Captain Britain and MI: 13 #1

Written by Paul Cornell
Penciled by Leonard Kirk
Inked by Jesse Delperdang
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

Poor Captain Britain. Ever since the original run of Excalibur ended, it’s been hard for him to support a comic. It’s hard to say what it is that just doesn’t grab readers. Is it the large reading population in the United States that doesn’t want to read about a British character. Or maybe just a lack of inspiration on what to do with him? Marvel seems to hope it’s the latter, and so they’re launching another attempt: Captain Britain and MI: 13. Hopefully this attempt will be a little less awkward than the title of the comic.

The shapeshifting alien race of the Skrulls have invaded the planet, infiltrating people’s lives as well as going at times for a less subtle, blow-everyone-up approach. The invasion isn’t confined to America, though, with Skrulls everywhere you look in the United Kingdom. Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom, and Spitfire are trying to fend off the invasion, but their greatest hope might just be a Skrull that looks like John Lennon. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

From a sales perspective, it’s easy to see why Marvel decided to launch Captain Britain and MI: 13 as part of a tie-in to Secret Invasion. That way, people interested not only in Captain Britain and MI: 13 but also the big company-wide crossover are likely to pick the book up, and hopefully some of those additional readers will stick around. As a member of what is probably a minority of readers who is interested in the idea of Captain Britain and MI: 13 but couldn’t care less about Secret Invasion, though, it is a tiny bit frustrating. Paul Cornell does the best he can with the situation, no doubt helped by the fact that he’d already created John the Skrull back in his Wisdom mini-series, and having a bit of a logical line connecting the two books. The opening scene with John facing an execution squad certainly goes a long way towards setting up the situation for the non-Secret Invasion readers in the pack, and from there it could almost be a generic invasion force that this team of characters is facing instead of a specific, must-read-the-mini-series sort of event.

As for the characters themselves, it’s a strange mix that Cornell has assembled. It’s Cornell’s original creation of Dr. Faiza Hussain that stood out the most for me, a level-headed woman who is also a huge fan of super-heroes. It’s a simple enough hook of a character, but Cornell doesn’t oversell her, giving us an excited character but one that doesn’t get so over the top as to annoy readers. The rest of the cast isn’t quite as well defined in this first issue; Spitfire is barely a blur (to use a bad speed-powers pun), and the Black Knight’s "this is why I’m now going to be flippant in this comic" comes across as a little too forced. Pete Wisdom and Captain Britain come off a little better, thankfully, but even they don’t seem to get too much when it comes to being inside their heads. This first issue of Captain Britain and MI: 13 seems to be more about the spectacle than anything else, and while it seems to come to an end before it’s barely begun (I do miss the old tradition of a double-sized first issue) it certainly is fun.

Leonard Kirk’s pencils in Captain Britain and MI: 13 are good but not great. I do have to say that he’s at his best when it comes to drawing the more natural looking characters of the book—Dr. Faiza Hussain, the Black Knight in his t-shirt and jeans, and a dead-on perfect John the Skrull that makes me wonder just how many reference images of John Lennon that Kirk has assembled for the job. On the other hand, Captain Britain wouldn’t be recognizable if he didn’t have his outfit; as someone who got into super-hero comics through Chris Claremont and Alan Davis’s run on Excalibur (and then went and tracked down Alan Moore and Jamie Delano’s times with the character as well), it was almost jarring at how this slim, flat-haired guy kept wearing Captain Britain’s suit. Kirk also seems fond of the idea of drawing tears in those super-hero suits; Spitfire and Captain Britain both fall prey to that in this first issue, and while I understand that it’s a visual shorthand to show that they’ve been in battle, it actually gets a little distracting, both visually as well as wondering why they aren’t using stronger fabric for something they regularly wear into battle. Hopefully that will go away soon, along with a slightly stronger sense of action. Kirk’s good at characters when they’re in portrait, but in a fight it doesn’t seem to work so well; when the majority of the characters show up to fight the Skrulls, I spent more time wondering how the heck they’d all ended up in those strange, awkward poses than actually reading the comic.

Captain Britain and MI: 13 #1 is a good enough first issue, but I can’t help but hope that later ones are going to pick up a little bit more. I’d like to see this book have a long, healthy life and I can’t help but think that keeping a large percentage of Secret Invasion readers is going to be critical to that. Captain Britain and MI: 13 may not be a perfect book, but I did have enough fun (especially with the idea of what the Skrulls identified as Britain’s most valuable resource that should be destroyed) to want to keep reading.

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