REVIEW: Captain Britain and MI 13 #5

Writer : Paul Cornell
Artist : Pat Olliffe
Publisher : Marvel

Ahh, Birmingham. England’s oft-forgotten Second City (or, to put it less charitably, the cultural arsehole of Britain) and my hometown. Birmingham, you see, lacks the romance, history or sights of other cities. Yet we remain a proud people: over the past year, we have started a Hollywood-style ‘Walk of Stars’, currently consisting of four huge celebrities: the newest of whom is an F1 commentator. Yeah. Next to be inducted, radio soap opera, The Archers. Which is itself too ashamed to be set in Birmingham. Our main cultural export is the accent: commonly voted the UK’s least sexy/intelligent/comprehensible.

And so, growing up in Birmingham leads to a life of regular disappointment. There’s a huge lack of films, books or, more specifically to our interests, comics set in Birmingham. Even bloody Somerset has got Hot Fuzz.

Cue Captain Britain and MI 13‘s latest story arc, ‘Hell Comes To Birmingham’. And a swell of local pride that led to the preceding two paragraphs. Which is swiftly dashed by this issue being entirely not set in Birmingham by virtue of being a prologue. My heart sinks yet further and all those jokes of “Hell comes to Birmingham? I think you’ll find they’re a bit late” (zing) are rubbished. Consider the above a primer for future issues (and not at all a result of bribes from Birmingham’s desperate Office of Tourism.)

I’m new to this series, despite the good reviews and it being set in (sniff) my beautiful homeland. It’s bursting with good old fashioned Britishness: to give you a sample, the first two pages contain the phrases
“Old top”
“I say”
Yes, we’re in England all right, and barely a speech-bubble goes by without reminding us, to the extent I briefly suspected Johnny Foreigner was writing the dialogue. But it evens out a lot over the issue, and I get the impression it’s touching nicely on most elements of modern Britain. There’s a scene with a pretty well-drawn Muslim family (Cornell has emphasised his desire to avoid cliché here) and apparently Gordon Brown has already made an appearance. A couple of mentions of the recession and an appearance by Cheryl Cole, and we’re all set.

The story is merely serviceable, being a set-up issue, and the dialogue is a bit clunky, but this issue established the situation and characters were established to a new reader was reader, and the story ends on a nicely shocking note. I’m not so sure about the art, which is again serviceable- it’s not at all ugly, but it doesn’t quite look right, quite accurately British enough. It’s not the fault of the artist, Pat Olliffe: he is after all merely an American. And it’s not too distracting, but it is noticeable, especially in establishing shots of a suburb that’s just a little too leafy and American, with a much more normal English house (that looks photo-referenced) plonked down in the middle.

Which I’ll be reading, of course. After all, next issue should finally feature Birmingham! What surprises me more, though, is how much I want to seek out the earlier issues, and Cornell’s Wisdom series from last year.

England Prevails.


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