Captain Britain Reading Diary 3: Enemy in the Front Room

Captain Britain Reading Diary 3: Enemy in the Front Room

Captain Britain Weekly is dead; long live Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain! Super Spider-Man had been a weekly magazine headlined by Spidey. Now, starting with issue #231, it also contained the Captain. Spider-Man came first, with fourteen pages of Lee/Buscema reprint. Then CB (still all-new material) got seven, followed by The Avengers (reprints) and then

Captain Britain Weekly is dead; long live Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain!

Super Spider-Man had been a weekly magazine headlined by Spidey. Now, starting with issue #231, it also contained the Captain. Spider-Man came first, with fourteen pages of Lee/Buscema reprint. Then CB (still all-new material) got seven, followed by The Avengers (reprints) and then Captain America (reprints). This is where Jim Lawrence took over the scripting duties for Captain Britain— the first British voice behind Brian’s.

Jim Lawrence was fresh off of eleven years of James Bond comic strips (with Yaroslav Horak for the Express (a newspaper)), and he didn’t immediately take over plotting duties. Finishing the Jubilee story—which saw solid complaint from readers who saw it as patronising pandering from Big America to lil ol’ Britain—Lawrence provided dialogue to fill out the pages plotted by Bob Budiansky. This was undoubtedly a good thing, because he was James Bond through and through… Although Budiansky is not the most Marvelicious of writers either. In their debut issue of Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain, Brian gets beaten up by sailors, smashes a motorcycle, and Dai Thomas makes sure the villain flies his plane directly into the ocean. Then we all get thanked by the Queen. Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos provided lines for this first story, with Mike Esposito giving it some texture with ziptones in the place of more expensive colour. Watanabe is still lettering, and Lieber remains the editor.

Lieber took over from Budiansky on plotting for Lawrence’s scripts on a two-part Loch Ness Monster story (several letters about how the many Marvel Nessies fit in just on Loch followed) that’s actually a robot crewed by aliens, and Lawrence and Lieber further collaborated on the plots for Wrath of the Black Baron and Five Tickets to Terror. Both of these stories are completely free of anything that feels like a Marvel identity, going so far as to exist uncomfortably alongside aspects of American titles inhabiting the same world— the Black Baron, the greatest and most magical vampire ever, isn’t congruent with events and character within the excellent Tomb of Dracula, and the use of the word “mutants” to describe creatures in the Tickets story is patently aX-Men. Without evaluating it as, specifically, a Marvel product, Laurence’s dialogue is good, the banter is sharp and has rhythm, although his devotion to having Brian call women dolly-birds is irksome and “Taffy” as a nickname for Thomas, a presumable Welshman, is just rude.

Looking at it as a superhero comic though, Lawrence’s scripts are insufficient. They’re notably non-psychological, making the costumed/powered aspect somewhat pointless and backstory effectively irrelevant. He also seemed to prefer to work with CB, rather than Brian as a civilian identity— internally or otherwise. Why have a secret identity if you don’t have a public one? That’s a fair question to ask within a work, if you’re asking it. Lawrence wasn’t.

Lawrence was scripting alone (that is, without plot assists) for only two of his last issues, #244 and #247. These are the second and last chapters of a fairly classic Bond-style caper, seeing Captain Britain (no sign of B Braddock) go up against a murderous thief and find his way onto a businessman’s magnificent yacht. Lawrence must be tipped the hat, as the murderous thief in question is Slaymaster— an enemy who looms large in the chronology of this hero. Sure, it looks like he’s eaten by sharks at the end, and his later reappearances were probably predicated on his being the only Captain Britain enemy who wasn’t a loopy old man! But creative credit is creative credit.

Super-Spider-Man and Captain Britain #243, Jim Lawrence, Mike Esposito, Ron Wilson, Larry Lieber

All we learn about Slaymaster here is that he’s possibly not British, and that he’s learnt killing on several continents. It’s also in this last 1970s weekly story that Betsy Braddock’s modelling career is introduced, in two minor panels that are all the modelling she does on-page in all of Marvel UK’s material. Jamie, the elder Braddock sibling, is still a racing driver, and is seen hoping Brian had come to wish him luck before a race. He hadn’t. Wilson and Esposito don’t take especial pains to make any of the three Braddocks retain much of the air they previously had— Betsy moves easily before a camera where before she was shy and floppy; Jamie projects less self-possession.

In November 1977, that was that: Marvel UK ceased production of new Captain Britain material. The CB slot in Super Spider-Man was filled by black and white reprints of Claremont and Byrne’s Marvel Team-Up #65-66 story featuring Spider-Man and Captain Britain. Brian Braddock, physics student on university exchange, is sent to stay at Peter Parker’s flat. Then they both get kidnapped… by Arcade… in his debut. Yes, we can thank Captain Britain for the existence of the most bullshit and aggravating supervillain of all time. It’s a decent little story, though, and reintroduces some forgotten elements. If Lawrence, Lieber, et al had overlooked Brian’s feelings for Courtney Ross, or even put aside the necessity for Brian to exist internally at all, their mutual co-creator had not. This is a problem with much of Claremont’s return-to-the-title output; his preference for ignoring what came after and just doing it his way. But as very little time had passed in real life, and about as much in-universe, it really doesn’t matter here at all. For his part, Byrne makes Brian rather adorable.

Clothed

Unclothed

After he left Peter Parker, Brian Braddock wasn’t seen for the next year and a half. His name didn’t appear on a masthead for the next four.

NEXT TIME: The wizard who invited himself for lunch!

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Series Navigation<< Captain Britain Reading Diary 2: S.T.R.I.K.E While the Day is HotCaptain Britain Reading Diary 4: Napping on Your Cousin’s Sofa >>