Monday, August 26, 2013

CAPTAIN BRITAIN PART TWO -
CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE RED SKULL

Before leaving CAPTAIN BRITAIN WEEKLY, Chris Claremont gave our hero an origin, introduced an antagonist on the police force, a mysterious criminal mastermind, and provided a good-sized, if somewhat derivative, supporting cast. Even with his departure, he had left a status quo in place and ready to use for the next writer. So naturally, pretty much all of it was junked immediately.

Art by Herb Trimpe
The most glaring such instance is the story of the Vixen. Admittedly, Claremont himself somewhat drops that storyline; name-dropped in issue #3, the Vixen is never heard from again for the rest of Claremont's tenure -- but as noted last time, that would only have been about eight more weeks.  A reasonable amount of time to let a sub-plot rest before eventualy returning to it.  But fans would wait about seven more years until Alan Moore's stint as writer to even hear the Vixen's name again!

The first stories after Claremont leaves are credited to Gary Friedrich, a holdover writer from Marvel's Silver Age, possibly best known for a long run on SGT. FURY. Friedrich's Silver Age credentials seem to be just what editor Larry Lieber wanted, because for the remainder of his editorial run, the series is mired in an overly simplistic style.

This almost has to be the point of contention between Claremont and Lieber, because while Claremont went on to evolve X-MEN into one of the most sophisticated comics of the era, CAPTAIN BRITAIN was wallowing somewhere around the level of 1950s Superman. It starts when the demonic sorcerer, Dr. Synne, introduced by Claremont just before his departure, is revealed as a projection created by a supercomputer hidden beneath Brian Braddock's ancestral home. The malevolent computer is called Mastermind, and was built by Brian's father, who, along with his mother, it then murdered.

We may never know what Claremont had planned for Dr. Synne or for the mystery of Brian's parents' deaths -- something which was teased before he quit the series -- but it almost certainly wasn't this.

Immediately following the defeat of the Mastermind computer, Captain Britain meets Captain America, who has been dispatched by SHIELD to investigate Britain's new hero. This leads into a painfully drawn-out epic in which the two captains battle the Red Skull, who somehow, in a matter of hours, recruits several home-grown British nazis to his cause, kidnaps the Prime Minister, and basically takes control of the country. Cap and Cap thwart him of course, but the entire affair, which should be an epic adventure story, struggles painfully to a lackluster conclusion involving the Skull's plot to blow up Big Ben.

The Red Skull "epic" is notable, however, for introducing STRIKE, Britain's equivalent of SHIELD, and that group's commander, Lance Hunter, who goes on to be a regular recurring character for the rest of Lieber's editorship. The rest of Cap's supporting cast -- sister Betsy, brother Jamie, Courtney Ross, Jacko Tanner, and Inspector Dai Thomas -- make periodic appearances during the painfully long storyline, but their parts are superfluous to the main story, usually just reacting to TV news reports about the Skull or Captain Britain.

Also, it's neither here nor there, but worth noting that Betsy was a charter pilot when we first met her, owing to Chris Claremont's love of independent career women and classic aircraft. When she reappears during the Red Skull storyline, her profession has suddenly and inexplicibly changed -- she is now a fashion model! Another instance of an abrupt direction change upon the shift in writers.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Next up: the cataclysmic conclusion to Lovable Larry Lieber's questionable stewardship of Captain Britain!

2 comments:

  1. Huh. I haven't read these issues, yet recall reading a mention of Mastermind (the evil super computer) somewhere, probably a Claremont issue of something.

    All of which is to say that at least when Claremont gets to write the character again in some capacity, he acknowledges some of the things that happened after he left the book, rather than just junking it entirely, as seemingly happened to so much of his material on the book.

    her profession has suddenly and inexplicibly changed -- she is now a fashion model!

    I seem to recall the "Acts of Vengeance" issues of X-Men acknowledging that transition during Psylocke's transformation. Now the shift from pilot to model makes more sense - in that it came about through shifting writers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As we'll soon see, Alans Moore and Davis revisit Mastermind during their Cap run. I believe Ben Raab brought it back near the end of EXCALIBUR, as well.

    I haven't read those "Acts of Vengeance" X-Men issues in years, though I do recall one had a flashback recap (hencforth to be known as a flashcap) of Betsy's life. It doesn't surprise me that Claremont addressed the discrepancy. He took a surprising interest in Betsy, considering that he only wrote her for a few very short strips when she first appeared.

    Anyway, thanks for the info -- I'll look at it when I get home later.

    ReplyDelete