MerlinMike CollinsJamie DelanoCaptain Britain
Captain Britain volume 5 - End Game
Medium: comic
Year: 1983-1986
Country: UK
Writer: Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Alan Davis, Steve Craddock, Mike Collins
Artist: Alan Davis, Mike Collins, Mark Farmer
Keywords: Captain Britain, King Arthur, Merlin, Special Executive, superhero
Format: 292 pages
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 15 December 2011
Mandatory... so of course you already own the Alan Moore comics herein, or even also the Jamie Delano ones too. I did. Are you willing to buy the same comics again for the sake of twenty "new" pages of Mike Collins and Mark Farmer?
There are two main blocks of comics here, plus bits and pieces. Going through in order:
1. ALAN MOORE'S RUN, PART TWO (written by Moore, art by Davis), pp6-68
Brilliant, of course. However make sure you read it back-to-back with the first half of Moore's Captain Britain run, or else you'll miss all the set-up and it'll just look like another rubber-reality battle. Comics has a lot of those. They're something that work uniquely well in that medium, after all.
I will point out though that this 200-page saga might make the best use of parallel universes that I've seen. I hate parallel universes, you see. They suck. However these Marvel UK Captain Britain comic strips are steeped in them and somehow turn that ball and chain into something rather wonderful. Moore, Thorpe, Delano and even Parkhouse's Otherworld all helped weave this tapestry... but let's face it. The real power comes from Moore.
It ends on its left foot, so to speak. We've had the funeral and the reunion with old friends, bringing back the Black Knight and more, but then things kind of trickle away until it all ends with just a little panel and "never the end". That's clearly the intention, though. The baton is being passed to...
2. ALAN DAVIS FILL-INS (written by Davis, Craddock & Collins, art by Davis), pp69-92
Alan Davis writes and draws three episodes. On two of them he has a co-author, but what's interesting is that he does pretty well. He's learned enough from Moore to aim a bit higher than mere fisticuffs and these three episodes are a chunky block of storytelling.
Captain Britain discovers Meggan the hard way and a lot happens to the two of them in the space of twenty-four pages. Meggan unfolds and reveals some unexpected, fun wrinkles in her character. (She's more entertaining here than she would be in all of Delano's run, incidentally.) However there's also darker material here, reaching its peak in the rather wonderful Tea and Sympathy. Admittedly its idea is better than its slightly plodding dialogue, but it's all worth it for the inspired image of a ridiculously huge Captain Britain blocking the front door and apologising to a tiny housewife. "I'm responsible for your son's death."
Apparently Davis had been planning to write and draw the whole thing himself. He had to abandon that idea on finding himself in demand at DC, but I'd have liked to see where he'd have taken this. The third of these three episodes, In All The Old Familiar Places, is the messiest, but it's also a massive pointer to future stories that in the end got subsumed into...
3. JAMIE DELANO'S RUN (written by Delano, art by Davis), pp94-249
To my surprise, I've realised that I don't really like this... or its second half, anyway. I don't think it knows where it's going. Delano's heart isn't in it. Of course he's still a fine writer and a lot of his work here is well worth reading, but nonetheless I prefer the lunacy of Parkhouse's Black Knight or even David Thorpe. There are those who'd say those were barely readable, mind you. Some might call them rubbish. However they're also energetic to a fault and bursting with ideas. They're childish, yes, but can't childish fun be better than plodding maturity?
However Delano's Captain Britain stories are never worse than okay. For a while they're even excellent and I only started being tempted to skim-read when Delano gets bogged down in vaguely sinister scheming with Michael, Raphael and Mastermind, while Captain Britain and Meggan go off on tourist jaunts (African, Russian, Peru).
It starts well. Delano writes the funniest Captain Britain to date, e.g. Gatecrasher's Technet and the Crazy Gang's gloriously uncomprehending attempts at crime. Captain Britain vs. Slaymaster never fails to be cool, despite the fact that there are a million villains exactly like him in comics. Meanwhile The House of Baba Yaga has a slight tinge of horror and to me feels inspired by Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. (Do the dates match up with that notion or am I talking through my arse? Well, never mind.) Even the big recap episode I can forgive, since it wasn't written for a graphic collection but instead for issue one of a new monthly magazine.
4. SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTANCE (written and drawn by Davis), pp251-263
Finishing it all off. Captain Britain pretending to be a Scottish gangster is kind of embarrassing, but I like what Davis is doing with Chief Inspector Dai Thomas.
5. THE CHERUBIM - PLAYGROUNDS AND PARASITES! (script and pencils by Collins, inks by Farmer), pp264-283
If you've been buying earlier collections of the Moore or Delano material, this will be the only part of the book you haven't seen before. You can tell because it hasn't been coloured. This was a spin-off of the main Captain Britain strip, running in the same magazine and starring a bunch of simpleminded superpowered freak children from a Delano episode. It managed four five-page episodes, then was apparently cut short by the cancellation of the magazine. I wouldn't have known though, because its de facto ending stands quite well as it is.
I quite liked this. It's not brilliant, but it has an awesome cast and I'd have been happy to see where Collins and Farmer took it next.
Overall, there's something awkward and lumpy about Marvel UK's Captain Britain. The bite-sized pacing's odd if you're used to American comics, or even to DWM. It's ludicrously uneven, sometimes even within the same creative team's run. (Hello, Delano.) In some ways, it's a time capsule of a long-gone British comics industry that's hardly even remembered today. Personally though I think it's interesting for precisely these qualities and I like the cracked, looking-glass Captain Britain universe that emerges from these stories, like a cross between Spawn and Rupert Bear. Even the loopiest creators here bring something unique to the table, so even the mighty Alan Moore is far from the only show in town. It's worth a look.