Sunday 21 July 2019

The Return of (an) Excalibur, 2019.

Hi all.

After a 3+ year gap you would be forgiven for asking such questions as 'Where did you go?' and 'Why did you stop blogging?' But I've largely come here today because while I elaborated in detail on this on Twitter last night the wonders of its modern algorithm appear to have somewhat fragmented my train of thought.

So... yesterday evening I started to receive questions from people about the following image unveiled at an X-Men panel at San Diego Comic Con:

That's right. An Excalibur reboot.

Some had questions. Others just wanted a gut response. Me being that guy who used to blog about all things Captain Britain, Excalibur and Marvel UK.

Well... until I effectively mothballed this site. Largely because there wasn’t a lot of any of the above going on at Marvel anymore.

So I suppose it’s natural for those who remembered this site to go ‘Hey! Mark/Sword, surely you’re all over this? Does this mean you’re coming out of retirement?’

Firstly can I say that it’s actually kinda flattering that some of you even remembered. It has been a long time. Thank you for that. But to be clear here I'm afraid that I don't quite have the readily available time and resources to more actively update this site in the way which I once did. Life changes for all of us. I don't quite have the readily available bandwidth I had a few years back.

But I would like to answer a few of those questions. Because while it would be wrong to judge an entire series based off a single image, and while I also know very little of Tini Howard or Marcus To's other work, I would be lying if I were to say that this didn't trip some early warning systems in terms of Excalibur.

I am a huge Excalibur fan. No bones about it. That series will always have a definite place in my heart, and I'm not daft enough to think that any relaunch can ever take that away. But I also appreciate that it’s not a book which appealed to everyone and also that it truly was an exceptionally rare beast.

Excalibur is what happens when a writer at the very top of their game and influence wants to play with a set of characters which they can’t easily fit into their current work. But yet they manage to find a way.

In the mid 80s Chris Claremont was one of the biggest names in the comics industry. Never underestimate that. And for good reason. This is the man who made the X-Men *work*! The man who turned them from a failing single book (which had never really gained proper traction) into a high selling franchise. But he was also the guy who had created the more obtuse character of Captain Britain for Marvel UK. And having seen what wonderfully strange and interesting things Alan Moore, Alan Davis and Jamie Delano had been doing with Captain Britain since he stepped away? He wisely wanted back in.

There was, however, one problem. Namely that there was no way that Marvel were going to Green Light a US market Captain Britain series. No way. A British character on their own in the US market? They thought that had sales flop written all over it.

So instead Claremont chose a sleeper approach to distract Marvel into letting him do what he wanted.

He and Alan Davis created Excalibur. The X-Men satellite book which intentionally *wasn’t* an X-Men book.

It featured X-Men *characters*, yes. But for half of its decade in print Excalibur tried to do literally everything it could to avoid connecting any way other than circumstantially with the X-Men books.

Instead we got stories using Captain Britain’s rogues gallery, mythos (often with surprisingly little explanation to new readers) and other offshoots from Marvel UK.

And. It. Worked. Really well.

The reason that Excalibur was such a brilliant title was that it just did whatever the hell it wanted. Across the multiverse. Across Marvel’s Britain. The Captain Britain concept elaborated on. That’s why people were buying it. It was a superstar creative team producing something utterly unique.

It is also worth noting that when the decision was made to *make* it an X-Men book? That is what almost killed it the first time (under Scott Lobdell) and finally got it cancelled the second time (under Ben Raab).

While Excalibur featured some X-Men characters (10 years of brilliant development for Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey which I wish Marvel would have acknowledged so much more than they have) it had nothing to do with Mutants. Nothing to do with either X-Genes or X-Men. It was really was only circumstantial that X-Men appeared in this book. It was playing in a much bigger ballpark. It was a Marvel Universe title which just happened to be coming out of the X-Men Office.

Every incarnation of Excalibur which has been closely tied to the X-Franchise has failed. This is not coincidence. I’d say it’s fundamental failure of those creative runs to understand *why* the original book worked.

To readers and Excalibur is a super team book set in Britain, about Brian and Meggan Braddock, with Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, Phoenix, Widget and Lockheed, getting up to weird shit and having fun doing it. For some it also has the addition of characters like Pete Wisdom, Colossus and Wolfsbane. Those from Warren Ellis' brilliant run in the late 90s.

A run which (sadly) Marvel dropped the ball so badly with, in following it up with more generic stories trying so desperately to hang on to vague plot threads from 20 year old (and very much no longer All-New All-Different) X-Men stories.

And most bizarrely of all? Even to this day it seems that Editors and the X-Office in general seem so quite spectacularly blind to this. Seriously, Excalibur remains the only X-Men satellite book not to have been rebooted using its original cast. Not once. Not even close. Perhaps even more bizarrely the cast of Excalibur, as characters, have so very rarely even been allowed to interact with each other at all in the past 20 years. Though there was an Excalibur reunion in an X-Men Gold annual last year. That was an all too brief, but welcome, thing.

