Marvel Super Heroes #377-386 (UK)
Issue(s): Marvel Super Heroes #377, Marvel Super Heroes #378, Marvel Super Heroes #379, Marvel Super Heroes #380, Marvel Super Heroes #381, Marvel Super Heroes #382, Marvel Super Heroes #383, Marvel Super Heroes #384, Marvel Super Heroes #386
In 1995 Marvel colorized and reprinted the Captain Britain stories from the UK Marvel Super Heroes magazine that featured the Marvel debuts of Alan Davis and Alan Moore and introduced elements that would later be important in Marvel's Excalibur series. Marvel then took the colorized issues and collected them for a trade, but they excluded the issues without Alan Moore. And of course i bought the trade first and then realized i had to go back and get two issues of the individual issue reprints to get the full story. So this entry is covering Marvel Super Heroes #377-386 reprinted in X-Men Archives featuring Captain Britain #1-2, and then the following entry covers the stories that were collected in the trade.
Since this is very early Alan Davis work, an introductory essay in X-Men Archives #1 is entitled "Stick With It, It Gets Better!" and it describes how Alan Davis at the time wasn't really interested in pursuing a career in comics illustration ("Comics and comic art have always been considered a juvenile medium by most people in Britain") and how he often drew issues during quick breaks at his full-time job. Davis needn't have apologized for his work here. It may be loose and cluttered, but it's still quite good. It is very dense; Davis describes in the intro how he turned his art paper sideways so that he could cram in more panels. But that's very helpful since we are dealing with stories that were about 5 pages each. And if you have been following Captain Britain's stories from the beginning, these issues are an improvement. Like the Black Knight stories in Hulk Magazine Weekly that Captain Britain appeared in prior to this (but unlike the Captain Britain stories prior to that), the creators here understand how to write for 5 page increments. But while the Black Knight story was interesting in its own way, the story was a very dry fantasy quest, while here there's an immediate shift to a tone that is at once both more whimsical and more politically relevant.
Even thought it's been over a year, publication-wise, the story continues directly from Captain Britain's last appearance in Incredible Hulk Weekly #60, where King Arthur sent him and his sidekick, the elf Jackdaw, back to Earth. The narration accounts for this by saying that Brian and Jackdaw have been in transit for an "immeasurable" amount of time (and that is useful to us for fitting in a few appearances by CB in American comics in the interim; see the Considerations below for more on that). As Captain Britain is arriving on Earth, his costume begins changing and his scepter disappears.
He's dropped immediately into a bank robbery in progress. The robbers will look familiar to readers of Excalibur. It's (a) Mad Jim Jaspers and his Crazy Gang.
However, we'll soon learn that we're in an alternate dimension, so this isn't the same Crazy Gang that will later appear in Excalibur.
While CB is fighting the Crazy Gang, he learns that the forcefield and flying powers that used to be part of his scepter have now been transferred to his suit.
We also see some of Jackdaw's abilities, really for the first time since even though he appeared in the Black Knight story he didn't get to do much.
Jaspers and the Crazy Gang flee when the police show up, and Captain Britain, sensing something is wrong, ducks into an alley as well. And it's at this point that it's pretty much confirmed that we're in an alternate dimension, although Captain Britain will need a little more convincing.
The police having guns is a start (we are in Britain, after all).
After talking with some homeless people, Captain Britain sends Jackdaw back to find out from Merlin what's going on.
While he's on his own, Captain Britain starts finding evidence that someone is planning to do something to super-evolve the people of England. He first finds a sentient mound of junk...
...and then an intelligent rat named Algernon.
Both were super-evolved from a stream of liquid that Captain Britain finds coming out of a drain. We learn that the liquid is going to be used for "The Push" by an organization called the Dimensional Development Court, whose leader, we'll learn, is Saturnyne.
At this point Jackdaw returns, although he hasn't had any luck locating Merlin (he also thinks Algernon is one of his elf friends).
And Captain Britain is briefly turned into an ape by the devolving ray of Saturnyne's Avant Guard.
Mixed in with the Saturnyne stuff is a glimpse at the government in this alternate universe, specifically its anti-superhero policy.
