London’s Brilliant

After discovering yesterday’s post was a duplicate of one from three years earlier- like  a doubler in a Marvel Grab Bag- I hope I’m not repeating myself today. Here is another summer special blog post:

Captain_Britain_Summer_Special_Vol_1_2

The Captain Britain Summer Special #2 appeared in May 1981 and reprints the Marvel Team Up storyline of 1978: the last 70s script about the Lion of London by Cappy’s creator Chris Claremont. As we can see, it’s advertised as the last chance to see the original ( and the best) incarnation of the UK’s very own super-hero, created in America by Americans who’d visited here briefly but kind of liked it. This was a chance for British Marvelites to read again the two-parter that launched CB in the US. I had seen it already in the Spider-Man/CB weekly title and wouldn’t have picked this up at the time- nor its predecessor, the year before. It’s striking because it unfortunately fails to make a case for Cappy as a character with any flair or longevity but does so, quite accidentally, for the villain. “Introducing Captain Britain”: Dean Beatty introduces foreign exchange student Brian Braddock to Peter Parker. Meanwhile, the Mafia- er, Maggia, engage the assassin Arcade to kill Brian- one of “two score” murders they have planned of people- presumably men- who might be Captain Britain! Cappy and Spidey get into a Marvel Misunderstanding Fight. Brian recounts his origin with its mystical Celtic overtones in four pages. Then the pair are kidnapped by Arcade’s souped-up garbage truck. “Murderworld”: seeing Arcade clearly for the first time, it’s possible that Byrne has modelled him on Malcolm McDowell. His penchant for playful deathtraps owes something to Superman’s Toyman, to the films Westworld and Futureworld and to tv’s Avengers. It’s the imagery of that series, rather than Batman, which shapes Murderworld. The heroes are shot around a giant pinball table and separated, encountering cyborg cowboys and distorted fun house mirror reflections. They work together to rescue Courtney Ross- who is a mere hostage with no dialogue or even back story. Escaping into the sewers, they are picked up by long-standing MTU cop character, Jean DeWolff. She wraps up the Maggia subplot with some lengthy exposition. Cappy is very bland here and not terribly effective. Losing the visually interesting quarterstaff (and the quirky, pole-vaulting locomotion) for the Star Sceptre was bad enough. Here, he has a stereotypical Marvel hero interior monologue with no real personality. There’s no cultural clash, nor even any contrast of his magical empowerment with Parker’s scientific background. Presumably, Brian’s exchange visit ends abruptly as he returns home with Courtney. Unfortunately,  he doesn’t get to mix with any of Claremont’s other favourite New Yorkers, like the FF or Dr. Strange – or out-of-town students, the X-Men. Meanwhile, Arcade rebuilds Murderworld for a rematch. Ironically much more successful than CB, he will later take on those X-Men, ally himself with Dr. Doom and tangle again with Brian and Excalibur. More recently, he killed a troupe of young heroes in the Battle Royale/Hunger Games inspired series, Avengers Arena. The rest of the special is devoted to some episodes of the Black Knight serial from the recent (79-80) Hulk Weekly. This strip, by Steve Parkhouse ( who wrote some of my favourite Dr Who stories, “End of the Line” and “The Tides of Time”) and artist John Stokes, has aged really well. The Knight and Cappy journey to the Tolkienesque “Otherworld” to the tomb of King Arthur, encountering giant stone guardians and the dragon Kharad Dur. Arthur is resurrected and sends Cappy and the elf Jackdaw to Earth, in time for his revival in Marvel Superheroes in the autumn of 1981. Sadly, CB comes off as second best and unoriginal, in the context of the look and feel of the Black Knight strip. I was never a fan of the Davis guardsman costume either- too similar to Canada’s Guardian.

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There is an unresolved mystery about the MTU/Maggia subplot. In part one, we see a mystery woman listening in with a shotgun mike to the Arcade deal. In part two, DeWolff talks about a “lone wolf…(doing a ) Punisher-style number on the Commission…shot ’em to pieces”. Who was this “lone wolf”?

We can dismiss the theory that she’s Spider-Woman’s pal, Sabrian Morrell. A San Francisco cop and Yakuza member (!), she hadn’t been created in 1978. There is some fannish debate that she’s Kate Fraser. the psychic policewoman in early Claremont/Trimpe/Heck Dracula and CB stories. Given her psychometric powers cause her great anguish reliving the deaths of others, I think that’s unlikely.

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Her methods don’t resemble the Black Widow, another Claremont favourite. I suspected Bobbi Morse, Marvel’s 1976 Huntress ( and later Mockingbird) but unless the Maggia had ties to SHIELD I think that avenue unlikely, too. No, the answer is to be found in Claremont’s CB stories. I think she’s Vixen.

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Alan Moore, Alan Davis and Claremont  introduced and utilised the Thatcher-ish, campy crime boss Vixen in the 80s. But my suspicion is that this “lone wolf” was Claremont’s original 70s conception of Vixen, and protecting CB for her own nefarious purposes.

I think it’s a great shame that CB has never been able to sustain a title- aside from the 2008-09 Paul Cornell series- while contemporaries like the equally-derivative Nova are perpetually revived.  The uninspired, maskless costumes of the last twenty years and the angry drunk characterisation of early Excalibur has been corrosive.  I recently saw Brian Bendis as Tony Stark ( of all people!) ridicule the character in Guardians/Galaxy dialogue. I still hope, however, that Al Ewing might redeem Cappy in one of his Marvel titles. Coming soon: Green Lantern and the Savage Sword of Conan All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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2 comments on “London’s Brilliant

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I can no longer recall if I ever saw this CB Special at the time, but I know I don’t have it in my collection now. If I DID see it, I probably decided not to buy it because it hadn’t been long since I’d read the original printings of the tale in CB weekly and the colour version in Marvel Team-Up (I think). I feel a trip to eBay coming on.

  2. Dougie says:

    That would have been my reasoning at the time. Nowadays, I just love a summer special!

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