Review by Ian Keogh
It’s odd that the primary cover to this volume would feature Captain Britain in his original dark costume with the British rampant lion motif, as the first story reprinted here unceremoniously discards that costume for a new version designed by Alan Davis. In addition to being a Captain Britain Omnibus, Davis draws almost everything
He’s now well known globally, but when he began drawing Captain Britain Davis was talented, but lacked experience, and as much as anything this Omnibus charts his growth as an artist. Considering the initial episodes were published at eight pages per month (and coloured here) the rate of progress is phenomenal and can be seen as the pages turn. A third of the way through the standard is already high, and it’s not long afterwards that the full Davis emerges. The final step is the concession that he can spend more time pencilling if an inker is involved. His design skills are astonishing, particularly taking into account this is a relatively new artist designing characters that have to move on a page. The other-worldliness he gives a largely alien cast is uniquely his vision.
Davis illustrates the work of four writers. While originating some characters later used with greater success, and setting the sometimes surreal comedy tone on Captain Britain, Dave Thorpe’s strips lack coherency, and Alan Moore’s use of both his characters and those from earlier in Captain Britain’s history is far better. During the earliest episodes credited to him Moore was a relative novice, but like Davis his work keeps improving, and builds to Captain Britain’s confrontation with two foes both immensely more powerful than he is, and who’ve both previously dismissed him with ease. It’s thrilling superhero comics as Moore experiments with storytelling techniques. Davis himself and Jamie Delano were obviously under instruction that their later eleven page stories, originally published monthly, needed to be complete in themselves, and almost all are entertaining if lacking the depth of an ongoing concern.
When the Captain Britain series concluded Chris Claremont liked the improvements made to his creation, and co-opted him along with Davis for presentation in US published material. As these appearances originally occurred in New Mutants and X-Men annuals, Captain Britain is of necessity a more minor presence. The stories suffer from verbal over-emoting, and the New Mutants one is far better as Claremont supplies a couple of shocks in a page-turner of a plot that makes thoughtful use of the cast’s abilities, although a clichéd plot device will induce a groan. In the X-Men tale each of the team is confronted with their true desire, elements of which are interesting, but the method of arriving at that point and surrounding villainy lacks the same inspiration. Both are far better than Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary’s 1985 teaming of Captain Britain and Captain America. Who’d have thought Captain America would dodge his tube fare?
Among the additional features are back-ups strips concerning supporting characters, Mike Collins producing four chapters of the Cherubim, and a short Captain Granbreton tale by Grant Morrison and John Stokes. More interesting are Davis’ sketches and introductions by Moore and Davis, the former reprinted from the earlier Captain Britain collection featuring their collaboration.
There are some fantastic stories here, but surely all but the ultra-rich will be put off for the prices being asked for this now out of print collection. In cheaper format the essential content, that by Davis collaborating with Delano and Moore, can be found along with Thorpe’s work spread across the Captain Britain collections The Siege of Camelot and End Game.