The Blagger's Guide To...Captain Britain

Superhero in the land of Tudor tea shops
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

*Captain America has long been a household name in the States, and now across the world thanks to his big screen outing ... but Blighty has its own Marvel superhero – Captain Britain – and he celebrates his 35th anniversary in October.

He most recently had his own monthly comic, Captain Britain and MI:13, written for Marvel by the British scribe Paul Cornell, who even had Cap meet the then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. But even friends in high places could not stop the title, which had a great critical reception but not the sales to match, from being cancelled in 2009.

*The hero's other guise, Brian Braddock, is landed gentry whose family had fallen on hard times. When his parents die in a mysterious accident, Braddock throws himself into the study of physics, and by the time the story opens he's working at a nuclear power plant on Darkmoor (somewhere near the Scottish borders) which, inevitably, is attacked by villains. Cue an encounter with Merlyn and the quick bestowing of some super powers, and Britain suddenly had its very own champion, complete with patriotic costume, magnificent with rampant lion.

*On paper, Captain Britain must have ticked a lot of boxes for the Marvel executives. He was launched on the UK public late in 1976 – the Queen's Silver Jubilee was the following year, so patriotic fervour must have been building to an all-time high, right? Add a writer in the shape of Chris Claremont, who was later to enjoy godlike status among comics fans due to his rebooting of the X-Men title into the world-conquering franchise it is today, and Captain Britain couldn't fail...which he didn't – but more despite these things than because of them. American comics publishers have traditionally had a weird view of Britain.

*In Supergods, Grant Morrison recalls: "When Marvel dipped its toes in the British market by launching Captain Britain, the assignment was handed to American anglophile Chris Claremont on the grounds that he'd visited the place once or twice and had a fondness for TV shows like The Avengers."

*Morrison says Captain Britain was created to "appeal to a mainstream American sensibility weaned on the Marvel tradition...England was depicted as a place of Tudor tea shops and cobbled streets. Scotland could be rendered in its entirety with a single drawing of a castle flying a tartan flag." Paul Cornell remembers: "I was captivated. It just felt apt that Britain should have a hero. His earliest adventures are better than they're remembered, with some cheesy moments, but some quality stuff too, Chris Claremont having a kind of distant love for all things British, for good or ill."

*Alan Moore took over in 1982 and spun Captain Britain off into a saga redolent with the dystopian disaffection of the Eighties, which saw the emaciated, disease-ridden forms of heroes such as Spider-Man crouch in the tattered rags of their costumes in a bleak concentration camp. Cornell says: "I think Alan's run was magnificent. Alan's issues are the first hints of the deconstruction of the superhero, which reached its apex in Watchmen, and unfortunately then continued." As to the future, there have long been heavy hints on the internet that Captain Britain is due to return to active duty in the Marvel Universe very soon. And now, finally, the news that...

Captain Britain Volume 2: Siege of Camelot is published on 7 October by Marvel

Comments