Hi everybody. Sorry for my more prolonged absence from the Blog. I'm now back under this year's run of Chemotherapy, and still at work during the week. I had decided about 3 weeks back to answer a number of questions I have been receiving from some of you, with regards to my opinion of Brian Braddock's return to Marvel Comics in the pages of first Uncanny X-Force and then Secret Avengers. The plan had been an article on each, which would offer that. Unfortunately this proved somewhat overambitious for my energy levels at the time. So while I will be getting to those, as a prelude, I offer the following...
Let's just remember where Brian Braddock was, the time he last appeared in print.
Captain Britain and MI13 had come to an end, but Brian and the team were still considered 'active' in the background of Marvel Comics. Mentions of MI13 in Secret Warriors and Brubaker's Steve Rogers: Super Soldier still kept them active. Brian also appeared in Deadpool Team-Up and the Spitfire one-shot. But I'm sure the most significant memory for most readers came through this:
Age of Heroes #1 - An anthology book showcasing how characters from several different walks of life within the Marvel Universe fitted in to the new status quo of 'The Heroic Age'. And there, on the issue's alternate cover, is Brian - very much as the Poster Boy for Steve Rogers' Age of Heroes, his past connections with Steve, his exemplary character and courage being recognised.
The issue included stories centring on J Jonah Jameson, Spider-man, the newly crowned Sorcerer Supreme 'Doctor' Voodoo, and of course Captain Britain and MI13. MI's story showed Brian and the team being honoured by Steve Rogers for their role in making Britain the first Country on the globe to oust the Skrulls during Secret Invasion.
And it's within that two page story that we had the game changer. Steve Rogers offers Brian a place on The Avengers. Not instantly popular with all of his team-mates. Well... with Pete Wisdom, anyway. But he comes around to it...
You'll notice though, that while being an Avenger is something that Brian would clearly love to do, he does initially turn it down. You can see the disappointment on his face, but out of a sense that he might be letting people down - his team-mates, the people of Britain maybe. That's just how he is. Its a key point to his character. He's a very personable human being - something which was made pretty clear throughout Captain Britain and MI13. Despite his posh boy roots he remains a man of the people, and he's connected to them on a level few other National Superheroes could ever possibly know. Because that connection actually is a physical thing. It part and parcel of his very powers.
If Captain Britain dies, no matter where he may be, the people of Marvel's Britain feel it in their very soul.
No joke. We've seen it happen, in panel, before. :)
This issue, and in fact the whole run of Captain Britain and MI13, should have formed an easy touchstone for any new writer inheriting the character. Heck, I feel pretty sure that the new writer in question, Rick Remender, owns a copy of Age of Heroes #1 - because it was his Doctor Voodoo story which also featured in it.
But that is the image of Captain Britain that was fresh in people's minds before Secret Avengers and Uncanny X-Force. One of a man of great humility, courage and decency. But whom would NEVER boast or brag about such things. To coin the phrase from Brian himself, upon facing off against the Skrull 'Sorcerer Supreme' he may be all these things but he doesn't '...Make a Fuss'.
For that, as we all kinda know, is the British way. :)
So, that is how readers (And especially the new readers which that series brought to the character) saw the character as of their last contact with him. But what of Marvel themselves? Well, the best place to take the official line on any Marvel character has always been through the brilliant volumes of Official Handbooks available. And luckily for us, at the very start of The Heroic Age, Marvel Comics published two new volumes of factfiles to match the new status quo - The Heroic Age: Superheroes and The Heroic Age: Villains.
I'm sure it won't surprise you that Captain Britain was given an entry in the former volume, in which all entries are composed as if being delivered by Steve Rogers himself. I'm betting a lot of you may not even have seen this entry before, so I'll share it with you here.
I just want to highlight two important details from that.
"Unlike myself, Brian wasn't exactly a volunteer, but he takes his responsibility seriously; he's overcome the doubts of his past and a tendency for impetuous action to become the UK's premier hero."
An important detail. There was a time, a very long time ago now, when Brian was prone to these things. A period of atypical behaviour which was used most specifically by Chris Claremont, in maybe some 15 issues total, of his run in early Excalibur. For many of course (Because Captain Britain's adventures between 1976 and 1987 were not published in America until last year) it was their first encounter with Brian, and they took it as gospel that this was how the character usually behaved - as a pompous, boorish idiot, who made poor decisions, and didn't want to be a team player. This was never Chris Claremont's intention, of course. It was designed very much to highlight how Brian reacted to grief.
