February 6, 2019
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.
Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ Captain Britain was first published as a serial strip, between 1981–1984, in Marvel UK anthology comics The Daredevils and The Mighty World of Marvel. The strips were black and white, the budget stretching to eleven pages or so every month, and they were my first encounter with Alan Moore’s critique of the superhero that would later find full expression in DC’s Watchmen.
In his 2001 introduction to the collected edition, Moore describes Captain Britain as the near-perfect straight man for the chaos and absurdity exploding all around him. Unlike Captain America, he is untethered, out of time. His powers are not the product of the military-industrial complex but due to some mystical encounter with the Albion magic of Merlin: whereas Captain America is invariably in command of some kind of army, Captain Britain is a hapless figurehead within a gang of freaks and geeks.
The counter-cultural tone is apparent in the first strip that I read. Here Captain Britain is beaten near-to-death by an assassin Slaymaster, only to be saved by his sister’s telekinetic partner, who uses his powers to gather stray copies of comics lying around London’s infamous comic store Forbidden Planet and use them to blind the assassin.
In the next issue, Moore revives the Special Executive, a cohort of time-travelling mercenaries that he invented for a couple of Doctor Who Marvel UK strips. The Special Executive whisk the Captain away to a Moorcockian multiverse, introducing our hero to a kaleidoscope of Captains and multiple possible Britains, so repudiating the premise of the strip that the national character is stable and can be embodied in one superpowered figure.
The crossover with Doctor Who put the strip into the canon of British psychedelia alongside Tom Baker’s Doctor Who. If this Captain was to assemble a team of British Avengers, they would consist of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, Jerry Cornelius, Emma Peel, Sergeant Pepper and Joanna Lumley’s Sapphire from Sapphire and Steel.
The only villain who could oppose such counter-cultural multiplicity is the British Prime Minister, a fascist martinet called Sir James Jaspers, who outlaws superheroes despite being an all-powerful reality warping mutant himself. The final battle with Jaspers takes place across multiple strange realities, the action switching from the moon to the ocean bed, from the surface of the sun to a river of tar in a landscape of chromium, from a plain of fused and cryptic flesh to a matterless void. The description panels carry notes of the experimental SF of New Worlds magazine, a great influence upon Moore, with its cohort of Ballard, Moorcock and — most of all — M. John Harrison.
The chapter that most fascinated my twelve-year old self was the eight-page “The Candelight Dialogues.” Two inmates of Jasper’s camps for paranormals trade rumours of Captain Britain’s resistance to the new fascist order. The way the Rashomon-style multiplicity of perspectives plays out was something I had never seen before, and indicative of the story’s vertiginous shifts of register between the cosmic multiverse to the banality of a very British evil.
SERIOCOMIC: Mimi Lipson on LITTLE LULU | Sara Ryan on AMPHIGOREY | Gary Panter on THE NUT BROS./THE SQUIRREL CAGE | Gordon Dahlquist on POGO | Robert Wringham on VIZ | Matthew De Abaitua on CAPTAIN BRITAIN | Jessamyn West on FUN HOME | Bradley Peterson on HELLBOY | Stephanie Burt on KITTY PRYDE RETURNS | Jenny Davidson on OOR WULLIE | Luc Sante on MARSUPILAMI | Susan Roe on BLOOM COUNTY | Marilyn Berlin Snell on CHARLES ADDAMS | Deb Chachra on ARKHAM ASYLUM | Judith Zissman on ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | Alexandra Lange on BETTY (ARCHIE) | Catherine Newman on VERONICA (ARCHIE) | Josh Glenn on SPIRE CHRISTIAN COMICS | Adam McGovern on THE CREW | William Nericcio on ERRATA STIGMATA | Chelsey Johnson on DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR | Sherri Wasserman on TANK GIRL | Tom Nealon on MEGATON MAN | Erin M. Routson on THE WEDDING OF SCOTT SUMMERS & JEAN GREY | Douglas Wolk on FRANK IN THE RIVER | Annie Nocenti on DICK TRACY | James Parker on 2000 AD | Adrienne Crew on NUTS | Vanessa Berry on MEAT CAKE | John Holbo on WITZEND | Michael Campochiaro on SPIDER-WOMAN | Miranda Mellis on RED SONJA & BÊLIT | Michael Grasso on THE NEW MUTANTS | Ty Burr on BINKY BROWN | Bishakh Som on AMAR CHITRA KATHA | Mark Kingwell on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED | Brian Berger on JIMBO | Kenya (Robinson) on AGENT 355 | Seth on THE ETERNALS ANNUAL | Susannah Breslin on SLASHER | Lisa Kahlden on JACK CHICK TRACTS | Mandy Keifetz on KRAZY KAT | Tom Devlin on DUM-DUM POSSE READER | Eric Reynolds on ACTION COMICS #460 | Rick Pinchera on EIGHTBALL #16 | Juan Recondo on DAYTRIPPER | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on ROZ CHAST | J.E. Anckorn on HALO JONES | Deborah Wassertzug on GREAT POP THINGS | Peggy Nelson on MAD MOVIE SATIRES | Holly Interlandi on ANGEL SANCTUARY | Karen Green on THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.
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