Saturnyne explains the goal of The Push, which is to bring this alternate dimension into an age of enlightenment, and Captain Britain is restored to human form thanks to the evolutionary potion (it's even said that he feels stronger than ever), but then Saturnyne's base is attacked by the government's Status Crew organization.
During the fight, it's determined that Captain Britain's powers come from concentration.
As Saturnyne shows that she can take care of herself...
...the Status Crew destroy Captain Britain's concentration with a sonic beam.
So Saturnyne has to hold off the Crew.
And then she turns her super-evolution potion on them.
At the end of issue #383, Captain Britain walks the poverty-ridden streets of this alternate Britain and takes a little girl for an uplifting flight. Meanwhile, we see that (unbeknownst to Captain Britain) Jackdaw has indeed gone back to Merlin and King Arthur, but it seems Captain Britain landing in an alternate dimension is exactly what they wanted.
Note that they're still worried about the forces of Necromon, the villain that was defeated in the Black Knight series.
Captain Britain begins planning with Saturnyne's Avant Guard to deploy the evolutionary liquid...
...but he's interrupted when a fight breaks out in a local neighborhood.
This is just the beginning of a big gang war. Captain Britain and Jackdaw manage to stop the war, and then the Push goes ahead successfully. However, it's at this point that Mad Jim Jaspers begins warping reality.
And that will lead directly into the Alan Moore storyline, so we're pausing here just to keep that in a separate entry.
Good stuff. I'm not really a big fan of alternate universe stories. If it wasn't for the critical acclaim that the upcoming story will get, the biggest thing of note here would be the latest in a seemingly endless set of tweaks to Captain Britain's costume and powers. But the story is well written, with better than average scripting and nice art, and this does lay the groundwork for the story that we'll get in the Alan Moore issues.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: At the beginning of issue #377, it's said that an "immeasurable" amount of time has passed since King Arthur sent Captain Britain and Jackdaw away in Incredible Hulk Weekly #60.
Marvel Super Heroes #385 had an "Untold Tale of Captain Britain"by Paul Neary and Alan Davis. It took place while Captain Britain and Jackdaw were in inter-dimensional travel between the end of the Black Knight series and the beginning of this one. They meet and fight some alien "Binary Beings". It is not included in my reprint but let me cheat and include a few scans from an online copy:
Notice that they "remember nothing of their ordeal", which may explain why Captain Britain is in his new costume even though he's surprised to be in that at the beginning of issue #377, which this story clearly would take place before (we'll have to allow for a little artistic license since #377 actually shows CB's costume transforming).
I bring up the #385 issue not just for its own sake but to also show that there is precedent for Captain Britain leaving the inter-dimensional travel zone prior to #377. That's important because we do have some Captain Britain appearances outside of his UK books to consider. The Black Knight story in Hulk Weekly continued more or less directly from Captain Britain's Marvel Team-Up appearances (not necessarily directly afterwards, but without any other CB appearances in between, although see Excalibur #53). But this series seems to continue directly from the Black Knight stories, and we still have three appearances of Captain Britain to contend with: Contest of Champions (Jun-Aug 82), the Hulk pardoning ceremony (Hulk #277-279 / Nov 82 - Jan 83), and the Wraith War (ROM #65-66 / Apr-May 85). In all of those appearances, Captain Britain is wearing his old costume, and in Contest of Champions, the earliest of the appearances, he's shown to already be friends with the Black Knight, placing it (and therefore all of them) at least during the UK Black Knight series, if not after. It's also worth noting that the Hulk's pardoning is mentioned in Daredevils #9, which is part of a story that basically continues directly from these issues. So Hulk #277-279 likely has to take place before these issues, unless we can find a break somewhere between here and Daredevils #9.
The problem with finding breaks in the Captain Marvel books is that, due to the format, all the stories pretty much run directly. With only a few pages each issue, it doesn't make a ton of sense to have downtime, so generally the stories are written such that they run into each other. There's also a lot of inter-dimensional travel where it wouldn't make sense for CB to pop back to regular Earth for an appearance. That problem is compounded for me since i have reprints that merge all the stories into a few trades. Even the single issue X-Men Archives reprints merge multiple original issues together. So there really isn't an opportunity to break up the stories generally, and it's even harder for me specifically.