This was just after Fall of the Mutants in Uncanny X-Men, where the whole of that team appeared to have been shown killed on TV, shown across the globe. Including Brian's own sister, Psylocke. This near destroyed the guy, as you might expect. Betsy was his last surviving family member that he was still in touch with, and his twin. Right then, he didn't want to BE a hero any more. If he couldn't even save his own sister, what was the point? And being forced by a sense of decency, and a want to please his girlfriend (Now wife), into being part of a new team was just further salt being rubbed into a wound. He acted up, he grumped about, he drank a bit too often in sorrow...
But the very important distinction is (as the profile points out) that he overcame that. This atypical period of behaviour finished quickly. Throughout the entire 1990s and 2000s that was not a significant part of Brian Braddock's character, any less than it had been in the 70s and majority of the 1980s. Nor should it be today.
Another important point to note in this factfile is that it accommodates his new-found power levels - a 9 out of 10, placing him on par with The Hulk in his entry from this volume. But more importantly clearly observe some of the other values:
Conscience: 9/10, Altruism: 10/10, Wisdom: 9/10, Courage: 10/10, Determination: 10/10.
These are important. They show Brian's personality in very clear terms. He's an idealist, yes. But most importantly he is a good man. He'll never condemn another without hearing and deliberating over their side of the story. He'll never accept that a situation is impossible, and if there is ever a way to save lives or avoid their sacrifice he will fight to make that happen.
That, in a nutshell, is Captain Britain.
Or at least it damn well should be.
But why is this important, you might ask? It's important because where a character stands when they are left in Comics Limbo, and how they are portrayed when they return, can be two very very different places.
Anybody who has followed this blog over the past 4 and a half years will know that I had plenty time for Paul Cornell's take on Captain Britain. I think that more than any other writer to have tackled the character during his US Comics history Cornell actually took the effort to research and make work an overview of the character which just as much embraced his roots with Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe and Gary Friedrich as it did his better know period with Excalibur. It properly re-established him as a National Hero, and his connection to his Country and people; something which oddly was somehow lost when Chris Claremont reacquired the character and placed him on Excalibur.
But more importantly, I think, he simplified the character. He wiped away all those clumsy contradictions, internet false memes of violent pig-headedness, only having powers in England and of his alleged alcoholism, having Brian reborn (literally) with a simple, clear powerset which both respected the characters past but also made it easily accessible to new readers.
Yes, for the more frenzied fanboys his power source was still from Otherworld - a realm built up from the collective subconscious of every Briton, in every alternative universe. But for those who wanted the quicker explanation 'Magic from Merlyn' would do. No more debates over 'Is he powered by his costume?' (The answer, incidentally, has always been no - it was only ever a very confusing, and ill-defined 'booster' at best) because now, more clear than all the other explanations, the power was simply within Brian himself.
He still had a weakness, though. If his confidence dropped so did his power levels. He was possibly of huge feats of strength, but it was always possible that they could fail. And for a guy who always strives to do the right thing, and be seen as The Good Guy, there were many plausible and interesting ways a writer could manipulate to use that advantage against him.
All in all there was a very definite and welcome sense that Captain Britain had been 'put right' again, after some many years of inconsistent use at the hands of several writers, and left in a great position for future stories. It was simple, clean,and perfect for any new writer to simply pick up and run with. Granted Rob Williams, on Deadpool Team-Up, was pretty much the only guy who directly did that, but it worked just fine.
I put all of this out there again, because there really was a long gap between how Brian was left, and the picture everybody still had of him in their minds, before we heard that, yes, finally he was going to be added to an Avengers team. Secret Avengers to be precise. A lot of people were very genuinely excited about that. Rick Remender was going to be writing, and he'd also be featuring him in an arc of his Uncanny X-Force book, with twin sister Betsy. It was also clear from interviews that Remender seemed to show a fair amount of enthusiasm about the character. There were a lot of good and positive signs.
I build up that picture of what readers, and especially more recent followers of Captain Britain, expected to see before those Secret Avengers and Uncanny X-Force issues came out. Because what they expected to see and what was delivered were to very very different things.
I highlight Steve Rogers own words on the guy, and focus on his wisdom, conscience, and nature as a true Hero because to have read Captain Britain over his 35 year history, to have read what and who the character was when last saw him, I find it incredibly difficult to see his current incarnation as being anywhere remotely near to same individual, with the same moral compass or sense of values.
To put it simply if you are huge long term fan of Captain Britain, or if you really enjoyed his portrayal in Captain Britain & MI13, I would be willing to stake good money on your feeling aggrieved by this take on the character. Long term fans of the character have reacted angrily, and I've seen more recent adopters just plain bewildered as to who this guy is who is claiming to BE Captain Britain. They can't see at all how he can be the same guy.