Which brings me to that House of X Excalibur cover, I guess. And if you’ve read my comments above you’ll probably have an inkling of my thoughts on it. A little disappointing, certainly.

  • No characters involved from the original book. No Brian. No Meggan. No Kurt, Kitty, Rachel or any other past member of that team. To what remains of a fanbase for 'Excalibur' that's a big no deal, right there. That's *not* Excalibur.
  • Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, Jubilee, some guy who looks like Apocalypse and... is that Rictor? This look pretty squarely like an X-Men book to me - despite the Excalibur name. And as covered above, when Excalibur goes full-on X-Book it doesn't tend to work out at all well.
  • No truly tangible connection to Marvel UK beyond Psylocke - who at this point doesn't have a lot of her Marvel UK iteration remaining in her as a character as it is. Too much damage done by a succession of writers getting her pretty badly mixed up. There are plenty of X-Characters *with* tangible connections of course. Pete Wisdom, Wolfsbane, Pixie, Chamber and others. Plus dozens of British characters outside of that. Marvel has plenty. They just aren't Mutants. Marvel UK didn't ever really *do* Mutants. But the X-Office keeps forgetting that, also.
  • Betsy Braddock is now Captain Britain. For... some reason. Despite turning it down on more than one other occasion in the past. And also despite the whole mutant-centric theming being a truly terrible match for all things Otherworld. Whenever an X-Men writer has tried to touch the Captain Britain and Otherworld mythos over the past 20 years the same pattern has repeated. They have made a whole new, complicated and contradictory mess of it all. And that's very, very easy to do. Very few X-Writers during this time seem to have done their research. Several have justified writing whatever they wanted to by simply saying ‘But others have written it so inconsistently. Why should I have to make any sense of it, why can’t I just write... whatever I fancy?’. The simple answer of course is ‘because you’re just making it worse’. It shouldn't be rocket science, here. Your own work will be viewed as just as inconsistent by the next guy, for exactly the same reason. 
  • With Brian and Meggan having had a daughter recently, in the form of Maggie (their super-smart beyond her years baby daughter), we got this glimpse of a really interesting new shift in dynamic on show, in that X-Men Gold annual.

We also got to see the strength of that original lineup playing alongside each other. Seeing those friendships, that chemistry, that Excalibur magic one more time. To tease that and then to abandon it seems like a huge missed opportunity. And one which is arguably a little tone deaf, also.

I will reiterate: Every iteration of Excalibur to have tied itself to X-Men lore, enemies, purpose and ethos has failed for exactly *that* reason. There is no such thing as nostalgia for the name ‘Excalibur’. It’s nostalgia for a specific set of characters in specific setting.

That is not what is being offered here.

Ranting aside though, I do not know the pitch for this new book. It could be amazing. I’m happy to be proven wrong if it is. But it's not the Excalibur which readers who bought that series at its peak will likely be interested in. For all of the reasons above.

I'm not saying that it can't, or won't, find its audience. But I can pretty conclusively say that the audience who this book *should* be there for? Probably won't be. Because it simply isn't what they will be wanting from a book called Excalibur. It is very difficult not to find yourself sitting here thinking 'We've been here before. Why haven't we learned from last time? Or from the time before that?' Long time readers will see that, and they'll probably be questioning why the X-Editors can't.

But as I said much earlier in this post any new reboot or relaunch doesn't (and cannot) change the original product. In its original incarnation Excalibur remains a rare and incredible beast. Something truly special. Maybe of its time, but a good time all the same. It's still out there in trades and back issues. If you've never read it? Go check it out. It's something I'd definitely recommend.

What are you own thoughts on this reveal? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday 12 June 2016

BBC Online posts new Captain Britain TV rumour article.

Over the course of the weekend the BBC has posted up a new Captain Britain article, relating to the recent TV rumours. Full disclosure, I did give a phone interview to the author of the piece, Nic Rigby, a couple of weeks back, and while my comments haven't made it into the piece directly I suppose you could say I have a vested interest in this. :)

While there are a few minor errors here (The "Red Skull gang" or "Braddock Hall" rather than Manor) it is a far better researched article than tabloid pieces we saw during the initial flurry of interest in the Rumour. Most importantly Rigby has spoken to both Chris Claremont and also prospective Producer, Chris Lark. 

Claremont describes Brian as always trying "to represent the ideal of Britain and its island heritage, like Robin Hood, but he must never lose sight of his humanity. He wants to do the right thing."

And on that I would very much agree. Trying to do the right thing. Sometimes to a fault. :)

But more interestingly Chris Claremont also proffers his opinion on casting the role for TV. The two actors he suggested being Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba.

Of Hiddleston he says he "...could offer a physicality to the part yet pull off the human side of the role," but also "Who is to say Captain Britain would have to be white? We could have Idris Elba as Captain Britain."

The obvious drawback to both the suggestions however, is that both of these actors are already playing roles within Marvel's cinematic universe - Hiddleston rather iconically playing the trickster Loki and Elba playing Heimdall, the Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. Both appearing in multiple Thor movies. 

