As the Captain Britain Omnibus is released ComicScene writer Richard Burton takes a look at his relationship with the character.
Every comic fan has that moment, that defining moment where they discover the one comic that completely changes their reading life. For me, I can pinpoint the exact comic, down to a single page. It was Captain Britain, ‘Graveyard Shift’, by Alan Moore and Alan Davis, in Marvel Superheroes Monthly issue 388, cover dated August 1982.
Of course, I’d read comics in the past, Beano and Dandy from the newsagent, Raymond Briggs, Asterix and Tintin albums from Dudley library, and a first brush with superheroes with the Marvel UK Captain America Weekly and Hulk Weekly of ’81 and ’82. I’d even seen the prior incarnation of Captain Britain in the, frankly, pretty generic Marvel US created red costume version Captain Britain Weekly, and later, in the rather better Black Knight ‘Otherworld Saga’, from the pages of Hulk Comic, as created by the all-Brit team of Steve Parkhouse and John Stokes.
But, although they lit the fire, they weren’t what set me on a path of loving comics as a medium. No, that moment came in summer 1982 with my very first experience of seeing the new Captain Britain, that first experience reading the words of Alan Moore, my first sight of Alan Davis’s artwork. Marvel Superheroes 388 and Captain Britain in the five pages of ‘Graveyard Shift’.
From the very first panel of those five b&w pages, my young mind knew this was something very special, as we zoom down onto the terrifying, unstoppable, killing machine, The Fury, still one of the scariest baddies I’ve ever seen in comics. And then there’s the other great supervillain, the wonderfully insane Mad Jim Jaspers, with his every-changing hats, this crooked man with his crooked smile is responsible for the reality warp Infecting this alternate Earth. Both characters would go on to feature heavily through the entire run of Moore and Davis’ Captain Britain saga, but here, with my first meeting, I was enthralled, instantly.
Within five pages, Moore and Davis covered so much, with a density of storytelling that summarised all that had gone before, before Moore proceeded to rip everything down to deliver his own take on things. Jaspers explains, to a broken Captain Britain, his plot to rise to power politically, with a mission to demonise and outlaw superhumans that led to the eventual creation of The Fury and its mission to wipe out every superhuman on the planet, except old Mad Jim himself. Now, Captain Britain is the only superhuman left, and, although he’s not of this Earth, The Fury is tracking him down, relentlessly, his death inevitable. Seeing the hero of the comic broken, beaten, driven to despair and hopelessness, fearing he’s going to lose his mind on this alternate world that isn’t his, that was a revelation to my young
comic reading mind.
This simply wasn’t the way you treated your heroes.
It all ends with Captain Britain crashing down into a graveyard, with a host of strange superhero names across the gravestones, names I’d eventually come to realise were nods to the great and the good of Brit comics of old, Iron Tallon, The Arachnid, Android Andy, even Miracleman, to say nothing of Captain UK, another character that would go on to play a major role in what was to come.
And then, that final, devastating page. Oh my, it tore at me, a shattered Captain Britain screaming in the mist, with the Fury appearing, death personified, over the Captain’s shoulder. And then, the death, so final, brutal… the Fury rendering Captain Britain to nothing more than a
ag, a bone, a hank of hair.
‘Graveyard Shift’ might have been just five pages long, but it changed everything I knew about comics. This was NOTHING like anything I’d read before. And I was hooked.
This turned out to be the last appearance of Captain Britain in Marvel Superheroes, with the next issue box’s promise of ‘A Rag, A Bone, A Hank Of Hair’ not coming until issue 1 of The Daredevils, a ridiculously long four months hence. Over the next few months, pocket money was saved, issues were ordered and I read the entire new Captain Britain, from Marvel Superheroes 377-388. Before Moore came on board as writer with issue 387 and an uncredited final page on issue 386, Dave Thorpe wrote the strip, along with a very raw Alan Davis on art. Thorpe brought a playfulness and a political aspect, one that will be looked at, indepth, by Peter Gouldson (in ComicScene Issue 2. Donate and read in digital here). But, the truly amazing aspect of the early run for me was seeing Davis go from good but flawed amateur artist to something practically unrecognisable from what would become his signature style within a few months.
But, no matter how good those Thorpe/Davis issues were, Captain Britain, for me, is all about Moore and Davis. Basically, my comic reading life is all Alan Moore and Captain Britain’s fault. Because, in just 11 pages, and especially those final five pages of ‘Graveyard Shift’, Moore changed my comics reading world with a spectacular, turn my young world upside down, storyline. Moore and Alan Davis’ Captain Britain may not be the greatest comic I’ve ever read, but nothing will remove it from that special place in my
heart. It doesn’t matter if it’s the original b&w or the recoloured versions, each has their own particular appeal, with Helen Nally’s colours on the work definitely an excellent and sympathetic addition to the
Thanks to Captain Britain, I went looking for more of Alan Moore and more of Alan Davis, the first comic names I sought out, and that led on to Warrior magazine, V for Vendetta, Marvelman, and set me on a path that continues to this day. Yes, it’s all Alan Moore’s fault. I hope one day to be able to thank him.
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Yes this is exactly my experience as well, same issue, same amazement at the Alan Davis art, the very same further reading in the last para – though Marvelman in Warrior no 1 is the story I return to most often. Good article, thanks.
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