The final issue of Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13 hit the shelves this week. I came to this series late – just in time for the final storyline in fact – but I’ve bought the first two published collections, as well as Cornell’s “prequel” Wisdom.
I really liked this series and appreciated Cornell’s agenda in it. Cornell, lest we forget, is unusual in terms of British comic (and sci-fi) writers in that he is a practicing Christian. Far from this meaning he is a Bible-bashing bigot with an obsession with genitalia and morbidity, his outlook can be quite refreshing to the usual brand of cynicism and paranoia. He wrote Xtnct for the Judge Dredd Megazine, he admits, partly as a reaction against the Pat Mills tendency to push his own political world view forward (I have to admit that Xtnct went a bit over my head but it wasn’t helped by the month between episodes and the lack of consonents).
In the case of Captain Britain and MI13 his quite transparent agenda was to make a superhero comic that was distinctly British whilst still being optimistic. Over the past three decades there have been numerous attempts to write the iconic British superhero, but they have all leaned towards a certain amount of deconstruction. Even writers who do the optimistic widescreen version of US superheroics well, like Grant Morrison, have tended to go adopt the Alan Moore template whenever they write about characters based on this side of the pond; compare the UK-based Invisibles Volume One with the US-based Invisibles Volume Two for a perfect example (for that matter, compare Moore’s Marvelman with Tom Strong).
I don’t want to go on too much about the specifics of the series or I will degenerate into fanboy-wank (he writes after deleting about four paragraphs of said toss). Instead I just want to focus on two aspects.
The first is the character of Faiza Hussain and her wielding of the sword Excalibur. Every time a gay character appears in comics it gets a blaze of publicity, and MI13’s own guest appearance of Gordon Brown certainly attracted some attention. So I’m amazed that this decision to make a Muslim character wield one of the mythical “symbols” of Britain didn’t garner any headlines. It may just be that it missed a slow news cycle – certainly news of DC’s decision to do a joint project with Kuwait-based Teshkeel Comics seemed to excite people. But I like to think it is a positive sign amidst a sea of depressing news about the rise of the BNP etc. Having said that, perhaps that is a bit Guardianish of me. I well remember getting irked at the way that the Sun reviewed Bend it Like Beckham as a film about a girl who wanted to play football while the Guardian agonised about what it said about Multicultural Britain Today. The Sun is not always wrong.
The second is a great bit of dialogue in the final issue which I think sums up Britishness better than most attempts to do so (you can call it Englishness if you’d prefer, but I think it goes wider). Captain Britain is talking to Faiza’s father, and academic who has been made a vampire by Count Dracula (long story). Freed from Dracula’s control, Hussain is understandably somewhat perturbed by his newfound status:
Dr Hussain: Is there a home for me there, though? Captain, I don’t want my wide and daughter to see me like this. To have to deal with —
Captain Britain: But what’s the alternative? Give up? Dr. Hussain, I think your life from now on is going to be a very British compromise — living with something terrible, dealing with it in domestic terms. Tragedy right up against sitcom, in a way other cultures don’t really get. I think if anyone’s going to understand all this, is going to want you to stay around and get through it, day by day — with all sorts of awkward conversations — it’s your daughter.
Hussain: You’re right. So I shall. You know I could murder a cup of tea.
I don’t know. It certainly ticked me anyway.
The series isn’t perfect, although the too-neat tying up of loose ends in the final issue is almost certainly mainly due to the series’ forced cancellation than anything else. But it is well worth checking out.