Captain Britain #1

Marvel began its British publishing arm in 1972, its product consisting of a variety of weekly comics that reprinted various US strips. In 1976, it was noticed that rival British publisher DC Thompson had recently scored a big sales success with the weekly Warlord comic. The other major British comics publisher IPC/Fleetway responded by starting up Battle weekly. The war theme had always loomed large in British boys’ comics. To counter all this, Marvel UK editor Neil Tennant (yes, the same Neil Tennant who later left comics to become a rock star with the Pet Shop Boys) requested that perhaps Marvel might like to generate an original war comic to compete with Warlord and Battle.

Marvel ultimately chose not to pursue the war angle, but decided that the time was right for a little original content in the British Marvel line. The new title would be a superhero title, and to hammer home the point, the lead character was given the name Captain Britain. If Captain America was a solid representative of his country, perhaps Captain Britain could perfom a similar function for his.

Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe were chosen to be the creators of the new comic, seemingly just because Claremont was born here and Trimpe had holidayed here for a while. They were perhaps not overly keen on their new assignment, and the strip suffers for it. The work was carried out in the US, with the final pasted up pages and/or the negatives for the printing plates shipped over to the UK for printing.

Issue one is dated October 13, 1976, and features an action-packed cover by Larry Lieber doing his best Jack Kirby impression.

The lead strip runs seven pages and is in colour, which was unique for UK Marvel comics at that time. The tale opens with Captain Britain in the middle of a fight scene. Even the good Captain seems confused as to what the heck is going on! His thought ballons are filled with the best Claremont purple prose, letting us know that Cap has no idea who he is, or what he’s doing fighting a gold armour-clad bad guy. He decides – in the middle of a fight remember! – to cast his mind back to how he got here.

Cue flashback: Darkmoor Nuclear Research Centre (the spellings are reassuringly British) is abuzz with activity. Young, pipe-smoking (!) science assistant Brian Braddock, assists Dr Travis. Outside we see a flying craft descend. Suddenly, the walls explode as the place is attacked by a horde of armour-clad gunmen, led by a be-suited midget who pilots a huge robotic vehicle. His name, as he helpfully shouts to the world, is Joshua Stragg – the Reaver! His plan is to gas and kidnap all the scientists and then have them work exclusively for him! No job centre advertisements for Joshua Stragg, clearly!

In the confusion, Dr Travis is shot, and Braddock escapes. He jumps onto a motor cycle and roars away, only to be startled by the lights from a passing “hovercraft”! He loses control of his bike and careens off a cliff, the bike bursts into flames.

Somehow, Braddock survives and hears some mystical dialogue in his mind. Looking up, he sees a vision of a bearded figure with long white hair hanging in the sky. He’s told that he is in an ancient circle of power, and, indeed, Trimpe draws a few standing stones — nothing that’ll give Stonehenge a run for its money though. He’s also told that he’s here to be judged. A sword appears buried in one of the stones, while around another hangs an amulet. The beardy guy tells Braddock that he must make a choice; a choice that could mean life or death for both himself and the world..!

Continued next week!

Trimpe’s art, while solid enough in its storytelling, is not very strong, probably due to the rush the weekly schedule put the creative team under. Fred Kida’s inks also don’t help. Claremont is merely coasting: young hero? Check. Secret base? Check. Ugly bad guy? Check. One interesting point: when he awakes, Braddock is welcomed to “the Siege Perilous”. Not a big deal at the time, but that title would become important a decade later in Claremont’s X-Men work.

Following the strip, there’s s one-page letter from Stan Lee in which he claims all of Britain has been waiting for Captain Britain. If only that were true…

The back up strips take the form of Lee and Buscema Fantastic Four reprints, and some early Steranko Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD material.

British comics usually give away a free gift with the early issues, and Captain Britain was no exception. A Captain Britain half-mask made of genuine cardboard, meant that kids up and down the land were able to act out the startling adventures of their very own superhero. Ah, heady days.