Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Captain Britain part 1

(WARNING: The following post is pretty long. Couchman recommends that before beginning to read, you have yourself a comfortable seat as well as possibly a refreshing drink and a snack.)

Greetings once more, citizens! Today, I'm taking a step away from the adventures of Superior Spider-Man. Instead, I'm reviewing a lesser known hero written by one of the most well known comic writers, Alan Moore. Alan Moore, for those not familiar with the name, is a critically acclaimed graphic novel writer, responsible for such gems as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Batman: The Killing Joke. However, today's selection is from before he gained most of his renown.

Captain Britain (alias Brian Braddock) was created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe, and was originally envisioned as being the British version of Captain America. He was one of 3 children of an aristocratic family who, after the birth of him and his twin sister, didn't quite have enough money to hobnob anymore. Because of this, Brian never really socialized, since he felt he was too good for people of a lower class. He studied physics in college and worked at a nuclear facility after his parent's death. The facility was attacked one night, and Brian fled in order to find help. He did manage to find help, in the form of Merlin and his daughter, Roma. They offer him the chance to become a hero, and give him a choice between two artifacts; The Amulet of Right, and The Sword of Right. Brian didn't feel he was a warrior, nor that he was up to the task of being a hero, and chose the Amulet. And thus, Captain Britain was born!

This trade collects most of the Jasper's Warp storyline. I say most of because it actually omits the beginning of the arc, which was written by a different author. A good friend of mine loaned this to me, and I was pretty intrigued by it. I'd heard of Captain Britain, but my only real exposure to him before this was from the Marvel: Avenger's Alliance game (which I'm partially ashamed to admit I play). I had of course heard of Alan Moore, but I'd actually never read anything by him, not even Watchmen. His stuff sounds good, but most of his more well known work doesn't seem like my cup of tea. I thought that this would be a good way to get introduced to an interesting sounding character, and a writer whose works people keep telling me to read. 

Now, I’m not going to lie, I had a real hard time getting into this book. It starts of pretty confusing, for anyone who hasn’t read any of Captain Britain prior to this, and has so much happening so quickly, it becomes a tad overwhelming. The trade opens by establishing that Captain Britain is on a parallel Earth, thanks to shenanigans. This Earth (Earth 238) is devoid of superpowered people, due to a villain known as The Fury, a “cybiote.” I have never seen that word used before, but it seems to be analogous to cyborg.

Not that one!

Anyway, The Fury is dispatched to deal with Captain Britain and it begins kicking his ass. Cap attempts to fight back, but well, there’s a reason I said “attempt.” Saturnyne (who I’ll get to later) is unimpressed by The Fury, and tells her minions to kill it. When they have as much effect as Cap, she decides it’s a good time to go see how other universes are doing and flees, along with her minions. The Fury then proceeds to kill Dimples and Jackdaw. I’m not sure who Dimples was (and I don’t think he gets mentioned in the trade again), but Jackdaw was a good friend of Cap’s and he’s understandably enraged by the death. Cap once more attempts to attack The Fury, but only manages to succeed in getting his arm broken. Before The Fury is able to kill Cap, he is rescued by a man in a helicopter shaped like a teapot.

No, I’m not kidding.

The man is Mad Jim Jaspers, a reality-warping mutant who used to be a member of Parliament. It’s revealed that Mad Jim is the one who designed The Fury in order to rid the world of all other superpowered people, leaving him as the only one. Why does he do this? Good question, but before we can find out, Cap gets too freaked out by Mad Jim’s warping of reality, and runs out of the room, forgetting that the room is in fact a helicopter. He lands in a graveyard, showing the graves of various heroes, and finds an open one, the tombstone reading “Captain UK.” Cap begins to call to the heavens, wondering why Merlin sent him here. And then The Fury kills him. Yep, Captain Britain dies in the opening of his own trade. If this were just a single issue of a comic, I’d think that’s the end of it, but nope, I can tell there’s quite a bit more.

