Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Captain Britain, part 2

Greetings once again, citizens! Today I'm finishing up my review of the trade paperback simply called Captain Britain. Last time I talked about the good Captain, I had left out a couple of details because they didn’t affect the plot that was going on in the issues I discussed. Those details are, however, important to this week's review. If you haven't read part one yet, here it is.

First, there’s The Fury. After it killed Cap on Earth-238, The Fury had a nagging feeling that it had missed something. It manages to survive the destruction of that universe and travel to the main Marvel Universe, Earth-616. Doing so drains most of its energy, however, and it needs to spend some time recuperating and also needs to consume living matter (or something, it’s a little unclear).

Then we have Captain U.K, aka Linda McQuillan. Captain U.K was Earth-238’s counterpart to Captain Britain. She was spared from being another of The Fury’s victims by her husband, who sent her to a random other universe. She’s been in the 616 universe for a little while now, and the interludes we have of her have shown her dealing with issues like stress, anxiety, terror and what-not.

The story picks up with Captains Britain and U.K, the Special Executive, Betsy and Thomas Lennox all watching a speech by parliament member James Jaspers. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because we encountered his Earth-238 counterpart, known as Mad Jim Jaspers. This Jaspers is going on for a need to round up anyone who’s super-powered and put them in internment camps. This worries Betsy, Lennox, and Captain Britain. Captain U.K is visibly distraught, stepping away from everyone else. Captain Britain tries to comfort her, but she tells him that this was the beginning of the fiasco that led to The Fury’s creation, with the speech being identical to the one her universe’s Jasper delivered.

We see Jaspers at a party after the speech. The scene doesn’t serve much of a purpose, except to show a cameo of Sebastian Shaw and Henry Gyrich (villains from the X-men stable of books), and to demonstrate his disdain for not giving into his madness, and also white wine (he switches it to red with his reality warping ability). We then cut to a scene of Merlin and Magda, who are playing chess with pieces shaped like various characters who’ve been introduced in the story thus far. Most notably at the moment are the criminal Vixen, who is in control of S.T.R.I.K.E, and Jaspers. Jaspers tells Vixen to prepare herself because in a week, S.T.R.I.K.E will be given orders to eradicate all superheroes.

Back with our heroes, we have Wardog and Zeitgeist of the Special Executive debating what they should do now. Zeitgeist thinks they should go find a new job, since nobody is paying them for this one. Wardog however feels like they should stay and try to work out what to do about the Jaspers situation. Zeitgeist points out that it’s not their problem, but the team precog Cobweb says that it is their problem, and will affect them in a way she cannot foresee. Lennox is attempting to convince Betsy that they too should leave, but she gets some images of some disturbing stuff and feels they should stay to try and help. Captain Britain is talking with Captain U.K, but she flips out and runs off into the night in tears. The issue ends with Captain U.K in the woods, with The Fury looming behind her.

The next issue begins with three different sets of panels, all arranged on a line, as opposed to a more traditional panel layout, which caused me to misread them the first time. The first set is Captain Britain and Saturnyne talking, nothing all that exciting or noteworthy, except an implication from Saturnyne that she might ditch Cap again. The next set has Wardog and Zeitgeist continuing their argument from the last issue, and then Cobweb having some sort of seizure. The third set of panels is Merlin and Magda, still playing their chess game, Merlin saying he missed something, and then a piece representing The Fury appears on the board, in neither black nor white. Each set of panels also features a caption box stating “and Linda McQuillan is screaming.”

