Monday, August 19, 2013


First, a brief comics history lesson: In the 1970s, Marvel Comics started a British division, which eventually came to be known as Marvel U.K.  While this division of the company primarily reprinted stories originating in the United States, a decision was made to give the British fans their own new superhero. Thus was born Brian Braddock, better known to the world as Captain Britain.

Marvel U.K.'s editor-in-chief, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee's brother), tasked young Chris Claremont with the creation of Captain Britain. Claremont's version of the character was a physics student, the afore-named Brian Braddock, who was given a mystical pendant by Merlin the Magician and his daughter, Roma (though readers were unaware of the duo's true identities in Cap's origin story). Upon rubbing the pendant, Brian would transform into Britain's very own superhero, complete with a magical force field generating scepter and extra-human physical abilities.

Before proceeding further, I'll note that art for the majority of Cap's early stories is provided by Marvel stalwart Herb Trimpe, possibly best known for his stints on THE INCREDIBLE HULK and G.I. JOE. He seems to be trying for a Jack Kirby style here, and I like the results. Trimpe had apparently lived in London for a time, which may be part of the reason he was tapped to illustrate the adventures of British hero.

The version of Captain Britain we meet in BIRTH OF A LEGEND is a far cry from the man he will eventually become. This Cap cannot fly, and his strength level is nowhere near its eventual peak. He is more of a Spider-Man like character, relying on wits and agility to best his foes -- starting with the Reaver, whose real name is far more interesting than the codename he has chosen for himself.  It's one of those classic "only at 1970s Marvel" names -- Joshua Stragg.

When we first meet Stragg, he's wearing a brown suit, driving a huge Kirby Kontraption through a wall, and leading a force of armed men on an attack against the Darkmoor Research Centre, where Brian is serving some sort of internship. This underwhelming gentleman is the first villain our Captain faces, though he eventually winds up in a suit of knight's armor for their not-so-climactic battle.

Following Cap's origin story in the first two issues, Claremont uses the third installment to set up a personal life and status quo for our hero. First off, Cap thwarts a robbery by agents of the Vixen, London's mysterious crime lord. In the process he meets Chief Inspector Dai Thomas of the Criminal Investigations Division, a man who despises superheroes following his wife's death during a super-tussle in New York (it is always only vaguely referred to as a fight between a hero and villain, but flashbacks in later stories will imply it was actually a tussle between Thor and the Hulk). Thomas is an imported Claremont character, having been previously created by the writer for a "Blade the Vampire Hunter" story in MARVEL PREVIEW.

We next meet Brian's classmates, in a scene which sticks in my memory for the painfully expository way in which the students call one another by their full names and say a little something about themselves to let us know what their deal is.  There's Jacko Tanner, the "Flash Thompson" of the group, Sandy York, the nerd who vanishes in very short order, and the beautiful Courtney Ross, Brian's potential love interest.

Over the next few issues, Cap fights the villainous Hurricane and a demonic sorcerer named Dr. Synne. He meets another cop, this one a potential ally, named Kate Fraser (another previous Claremont creation from another vampire story in an issue of GIANT SIZE DRACULA), and we are introduced to his twin sister, Betsy -- a young lady with psychic powers who should be quite familiar to fans of the X-Men -- and their older brother, Jamie.

It's easy to see Claremont is setting up a very Spider-Man-esque dynamic here, with the college setting (Thames University), the Vixen filling the Kingpin's role, a hero mistrusted by the authorities (represented by Dai Thomas), classmate soap operatics (introverted Brian loves Courtney, but Jacko never lets him get near her), and of course, the fact that -- as noted above -- Cap is more of a Spider-Man archetype than the Superman he will later become. The brother and sister are pretty much the only departure from the classic Spider-Man formula.

But none of this matters in the long run, because Claremont leaves CAPTAIN BRITAIN after ten issues. And by the way, this series was published weekly, so he lasted a whopping two-and-a-half months. I believe Claremont chalks his departure up to creative differences with editor Lieber, and it's plain to see after his departure how their approaches differed...


Next time: Chris Claremont departs, and Captain America arrives!


  1. Trimpe had apparently lived in London for a time, which may be part of the reason he was tapped to illustrate the adventures of British hero.

    Claremont was born in England, and went to school there (I believe), which probably accounts for him getting this assignment as well, though I assume he wasn't actually in England when he wrote this series.

    Thomas is an imported Claremont character, having been previously created by the writer for a "Blade the Vampire Hunter" story in MARVEL PREVIEW.

    I did not know that. I assumed this was his first appearance.

    It's easy to see Claremont is setting up a very Spider-Man-esque dynamic here

    Indeed, and it actually sounds kinda intriguing, something I'd like to see more of - basically, Claremont doing a British Spider-Man sounds like something I'd like to read.

    I know you've said in the past that you weren't terribly impressed with these early Captain Britain stories; does that come later (via the different approach by Lieber you hinted at here), or was Claremont not really able to make the "British Spider-Man" angle work as well as it sounds?

  2. Teebore -- "Claremont was born in England, and went to school there..."

    Wow, I cannot believe I forgot to mention that. Thanks!!

    Teebore -- "I assumed this was his first appearance."

    Me too, until I Googled him while reading these stories. I was looking for something else; I don't recall what, and I was surprised to learn that he existed prior to his appearance as a Captain Britain cast member.

    Teebore -- "...was Claremont not really able to make the "British Spider-Man" angle work as well as it sounds?"

    Hmm, I didn't really clarify, did I? I actually like the early stuff here. I'm a fan of this vintage Claremont, before he became overly wordy in the 80s. He does a surprisingly good job of fitting into the Stan Lee mold the majority of Marvel's writers were aiming for at the time. It's the post-Claremont stuff that I'm not so keen on, as you'll see in my next post.


  3. I'm finally making my way through these posts again with more than a skim.

    Your analogy between Captain Britain and Spider-Man is apt, I guess — I'd totally forgot that Brian was a college student when introduced (even a grad-school contemporary of Peter Parker's, as you point out later, albeit eventually aged past him) — but the relatively modest power levels of his first incarnation didn't/don't bother me because they're right on par with Captain America. Steve Rogers being the product of an experiment and Brian Braddock having been granted his abilities by Merlin are a nice shorthand contrast between the USA and the UK, since the ingenuity of technological advancement, military or otherwise, is kind-of America's mythology — although I totally love the "dipped in magic, clothed in science" phrase that came with Captain Britain's later suit. As he was born into privilege, Brian is certainly nothing like Spidey or Cap in terms of his background, and by the time we get to Excalibur he's this haughty paragon who in some ways, drinking aside even, reminds me more of Tony Stark than anyone else.

    1. Thanks for reading, Blam! I agree; later Cap strays far from his origins. I totally see some Tony Stark in there, and of course his powers become a super-simplified Superman archetype, what with the super-strength, invulnerability, and flight. He's practically a different character by then.