Captain Britain: A Crooked World (Alan Moore & Alan Davis)
What the what? A Marvel Comic written by bearded wizard Alan Moore? Is this an artefact from an alternate Earth? A mistake? NO dear reader your eyes do not deceive you! Alan Moore did indeed at one point dip his mercurial and presumably, also bearded toe into the House of Ideas’ playground of bright characters and forced British patriots. A Crooked World collects Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ character defining run from across several Marvel UK anthology series. It makes for very interesting reading because within its pages you can see hints of ideas that would play out in the latter half of V for Vendetta and Watchmen. You also see Moore develop as a writer and find the confidence to play around with established worlds and characters that served him well during his time at DC. Finally we see a slightly restrained Moore holding back on the crazy a lot with some interesting results.
Before we go any further a few things need explaining, particularly if you are an American comic book reader:
- The format of the book is very different from standard American comics. The issues/chapters of the story were originally printed in Marvel Superheroes, The Daredevils and The Mighty World of Marvel. Which collected several stories at one and coupled them with interviews, articles, etc. If you have ever picked up a prog of 2000AD you will be familiar with the format.
- As a result each chapter is very short, usually only 5-8 pages in length. The plus size of this format is that these comics traditionally come out weekly. You get less pages but more regularity. End result this is a BIIIG book!
- The page ratio is different than the norm too. Following the more square style 2000AD page layout. The end result is that in this collected form for a standard comic size the square page is printed within the normal comic page. So every page of this volume has large white borders on the header and footer. (So much wasted paper! They could have chucked a commentary, notes or something in that empty space!)
- This wider page means that there tends to be a lot of wide panels and smaller long panels next to one another. Couple this with the low page count per chapter and you get a very dense book with each page packed with dialogue and detail.
All the technical stuff to one side how does the actual book stack up?
It is actually a really good read despite a confusing start. The action starts mid-storyline and all we have to get an idea of what has gone on before is a brief summary page at the start of the book. You are quickly brought up to speed as the alternate BNP controlled UK is explained (if you thought the Thatcherism gone mad world of V for Vendetta was a nightmare scenario this is similar but different and worse all at the same time!) and The Fury is introduced eventually along with Mad Jim Jaspers. The end result is that Captain Britain dies but is brought back to life by Merlin (with a nice reprisal of Captain Britain’s origins and backstory) and returned to the main 616 version of the Marvel Universe.
Once home things quickly escalate and Cap is kidnapped by the Special Executive to stand as a witness for Saturnyne at her trial on another parallel Earth. The trial turns out to be a one sided affair and Captain Britain and Co. break Saturnyne out and escape back to the main Marvel Universe where this universe’ version of Mad Jim Jaspers is enacting his plan to kill all the superheroes and warp reality. Oh also The Fury from the start of the story slowly makes his way to the main Marvel U to hunt down Captain Britain. From there things start becoming a trippy nightmare as the UK descends into darkness and the time bomb of Mad Jim Jaspers grows in power.
This all leads to a final confrontation between Jim Jaspers and the un-killable Fury which is completely out of this world. Seriously it is mental! After a now weakened Fury kills Jaspers Captain Britain is aided in finally destroying it by the female version of himself from the BNP run UK version of the Marvel Universe. It all ends happily-ish as the male and female Captain Britons are pulled from reality to have it all explained to them by Merlin’s daughter and to attend Merlin’s funeral. The tale ends with Captain Britain smacking lips with his female self from another universe and parting ways because you know…you would find yourself attractive if you met the female/male version of yourself?
Obviously my, very ,very, very condensed version of events does not do the story justice. When you look at it like this is makes little sense but this is Alan Moore! So in actually reading it all makes perfect and plausible sense. It has elements of Moore’s madness and sexual deviance in there (see the above image) but it is all hidden behind the colourful world of Marvel’s playground. The psychedelia is there but only when absolutely necessary and you can see the starting point of the ideas that informed things like Watchmen’s anti-superhero act plot point.
Alan Davis’ art constantly evolves over the length of the book and by the end of the tale he is a master at delivering a Captain Britain that is strong and expressive, full of thought while being confronted with mind bending situations. A Crooked World’s first half is a confusing mess but by the end I was hooked and eagerly turning each page. Moore and Davis managed to take a tokenistic (to use the word broadly) character made by Americans for a British audience, make him interesting and above all entertaining. It is well worth checking out if you are an Alan Moore fan because you can see him honing his craft with each chapter. It is also worth reading if you are a bit of an Anglophile interested in British culture (there is a lot of it squeezed into a lot of the story) or a Brit interested in seeing how to do Captain Britain right.
Another quality read from the Marvel Ultimate Graphic Novel Collection.