Turning the page reveals a two page spread of the Fury about to blast Linda, and three panels depicting the characters from each set on the previous pages showing their reaction to the scream, everyone is shocked except for Merlin, who looks utterly pissed. Linda immediately begins attempting to flee from the Fury, but to no avail. It seemingly blasts her, but Merlin does something to the chess piece representing Linda and protects her, but doing so seems to harm him. The Fury is about to blast Linda again when Captain Britain enters the fray. The Fury knew he was coming though, so Cap ends up just getting beaten on, after a moment of shocked recognition of the assailant. The members of Special Executive, excluding Zeitgeist, go to see what the disturbance is. Wardog gets his mechanical arm destroyed, and one of Legion is killed. I didn’t really say much about Legion last time, but that’s because I didn’t really know what to say about him. His deal is that he’s got a bunch of his future selves with him, which allows him to do several things at once, but if one of them dies then he’ll die once he catches up with the point in time that one is from. His duplicates come from two weeks into the future at most, so Legion is going to die soon.

I feel I should talk a bit more about the artwork. Something I didn’t notice in my initial read through of this was that while most of the pages use standard panel layouts, there are several instances of Alan Davis doing something a bit different. These pages with the Fury are an example of that, with the panels being more triangular and diagonal rather than squarish and horizontal/vertical. It adds a subtle, dynamic layer to the composition, which really lends to the action. This isn’t the only instance of Davis doing something different, but it jumped out at me a bit more than the previous ones. The next two pages also break the mold a bit, featuring four long vertical panels with things falling outside of them. The panels are a confusing mish-mash of visions that Cobweb is apparently experiencing, along with rambling thought balloons from her. This would really annoy me, but it really gives the reader a sense of the tumultuous jumble of things that are going through her head at this moment, so kudos to Moore and Davis.

The fight continues against The Fury, with little luck on the part of the heroes. Fascination has a little bit of luck, until it switches to the backup brain that it apparently has. Cap continues to get his ass kicked, and it seems like The Fury’s going to win, until Zeitgeist enters the fight, after some urging from Cobweb. The Fury isn’t able to detect Zeitgeist in anyway, and is also able to disrupt it to a degree. The others take this opportunity to hit The Fury with everything they’ve got which also causes a fissure to open up beneath it, and The Fury plummets into it. Cap and Fascination get a couple more hits in on it before the fissure begins to collapse and they have to fly out. Our heroes get a moment to breathe, but nobody thinks for a moment that The Fury is dead. The Special Executive takes their leave, Wardog saying that he can’t ask his team to face such danger for nothing, and the others are leaving the manor.

The next issue is somewhat hard for me to summarize like the others, with more or less page by page descriptions. So, I’ll be more brief with this one. It’s mostly exposition, but instead of having things explained to us, we pick up details from what the characters say and the images. The issue features a pair of people talking about rumors they’ve heard regarding Captain Britain.  Basically, things have devolved, with Jaspers getting his wish and camps being established to house super-powered individuals. Soldiers are on the lookout for any such people, asking random people to see their papers, searching vehicles at roadblocks and other sorts of fascist type things. One of them says she heard that Captain Britain was found in a food line, and took on an amount of soldiers that increased as the story went on. The other says she’s heard various things, ranging from Cap going down to London with an army of other supers, to him being tortured and ratting out his friends. This reminds me a bit of V for Vendetta, but that might just be the whole “dystopian Britain” thing. Or it could be because this was written about the same time that Alan Moore wrote V for Vendetta. Either way, it seems like there’s a lot of stories about Britain under fascist rule. I can’t really think of too many stories where America or any other country is in a similar situation, so what’s the deal? I’m genuinely curious if it’s like Britain’s equivalent to the apocalypse obsession that pervades American culture. Or maybe that’s something more widespread too, I’m not sure. I really need to make some friends from other countries.

Anyway, enough of my speculating on fiction trends, more reviewing thirty-year-old comics! The next issue opens with some soldiers investigating the grounds of what I assume is Braddock Manor. I say assume because we don’t get told exactly where they are, beyond “England,” but The Fury pops out of the darkness and kills them. I’d be more confident about the location, but on the next page we see a siren going off in London with no other explanation about where it came from. Regardless of location where that happened, Cap and the others are hiding out in London. They recap the situation, and Saturnyne tells Cap that she’s in it for real this time, partly because she no longer has the ability to just run off to another universe.

