Captain Britain Reading Diary 10: Howl at the Moon

Captain Britain Reading Diary 10: Howl at the Moon

The last period of Captain Britain’s hometown publication is split three ways: Alan Davis and reserve writers, Alan Davis and Jamie Delano, and Alan Davis going solo. It's the most lastingly recognisable segment of superhero comics in Captain Britain’s history—it combines an unhappy hero with family drama and romantic tension, villainy from within and maimings

The last period of Captain Britain’s hometown publication is split three ways: Alan Davis and reserve writers, Alan Davis and Jamie Delano, and Alan Davis going solo. It’s the most lastingly recognisable segment of superhero comics in Captain Britain’s history—it combines an unhappy hero with family drama and romantic tension, villainy from within and maimings that last a bit of a while. In all those ways it’s also perfectly congruent with CB’s founding era.

Delano is most easily referred to as “the writer who took over from Moore,” and is referred to in a couple of places as a friend of the same. But his scripting tenure didn’t come directly after Moore’s.Captain Britain had moved from the defunct publication The Daredevils to Mighty World of Marvel with #7, and after issue thirteen was Moore’s last Davis took his first step into the scripting arena. He was backed up by Steve Craddock, more usually seen as a credited letterer.

Steve Craddock & Alan Davis, Captain Britain in Mighty World of Marvel, Marvel UK, Bad Moon Rising

Bye bye Jaspers Warp! I won’t miss ya!

Their story reintroduced Meggan, last seen in slight moments back during concentration camp scenes during a Moore/Davis Twisted World (Reprise) chapter. Her basic backstory was established there, and although that story is exerted to in this one as an alternate reality we can accept that it remains as it’s referred to further in later stories. When she was born she was covered in fur, so her parents kept her hidden. She was inside their caravan for seventeen years (giving us her age, which by the end of CB’s UK publication can be calculated to be nineteen by taking the Marvel UK real-world passage of time as rule) and then she was taken out to a camp for [the details are not stated in all plainness, but the superhuman, the mutant, the physically unusual in ways seen only in fiction]. As these camps were the result of a big evil brain warping reality, and the big evil brain got fried by Moore’s Sentinel stand-in the Fury, Meggan is now living homeless in a large space filled with scaffolding. This chapter adds an extreme sensitivity to the full moon to her makeup; overwhelmed by this and by the appalling smell of a man who later gets a chapter of his own, Meggan has a meltdown and attacks Brian when she thinks he’s hurting the kids who sometimes bring her food (he’s not). During his attempts to wrangle her, they knock into the scaffolding and one of the kids, the older boy, is killed.

Meggan, Steve Craddock & Alan Davis, Captain Britain in Mighty World of Marvel, Marvel UK, Bad Moon Rising

That story, Bad Moon Rising, leads into Davis’ first solo chapter Tea and Sympathy. In this, Brian as Captain Britain (with subtly visible stubble—he’s not been coping too well!) visits the family of the boy who died to apologise. Meggan turns up too, equally sorry, and both are uncomfortable to discover that his mother doesn’t blame them and accepts that accidents happen. This is an excellent addition to the Captain Britain canon, not only because it’s so narratively unusual but because it’s directly opposite to the reception Brian had as a new hero! Dad Thomas, the policeman and the JJJ to Brian’s Peter Parker, immediately took against Captain Britain because his wife had been killed during a tussle between other superpeople, in another country. This woman doesn’t only forgive Brian for his mistake, but values superheroes for the ultimate balance of their impact even as her personal experience has been so tragically negative. Tea and Sympathy edges some “real life” into the comic in a different way as well, taking a moment to put to page the fact that council housing sent as receptive to the needs of its tenants as it should be, and sets Brian on a philanthropic path in his civilian identity in the next chapter.

The 2011 Panini collection End Game miscredits Delano as scripter for all three of Davis’ later issues of Captain Britain volume two on its contents page. Davis returned to script the three last pre-Claremont appearances of CB. Additionally, this volume leaves the rerelease colourist unlisted. I believe colour was added to these comics in the 1988 Marvel collection Before Excalibur… Captain Britain, which omitted all credit info other than “By Alan Davis and Jamie Delano” on a white page preceding the comics. The colour printing on this volume is more beautiful, and that is the source of the scans used in this diary chapter.

