Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Captain Britain Monthly (as it was known) is one of those rare titles of which I actually managed to collect every single edition.

Throughout 1985 these 14 issues proudly flew the Marvel UK flag, presenting about 30 pages each month of British-made comic-strips. Even better, it was all getting exported to the US, where its sales were significantly stronger than here.

Although it was black-and-white and padded-out with reprints and a text-story, the brand new material was first class stuff, and probably aimed at readers somewhat older than I was at the time. (14)

The title-strip exemplifies this, being so detailed and embedded in Captain Britain's pre-existing continuity, that I found it very hard to get into.

Well, having put-on another 24 years since then, and also inspired by having re-read Cap's guest-appearance in Captain America #305-307, about 14 weeks ago I decided to give the whole series another go...

The Mysterious Night-Raven

#1-4, 6-14 Script: Steve Parkhouse, art: David Lloyd, Midsummer Madness text by Jamie Delano, illustrations by Ivan Allen

Fun three-page reprints set in 1930s America, about a superhero whose skills at conjuring and misdirection almost make him more of a magician than a crime-fighter.

Night Raven's brooding quietness in these three-pagers is interesting given that his final chronological adventure here (in #10-12) is a similarly dialogue-light modern-day text-story. Though he misses issue #5, he gets a double-bill in #10, #11, #12 and #14, while #13 features a full-page Mastermind Specification Scan 2 recapping his history.

The Black Knight

#12-14 Script: Steve Parkhouse, art: John Stokes

Thanks to the mag's cancellation, these reprints only got as far as covering the origin of the Black Knight's partnership with Captain Britain. Its bleak, desolate location conjures-up the cold oppression of The Wicker Man.

Captain Britain

#1-14 Co-creators: Jamie Delano, Alan Davis, Mike Collins, art assistant #11-13 Noel Davis, inks #14 Mark Farmer

I found that this brand-new title-strip required alot of concentration to follow, evidently more than I was willing to offer on either reading. When the storylines sometimes lost me, the letters-page (Captain Britain Communications) would be the place to discover what other readers had uncovered going-on in there. It didn't help that Jamie Delano seems to have preferred writing about groups rather than individual characters, especially when there were only twelve pages each month in which to introduce so many grotesques.

That said, the actual words in here have been purified-down into sheer poetry. The description of Sydney Crumb's illness that opens issue #4 is a prime example. Likewise Alan Davis' artwork is nothing short of spectacular. He puts his heart and soul into every panel, making subjects as dry and boring as even a newspaper headline look awesome.

Even Steve Craddock and Annie Halfacree's lettering joins-in the party. I'd criticise the whole thing for reeking of creators who are trying far, far too hard, but the end concoction is comicbook caviar.

Helpfully, issues #11-12 each carry half of a two-page Mastermind Specification Scan 1 feature on the teeth-gritting Captain's story-so-far. It's easy to be wise after the event, but I really could have done with that about a year earlier.

The Cherubim: Playgrounds And Parasites!

#11-14 Plot / script / pencils: Mike Collins, plot / inks: Mark Farmer

Young warpies escape from the lead strip and cause chaos in London. If the storyline appears thin, then the artwork more than compensates. Richard Starkings' lettering is inviting too.

Captain Granbretan

#13 by Grant Morrison, illustrations by John Stokes

The somewhat disturbing fate of a superhero on a parallel Earth. Captain Granbretan is a well-realised tale of the unexpected about how even super powers can become boring. Grant Morrison may be better-known for his comic-strip work, but his prose here is highly evocative, paticularly his description of what it's like to fly. Has this guy actually flown? It's very funny too.

Thicker Than Water

#9 by Steve Alan, illustrations by Jeff Anderson

Not so much a text story, more a series of black comedy sketches about an old lady who seems to be Death. And also about her victims.

The Eye Witness

#8 by R Hunter, illustrations by John Stokes

Short, punchy text whodunnit, with a good twist at the end, but which doesn't actually solve the conundrum. (or maybe I missed something, hey - it is a murder-mystery) It's entirely conveyed through the characters' speech, which makes the story flow well, if not the actual dialogue.

The Paragon of Painthorpe Street

#1-4 Writer: Steve Alan, illustrations: Jeff Anderson

Witty, clever, sad text-story about Redmond Jonah Pringle - a (now) stereotypical forty-something overweight comic-fan who dreams of becoming his hero. The first chapter is so down-to-earth that it's almost a shame when subsequent entries feature him stumbling onto science-fiction technology that can make his dream a reality. Enthralling, and contains some very funny parodies of superhero conventions via Redmond's favourite back-issues.

City: Snapshot

#5-7, by Mike Collins, illustrations by Mike Collins and Mark Farmer

A fairly simple text detective story, made fascinating by the depth of the near-future setting in which it all happens. The early 21st century is a grim, dirty and old environment, yet author Mike Collins somehow made me want to live there. I should be careful what I wish for...

Space Thieves

#5-10 Script: Dave Harper, art: Barry Kitson, John Stokes, Jeff Anderson

The funniest strip I've ever read. The sitcommy script, the running jokes, Barry Kitson's stark art and awesome layouts...

What on Earth happened to these spacefaring misfits? This is Blake's 7, only as (even more of) a sitcom. Even the Next Month captions are funny. Only six episodes ever? Whuh?!?

Free-Fall Warriors

#1-4 Script / inks #1: Steve Parkhouse, art: Jerry Paris, inks #4: Leach

I'd read a strip featuring this group of renegades before in Doctor Who Magazine, but hadn't been able to make sense of it. I couldn't make any sense of this origin story either. No matter though, I never came across them again. The whole thing looks incredible, particularly the minimalist splash panel of the space-station exploding on the penultimate page.

Abslom Daak - Dalek Killer

#1-11 Script: Steve Moore, art: #1-7 Steve Dillon #8-11 David Lloyd

Yes, another refugee from Marvel UK's Doctor Who Magazine. This is the third printing I have of some of these episodes, so I guess Daak (pronounced as in "Quark") must have been quite popular at the time, despite his usual relegation to back-up strip. Which is fair enough, for a character who is such a rough-edged B-movie hero.

Sentenced to death by teleport to a Dalek planet, Abslom fearlessly wipes out the entire local population, but not before the last one exterminates his new girlfriend mid-embrace. Cryogenically freezing Princess Taiyin's body, he sets out to both find a way to save her and, in most of his own words, kill every stinking Dalek in the galaxy.

Well, who among us can argue with him there?

Read him as Ace Rimmer. I did, and I had a ball with this.


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