We then cut to Vixen paying a visit to Jaspers. She’s concerned that Jasper’s plans have gotten a little out of hand, and is worried about attracting attentions from other world powers or the Avengers, and has gone to talk to him. Unfortunately, Jaspers has fully embraced his madness and is letting his powers flow out into the world. His hat changes in every panel, and his office seems to be some sort of weird purple and black void, which I would normally chalk up to the artist being lazy, but it doesn’t mesh with everything else I’ve seen up to this point. Jaspers eliminates the goons Vixen brought with her, and turns Vixen herself into a pink cat. The issue ends with Cap suiting up and flying off with an expression of righteous anger on his face.

The next issue starts off with Magda urging Merlin that they should abandon their game of reality chess as she examines his damaged hands, but he insists they keep going.  We then get a really neat looking page with Betsy’s head just above the center. From her eye line up, things fade into a panel depicting a bunch of soldiers converging on their location. She then alerts everyone to what was evidently a precognitive vision, before something bangs on the door. Lennox opts to stay behind to try to hold them off while the others make their escape. However, Betsy is linked telepathically with Lennox, and when he gets shot, she falls over as well. Saturnyne urges Linda to help them, but she insists that she can’t before running off, Saturnyne following after.

Back to Merlin and Magda, they’re still playing chess, but Merlin is musing to himself about how he’s been shaping Captain Britain for this exact moment, and we see him arriving… here.

Yeah, clearly Jaspers isn’t bothering making things look right anymore, as all the other panels feature similar kinds of backgrounds, as well as the triangular, disjointed panels like we had before. I both like and dislike these panels. On the one hand, I really like the way that the art is reflecting the utter lunacy that is Jasper’s world. On the other, I’m very much a fan of more realistic and linear artwork, and stuff like this tends to give me a headache. Again, I’d be more annoyed if this wasn’t something necessitated by the story, but it’s still something of a nuisance.

We cut away from the madness to have a scene with Saturnyne chewing out Linda, calling her a coward and even striking her. Linda finally manages to do something more than cower and hits Saturnyne back. She seems apologetic about it, but Saturnyne is just pleased, in spite of the bruise on her cheek. We then go back to Cap entering Jasper’s office, and the issue ends with some really cool looking artwork.

 We begin the climax of the story arc with Saturnyne talking Linda out of her clothes.
Let me re-phrase that. We begin with Linda stripping off her street clothes revealing her Captain U.K outfit beneath, though some of the dialogue comes off as kinda…  well, here’s what the caption boxes say:
              “She took off her coat without too much trouble, and likewise the shirt. The trapped look in                 her eyes grew more intense…
              There was an argument about the jeans. She cried and wanted to keep them on.
              No dice.”

Anyway, after that scene with is much less sexual than one could be led to believe, we cut to Captain Britain confronting giant Jaspers. He tries to talk him out of warping reality like this, but he just blows Cap off and starts making Cap think he’s back on Earth-238 and then just waking up from a coma where all the Captain Britain stuff was just a dream. Jaspers then goes back to a normal-ish form while taunting Cap, and Cap promptly punches him in his stupid face. However, Jaspers keeps warping things and kicks Cap’s ass. We end the issue with Cap getting up, in spite of being savagely beaten, Jaspers going off somewhere else, and the final panel is an image of Cap through the eye of The Fury.