Mighty World of Marvel #16’s chapter, In All the Old Familiar Places, teamed Mike Collins with Davis on script. Collins had debuted as a pro creator in The Daredevils, drawing Moore’s pretty crap script on a Miller Daredevil parody called Grit. I know him best for being the artist who introduced Gambit to the published page in Uncanny X-Men #266, but he and Davis make me wonder why they aren’t better known as scripters. They put everything to bed for CB’s last guest-in-a-magazine appearance of the 1980s and establish a beautifully clear status quo for the comic’s move back to Captain Britain magazine (CB lasted fourteen issues, before Brian and co lapsed back into the hands of CC, over in Excalibur.) Betsy comes home; we’re reminded of Emma, the housekeeper; Meggan’s come to live at Braddock Manor after Tea and Sympathy; Brian goes on television to declare who he’s going to use the ancestral grounds to bring jobs back into the local area; Emma the housekeeper’s bond with the basement-computer Mastermind is likened to marriage; the alternate Captain Britain characters that Davis so likes to draw are namechecked in a doomy kind of way, and the last page is three strips of “remember THIS threat?”: Slaymaster; Betsy’s telepathic control is established as a threat to her enemies, and the Crazy Gang minus Japsers, and Dai Thomas are all seen… the latter comparing a headshot of Captain Britain with a headshot of Brian Braddock. Dun dun duuun!

It’s quite touching to me, how much Alan Davis seems to love Brian. The only objection I can really raise to his steering is a line in the third of the above chapters: “I don’t really understand the physics involved, but…” How can you have a character debut as a physics student, give him a line about not understanding physics ten years later, and not connect the two on the page?

By this point, Davis is well into a confidence that allows him to draw just as much ass, just as much torn clothing, and just as much tousled hair on our hero as I could ask for. Much, much better.

Betsy and Brian, Milke Collins & Alan Davis, Captain Britain in Mighty World of Marvel, Marvel UK, In All the Old Familiar Ways

She’s not Psylock yet but she’s on her way; Battledamaged Brian

Delano, like his two major predecessors Moore and Thorpe, does not seem to like Brian or the superhero Captain Britain in quite the way that Davis does. Delano’s first Captain Britain story in Captain Britain volume two (1988) is a now-standard eleven pages that splits its narrative between Brian and Betsy reacquainting (as covered here) and Dai Thomas presenting a report to superiors about his belief that Brian Braddock, country squire, is really Captain Britain, dangerous superhero. This is a strong approach to take for a new #1 and it’s well-written, but Delano is pretty hung up on being “challenging” in that recognisable way.

His Dai Thomas strongly, strongly suggests that the Braddock parents were runaway Nazis, establishing Braddock Manor immediately following World War Two. Of course this chimes very well with my own observation regarding the evil supercomputer in the basement that the Red Skull happened to know about, back during Friedrich’s S.H.I.E.L.D saga. And I wouldn’t say that grappling with the notion that your parents were reprehensible is a bad direction to take a superhero story, even/especially a nationally-branded superhero. Britain at large certainly does need to face what it’s allowed in its, our, political past. Do I think Delano would have delivered something that felt productive? It’s useless to imagine. He didn’t take it that way—I’d expect he wasn’t allowed to take it that way—and the Braddocks turn out to have been “from Otherworld,” the magical land that the Black Knight/Captain Britain story from HULK COMIC took place in. (I dislike this too. But what can I do about it?)