In the space of those 5 'Otherworld' issues of Uncanny X-Force and in the 5 issues of Secret Avengers there have been a number of inconsistencies, contradictions and just plain bewildering behaviour traits which I cannot explain away. I will go into more detail with each run in separate articles. They at least deserve that. But in brief, between the two books, I can definitely guarantee that new readers will experience the following:
Brian demand not only the death, but the complete erasing from all history and reality, of a man, without listening to any kind of explanation of the reason for his actions either second hand or from the man himself.
Brian actively bullying his sister, unrelentingly, into towing a sense of a bizarre and alarmingly brutal 'Family Line,' which has never existed in past continuity.
Brian regularly behave with an oddly uncharacteristically pompous and arrogant attitude. You will also see him actively brag about his many past roles and achievements in a manner which definitely does not fit with his trademark humility.
Brian showing contempt and disrespect toward the entire World War 2 generation, with sweeping generalisation that they are all '...sodding arrogant'. Apparently.
Brian being informed that nobody ever calls upon him for aid because everybody knows that he doesn't play well with others. Something which his past history of team-ups with the likes of Captain America, Spider-man, The Black Knight, Black Panther, The X-Men, Excalibur's teaming up with the West Coast avengers, his time working WITH Excalibur, or the Knights of Pendragon, or MI13 amongst others would seem to quite clearly contradict.
Amongst other things...
I fully understand the idea of breaking a guy down in order to build them back up again, but a number of long term Captain Britain fans who've mailed or tweeted me, some who've I spoken to on forums also, genuinely see this as nothing short of a deliberate character assassination from Remender. And while I try not to jump to such overly dramatic conclusions, I have to admit, it's very hard not to agree with them.
Remender's take on Captain Britain, worryingly, is familiar though. Familiar to one brief period in particular. That one time, that one brief period, while Brian was grieving for the death of his sister...
If Rick Remender sees that atypical version of Captain Britain as some kind of 'classic Brian' I can well see that we're not going to get along. And I feel pretty certain that he's going to piss off a lot of Captain Britain fans with it, too.
Here's hoping I'm wrong, but for Captain Britain it certainly seems that 'The Heroic Age' has well and truly come to an end.
UPDATE: I thought I'd just bump this bit up from the Comments section. I added it after posting, but I do think it's kind of important to add in to the main article.
You know, since posting this article I have had a couple of people ask me just how I have this glowing opinion of Brian. They can see it from MI13, but that they never saw that from Excalibur.
So I asked them where they read up to on Excalibur. The answer was somewhere in the #40s/50s. What else happened in the run? To which I had to explain that quitting around the #50 mark they actually missed probably the most important character changing event for Brian in the whole decade, and one which certainly one which has had wide reaching effects in many stages of his development in the years since.
Brian's time lost in the timestream.
It wasn't popular at the time, because it came at the very start of Scott Lobdell's run on Excalibur, off-panel, and with only an editor's note to explain its occurrence. It was no more popular when Brian actually returned, because it was not as 'Captain Britain' but as the long haired automaton 'Britannic'.
Britannic initially claimed not to be Brian, but to be something different. It had no pupils in its eyes, a Fabio style haircut and a ceaseless need to ensure the continued establishment of the future it had seen came to pass...
But as time went on more and more of Brian shone back through. He still had occasional 'flashforwards,' glimpses of the future, but it was clear that the time he spent there had left him forever changed. Having seen the whole of human history, front to back, as Lobdell's run gave way to Warren Ellis' we saw Brian decide that he believed all war, all fighting, to be ultimately pointless. He announced to the team that he was now both a Pacifist and would be removing himself from active duty. He remained with Excalibur though, as a non-combatant, overseeing the maintenance and improval of their tech.
Such as the Moonlight Flip, Excalibur's high tech transport. An incredibly technologically advanced craft, with a full state of the art medical bay. As Nightcrawler discovered, however (in having to engage in an air battle with Black Air) technologically advanced or no, Pacifist Brian had quite intentionally decided that it wouldn't actually have any on-board weapons systems... :)
This was really the turning point back towards what we have known since as the modern Brian. The Pacifist days did not last in entirity. Brian returned to duty in the long run, even reclaimed the mantle of 'Captain Britain,' but the Brian we read throughout that period and beyond was always shown as a shrewd tactician and negotiator. He was shown to be intelligent, calm and level-headed.
Heck, when Colossus admitted to Brian that he had gotten a little too close to Meggan, during Brian's brief spell away from the team, in the latter end of Excalibur, the 80s Brian would probably have punched him out. Instead he simply went to Meggan, apportioned no blame on her, and apologised for having left her alone for so long.
He was a changed man. And it's important to know about these things, because without them the more recent run of Captain Britain & MI13, 2000s Excalibur limited series, even NEW Excalibur might seem like Brian was uncharacteristically calm and in control, compared to those early Excalibur issues.
Where in reality it was they which were quite the exception to the rule.