One thing I did say in conversation with Nic Rigby, though, was that I think the whole Captain Britain Corps concept lends itself to showing not one, but many facets of what Captain Britain can be. That potentially, through that, you can showcase the whole spectrum of British identity, as individual Captains from different worlds.

I mean, Brian Braddock himself is clearly a middle-class white guy, blonde, blue eyed and English. That's the guy who comic fans expect to see. That's your standard. But through showcasing other Captains (be those created anew or trying to use previously established ones) we can showcase a full spectrum of roles and aspects of the British psyche. Scottish Captains, Welsh Captains, Northern Irish Captains. Captains from different classes, different social backgrounds. Captains of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. 

There are so many different cultural sections of modern Britain. You could never fit them all into one individual. But as a team, as a Corps, there are many more options available there.

I still believe that we should be aiming for relatively close match the comics' Brian. Somebody of a similar age to the other major cinematic players (as I've said in the past, somebody like Jamie Bamber would probably be my pick) would be beneficial. But it depends on the approach taken from a TV point of view, I guess.

Most interestingly though, Nic Rigby has spoken to Chris Lark, the would be producer for the show. Which oddly, I don't think anybody else has done up to this point. I was certainly a little interested to know what his main connection to the character was. 

Lark has said "I was first a fan of a fan of the X-Men comics and I read Excalibur magazine that all my friends were reading and it featured Captain Britain. And I wanted to find out more and more about Captain Britain and bought his solo series of comics".

And for American readers that is the typical experience. Excalibur was the route in, which (hopefully) would lead to hunting down other stories. 

He describes Brian as, "He was not just a traditional hero like Captain America who runs around with his shield, he's much more interesting... He was a scientist that had these magical powers that he could not explain as a scientist. Like a lot of Marvel heroes, he is not all sunshine and happiness".

Well, that might ease the concerns a little of those worried that a US producer might not *get* the character of Captain Britain. At its very basics that would be a relatively strong overview of the character.

However, we are still talking in terms of "...looking to put the idea to Marvel early in 2017". There is no deal in place. Probably no meeting for that, as such. We'll have to wait and see if anything else comes from this.

Check the piece out. I always see the mark of a true story as being once the BBC get a hold of it. So, we've reached *that* point. Marvel Entertainment? It's over to you. :)

Monday 2 May 2016

Ciara McAvoy teases new image from prospective Captain Britain TV Pitch.

You may remember a few weeks back that I posted about the image online which sparked a Captain Britain TV series rumour, but which in the end turned out to actually be artwork for a TV pitch, from two rookie Producers, who were hoping someday next year to get to show it to Marvel Entertainment.

Well, the poster artist (Caira McAvoy) who they have hired to produce artwork for their 'highlight reel' has over the weekend revealed a new work in progress image of the facial likeness she is working with:

Look familiar to anybody? Can't say that it instantly does, to me. Although I can say that I'm not really sold on the headgear. I've always preferred to see Brian's headwear as a solid framed helmet rather than a cloth cowl, which is certainly what this looks more like. 

McAvoy herself has teased us a little info on her muse for this image:

So let the speculation begin. 

Although, I still wouldn't get too excited about this, yet. Even with the artwork there is no actor in place, there is no series. It's a pitch which this team hope to get an audience with Marvel Entertainment to pitch sometime next year. 

Nothing is at all approaching plausible just yet...

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Captain Britain's 40th Anniversary (Hopefully) on Marvel's Radar.

In my article from just over a week ago I was talking about how last year Comic Book Resources had asked Axel Alonso half of a question on the subject of Captain Britain's 40th Anniversary.

I say half a question, because the actual '40th Anniversary' part was the detail which they missed out.

My main concern with that was that here we have a landmark anniversary being reached this coming October, and it was just possible that Marvel Comics aren't entirely aware of that. Captain Britain Weekly was, after all, a Marvel UK title (and not an in-house title of their own). Many in the US still think of either that New Mutants Annual (which debuted 'Psylocke' to the X-Men) or the series Excalibur as being Captain Britain's debut issues.

So I decided to be a little bit cheeky and post back to that questions thread for Axel-in-Charge, on Comic Book Resources, asking directly if Marvel were aware of this landmark. I fully expected it to fall on deaf ears, of course. But my plan here was to be a little more determined and persistent about it. MY plan was to politely post the same question, each week, until it either got read out or somebody at Comic Book Resources told me to stop.

And if that happened I would obviously co-operate.

It seemed that I garnered a little bit of support from some of the other forum members, too. Several others echoed my sentiment, and also rather graciously asked this self-same question themselves.

At that point I started to wonder if we weren't perhaps pushing our luck a little.

But no. No cease and desist order (thankfully) arrived..

Instead they actually decided to pass the question on, for this past weekend's column.

