Some spoilers

I’ve never liked Captain Britain. For a country which pours scorn on anybody (Stephen Fry aside) with power, he seems like a weird addition to the national psyche. He’s a ticklist of irritating pieces – like all British characters during the 1980s, he’s got a drinking problem; he wears a Union Jack on his shirt; he’s self-interested and posh. And if there’s anything which would cause British people to bristle, it’s the thought that their main hero went to a private school. Every detail I hear about him – the way he intimidates his wife, the fact that apparently everybody in Britain thinks he speaks with their accent, and his treatment of his sister in Uncanny X-Force – makes me like him less. 


But he’s pretty good in Avengers Assemble AU! From the creative team of Al Ewing, Butch Guice, Tom Palmer & Rick Magyar, Frank D’Armata and Clayton Cowles. This is one of the tie-ins to Age of Ultron, the ‘event’ storyline currently running through Marvel. Age of Ultron itself feels rather irrelevant  as a whole, being a time-travel-alternate-reality storyline which hasn’t gone anywhere very quickly, and doesn’t look like it’ll be ending anywhere interesting. It’s been a very slow storyline which has passed most readers by, apocalypse-by-the-numbers. And in such troubled times as these, readers turn to the tie-ins to make something out of the event.

Featuring a cast including the dreaded Captain Britain as well as Captain Marvel, Excalibur, the Black Knight and a handful of new creations, the book strands itself in London and creates a claustrophobic sense of dread. Robots have taken over the world, and they’ve won. The only way the characters will be able to survive is luck – which is when Carol Danvers stumbles upon somebody who might actually be able to provide a solution. Creating an odds-and-sods team of heroes, the two Captains go on a suicide mission to take down Ultron and give Britain a chance to strike back.

It’s not a particularly new storyline, but it’s not intended to be one – Ewing seems acutely aware of the limitations that the event puts him under, and his characters know they can’t destroy Ultron forever. Because, that’s going to be the job of the characters in the main book. Instead, the characters here are portrayed as doomed but resistant. A lot of the characterisation for this comes through in the text, but as much of it is due to the job done by inkers Palmer and Magyar, as well as colourist D’Armata. It would be tempting on a book like this to make everything dark and grim – but instead, they simply choose to mute the storyline.

This is most obvious in the colouring, which is dulled down from the usual shiny reds and blues seen on the Captains. In this issue, everybody looks grubby – nobody’s washed their hair in weeks. The inking, as well, isolates the characters. There are a few pages where the only clear thing are those dirty reds of Captain Britain’s costume, and yet he’s inked ahead of the background, so he pops away from it. This makes him feel unreal even though he’s battered and technically defeated by circumstance. Ewing’s script is heavy on characterisation, and the artistic team leap on the chance to accentuate his ideas about the cast.


It’s a standard what-if in theory, this issue. But in the hands of Al Ewing – who appears to be making good on his reputation as the next major writer in comics – that doesn’t particularly matter. The characterisation is where the book manages to pull away from its parent title and become a story of its own. He manages to echo the style of Paul Cornell, who last handled these characters, but with a bleaker core. Captain Britain and MI13 always felt romantic and idealised, with a cast who were safe and protected. Ewing seizes an opportunity to erase that security, and put fear into the characters. Faiza Hussain, Excalibur, benefits most from this. Her optimistic babble-talk could rankle if handled incorrectly, but the circumstances of the Age of Ultron suddenly give her a new light.

Rather than being plucky, the book paints the characters as being tough. Captain Marvel especially, who jumps six levels in steely determination for this issue alone. Danvers, like Captain Britain, has had a prior history of being a blank symbol, who doesn’t have the character to back the conviction of what they represent. Yet the last year with Kelly Sue DeConnick has put some fire into the character, some anger and power, and here we see again just how even the dullest of edges can be sharpened. The dialogue is crisp and to the point, setting the four or five principle characters apart from one another but uniting them in spirit.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the clear star of the issue, either – Magic Boots Mel, a football-magic hero who races around, drop-volleying grenades at ultrons.

Making sure to sidestep the trap of having every character say ‘sodding’ twice a panel, Ewing manages to script convincing British characters who feel contemporary in spirit. The final page in particular shows off how the creative team are handling the cast – with Faiza giving a final speech that slips away from her usual humour and into a more determined, steely mode. Guice adds uncertainty to her expression even while Ewing writes her speech as firm. There’s intricate contradiction in the characters, which elevates them and makes them feel real and important.

Which brings us back to Captain Britain, really, doesn’t it? The issue’s core moment for the character actually comes very early on, as he gives a speech about the nature of Britain and all that weakens it. In a move which surprised me, he mentions his disgust as those who “sneer at “chavs” and scroungers”. Rather than being one of the privileged who looks down on the working-classes, this gave me the first glimpse of a Captain Britain who actually recognises and understands the people of Britain. Rather than being the man who stands above everyone else and determines what is ‘british’ or not, Ewing’s Captain Britain stands in amongst the people, worrying for everybody and trying to push everybody into a better place.

I liked that version of Captain Britain. I hope Ewing brings him back soon.


  1. I’d never heard of Al Ewing before. This was great, and he deserves work on a title of his own. Fantastic.

  2. While Captain Britain is being an ass in that page of Excalibur you linked, that’s hardly the whole of his story. A large part of his story arc in the Claremont/Davis (and later Davis alone) Excalibur is Brian dealing with the fact that he’s sometimes lousy to people, and Megan in particular. Not saying he comes to be a perfect gentleman, and I don’t know how he’s been handled lately, but redemption stories require you to do something that needs redeeming.

