Captain Britain Reading Diary 6: Getting Horny Now (But Not Like That!!)

Captain Britain Reading Diary 6: Getting Horny Now (But Not Like That!!)

Alan Davis and Dave Thorpe relaunched CB in a new costume, and when Thorpe left due to what are intriguingly referred to as “political reasons” Alan Moore wrote a few strips. CB is naturally devoured by his fame monster. It’s hard for me to chip past all of my personal ire and find the shape

Alan Davis and Dave Thorpe relaunched CB in a new costume, and when Thorpe left due to what are intriguingly referred to as “political reasons” Alan Moore wrote a few strips. CB is naturally devoured by his fame monster.

The Daredevils #1 cover, Marvel UK, 1983, Paul Neary

It’s hard for me to chip past all of my personal ire and find the shape of my actual criticisms for this short era. What I can say, a criticism I can rely on, is that you don’t need to read these Alan/Alan Captain Britain comics. I read them once (I actually had them read to me, but I was looking at the pictures); I tried to read them again to firm up some details and failed because they’re just a drag, but I don’t say that they’re skippable out of pure taste. I say it because every aspect of these comics is available elsewhere in their more primary, prideful forms. Alan Davis’ art, even on Captain Britain? Available elsewhere, to the left and to the right. Captain Britain himself? Available elsewhere with far more presence. Every element of Alan Moore Comics you might point out in this one? Available elsewhere, with more time taken and more respect given. If you’re looking for the pocket into which Moore dipped for ten years’ worth ideas, it’s here. I suppose that will excite the Alan Moore fan in the audience but the Captain Britain reader in me is dismayed and annoyed; having read his concurrent and subsequent work, to pick up this piece of contribution to an existing, shared canon is to find something I’ve already seen, I mean things, motifs, I’ve entirely seen, in more famous comics. It’s to see a period of publication marked OBSOLETE: OUTMODED AND OUTPERFORMED by its writer. I can perceive the excitement this might stir in the scholar and I can observe an argument that it should also enthuse me as a critic, but it doesn’t. I’m not only a critic, and nothing else—if I were I’d still neg this on the grounds of eroded enjoyment for the reader. Moore may have thought that these comics would sink softly back into the channel, calm waters hiding their history, and that may have been a reasonable assumption. But he was wrong. I’m not going to get into fisticuffs about it but it’s the truth that overwriting his own stories made those stories worse, and that as both Captain Britain stories and Alan Moore stories these Alan Moore Captain Britain chapters are grim.

Mrs McGeary dies, Moore/Davis Captain Britain, Marvel UK

Mrs McGeary, a character design from the Davis/Thorpe period (shopping bag and all), meets her death

A very nice man whom I respect, Colin Smith, has entirely different evaluations of Moore’s CB right here. Completely opposite to mine! I provide this for you as a valve.

If you count a textually exaggerated storybook massacre as “one,” there are twenty-nine on-page deaths in the two hundred pages that comprise Captain Britain: A Crooked World, the coloured collection of Davis/Moore CB comics (it’s missing only the final page of Thorpe’s last strip, which is allegedly and believably script-attributed to Moore instead). There are further mutilations and skeletons, and a concentration camp, but that high number of illustrated obliterations makes the point best: this is a miserable, gruelling story full of discards. In the 80s Moore never really wrote like he was making a world to keep, but it’s strange to me that Thorpe is the one remembered as the superhero disliker. Moore’s personal opinion of Brian, according to the Smith piece above (though I must say, I can’t corroborate his quotation), was no better than his predecessor’s and his narrative stance toward the hero rather worse. He takes every opportunity to write about somebody else, whether it’s his OC alternate Captain, Captain UK, or his OC Doctor Who mercenary space furry Wardog, or his own and implicitly the “truest” version of Merlin/Merlyn, his new version of Betsy, or the various supporting characters he added around Betsy and Wardog. There’s one chapter that’s about Brian alone, and in it he takes an AI’s identity away from it without a single qualm and is described as having been too proud, as a child, to (I’m paraphrasing) single-handedly demolish the English class system. Don’t worry! Things stay fair: this story also makes sure to portray working class people as easily befuddled by money, xenophobia, or commands.

The transition from Thorpe to Moore is as all-change as the transition from Black Knight to Captain Britain. In his first whole chapter Moore kills Saturnyne’s primary supporting character (a fat man who cries, bereft at being abandoned by his slim mistress, while he dies) and Captain Britain’s cute/jolly elf friend Jackdaw (who just, last chapter, unexpectedly turned out not to be dead after all, and who whispers to Brian that he’ll definitely be saved by his master Merlin (again) as he dies). Brian helpfully informs us that something appalling has happened to Jackdaw’s legs, in case we were wondering exactly how this lil fella caught the robot laser blast that did him in. In Moore’s second innings he kills Brian— our hero is rebuilt in his entirety, body and mind, in chapter three. A handy way to do a recap issue, a simple way to insulate oneself from any accusation of acanonicity in future, but also an absolute statement of ownership. These toys belong to Alan Moore now! He can break them if he likes. He can smear them with dirt.

He kills his ur-Merlin right before he leaves, too. Piss on the doormat, you’re moving out, wahoo!