CBR: Let's wrap with a question from the CBR Community. Captain Britain super-fan The Sword is Drawn asks, "This October marks the 40th anniversary of the first ever issue of Captain Britain, written by Chris Claremont and with artwork from the late Herb Trimpe. Are there any plans to mark the occasion?"
Alonso: No current plans, but that could change.

So, yes, still no plans.

But that wasn't really the point of this exercise. The intention was purely to make sure that Captain Britain's 40th Anniversary was on Axel Alonso's (and therefore hopefully Marvel Editorial in general) radar. If he hadn't heard about it before, he has now.

That's all we can ask.

So, it's out there now. We'll see if anything comes of it.

As always, I'll be keeping a watchful eye out for any further developments should those occur. Many thanks to the staff at Comic Book Resources for raising the question.

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Looks like that Death's Head series might still be on, after all.

Hello, again.

Well, isn't this a surprise? Two items of News in the space of a week!

I can assure you that it surprises me, just as much as it does yourself.

In my weekend post I mentioned that back at last year's San Diego Comic Con Marvel teased a Death's Head image in their slideshow of future titles coming for 'All-New All-Different' Marvel.

There he is, top right. Simon Williams' design, from the Panini trade collections.

I mentioned that pretty much every character on that screen had now been given a book of their own.

Well, not Citizen V. But we do have a new Thunderbolts title. So that kind of counts. Sort of.

Death's Head, however, had not. And we'd heard nothing more about that since then. Literally nothing. Not a peep.

Well, yesterday Bleeding Cool reported that Marvel Comics had registered a Trademark for exactly that.

"Death's Head"

No details of in what context, for what product lines. But it would certainly suggest that something may be on the horizon, at least.

Bleeding Cool do this from time to time. It should probably be worth noting that a few years back Rich Johnston spotted Trademarks being registered for 'Guardians of the Galaxy' a while before Marvel announced work on a film project of that property.

Don't get ahead of yourself in quite that regard, but the likelihood of a comic series for Old Horn-Head certainly looks a lot more plausible now, doesn't it?

It's far too early to speculate more, right now. But I'd certainly keep an ear or eye out for DH in the coming months...

Keep 'em peeled, Yes?

Sunday 3 April 2016

Thoughts on that Captain Britain TV series rumour.

Greetings, under-attended It Came From Darkmoor reader. It probably won't have escaped your notice that it has been a while.

One of the central problems of running a Blog such as this (which since its inception has been a Marvel UK 'News Site') is that in order for it to function as originally intended there also has to be some actual news to report.

And to be brutally honest, this past 6 months, that is something which has really not been quite as readily forthcoming as I would have hoped.

I look back to March last year, and Captain Britain on the front cover of the upcoming (at that time) Secret Wars #2, wielding that ridiculously massive sword. I recall the hope I had at that time that Brian (or Jamie for that matter) Braddock might finally be getting the opportunity to play a proper, tangible, role in a Marvel crossover event. That a significant front of center positioning on that #2 cover would therefore lead to playing a further role in that storyline.

As we now know, that was not to be.

I think back to San Diego Comic Con in July, and noting with enthusiasm that Death's Head was visible on a slide of other characters slated to be given books in 'All-New All-Different' Marvel.

Hercules, The Black Knight, Starbrand, Nightmask, Red Wolf... There were some relatively obscure names up there. But now having seen several of those titles not only having launched, but in some cases now also been cancelled (The Black Knight cancelled all too soon), there is no sign of Old Horn-head alongside them.

That's all gone very quiet, unfortunately.

Well, now it's 2016. This coming October marks the 40th Anniversary of the first issue of Captain Britain.

That's kind of a landmark Birthday, I'm sure you'd agree. 40 years since Chris Claremont and the late Herb Trimpe introduced readers to Brian Braddock and his own corner of Marvel's Universe. Among those of us who have followed the character (through thick and in increasingly thin) I think a fair few of us were hoping that this might well be the time for Marvel to celebrate that landmark.

Maybe a new series? He'd been getting a bit of push on New Avengers before Secret Wars hit. It didn't seem implausible. Maybe with a recognised creative team - to give it a bit of profile?

Heck, Bleeding Cool were even speculating that last year, in relation to Miracleman and Fables artist Mark Buckingham talking about having a long held desire to work on the character.

Now wouldn't that be something?

With all these things places together was it really unreasonable to hope that something might come of that in 'All-New All-Different' Marvel?

Well, sadly that too seems not to be on the cards.

Comic Book Resources has a regular chinwag with Marvel EiC Axel Alonso named 'Axel-In-Charge', for which readers are suggested to pose questions for the man himself through a dedicated questions thread on their forum. Quite a few people raised the question of Cap's 40th birthday, and plans for the character on that that thread in the Autumn. Something which for several weeks did seem to fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, it did kept cropping up.

However, when CBR finally did raise the question (and CBR sadly neglected to mention the 40th anniversary) the reply was as follows:

CBR: Any chance of Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze and Captain Britain showing in the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe?
Axel Alonso: There are no current plans for Captain Britain, and sketchy plans for Johnny Blaze. Unless. Wait. Sounds like a buddy book...