  3. Captain Britain has been totally mischaracterized as an alcoholic who bullies his wife. That scene in Excalibur was an isolated moment in an other wise long and quite happy relationship. People like to cherry pick it to expound on why they don’t like the character but that’s like taking part of a sentence from a much longer paragraph out of context.

    The Cap you recognize as standing among the people is the true sentiment of the man — he represents all of Britain, not just the stuffy elites of posh England. So many people forget this about him.

    The best Cap stories are in the omnibus and then later in MI13.

  4. Once again…. the same false repeated memes, out of context quoting and complete lack of understanding about Captain Britain rears its head. As already put far more eloquently than I can – see the omnibus and the excellent Captain Britain and MI13.

  5. I feel that I need to comment on some of the reviewer’s assertions on the character of Captain Britain. Because I just don’t think that the wealth of continuity matches such assertions at all.

    Well… Uncanny X-Force aside, that is. Rick Remender really had a terrible grasp of the characters and relationships in that arc, which stretched far beyond just the continuity glitches there, and on Secret Avenhers.

    The assumption that Brian Braddock is just this rich guy who votes Conservative and sneers at the commoners is largely a work of fiction, read in by others, but simply not mirrored in panel.

    Yes, Brian Braddock (along with sister Psylocke and older brother Jamie) grew up in a big house, owned by their father, Sir James Braddock. How that knighthood came about, as with much of Sir James’ history, has never been revealed. He was already dead and gone in Captain Britain’s first 1970s appearances, and while later revelations would explain that he was in fact from another dimension entirely one thing is clear – there was no dynasty. No generations of family money. That family home is now a crumbling pile, without the money left to renovate it.

    Brian, Betsy and Jamie all had to go out and work for their money. Brian with research projects, Psylocke with modelling and work for the British government, Jamie as a race car driver. And while perhaps a little more glamorous than working in a shop or bar they *did* work for it. There was no free ride, here.

    Brian has always been an idealistic good guy, often to a fault. The claim of self-interest is a bizarre one. Even Marvel’s own handbooks state this. Yet some people make this odd assumption that he’s some kind of right-wing Conservative fascist. Utterly untrue. I know that British guys tend to be unfairly cast as the default ‘bad guy’ in many American movie/TV/comics but in this case the overwhelming wealth of Captain Britain’s appearances just do not bear this out. Such positive idealists as Brian simply aren’t compatible with the harsh realism of conservative viewpoints. Although I’d imagine many Conservatives *would* at least appreciate the spirit of national pride he represents as an icon for the people of Marvel’s Britain.

    But my major complaint here, is the use of the ‘drunken wife beater’ meme which has dogged Captain Britain on many an internet forum in recent years. The use of that specific page in this article, placed without context, somewhat weakens it’s strength.

    It’s true to say that at the very start of Excalibur Brian Braddock *was* shown drinking and pretty much telling anybody, including girlfriend Meggan Puceanu, to get away from him and leave him alone. Without context that would paint him as a clear and massive jerk. Especially for US readers, without the benefit of having access to over a decade’s worth of Captain Britain stories before it.

    But while Brian was drinking and behaving like this the context and reason is all important. This is Brian Braddock in grief. This is just after the X-Men ‘Fall of the Mutants’ storyline. By this stage, both his parents now dead and having severed all ties with brother Jamie, his twin sister Psylocke was his last surviving relative.

    And he saw her die in Dallas. On TV.

    Granted she didn’t *actually* die. But as far as the world could see, and Brian being part of that, his sister was dead.

    While you could argue that this kind if behavior can never be truly justified, if ever there was a situation where it is understandable I’d call this out as was of those times. And while he may have thrown his mask at the ground here, in frustration, let’s make it absolutely clear that at no point does he actually strike Meggan. Nor would he. It’s absolutely not in his character.

    Yes, he and Meggan traded blows a few times in early Excalibur. But always, and only, under that age old comics trope of being under mind control. Something Chris Claremont did there, but does often in a number of his books.

    But that is all.

    Neither is it credible evidence of a ‘drinking problem’. Sure, Brian drinks during this time. Behaves unreasonably when he does. But when it is pointed out by his team mates that his behavior is not painting him in a good light, it comes as a genuine shock to him. And he stops there and then. Makes that change. Stops drinking completely, in the very way in which alcoholics are simply unable to.

    We don’t see him suffering, or slinking off for a drink, out of compulsion. It just isn’t there. Brian has been shown drinking socially since, although usually beer. Not spirits. One might speculate because he realises that he behaves like an idiot when drinking spirits… :)

    So many of the problems with Captain Britain seem to come about purely through misinformation, and badly researched characterisation from a handful of writers. Misunderstanding of his powers, role, background and character. It’s led to some very inconsistent portrayals over the years, justified by some writers as being acceptable *because* of other inconsistent portrayals in the past. Which is one big circle of bad writing which I can only hope eventually comes to a positive end.

    But if Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Alan Davis, Chris Claremont, Warren Ellis, Paul Cornell and others can find something interesting to say with the character there’s still some hope for the future. After this, maybe Al Ewing’s name should now be added to that list.

  6. Agreed all around. I did just read the Ewing issue and it was fantastic, an excellent portrayal of CB.

    Hey Marvel, if you are gonna feature CB & MI13, more issues like this please!

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