The next issue starts off with Cap once again getting smacked around by The Fury. Jaspers is off pouting somewhere, before creating a group that will later be called the Crazy Gang out of nothing. They’re not really important to the story, so I’m not going to get into them. The Fury then punches Cap into the area where Jaspers wandered off to. It looks like the thing is going to kill Cap again, when Jaspers decides to introduce himself. The Fury thinks to itself that it always really wanted to kill Jaspers, but it’s programming forbid it from doing so. It reasons, however, that this isn’t the Jaspers that its programming was talking about, so it can go ahead and kill him. And thus begins the most chaotic fight scene I’ve ever read. I really have no idea how to describe this, and would love to know what the transcript for this looked like. The fight spans the rest of this issue, save for one page, as well as the beginning of the next one. The short version is that The Fury reasons that the only way to beat Jaspers is to take them both out of reality. It does so, kills Jaspers, and then returns to our reality, but this drained almost all of The Fury’s energy.

Which leaves it vulnerable to Cap beating the everloving crap out of it, starting with punching a hole straight through its torso in a very “I AM A MAN!” way.

He inflicts a lot of damage on it, tearing large chunks off of it, but the thing manages to get the upper hand for a moment, and is once again on the verge of killing him. Fortunately, Captain U.K jumps in and finishes what Captain Britain started, ripping the thing to pieces, and finally killing it. The two Captains then embrace, but while they share a tender moment, Saturnyne gets a bit of blood from Jaspers’ corpse.

It’s at this point that I have to circle back to the one page I omitted earlier that fell in the middle of the Jaspers/Fury fight. It shows Merlin and Magda, once again, but their chess game has apparently dissolved. Magda says that Merlin told her the multiverse depended on their game, and she has no idea what this means, asking Merlin. However, Merlin collapses with his eyes rolling back in his head. After The Fury is slain, Magda teleports the Captains and Saturnyne to Otherworld (the place where she and Merlin live), and we see her dressed in formal garb, with Merlin lying in a very fancy coffin.

The final issue is Merlin’s funeral. There’s not a whole lot to say, it’s mostly wrapping things up. Captain Britain gets an opportunity to meet other versions of himself from other worlds, and also talks to Magda, who was able to save Betsy’s life. Magda sends Saturnyne to see Mandragon, and threatens to clone Jaspers if he doesn’t step down, pardon her, and give her back her job. Magda tells Cap that she actually made the DNA from the blood inert, so he can’t be cloned, but neither Saturnyne nor Mandragon know that. Magda then sends the Captains back to Earth-616, where they share a kiss before departing.

Overall, I thought that this was a really solid story. The pacing is great after the very beginning, neither moving too slowly nor too fast. The characters all feel not only real, but likable in their own ways. Saturnyne is loathsome, but at the same time, I find myself wanting to see more of her plotting. Captain Britain is a lot of fun to read, especially when he has moments where he’s just overwhelmed by the insanity that is his life. I had hoped to see more of Betsy, partly because the friend who loaned me this is a big fan of her, but c’est la vie. Alan Davis’ artwork is great, able to do both highly realistic stuff, but also the utterly bizarre stuff from Jaspers’ mad mind.

However, there are some issues. The crazier parts are kinda hard to follow, and required me to read them twice to fully understand. What I feel is more of an issue though, is how Cap is portrayed. The comic is ultimately supposed to be about Captain Britain, and while it’s cool seeing secondary characters being badass, I feel that the central character should be the star. But it seems like Cap gets his ass kicked more often than he does any kicking. Hell, he dies in his own book! He doesn’t even beat Jaspers or The Fury. While I do think that it was great that Captain U.K took out the Fury, giving her story arc some closure, it would’ve been nice to see Captain Britain kill it after he got beaten down three times and killed by it.

In spite of that, I highly recommend this. I don’t know how easy it is to find, since the trade was printed back in 2002, but apparently the second Captain Britain volume is hard to get. But if you can find it, check it out.

Next week we’re back to Superior Spider-Man, but this isn’t the last we’ll see of Captain Britain. I’ve got a few trades of Excalibur that I’m planning for future reviews, but they’re a ways off yet.

Until next week, citizens!

P.S. If anybody reading this happens to be from another country, or is just more familiar with other cultures, feel free to answer my questions about dystopian/apocalyptic fiction.

No comments:

Post a Comment