Certainly not what long time fans of the character were wanting to hear.

Possibly even less wanted however was the news that with the final issue of the Secret Wars event, and the realignment of Marvel's multiverse after that event, perhaps Captain Britain's most significant contribution to Marvel Comics as a whole - the naming of its universe - has now been erased.

While in the new continuity the universe itself is to most intents and purposes the same as it was before (with a few additions - Miles Morales, Old Man Logan, etc) it is now to be known as the "Prime Earth".

"Earth 616" is no more.

Yes, it's not the end of the world (well, figuratively speaking anyway) but most definitely not the greatest of starts to Captain Britain's 40th Anniversary Year.


Still, I don't want to get too bogged down with negativity here. That doesn't really help anybody. I'm always on the lookout for any more positive Marvel UK news, and early last month I came across the following tweet from Scottish based poster artist Ciara McAvoy:

Caira McAvoy has done work for a number of movie studios and production companies. She paints in oils, with incredible detail. The Benedict Cumberbatch Doctor Strange picture pinned on her feed is a strong example of that. But at the time I dismissed it as a private project, likely for her own amusement. There are many people across the landscape of the internet who have done mock up movie artwork for their chosen Captain Britain subject. People fancasting what a TV series or Movie could look like. As far as I knew, this was another example.

Then a couple of weeks ago, this happened:

Upcoming *what* now?

A Captain Britain TV series? That certainly seemed unlikely.

But was it implausible? I mean this was a professional poster artist here. No such TV project had been announced, and you would expect that if Marvel were working on such a project then anybody involved with it would be under the terms of a pretty hefty non-disclosure agreement.

But, still...

Suddenly that started to sound a lot more promising. People started questioning McAvoy.

And at that point tongues started wagging.

NDA or no, this was apparently Paid work. Could it actually be that this was a credible leak from a genuine series in development?

Fan sites and bloggers started reporting it. IGN reported it.

Things were suddenly picking up.

Since Marvel started dabbling with TV projects I think that quite a few of us have probably fancasted a series in our heads. Both Captain Britain and the MI13 setup are quite plausible concepts for a TV series. Alternate universes, magic, swords and sorcery, the supernatural - these are things which British Sci Fi does so well. Pair that with a lead character whose powers are connected to the collective conscious of the whole Country (in a very tangible way) and you could have a show which not only explores the usual superhero tropes but what it actually means to be 'British' in the modern world, also.

When Captain Britain dies the whole Country feels it in their very soul. When they're behind him he has near godlike strength, but if that mantle fell, if that public confidence waned, all of that could just as easily fall away.

Who wouldn't want to see storylines such as the Jaspers Warp adapted for television? Or finally seeing a British version of Betsy Braddock? Heck, we assume that 20th Century Fox own the rights to Pete Wisdom (through Excalibur being an X-Office title) but could Agents of SHIELD's Lance Hunter (a Captain Britain supporting cast member of old, remember) be a suitable replacement?

Well, hold those thoughts.

Just don't get too excited yet.

The following day Caira McAvoy revealed just who it was that she was working with. One producer named Chris Lark, of Cool Mint Productions, and a co-producer named Eleni Larchanidou.

And this is where the story starts to seem a lot less plausible.

A little research into Chris Lark, and Cool Mint Productions, pretty much only yields a single, quite sparsely populated, company website.

The company describes itself as "small but talented US Independent (a.k.a. "Indie") Film & TV Production Company with the big goal to see its big film & TV visions through to a larger (as in worldwide) viewing audience."

Small, sadly, is not an exaggeration. I can find no listing for either Lark (at least this Chris Lark) or a company of that name on IMDB. Their website lists no previous paid work. A student film project named "The Journey" is listed. But that's all. No past industry experience seems to be forthcoming for either.

Which is never a good sign.

Eleni Larchanidou, on the other hand, does have one completed credit. Executive Producer on an indie horror movie called 'Wonder Valley'. Although it is rather unclear as to when/if that movie actually came out. Both 2013 and 2015 are given as dates for the movie, nobody has reviewed it and there is no plot summary added.

Which, again, is not a good sign.

Now I can't say with any authority that I know exactly how it is that Marvel Studios do business, but I think that it's relatively safe to say that on past form they have always aimed to work with companies and individuals who have well-proven track records. A body of work which can be used to prove their ability.

That does not exist here.

While its not unusual for Marvel to work with a third party Production Company on its TV productions, it's usually because the company is connected to a high profile individual who has a direct connection to the work. Joss Whedon's Mutant Enemy, for example, on Agents of SHIELD. Or Melissa Rosenberg's Tall Girls Productions on Jessica Jones.

But in each case Marvel Television and ABC Studios (both part of Disney's umbrella of creative companies) has been the principle company behind each show. They choose the Property from their list of IPs and then they choose who to work with in developing it.

That's the key detail. Marvel and Disney choose.

And I find it relatively unlikely that they would be willing to take on a producer and company without proven experience of working on and producing TV drama.

