Well, it happened. After much speculation about the fate of the book, writer Paul Cornell announced on his blog this week that Captain Britain and MI:13, his project for thirteen issues so far along with penciller Leonard Kirk, was not being solicited for a 16th issue. That means that after the next two issues hit the shelves, it’s over. Obviously, this is not only disappointing news for Cornell, Kirk, and the rest of the Captain Britain creative team; it’s bad news for everyone, and the comics world is made less special with this book’s passing.
Captain Britain and MI:13 was, and for the next two months, will continue to be without question, the finest of the “big two” monthly comics series I currently read. Better than X-Factor, even. By simple virtue of where it was situated (in Britain, obviously), it avoided all the current Companywide Crossover Massively Multiplayer bullshit every other Marvel title currently seems to find itself suffocating under. Secret Invasion? Captain Britain finished that in four issues, well ahead of its American counterparts and entirely by itself. Dark Reign? Never even heard of it, thank you. This may not seem all that important, but because of this, the book got to grow under its own terms, giving it its own story in and of itself, rather than as a part of whatever batshit bizarre Kudzu plot Marvel is drowning all its other titles in at the moment. And that’s important, dammit. I know that comics are a business, and crossover titles sell, but when I read my comics, I want to feel like I’m reading a story, not a business report. And reading Captain Britain was always an unreserved pleasure.
Because Paul Cornell’s writing on this title was so, so tight. Every character distinct, none seeming flat or dull, not even Captain Britain himself, who has always been a bit of a pompous twit. Established characters like the Black Knight, Blade and Captain Britain mingled with second-stringers like Pete Wisdom, Spitfire and the newly introduced Excalibur, Faiza Hussain. And every one was a delight, coming off the page as real people and, morever, equal partners in the book. It may have been called Captain Britain, but this was the best team book I’d read in a while. But it wasn’t just the characterizations that were tight, it was thematically tight, too. By way of example, observe his last (as of this writing) completed arc, Hell Comes to Birmingham. On my first read, I enjoyed it greatly, as Plokta, a Duke of Hell, takes advantage of a weakening in the fabric of English magic to create a “Dream Corridor” in Birmingham, granting people illusory copies of their fondest desires in exchange for the use of the power of their souls to turn England and, eventually, the world into a giant factory for mindless ones, the Marvel universe’s staple magical foot soldiers. The plot twisted and turned, the characters all had great moments to shine (Blade managing to hurt the incorporeal Duke of Hell by using a paper maché sword made from the pages of holy books, Pete Wisdom’s heart’s desire, etc.) and it resolved in a satisfying way. All in all, a ripping good comics yarn. Then later, the thematics hit me. Birmingham, England, turned into a factory for mindless ones at the cost of its soul? The same Birmingham, England that served as ground zero for the factories of the industrial revolution that took over England and, eventually, the world? That promised us a shining new future and delivered it with smog-choked skies, colonial oppression and world wars? That’s fun to read and smart. That’s thematic. That’s like… Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore territory, there. At the very least, echoes of Jamie Delano. Maybe not quite there yet, but I was willing to give the book time. Time, alas, that it just doesn’t have.
If the last paragraph didn’t make it quite clear, I do tend to focus on writing over art in my comics, but that is not to take away from Leonard Kirk’s excellent penciling. So much of characterization is carried out in the nonverbal areas; expression, body language, the angles of the scenes. I never had any difficulty knowing what the characters were feeling, because it was always as plain as the noses on their faces. Kirk’s pencils complemented Cornell’s writing so well, it was hard to recognize, intellectually at least, that this comic was a collaborative effort. The look on someone’s face when, say, they find out that their father has been abducted by Dracula (that’s right. Dracula.) is so perfect to the situation, I can’t imagine the scene as drawn any other way. The small fill-in sections by other artists in the more recent issues exemplify this; they’re serviceable enough in their own right, and they’re technically very well drafted, but they’re not right. They’re not Kirk.
At this point, you’re probably all tired of my public lamentation, so I’ll cut myself short without going into, say, how great it was to read a book dealing heavily with magic and the supernatural that actually seemed to understand how magic works, and that it actually does need to be explained, albeit in highly metaphysical terms. Or how wonderfully it managed to at once be heavily tied into some pretty convoluted continuity but required very little in the way of background info to get into. Suffice it to say, it was a good book. It was fun to read, well written, and visually exciting. It was everything a good superhero book ought to be, and now it’s gone. Like I said, the comics world is less special for its passing.
You will be missed.