I've already mentioned in the UK Black Knight entry that the MCP solves the problem by breaking up the Black Knight story and then putting Contest of Champions and the Hulk's pardoning in that gap. But that requires a pretty long gap (Contest of Champions #3 to Hulk #277) during which time the Black Knight's quest would have to be put on hold. And it doesn't solve the problem of Captain Britain's costume during the Wraith War. Which, granted, is only one of several costume problems in that story.
But i prefer to put the American appearances during a place where there's already a defined gap in the story, between the Black Knight quest and the beginning of this issue. Captain Britain would be wearing the appropriate costume, and there's no unexplained and unintended time gap. So that just leaves the question of how and why CB comes out of the inter-dimensional travel zone. I already suggested in the Black Knight entry that for Contest of Champions it could be a matter of the Grandmaster pulling Captain Britain in. But in these issues we see that Merlin and King Arthur deliberately steered Captain Britain to this alternate dimension. So couldn't they have also brought Captain Britain back a couple of times, when needed? The Wraith War is an obvious case where they'd want to ensure that Captain Britain was involved. Hulk's pardoning may seem more trivial, but it turns out to be an argument in Jim Jasper's anti-superhero crusade, so maybe Merlin and Arthur thought that it was important that Captain Britain be there. And thanks to Marvel Super Heroes #385, we know that these excursions wouldn't be the only times that CB left the inter-dimensional zone, and we could even say that Captain Britain's memory of the incident was forgotten, maybe temporarily, if necessary. Marvel Super Heroes #385 would take place last, due to the costume.
It's always worth remembering that in cases like these we're looking for the least bad option, especially since in this case what we're really dealing with is a lack of coordination between, essentially, two different publication houses. And in this type of situation i'd rather prioritize keeping a contiguous story together for narrative purposes rather than finding some break in between panels somewhere.
One final note: this story continues directly in Marvel Super Heroes #387, when Alan Moore begins writing. As noted above, i have that issue and the following issues in a trade paperback, but the trade only included the Alan Moore stories. So for issues #377-386, i had to buy the X-Men Archives featuring Captain Britain #1-2, even though issue #2 only has two 5-page stories that weren't in the Alan Moore trade. So i've covered the stories from X-Men Archives in this entry, and the rest are in an entry directly following this one.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: X-Men Archives featuring Captain Britain #1, X-Men Archives featuring Captain Britain #2
Inbound References (5): show
The British National Party (as seen in the poster) are a real-world political party. They are, basically, fascists, and were formed as a splinter group from the National Front at about the same time this was written/published. Whether the poster was a direct reference or merely a co-incidence is unclear, though.
Posted by: Stephen | March 3, 2015 4:59 PM
Man, that Untold Tale really helps solving the continuity issues with Captain Britain!
Posted by: Berend | March 3, 2015 5:07 PM
I was wondering just that Stephen. The name BNP had been used before (most prominently during World War II), so it could just be a coincidence. A quick google search hasn't brought up an exact date for the current BNP's founding.
Posted by: Berend | March 3, 2015 5:13 PM
The scene with Captain Britain going to the neighborhood was supposed to be Captain Britain going to Northern Ireland:
Posted by: Michael | March 3, 2015 8:16 PM
Note that Captain UK is referred to as a HE.
Posted by: Michael | March 5, 2015 7:53 AM
The Crazy Gang was presumably named after the team of British comics of that name.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | November 10, 2015 2:18 PM
Alan Davis might not think much of it himself, but his early efforts here show all the elements that make him such an amazing artist. The fluidity of the layouts and the characters, coupled with an excellent use of anatomy and facial characteristics. The combination of realism with cartoonish elements, getting the best of both worlds out of a comic book environment. His experimental nature with panels only adding to all the movement and energy he imbues the pages with. And as we will see when he continues his career, he can draw any Marvel character, hero or villain, perfectly on point while still being recognizably Davis art. I first thought that his art in these issues was helped by an inker because of all the good use of blacks, but then I saw he was the inker too. Impressive.
Posted by: PeterA | November 24, 2015 1:04 AM
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