Chris Lark himself tweeted the following details for Caira McAvoy to share up in response:

A Highlight Reel? For a series which doesn't yet exist?

And that's the point that the penny drops.

This isn't a series. There is no planned development. This was artwork for a prospective Pitch.

Don't get me wrong here, Ciara McAvoy has been paid to do artwork for this, but I wouldn't be getting too many hopes up here. This is a couple of unheard of producers, hoping to get an audience with Marvel to pitch a project.

Will Marvel Studios be likely to grant an audience for such a pitch, from a company without a track record? I cannot say for certainty. But I would imagine it not to be terribly likely for that to occur.

Phrases such as "to take to Marvel for 2017 with hopes of them helping us with the series" are kind of the giveaway to me. Marvel wouldn't be helping these guys make a show. Cool Mint Productions don't own Captain Britain. They couldn't make this series on their on, because Marvel own that IP. Captain Britain is their product. Not the other way around.

And while I don't know either as individuals, I would also speculate that two random independent film makers from New Mexico would possibly not be the most natural of candidates to understand how best to develop and tell the story of British based series, about a set of British characters.

No. Sorry. That's the point where my suspension of disbelief in the rumour finally snapped. I wish them luck, but I'm out.

The only way a Captain Britain TV series is ever likely to actually happen is if Marvel decide to look into it themselves. I think it's really that simple.

However, the one positive thing to come out of all of this is that even though the rumour that the series was being developed had been thoroughly debunked, people continued to talk about the possibility of a series.

It started to get some mainstream press coverage.

The Metro: Could Marvel be giving their first British superhero a TV show? - "Move over Captain America, Captain Britain aka Brian Braddock might be getting his own TV series."

The Times: Captain Britain back from the 1970s for TV adventure - "The superhero, whose adventures in the 1970s included rescuing Jim Callaghan, the prime minister, from the villainous Red Skull, has been chosen for a revival after the huge success of other Marvel characters."

The Mirror: Essex-born Captain Britain could be getting his own TV series - who will play the 1970s superhero? - An article which fixates on the one basic detail they've bothered to research (his being born in Essex) and turns out this hideous suggestion - "Basically, the show could be a cross between The Avengers and TOWIE, with the main character wearing a Union Jack leotard instead of a mankini."

I despair a little. But At least it's coverage.

Even the BBC jumped on it with Essex Marvel superhero Captain Britain 'could be made into TV series' and Bleeding Cool's Rich Johnston being asked to do an interview for The World Tonight on Radio 4!

(Although as a side note, it is a shame that the Beeb opted to use the one Captain Britain character profile Marvel ever put out which incorrectly identifies Brian Braddock as a mutant. Don't go giving 20th Century Fox ideas on staking claims of ownership. They don't need encouraging.)

It's all been a little bit surreal...

But while I sincerely doubt that the pitch which started this rumour will come to anything, you would have to hope that perhaps the resulting mini media circus which it has stirred up has not gone unnoticed by at least somebody within Marvel. The response to the rumour (even amongst those seeking to poke a little bit of fun) has been one of well meaning positivity.

Wouldn't it be great if in this 40th Year of Captain Britain that the Powers That Be took a moment to think about how they might be able to use the character of Brian Braddock to pitch into a whole other audience. Maybe this could be the year for some good news, yet?

And now I throw this open to you. If such a series were ever to see the light of day, what would you like to see? And who would you want to see involved? Which stories? What kind of approach?

Feel free to make use of the Comments section.

Monday 27 July 2015

A bit of Marvel Frontier Comics back matter.

Glancing back at the two issues of Paul Neary and Liam Sharp's Bloodseed, for the Marvel UK A to Z piece, was an interesting experience.

As I've said before, I always felt that of all the material from the imprint years the Frontier Comics material has probably aged the best. While there was some question over Bloodseed itself, the others maintained a perfectly plausible background role within the Marvel Universe but never suffering because of it.

I mean sure, Mortigan Goth: Immortalis featured an in-continuity appearance from Doctor Strange, and Spitfire too, but it wasn't the same kind of inconsequential guest appearances which so many readers had criticised in the main Marvel UK imprint.

It was for plot reasons. And well-reasoned ones too.

It was more in-step with the level of quality British readers had seen from the original Knights of Pendragon series. Which after all was so pivotal in those imprint years happening at all.

For those who have heard about the upcoming Marvel Frontier Comics collected edition, and are curious to know what they might be looking at here, I thought I'd paste in the back matter from both issues of Bloodseed, which may just give you what you are looking for.

That was the mission statement at the top, those were the first wave of 4 titles and the suggestion of more titles to come. 

Further to my previous article, and something I entirely failed to mention in that 2009 piece, is that there actually was an explanation given for Bloodseed's shortening from 4 to 2 issues, listed in the back of the second issue:

There is still a real sense of the ongoing in the sign-off, there. And certainly a plan for further titles. 

Which there were, in a fashion. Prologues for, at least.

