by KC Carlson
One of Marvel’s finest epic storylines has also long been one of Marvel’s greatest secrets to American fans – except to those who were really paying attention and originally willing to track down many and varied publications, most of which were either unavailable or very hard-to-find in the U.S. in their original printings. Starring a character originally created and conceived by Marvel Bullpenners in the U.S., but never intended to be seen outside of the United Kingdom, the Jasper’s Warp storyline (as it came to be known) eventually fell into the hands of two young and raw British talents. Alan Moore and Alan Davis, largely left to their own devices, created an epic, which became the foundation for their eventual superstar status. And the character in question? One of the least likely to star in a cosmic, time-twisting event – the knockabout, copycat character Captain Britain.
Created by Chris Claremont (who would leave after the first 10 episodes) and artist Herb Trimpe (best known for his lengthy run on The Incredible Hulk), Captain Britain headlined in Captain Britain Weekly, which featured a 7- or 8-page story every week. Intended as a UK version of Captain America, Captain Britain’s early stories are reportedly very formulaic (and still largely not available in America). Captain Britain Weekly was canceled after just 39 issues, and the Captain moved over to Super Spider-Man (retitled Super Spider-Man & Captain BritainHulk Weekly with #231). That series ended with issue #253. Captain Britain next appeared as a supporting character in the Black Knight strip that appeared in . It was here that he appeared in the also-not-reprinted-in-America Otherworld Saga, which introduced many of the characters and concepts that would be better developed in the Jasper’s Warp storyline, which began in Marvel Super-Heroes (UK) #377, the first issue in this new Omnibus from Marvel.
It’s also the first story for Alan Davis, who started by re-designing Captain Britain’s costume by request. Davis was so new to comics that in this early story, he neglected to leave enough room for dialog, and the story originally had to be reconfigured for more room for the words. (Interestingly, both versions of this story are included in the Omnibus).
Alan Moore began his run on the series ten issues later, with #387’s A Crooked World. He immediately kicked the story into high gear, and it’s an incredible pleasure to see these two future Masters of Comics learning the basics of their craft in front of your very eyes. Neither are particularly shy about it. Both are obviously emboldening each other to push harder, jump higher, take any risk possible – all for the sheer joy of telling their story in comics form! Reading it today – and invoking another famous British artistic partnership, from the 1960s – it’s not unlike listening to “Love Me Do” knowing that “A Day In The Life” is just a couple years down the road.
While this didn’t turn out to be Moore’s best-known work (or even best-remembered, especially by himself: “Not so much a stroll down memory lane as a confused stumble down amnesia alley,” Moore writes in his 2001 introduction to the trade paperback, reprinted here), for Alan Davis, Captain Britain became a touchstone character, one he stayed with for a very long time. He also returned over and over again, most notably in Excalibur, eventually writing the character as well as drawing him.
What makes the Jasper’s Warp storyline so special? It includes many early examples of postmodernism in mainstream comics (including a cameo appearance of a character called “Miracleman” who is obviously based on the Marvelman character that both Moore and Davis were concurrently working on in the pages of Warrior. Here, the name is a joke, although the original character was later actually called Miracleman in the U.S. under trademark pressure from Marvel Comics. And – even more confusedly – he will soon be called Marvelman again, due to Marvel’s purchase of the trademark, assuming there is no potential further court activity on the matter, which is a big assumption knowing how screwed up this character has gotten over the years).
Also, this storyline really embellishes the multiverse concept of the Marvel Universe, introducing dozens of other-earth Captain Britains – leading to the concept of the Captain Britain Corps – as well as first defining “our” Marvel Universe as Earth-616 (a somewhat controversial designation which is frequently cited by those attempting to define and explain the Marvel Universe, such as those working on the Marvel Universe Handbooks, while not in general use by many actual Marvel creators or editors). The storyline also introduces or more clearly defines such characters as Betsy Braddock, Mad Jim Jaspers, the Crazy Gang, Captain UK, Saturnyne, Roma, Merlyn, The Fury, and the time-traveling Special Executive (who also appeared in Marvel’s Dr. Who comic, and who have ties to the Technet).
The story is steeped in political intrigue, involving many deaths, resurrections, and betrayals among the main players, sowing seeds for many future Captain Britain/Excalibur stories for years to come. For me, the general level of absurdity of the parallel world concept gone mad and the stuffy, stiff-upper-lip characterization of Captain Britain played to the max (much of this comes from Davis, according to Moore) pushes this much beyond the usual fantastic-but-bland cosmic saga into new comic territory, setting the stage for the humor much used in subsequent stories.
This is complicated stuff, as you can probably tell from the above. But it’s very much worth the journey! If you’ve already read Excalibur (and not this, due to lack of availability) and had those occasional “what th–?!” moments, this Omnibus might clear up a few things for you. Unfortunately, the Captain Britain publishing chronology – along with subsequent reprints – is awfully confusing. To wit:
The Captain Britain Omnibus reprints the complete Jasper’s Warp storyline originally published between 1982 and 1984 in Marvel Super-Heroes (UK) #387-388, The Daredevils #1-11, and The Mighty World Of Marvel (Vol. 2) #7-13. It also collects the pre-Alan Moore Dave Thorpe stories from Marvel Super-Heroes #377- 386 (which were not included when the above was reprinted as the second Captain Britain trade paperback in 2002). All of the above-mentioned material was also reprinted in 1995 as X-Men Archives Featuring Captain Britain #1-7 , although it got lost in the flood of Marvel material being published at that time, and it wasn’t very well promoted, to boot.
The Omnibus also reprints the 1984-1986 Captain Britain material from The Mighty World of Marvel #14-16 and Captain Britain #1-14 by Alan Davis and Jamie Delano. This was previously reprinted in 1988 as the first Captain Britain trade paperback (which was actually published by Marvel UK and imported into America). Didn’t I tell you this would be confusing?
Wait, we’re not done yet! The Omnibus also includes some of the early U.S. appearances of Captain Britain, including Captain America #305-306 (1985), New Mutants Annual #2 (1986), and X-Men Annual #11 (1987) – the latter two by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis. Unfortunately, Captain Britain’s memorable first U.S. appearance in Marvel Team-Up # 65 & 66 (1978), by Claremont and John Byrne, does not appear here, most likely because this features the earlier incarnation (pre- Alan Davis redesign) of the character. In addition, the Omnibus contains over 60 pages of extra material, including Davis’s costume redesign sketches, a reprinted prose history of Captain Britain written by Moore, poster images by Davis, related back-up features, alternative artwork, reprinted covers and features from previous collections, and full-page reproductions of both Alan Davis covers for the Omnibus (original costume or Davis’ re-design).
It’s quite the amazing package. And worth every penny.
KC Carlson has been working in, around, and adjacent to comic books since the 1970s, most notably for DC Comics as an editor (including Collected Books) in the 90s. KC’s Bookshelf is an ongoing attempt to catalog the great comic book collections and history books that should be on your bookshelf.