Saturday, 21 June 2008

LLC recommends: Captain Britain and MI13

OK, so I’m late to the party, but the buzz about Captain Britain and MI13 has been so loud that I thought I’d better give the book a try. I'm glad I did, because while I was initially put off by its links to Secret Invasion, this new series is well worth a go.

The story follows the super heroes of government intelligence department MI-13 as they battle the Skrull invasion of the UK. It’s a tightly written, super fast, action packed Marvel book with a fantastic roster of British characters who play off each other brilliantly.

For that we have Paul Cornell and artist Leonard Kirk to thank. Cornell has been writing Doctor Who novels for years, but he’s also penned some of the best episodes of the TV series itself, including my favourite story from season one: “Father’s Day”. He’s a top class writer and it shows here as he takes on that most difficult of superhero subgenres, the team book.

The problem that a lot of team books run into is that they involve such huge casts that effective characterisation tends to get buried by the action or, (and this is even worse in my opinion), the action gets overlooked in favour of a succession of conversations designed to give each character their moment. This is hardly a surprise, I imagine it’s hard enough to write a 22 page comic book about one character let alone five or six, yet Cornell pulls it off.

The pace of MI13 is unremitting, but the book manages to be more than just a series of explosions because Cornell splices the thrills with some superb banter between the very different protagonists. Whether it be the Captain Britain himself, British Muslim super-heroine Faiza Hussain or the frankly awesome Skrull John Lennon, all the characters have their own distinct voices. Their personalities also come through in the art. Leonard Kirk’s style is reminiscent of Bryan Hitch at his best. He does action and facial expressions equally well, and the level of detail in his work puts this book on a par with the first series of the Ultimates. He even succeeds in freshening up the Skrulls with a succession of superb Superskrull action sequences.

MI13 is great to look at then, but in the end it’s the writing that’s going to carry the book. Cornell is taking risks (killing Brian Braddock at the end of the first issue being chief amongst them) and the book is hardly packed with the A listers that guarantee sales, but it’s snappier than Spider-Man and has already packed more story into two issues than I suspect we'll see in the entirety of Secret Invasion.

It might be a spin-off of Marvel's latest mega event then, but I'm already crossing my fingers that Cornell and Kirk's creation lives on long after Secret Invasion has been forgotten.

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