'The Marvel Frontier Comics quarterly' did see light in the form of the Marvel Frontier Comics Special. You can see its contents page, here:

Evil Eye was a small strip written and drawn by Strange Embrace and The Bulletproof Coffin writer David Hine.

The Fallen, on the other hand, was written by Nick Vince. The art though, came courtesy of 2000 AD legend D'Israeli (Matt Brooker). 

Really makes you wonder what could have been, eh?

Oh, and there eventually was a letters page. Even if it only was for one final issue. 

Mr Joey Marchete of Union, New Jersey (if you are still out there) you were the lucky individual.

Sunday 26 July 2015

From the Archive: It Came From Darkmoor's Marvel UK A to Z : B is for...

Returning after a slight delay this the second in a series republishing earlier entries from the It Came From Darkmoor archives.

The following article was first posted in July 2009. There has been one piece of additional information added (as you'll see when you reach the end of the article) and a little bit of reformatting to suit the modern shape of the blog, but otherwise it appears here pretty much as it did back then. Once again, I hope you enjoy it.

Welcome to the second of It Came from Darkmoor's Marvel UK A to Z columns. The intention of this column is to spotlight a few of the more obscure Marvel UK characters - the kind who are probably less likely to come up in conversation or whose overall contribution to Marvel UK has not yet been acknowledged by this Blog.

We continue, as I guess would only be sensible, with the letter B. And in this alphabetical series...

'B' is for BLOODSEED

Lysander Bloodseed, in fact. 

Or if not in fact then certainly at least in theory.

Bloodseed was the brain-child of former Marvel UK E-i-C Paul Neary, Death's Head II artist Liam Sharp, and Motormouth artist Cam Smith. As with other titles such as Mortigan Goth (A link for those with shorter memories) and Dances with Demons, Bloodseed was created for the somewhat short-lived Marvel UK sub-imprint of titles which went under the banner of Marvel Frontier Comics - a more adult orientated line of books which were more akin to DC's Vertigo line than to standard superhero comics. 

The aesthetic for Bloodseed is quite an interesting one. On the surface it does very much seem like a European-styled Fantasy comic, with the familiar presence of swords, monsters and magic. 

Bloodseed fights with a sword, he has magical healing powers, he battles fantasy monsters and giant ape-like brutes. You can see elements of Tarzan here, of Conan, of Marvel's Ka-Zar, pr other pulp adventure characters of this kind. It would not be out of place in a European fantasy anthlogy, and I do mean that in a positive manner.

It's also likewise relatively European in its attitude towards nudity. 

Yes, Bloodseed is fighting naked on that page, if that's something which you felt needed clarifying. 

There is also a heck of a lot female nudity throughout the book - something which would certainly not escape the attention of a teenager (and certainly didn't with this one) reading this book back in 1993. There are female naughty bits EVERYwhere! And frequently with very little attempt to cover them up.

But, by and large, it's not purely for titillation. It is plot driven nudity for the most part. When we join Lysander Bloodseed's story he is dragging his naked and only semi-conscious self through the snowy wastes of a planet he later discovers to be named Themax-2, trying to remember how it is that he came to be here, and perhaps more importantly who the hell he actually is. 

The answer to which (to his current mind, anyway) is that he is Lysander, Warrior-King of Elyssium, a Kingdom in the land of Utopia. Elyssium is a Warrior Nation, whose landscape looks like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, where the men are built like Tarzan and the women built like porn-stars - all of whom appear to hold a fundamental distaste for the wearing of clothing. He rules as King, and Elyssa - a busty amazon type with flowing black hair and seemingly just as much distaste for clothing as the rest of her kin - is the loyal consort at his side. His one true love.

Sound just a little too good to be true? 

Well, you'd not be wrong. 

And how can he be King of Elyssium when a woman named Elyssa is also wandering the land, with the same set of memories, also believing herself to be the Queen of Elyssium? In her memories she rules Elyssium, with Lysander as her royal consort. And he's certainly not the Lysander we've already met...

The same memories, but two different people both believing them to be their own. 

The truth of course, is that these are all false memories - implanted visions of a past that seemingly never was. Despite seeming like a fantasy world, it is at least partly a fa├žade. A fair amount of what Bloodseed has been seeing is revealed to be a holographic computer simulation. Part of a method for both controlling and testing him. 

He's actually the latest in a line of humanoids created by a company called "Gene-Corp" on behalf of an unnamed client. He's not the first, merely the latest in a production line of Bloodseeds, being tested for survival. As was another one-armed Bloodseed who Lysander later encounters, a dead test subject wearing the same armour as him which Elyssa stumbles upon, and in fact Elyssa herself.

Each Bloodseed appears to be 'birthed' out into the world, with these false memories in their head, and placed into a Darwin-esque scenario where they are expected to kill off the other test subjects. Each subject is a peak physical specimen, possessed of the ability to heal others by touch, some kind of telekinesis, and (if they reach the correct point in the program) they will be given a 'Helmet of Truth' a semi-sentient mask which allows the wearer to discern what is real from hologram. 