In contrast to the pace of the previous issue, this one is almost glacially slow. I’m not going to get too into the details of it, but the gist of what happens is that Merlin and his daughter, Roma, bring Captain Britain back to life while going over his backstory. There’s not a single bit of real action in this issue, and oh dear lord is it wordy. I’m not sure if this is something indicative of Moore’s writing, or just something he felt necessary for this part, but it’s something I’ve noticed with other British writers. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it can make it somewhat difficult to dive into. I will say that while dense, it is well-worded, and I can even see the need for giving all this info. From what I can tell from my research, Captain Britain hadn’t been a huge character up to this point, and excluding the few issues leading up to this, he hadn’t really had his own series in a little while, so people might not know much about him, except that he’s probably patriotic, given his name and costume. But I digress…

Once Cap is alive again, Merlin dumps him off in Darkmoor, a place Cap is familiar with, and incredibly happy to be returned to. He apparently is able to get a change of clothes before getting a cab to take him to his family’s home, Braddock Manor. The Manor was apparently bombed last time Cap was there but seems to be all fixed up, to him at least. The cabbie sees the manor in ruins, but doesn’t comment on it, because Cap blinded him with a fat stack of cash. He goes inside and finds out that the manor was not in fact bombed, but was taken over by an evil computer that caused the death of his parents. He manages to reprogram the computer so that it no longer has a personality, but doesn’t destroy it because of how incredibly advanced it is. It’s able to project a hologram of the destroyed manor so that nobody would think there’s anything suspicious there. Just as Cap is settling down into a comfy chair with a stiff drink, the phone rings, much to Cap’s surprise.

It turns out that it’s Captain Britain’s twin sister, Elisabeth, later known as Psylocke. She tells him that she’s in deep trouble, and needs his help, arranging to meet with him in London. When they meet up, Betsy tells Cap that she’s developed her occasional flashes of precognition into a full gift, and is working with S.T.R.I.K.E, the UK version of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, S.T.R.I.K.E has been infiltrated by the minions of a villain known as Vixen, who has sent an assassin after the psychics S.T.R.I.K.E has on staff, since they’re the only ones who are aware of the infiltration. According to Betsy, there were 10 psychics at the beginning, but now they’re down to 5. And then 3, as the assassin kills 2 more while Betsy’s giving Cap the briefing. The others were nearby, and linked all linked together telepathically, so Betsy and Cap are able to get there quickly enough to save the other 2. Cap confronts the assassin, and discovers that it’s an old acquaintance who goes by the name of Slaymaster. Slaymaster is surprised by Cap’s force-field, but manages to find a weak point in it which he exploits. Slaymaster has used a (supposed) ninja technique that has given his left hand an incredibly sharp edge, and begins attempting to cut Cap into pieces. While Cap does have super strength and durability, Slaymaster is the better fighter, and manages to get Cap on the ropes. Cap is saved by Betsy and one of the other psychics, a telekinetic named Thomas Lennox, who predict Slaymaster’s movements, and then blind him, with the power of COMICS!

Cap then pummels Slaymaster into unconsciousness, just in time for the police to arrive. Unfortunately, another of Cap’s acquaintances is one of them, and he’s not too fond of superheroes. Cap flies off in order to avoid catching up with his ‘”friend” and tells Betsy to meet him back at the manor.

The next issue begins with a group of mercenaries, known as the Special Executive, infiltrating the manor. As the action happens, the caption boxes inform us of the plan as they went over it in their pre-mission meeting, which I thought was nifty. We get a bit of info about the people staying at the manor, which is now Captain Britain, Betsy, Lennox (who we learn is Betsy’s lover), and the third psychic from STRIKE, Alison Double. They incapacitate both Lennox and Betsy, but Alison seems to be sleeping quite deeply and they don’t bother. The mercenaries wake Cap up, informing him that he is their prisoner. He obviously doesn’t take well to this, but instead of just blindly attacking them, he opts to instead grab his suit and flee in order to don it, since it enhances his powers. He takes out one of them quickly before the leader of the mercenaries, Wardog, tries talking him down. He tells Cap that they require his testimony in order to secure their client’s freedom. Cap, asks why they didn’t say so in the first place, but then Wardog tells him their client is Saturnyne. Saturnyne, if you recall, left Captain Britain on the alternate Earth with The Fury, and he’s still quite pissed about that fact. He’s knocked out by one of the mercs, Fascination, and the issue ends with them taking him aboard their ship.

The next issue opens with Captain Britain aboard the Special Executive’s ship, engaged in a brawl with a bunch of little green men who all seem to speak with one voice. He fights for a bit but then just sort of deflates. I actually really love Cap’s reaction to all of this. He’s burned out on utter absurdity, and just doesn’t feel like dealing with it any more. I can’t blame him, I’ve been in situations like that even without getting kidnapped and travelling to parallel worlds. But the weariness and irritation that he shows really makes him seem more human. Wardog tells Cap that Saturnyne is to stand trial for what happened on Earth-238, and that he’s the only one who he can help her. The trial is being held on yet another alternate Earth, and the group is being chaperoned by two alternate Captain Britains, Captain England and Captain Albion. I really like the character designs for these two, they’ve got a unique sort of look, but they look similar enough to Captain Britain that you can tell that they’re based off of him.