But it’s not just through death that this claim to an ultimately discarded toybox is staked. Thorpe and Davis’ villain Mad Jim Jaspers and their interestingly amoral rival-cum-ally Saturnyne were both cleared from the board by Thorpe, having served their purpose within his stories. Moore immediately hauls both back, which isn’t a problem in itself but it’s hard to read (especially, unfortunately, in collection) comics which are incongruent. Saturnyne, previously, was assigned a mission to bring on enlightenment in a lagging reality (political satire! An only-slightly-worse England was the worst possible reality!). She begrudged it. As per Moore she’s the absolute ruler of the omniverse, who has been deposed and imprisoned because she failed this mission which, now, she presumably assigned herself. Mad Jim Jaspers is no longer a wacky bank robber with a loosely Alice-themed gang and a helicopter shaped like a teapot. He’s a MySpace-gurning supervillain who’s a reality-warping mutant and a genius and a Knight and a Lord and an MP who rabble-roused the country into OKing a cybernetic robot he built that’s powerful enough to murder every single superhero, which it did. And a bank robber with a wacky gang and a flying teapot. Which all comes as the reveal of a single page. It’s a bit much.

That’s the problem, formally, with his scripts for these two hundred pages: thirty year old Alan Moore is far more of a percussion artist than I’d like. He fills a darkened room with sounds and gosh you could say that the room seems haunted, but if you close your eyes, and then if you squint, you can figure all the noise is coming from one speaker and you can just about make out the shape of it.

Moore's features in Daredevils #1, Marvel UK

Moore’s features in Daredevils #1, circled

With Moore, CB moved from its five-page slot in weekly Marvel Super Heroes #383 to monthly mag The Daredevils, edited by Bernie Jaye. Moore and Jaye patently got on like a house on fire. She gave him the run of the magazine—its eleven issues contained not only far longer chapters of CB but also reprinted Moore’s earlier Doctor Who stand-alone collaborations, as they introduced Wardog (I wasn’t joking; he’s literally just a transplanted original character from slightly earlier work printed in Doctor Who Magazine, another Marvel UK publication) and some of his teammates, multi-part features by Alan Moore on subjects such as sexism in comics, Frank Miller’s skills and Stan Lee hype, zine reviews by Alan Moore and bonus Alan Moore strip collaborations. The first issue of Daredevils alone features three Moore features! It also features a headshot, providing readers late to the V for Vendetta/Marvelman party begun in 1982 with not only the barrage and volume of authority but the notable image necessary to build an idol around. Indeed, this heavy presence was recognised by letter writers, most of whom were ecstatic.

“[U]ndoubtedly the finest writer in British comics”—Nigel Robers, Daredevils #4

moore headshot, The Daredevils #1, 1983

“Mr Moore is really a wonderful writer”—Paul, Edinburgh, Daredevils #7

“Alan Moore is the British Frank Miller, everybody’s praying to him – deservedly so.”—Andrew Harrison, Daredevils #9

For his part the final issue of The Daredevils gave much of the letters page over to a long one from Moore which took some time to praise not only Jaye herself but the role of editor because of how she filled it. Subsequent editorial dealings would not go so well for Mr M, as history so regularly reminds us.

Above: Excerpts from issue five’s Sexism in Comics feature by Alan Moore with issue six’s blossoming sexual tension during non-consensually humiliating bondage. Is this wah-wah moment saved by The Daredevils being an adult magazine? Well… issue one came with a free badge.

Jaye was clearly a thoughtful and accomplished editor, if I can’t enjoy her patronage of Moore. The Daredevils did indeed deserve kudos for publishing articles about sexism in comics, and about cults of personality (can you believe this man wrote these features? Of course you can), and for publishing non-Moore penned articles about Japanese, Chinese and Korean comics scenes. It’s a little special to see manga and manhua being showcased for English newsagent readers in 1983. Her name remained relevant at Marvel UK, so remember it for later. What else did The Daredevils contain? Bit of reprint Daredevil. Bit of reprint Spider-Man. Competitions, con reports, pretty good stuff. It made it almost a year, and when it died bequeathed seven chapters of Alan, Alan and Brian to The Mighty World of Marvel.

So, what happens in their shared tenure? Nothing unmissable unless you’ll laugh as loudly as I did seeing the smiley face logo get ironically damaged by a superhero killer during a murder. A Days of Future Past rehash; the return of Betsy Braddock, now a telepath, purple-haired and employed by S.T.R.I.K.E; the return of Slaymaster, now an apparently but ignorantly-scripted muslim ninja with a sharpened callous for a left hand (it sounds like a joke, but I think it’s just incredibly white—racist, I mean, a callous (ha, ha!) collection of vague eastern tropes drawn into bizarre focus by someone ridiculous); the visitation of a vague nowhere-place populated by weird aliens and alternate playset Captains Britain and the laying into text of the 616 designation for “our” world (the one we read, not the one we live in); a combative and unpleasant flirtation between Saturnyne and Brian which sparks while she’s in humiliating bondage; the introduction of the Special Executive who mostly become, later and minus Wardog, the Technet; the introduction of Brian’s future wife Meggan and the foundings of her personality (believes in CB, prone to spiteful judgements); the on-page introduction of supervillainess Vixen, a name left over from the very earliest stories who never actualised in the original-costume narratives now given excellent form; another DoFP redux; some pretty nice Davis fights and madness; Davis finally starting to draw men’s buttocks; a lot of physically manifesting (urine, mouth foam) women’s trauma, Saturnyne “returning” to her reality-empress’ throne with a little more light racism, and a spot-the-habit Alan Moore drinking game. Captain UK’s journey from being frightened out of superheroism to forced back into it by someone shouting at her culminates in tearing a body apart with her hands long after she’s killed it. This is something that may be found cathartic by the right reader, but by this reader is not she. If you’re interested in the idea of an ex-superhero living with grief and fear after witnessing her husband and colleagues be murdered for ideology, Linda’s story continues in the post-Moore CB stories—

Which we shall be considering—

NEXT WEEK

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