Friday, 19 January 2007

Comic Review: Captain Britain Volume 1 - Birth of a Legend

PUBLISHER: MARVEL UK, 1976-1977
WRITERS: CHRIS CLAREMONT, GARY FRIEDRICH
ARTIST: HERB TRIMPE

 

This book contains the first 23 issues of Captain Britain's UK weekly series. It's all on high-quality paper, with nice forewords from Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe, and even a replica of the mask given away with Captain Britain #1 (though whether you feel like cutting this out and ruining your book is down to personal taste). The art benefits from being squashed down to US-format sized pages too, looking much more detailed than it does in t he original comics, and the cover for each issue is faithfully reproduced.

The stories themselves aren't too bad. At least not while Claremont's in charge, having a nice Silver Age colourfulness to them (thanks to Trimpe's big, clunky Kirby-esque pencils). Brian's well-defined, especially the ongoing theme of him learning new aspects of his powers all the time, and he can /just about/ write convincing British dialogue, though his usual exposition trouble keeps it bogged down. The basic set-up is a bit of a copy from Peter Parker's school/college years, with Courtney Ross as Mary Jane, Jacko Tanner as Flash Thompson and CID officer Dai Davies serving as a surrogate J. Jonah Jameson (and his more reasonable female sidekick, such a memorable character I can't remember her name, functions as Robbie Robertson). The Hurricane is a decent stab at a villain too, meaning some nice big technicolour fight sequences. Follow-up act Dr. Syn is a bit more of a failure, with the scripts not really explaining what he is or what he does.

It all really hits the wall later on when Gary Friedrich takes over writing duties. Friedrich just has no feel for the UK whatsoever - practically the first thing done is bringing in Captain America, the Red Skull and Nick Fury, and the comic gradually loses any sense of individuality thanks to his inept scripting. You can almost smell the alcohol in the pages. The TPB ends on a cliffhanger - which hopefully means a book tying up the remaining 16 issues, the Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain strips and the two-part Marvel Team-Up storyline that introduced the character to American audiences will follow soon.

It's not bad material, it's just packed full of missed opportunities and poorly thought-out ideas. The potential would be realised in the Alan Davis/Dave Thorpe/Alan Moore/Jamie Delano run and the Davis/Moore TPB is the place to go to find out just how superb Captain Britain can be. 'The Birth of a Legend' collection is an affordable way of collecting the issues cheaply and in a superior format. It's an enjoyable read, but more one for confirmed fans who realise what they're letting themselves in for.