for that format and no slow build up to an explosive climax. Subsequently it provides more bang for your buck with a relentless pace that's in overdrive throughout the book.

This volume begins with Captain Britain No.24, which was the first "new look" issue and the first budget-cut to black and white strips. The stories haven't been colourised for this book, which means that although the covers are reprinted in full colour the rest of the book is entirely monochrome. This isn't a bad thing as the colour was irrelevant to such simple superhero action stories.

The scripts are by Gary Friedrich, Larry Leiber, Bob Budiansky and Jim Lawrence, whilst the artwork is handled by John Buscema, Tom Palmer, Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos. Not a Brit amongst them, as back then Marvel UK's comics were mostly put together in New York. This goes some way to explaining the errors in British police uniform or London's landscape, - but it all adds to the fun, particularly when Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and The Queen herself get involved in Cap's adventures.

Rounding out the 206 page book is a short article by Mike Conroy on The Unseen Captain Britain; namely an aborted 1973 IPC weekly preceding Marvel's version that failed to get past the dummy issue stage. Most interestingly a couple of covers to this project are shown, drawn by Eric Bradbury (then artist on The House of Dolmann for Valiant). As Mike says in his article, Captain Britain was an odd comic for IPC to contemplate given that superheroes were never big sellers in the UK. (Although in 1973 Marvel UK were just getting off the ground of course and maybe IPC felt threatened by this young upstart and their plans of expansion.) Funny how things turned out. IPC's Captain Britain project never materialized and Marvel UK's Captain Britain weekly was canceled after just 39 issues. Yet today, Panini's Marvel reprints dominate the boy's comic market in the UK and IPC no longer publish comics.

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