Captain Britain is taken to visit Saturnyne before the trial. I should probably explain the deal behind Saturnyne. She held the title of Omniversal Majestrix, which made her in charge of overseeing the multiverse and ensuring order and stability. She had apparently been trying to nudge Earth-238 forward a bit because “it was holding back the development of all the other Earths.” Her position is part of the Dimensional Development Court, and she only had to answer to Merlin. The Court does have some say in things though, since they’re the ones who are putting her on trial for the clusterfuck that has become Earth-238.

Anyway, back to the plot, Captain Britain sees Saturnyne in her sell, bound and on her knees, and his anger diminishes. He’s still mad at her, since he blames her for Jackdaw’s death. He asks why he should help her, and she loses what composure she had. She tells him that he should just leave, that she was foolish to think he’d help her. She says her Avant Guard were barred from testifying, and breaks down into tears, once again shouting at him to leave, and accusing him of taking pleasure in seeing her like this. Cap tells her that he thought he would like it, but no. He tells her that he’ll testify on her behalf, saying that what happened on Earth-238 was not her fault. It’s a really touching moment, seeing Cap’s compassion overcoming his anger with her.

At the trial, we begin to learn that the Avant Guard being barred from testifying is just one of the ways that the deck has been stacked against Saturnyne. The judge of the whole thing is Mandragon, her successor if she loses her position, and I can’t decide if his name is incredibly stupid, or incredibly awesome. Mandragon immediately decides that the universe of Earth-238 is dangerous to the multiverse, and eliminates it. This also conveniently destroys any material evidence that could be used in Saturnyne’s defense, and closes out the issue.

The next issue gives us a view of the assembled audience watching the trial, and I once again have to give props to Alan Davis’s artwork. There are few if any humanoid beings in the audience, with the exception of one of the commentators. Yep, the trial has commentators, which makes me think that on this Earth, high-profile trials are like professional wrestling events. Captain Britain is pissed off about Mandragon destroying an entire universe and tries to object to it, but Captains England and Albion subdue him. Mandragon then says that because of Captain Britain’s conduct, he will not be permitted to speak on Saturnyne’s defense. Saturnyne is immediately sentenced to be broken down into her constituent particles. Captain Britain takes exception with this and begins beating the crap out of the other Captains. It’s at this point that the Special Executive decides to get involved, along with a bunch of giant green robots on behalf of Mandragon. The fight lasts the rest of this issue, and almost the entire next one. There’s not much to say about it really, except that we get another amusing line from Captain Britain while he’s fighting Captain England. 

Cap, Saturnyne, and the Special Executive manage to escape though Mandragon doesn’t seem to care too much, since he got what he wanted and can just nuke whatever universe she ends up in anyway if he feels like it. The group decides to hide out in Braddock Manor, because… I’m going to guess it’s because Cap could use a strong drink, and he likes what he’s got at his place. They arrive at the manor, and Cap is about to go on an angry tirade about all the bullshit that’s been going on, but the doorbell rings. He answers the door and finds Captain UK there, the Earth-238 version of himself who happens to be a woman. She’s been popping up a bit in the previous issues, but I’ll get into that in part 2 of the review. This closes out the first half of the book, and serves as a good stopping point for this part of the review.

Overall, I’m really enjoying it so far. Alan Davis’s artwork is great, especially on Captain Britain himself. Maybe it’s just because I’m an art nerd, but it’s so nice seeing a comic done by a guy who clearly studies the human figure and understands how the millions of pieces of it actually move and look. Everything else is really solid as well, but I really take pleasure in seeing musculature done well enough to actual work in an anatomy book. The colors do an excellent job of setting mood and tone, using deep shadows for more dramatic moments, but they’re not so over-done as to make the reader question what the hell they’re looking at. The writing is also damned good. As I said, getting into it was difficult, but I’m willing to chalk that up to Alan Moore having to take over for Dave Thorpe, whose writing was considered too hard to follow. After the beginning, everything flows nicely, with good pacing and solid dialogue. The dialogue is actually one of my favorite parts, especially Captain Britain’s. Between well written dialogue on him, and excellent artwork, it really makes him shine, which makes sense since it’s his own book and all. Though it’s somewhat surprising how often the star of a work is less interesting than some of the supporting characters.

I’ll be reviewing the second half of the book in 2 weeks. Next week though, I’ll be looking at something other than a comic. And something that’s not Marvel, since I want to look at more than just their properties. What will I be looking at? Check back next week to find out! Same Couch time, same Couch domain!

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