The majority of Delano’s emotional journey for Brian is covered in the Betsy chapter of this reading diary. As a scripter he certainly has some real strengths, and I find this period of CB easy to read. His dialogue for the leaderless Crazy Gang is terrific, funny and satirical, and though I find the decision to pair nineteen year old, sheltered Meggan with twenty-nine year old, letting-her-live-in-his-manor-house, superheroic Brian inappropriate and uncomfortable I don’t think Delano does. This is a hard problem to articulate; I want the story to be okay. I want to be able to enjoy it and make the necessary subconscious adjustments to “my” read of this story and I feel that I have some margin to do this because the writer does not seem to have meant the pairing to be inappropriate. It doesn’t mean I forgive him for his disagreeable ideas; I don’t, exactly, “approve this message” when I say “I like these comics” or “I like this character.” I don’t think that kissing a girl you took in from homelessness and who’s idolised you as a teenager is a good, or heroic thing to do. But I don’t want that detail to be an element of my perception of Brian Braddock Captain Britain—and I don’t think that it’s fair, I suppose, for me to have to be the one (or part of the small slice of audience) that does have to deal with an ugly element of this character when he’s not “supposed” to have it.

(This is why we have headcanon. Superheroes are built to be celebrator and emotionally participatory.)

I don’t like it, but I want to be able to like it; I don’t think especial ire at Delano will gain me much… I don’t want to deal with a writer who wrote in a pairing that curls my edges. I want to deal with a superhero character I’m fond of, without having to be responsible for this decision I am not fond of. What makes it worse is that Brian looks especially adorable in the last issue (Davis alone as dominant cartoonist, inked by Mark Farmer and letters by Annie Halfacree), as they snuggle in the lighthouse that became Excalibur’s base. Little slippers, a deep, baby blue vee, ice skater-tight trousers—! I want to be happy for Meggan having claimed this hunk she wanted. The only thing that’s telling me not to is my personal convictions regarding balance of power in intimate relations. It’s not fair, it’s not fair!

Meggan and Brian, Alan Davis, Captain Britain volume 2, issue 14, 1988, Marvel UK

Dismayingly adorable

Meggan is a likeable character for how imperfect she is. Raised mostly on television, cloistered at home, she’s judgemental and jealous, given to lashing out either physically during times of overstimulated stress or verbally in spite. She’s territorial about Brian, which goes to support my feelings about their relationship’s weight on her psyche but isn’t interrogated. It’s just present, “a thing about her.” Meggan calls people fat a lot, which is dismaying but unusually characterful; it reminds you every time that she learnt this “from the media,” so it feels more like commentary-at-large than purely gratuitous bigotry. I’d like to read work from a writer who had a better idea about how to tackle this character premise—that’s a thought I have about many of Delano’s details, honestly. I like that Betsy and Meggan are kind of shitty, but I wish they were written that way with more compassion and more internal accessibility… with more commentary. With observation coming from a more feminist perspective, perhaps. Reading these comics makes me want to have a go— “No, no, give me the wheel. I get this. I can do this.” It’s inspiring, but in a way that makes me want to cry.

Meggan goes from a bat-like, flat-chested weregirl to a perfect hourglass with a button nose in a physiospiritual glow-up late in Delano’s run; her power is re-re-revealed to be a sort of empathetic shapeshiftery. She responds to how people expect her to be (this is immediately messed with and messed with, made magic instead of mutant, in ways we need not worry about). Like I said…

Meggan, Captain Britain volume 2, Marvel UK 1988, Alan Davis and Jamie Delano

Dai Thomas also appears in that last chapter, finally burying the hatchet with Brian. Davis’s dissatisfaction with his collaborators has been something he’s been fairly free with covering in interviews and essays since, but they’re on pretty plain view in the decisions he makes about directional swerves when he gets the wheel. Last seen swearing to “do something about” Brian, Davis delivers a humbler version ready to ask for help in the investigation of some apparently super-related murders. They hang out all night, eating take-away and talking, and reach an accord. Much more interested in character interaction of superpeople than involving characters in interaction of superpowers, Davis is the perhaps most enjoyable storyteller on second-costume Captain Britain. He also just loves dressing characters up! It’s fun! It is fun.

Meggan and Brian, Alan Davis, Captain Britain volume 2, issue 14, 1988, Marvel UK

All dressed up to go undercover

What’s also fun? Contracts and contract negotiation, baby. We’ll be talking about those, and about (yes!!) Linda McQuillan…

NEXT WEEK.

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