Captain Britain’s very first comic, with a very outdated giveaway mask – Captain Britain #1
It wasn’t long ago that we looked at some of the Marvel UK adventures of Captain Britain, perfidious Albion’s favorite costumed native son. All fine and dandy, as the adventures of Brian Braddock coming out of the House of Ideas branch in merry old(e) England wound up being quite significant to their greater fictional world. Alan Moore’s throwaway Multiverse, intended as a device to introduce the concept of multiple Captains in multiple Great Britains, became a way to expand on the regular doings in the 616 Earth, and a means to explain alternate timelines, like the Ultimates, as “real.” Again: fine and dandy. Captain Britain, Excalibur, Alan Davis, all great stuff.
But we forget that Captain Britain didn’t always have the Union Jack tights look, and that he used to beat up villains with a staff he toted about. Which makes it nice that the very first Captain Britain adventure recently was acquired by the Blog into Mystery archives, so that we can remind ourselves and paw through it to our hearts’ content. We can delve headlong into his very first appearance. And, yes, it comes with a Captain Britain mask.
This first adventure — or part of an adventure — is crafted by two industry heavyweights, Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe, the former on the cusp of his incredibly long, incredibly successful run as X-Men scribe extraordinaire. (Fred Kida handles the inking duties.) The Captain Britain material in this debut comic is brief, serialized as it was like so much of Marvel UK’s output, and it’s backed up by a Fantastic Four reprint (in black and white) and a delightful Jim Steranko Nick Fury yarn from Strange Tales (in color — or colour, as it were). The mag is thin, but of magazine dimensions, with cover using the same newsprint as the pages inside — making it a very delicate item indeed.
Britain’s maiden voyage, thanks to Trimpe’s art, feels like it could have been a part of Marvel’s 1960s heyday, what with the Kirby-esque explosive action and square-tipped fingers that were losing some of their predominance as time ebbed into the 1980s. That gives Britain a sub-conscious luster, in that he’d feel very much at home with the Iron Mans and Hulks of the world (thanks to Trimpe, especially the Hulks). Though he wasn’t really a part of Marvel’s cohesive superstructure at this point, it very much seemed that he could (and should) be.
But because of the space constraints, there isn’t a lot of Britain in the opening eight page salvo. While the rest of the material is a flashback explaining how mild-mannered Brian Braddock came by his miraculous powers, the first couple pages are two-fistedly exciting in the Mighty Marvel Manner. To wit:
Really, what wouldn’t any of us give to have our punches generate immensely satisfying THOD! and BROW! sound effects? Alas, only in comics.
As you can guess by Britain’s interior monologue, this is his first day on the job. The rest of the time we see him in his former life (former life of minutes before), back when he was simply a young physicist working at a secret nuclear reactor while puffing amiably on his pipe:
His workday is rudely interrupted by Joshua Stragg, know as the Reaver, who busts into the facility (stealing some of the Mole Man’s tunneling routine) to kidnap the minds within:
Oh, and by the way: SKBRAM!
Braddock makes his escape, hops on a motorcycle, but is hunted down and apparently killed. But no — he happens to come upon Merlin, of all people/wizards, and Roma (the latter of whom will remain unnamed for a very long while):
And so our Britain genesis ends — FOR NOW. He’d take the amulet, which for a time would be the source of his powers. He’d have a staff, as seen in the action bits above, which was his villain-stompin’ weapon of choice. Later on his powers would become more innate, and he’d get the tight-fitting costume we know and love. But this was the old Captain Britain, and he with others he stands as proof that heroes don’t always have to emerge with their looks fully formed.
In addition to the reprints, there are several other items of note in the book. Stan Lee himself, the paterfamilias of Marveldom, pops in to christen this new character with his distinct puffery — and it’s the suave, turtlenecked ladies man Stan we’ve seen before on the cover of FOOM #1:
Ah, Stan. He looks fully prepared to take a lady out for some fondue, and then bring her back to his sex pad and its revolving bed.
For the younger readers among us, there are also some games to be had, in case there are no paper placemats around to sate the need for mazes. Though Captain Britain’s stern visage isn’t exactly synonymous with a “FUN PAGE”:
So tea with Mr. Fantastic is the big prize at the other end of the maze. Of course it is.
And then there’s the Captain Britain mask. When I was a kid, there was a Luke Skywalker “mask” printed on the back of a box of C-3PO’s cereal. (Remember C-3PO’s cereal? I ate boxes of that stuff at a time. It was a sad, sad day when it disappeared forever from Grand Union shelves.) It was a colossal disappointment, and looked unspeakably creepy when you cut out Mark Hamill’s eyes so that you could see through it. The Britain mask came loose in the comic (attached with a weak, non-damaging adhesive, which you can see to on the left below), and is usually absent when you find copies. Here it is you want to print it, poke the eye-holes out, tie some string through the holes, put it on and, oh, I don’t know, strip naked and run howling through the streets — not that I’m going to do that or anything:
Not to be a stick-in-the-mud, but I’m not sure that Captain Britain had the “Captain Britain” masthead logo on his mask, as if Mama Britain was labeling his underwear or something. Just saying — it robs a bit of the vérité, you know?
There you have it. Captain Britain: The Man, the Myth, the Beginning of a Legend. And THE (cardboard) MASK. Excelsior, from across the Atlantic.