Saturday, 21 February 2009

Captain Britain

Captain Britain. God, he was crap, wasn't he?
Whoa, hold on, don't get me wrong. Let's not misunderstand each other, I'm not talking about this Captain Britain:

No, I'm talking about this Captain Britain:

Captain Britain was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in October '76, without much fanfare, and was a strange little episode in Marvel's history. This weekly comic consisted of one original strip in colour ( the Cap ), and two reprints: Nick Fury ( Steranko's run, also in colour )
and The F.F. ( from Buscema's time, I think in b/w ). The Captain Britain strip was written by Chris Claremont & drawn by Herb Trimpe, produced ( obviously ) in the states, then shipped over for printing each week. Neither man seemed to care for the assignment too much, ( in fact, in his introduction to the reprint trade of the strip, Trimpe is particularly scathing ) and it seems they were picked for the most arbitrary of reasons: Claremont because his great-great- cousin-twice-removed was irish, and Trimpe 'cos he once went on holiday to the Peak District.

As a strip, it never really worked: The origin was ridiculously muddled and confused, as student Brian Braddock ( Look kids, he's got an alliterative name! Just like those american superhero's you like! Y' know, the good ones! ) is given a magic staff by somebody we assume to be Merlin which transforms him into Captain Britain, for apparently no reason at all. Throughout the run, Claremont introduced characters, dropped characters, didn't explain things and generally tested the patience and goodwill of kids who were genuinely willing this thing to succeed. And he committed the worst sin an american writer can do to an english audience: He created a picture postcard version of the UK, complete with red buses, cheery british bobbies, london fog and every other cliche that even today infests drivel like Murder She Wrote. Brian even had a buddy called Dai Thomas! ( Welsh! That means he's welsh! Welsh! He's welsh! Everybody got that? )

You could say, well, Claremont only had 8 pages an issue to tell a story, and he was doing it on a weekly basis, and I guess that's fair, but, to be equally fair, british writers only got 3 to 5 pages a week, and they managed. Those early Judge Dredd's f'instance, worked gangbusters.
Herb Trimpe, bless 'im, did his best, doing a pretty good Kirby impersonation with material that clearly didn't inspire him, but it just didn't work. The whole thing was just so badly conceived, so cookie-cutter Marvel superhero, that kids avoided it in droves. In the final analysis, Captain Britain really was about as british as Ronald McDonald. He just felt fake somehow.

Which is not to say we didn't snap up the issue where 'our' Cap teamed up with 'their' Cap, and there was a frisson of excitement when he met Spidey in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. But that was 'real' Marvel, we'd've bought that anyway.

So, these days, looking at the Captain Britain trade, was it really all that bad? Well..... yes, it was really. Nostalgia helps, and true, Claremont's lame dialogue and haphazard plotting no longer annoy quite as much, and Trimpe's artwork is bright, energetic and colourful, and if you don't try to understand what's going on, it's reasonably good, freewheeling fun I suppose. But it's not, by any stretch of the imagination, a lost classic either.

Cool costume though...


  1. I remember mail-ordering the whole run of this comic at the time and thinking it was too cool! The Trimpe stuff was okay but after awhile the art was given to John Buscema and Tom Palmer! By that point it was in black and white, though.

  2. actually, when Buscema took over, I kinda got into it. true, up until that point, it was awful, but back in the day you could've got John Buscema to draw a blank and I'd've snapped it up!

  3. That comment about kids "genuinely willing this thing to succeed" is spot on. At the age of 9 I was ridiculously excited by the prospect of our own, British superhero. I loved the costume, the first cover, the mythological aspect of Cap's origin ( soon forgotten ). Unfortunately it went pear-shaped pretty quickly and even the Buscema-drawn storyline with Cap America and the Red Skull dragged on for so long that I got bored with it. The next time we saw Brian Braddock was in the Black Knight strip in Hulk Comic which was much, much better. But that's a story for another time...

  4. Yeah , Hulk comic, now that WAS a good british Marvel...

  5. The early 'Captain Britain' strips were clearly trying to work on the same level as Lee/Ditko Spider-Man, which were also pretty simplistic. I bought the comic mainly for 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' ( it looked incredible in colour ), but the C.B. stories were kind of fun, harking back to a more innocent era. I like reading them even now. I haven't read the Alan Moore ones.