Lysander and Elyssa's progress in these trials eventually alerts the attention of Gene-Corp's Chief Engineer, who having convinced Lysander to remove his helmet (unfortunately triggering Elyssa's programming, and setting her trying to kill him) then contacted his client. And that's kind of the twist in this tale. Their client goes by the name of Lord Juno. And he comes from Earth. 

Only he's a dinosaur. A very eloquent, English speaking dinosaur.

Beyond that we know very little more.

Because, unfortunately, two issues complete issues of Bloodseed is pretty much all we got.

What does this all mean? Well that, I guess is purely open to your own interpretation. 

For my own part (and I'd add that this purely conjecture, here) I speculate the following:

Lord Juro can speak. Maybe, just maybe, he is part of some kind of super intelligent/super evolved race of Dinosaurs. From Earth, but who fled Earth just before whatever ice age/meteor strike/catastrophe actually brought about extinction of their lesser evolved kin. 

They used to hunt humans. For sport. And after thousands of years elsewhere in the galaxy they have decided that they missed doing that. That is something they used to enjoy. It's about time they brought that back.

As far as they know though, there are no more humans. They figure them to have been wiped out, along with everything else on Earth. How could anything have survived that ice age/meteorite/catastrophe? 

So as far as they know, that's an avenue they cannot go down.

Juro's people therefore approach Gene-Corp to rectify that. A gene-tailoring company on the other side of the galaxy, capable of growing them some humans to hunt. Selectively bred, peak of their physical condition, humans. Humans designed to give them a challenge.

Themax-2 is the test world for this enterprise. But it's only part of a grander plan. The first step in a much larger scheme. A plan being to return to, and repopulate, the Earth with new genetically engineered subjects just like Bloodseed, and then to use this planet as some kind of messed up dinosaur hunting reserve.

But as I say, that is only conjecture. The way I've thought it through in the past 20+ years.

In reality it's honestly hard to say what the actual plan for Bloodseed was. For all we know Lysander may have been returned to the modern day Marvel Universe? For all we know Elyssa would have killed Lysander and traveled back to Earth herself? Maybe there would even have been some explanation as to what that giant glove/claw Bloodseed is wearing on the cover of #2 was?

Is that a glove? Or is it his actual hand? It's hard to say.

I mean it looks like it could be made of the same materials as the helmet, but what if-?

But I digress.

While I get the feeling that there was actually a longer story planned out for Bloodseed we didn't get to read it. While it was initially planned as a four issue limited series it was cut down to just 2 issues by the time it saw print. Two issues and (what seemed to be) a Prologue tale in the Marvel Frontier Comics Special

All of the Frontier titles came out during the tail end days of Marvel UK, shortly before the US office closed things down and sold off parts of the business elsewhere. 

The promised second series never came to pass.

Bloodseed remains a character and a series which still holds a certain amount of interest for me. Compared to Liam Sharp's later work some of the artwork here does seem a little rough around the edges in places, but I do see some early roots of a later style in play here. And conceptually I do believe there was a decent story being taken through its paces in the two issues we got. There aren't enough series with these kind of European fantasy elements at Marvel these days. It's a great shame that we never got to see how it could have panned out.

Update: If you are curious about Bloodseed - or indeed any of the other Marvel Frontier books - then January 2016 might just be your lucky month. Earlier this week this week, as I sat down to prep this article, I was alerted to the following listing which had turned up on Amazon:

The UK store listing is without a description of the collection. However, on the US store page the following blurb on display:

A forgotten gem from Marvel UK is uncovered, dusted off and collected in its entirety for the first time! Who is Bloodseed? And what is his mission in a barbarian world of talking pterodactyls, giant lizards and remnants of technology from a long-lost civilization? Something is haunting author Sam Wantling's dreams - could he be a Child of the Voyager? Will James Owl survive his dance with demons when he discovers that he is the heir to a great Native American spirit?

That's right. A complete collection of all the books which were put out under the banner of Marvel Frontier Comics. An unexpected release to have found its way into the wilds. Not least because this does actually appear to be a release from Marvel in the US. Most previous UK material has been reprinted by Panini Comics here in the UK.

I would definitely recommend this collection, based on that promised content. Having reread all of the Frontier books a few years back I can confirm that they actually have aged pretty well. These were the books which seemed to be defining the direction in which Marvel UK was trying to go in those later days for the Imprint. Doing something a little different. Darker and more serious tales within the Marvel Universe.

It's only a shame that it had to end when and where it did. 

'B' could also have stood for: 

The Battletide: A demonic gestalt entity, powered by the souls of fallen warriors, which tore its way through the universe. As seen in the mini series Battletide and Battletide II.

The Bane: The big, bad, adversary of the Knights of Pendragon and age old nemesis of the Green Knight. 

The Bacillicons: Digital analogues of human mercenaries brought into play to hunt down and kill Digitek, in the pages of his limited series.