Paul Cornell’s “Wisdom” mini-series from 2006-2007 was one of my favorite Marvel comics of the past couple of years. It was full of wit, energy, and madcap ideas, mashing superheroes with faeries and Jack the Ripper duplicates. It had a vast sense of scale, and it was one of the few comics in this decompressed era that felt packed with events. So when it was announced that Cornell was going to take over as writer of “Excalibur,” I was enthusiastic. This series, “Captain Britain and MI:13” is his version of “Excalibur,” I guess, and I’m glad Marvel decided to launch it under this new name. It’s a bit more unwieldy, but it’s more appropriate. This is not “Excalibur.” It’s better.
MI:13, in case you’re wondering, is a British intelligence agency devoted to the bizarre and strange. It’s “X-Files”, but with superhuman agents. In Cornell’s “Wisdom” series, we watched field leader Pete Wisdom direct a team of characters like John the Skrull (a John Lennon-lookalike, Skrull-style), Tink (fairy badass), and Captain Midlands (a lower-level Captain Britain franchisee). It all sounds like tongue-in-cheek goofiness, but Cornell didn’t play it all as a hoot in “Wisdom.” He played it straight — not overly serious or smug — but he played it like an epic adventure through the realms of the odd.
In “Captain Britain and MI:13,” some of the same characters return, like Pete Wisdom and John the Skrull, and some new members join the team. Because of the recent Skrull invasion (and, yes, this comic is emblazoned with a “Secret Invasion” tag on the cover), “All British super heroes now work for MI:13,” according to the Prime Minister. That’s how Captain Britain ends up on the team, and we also get the introduction of Spitfire, Black Knight, and an original character: Dr. Faiza Hussain, a superhero fangirl who seems to die in issue #1, but, based on pre-release publicity, will play an important role on the team a bit later.
That’s all well and good, but what makes any of these characters worth reading about? Well, Leonard Kirk’s art is nice. It’s pretty standard superhero artwork, but it’s well-done. He knows how to pace things and his characters have a range of emotions. Plus, his version of the Thor/Iron Man/Wasp hybrid Super-Skrull is quite charming. But it’s really Paul Cornell’s writing that makes this comic so good. Cornell immediately injects personality into these characters, and his dialogue revitalizes even the bland Black Knight (who does have a really nice helmet and fancy sword, I’ll admit, but hasn’t shown much charisma in any of his recent appearances).
Cornell also adds a powerful climax to the first issue, after effectively setting up his characters and throwing in a battle or two. (Just like in his “Wisdom” series, Cornell doesn’t decompress his storytelling here. Stuff happens.) I won’t spoil the ending of the issue, but there’s majesty and sacrifice and a sequence on the final three pages that perfectly encapsulates what this comic is all about. “Captain Britain and MI:13” is a splendid new series, and the second issue can’t come soon enough.