I have to hand it to Paul Cornell, in that he’s taken what may seem like an impossible task and made it look easy. In this case, it’s turning an old chestnut of a vampire invasion into something that feels fresh and different, and that’s no small feat. Vampire stories are a dime a dozen. Beginnier fantasy writers are often warned to try to not use them or dragons because those creatures are so overused — and just about every permutation is out there. So why bother, right?
What makes “Captain Britain and MI: 13” so much fun, though, is how Cornell takes the basic idea of a vampire invasion and mixes in so many different elements. Vampire bases on the moon! Double-agents in the government! Ancient protection spells over an entire country! Excalibur! Good vampires forced to serve Dracula! Honestly, with this many different pieces in the mix, it could have easily turned into a jumbled mess. What’s nice here is that Cornell never loses track of his cast of characters or everything that they’re encountering. It’s the perfect example of one of those far-reaching stories where anything and everything quickly clicks into place when you aren’t paying attention. Government conspiracy thrillers don’t often involve superheroes or vampires, but I’m quickly learning just how well all three work together.
At the same time, and this may sound strange, I found myself appreciating how accessible Cornell kept “Captain Britain and MI: 13” #12 for new readers. It’s the middle of a story, and I think a lot of writers would simply assume that one year in, you don’t have to worry about a new reader and just plow forward. That’s not the case here, though. So along the way, Cornell gives subtle reminders; how the vampires planted a fake Ebony Blade with the Black Knight, or Spitfire having a vampire son, or even Captain Britain’s source of powers and all that it should entail. “Captain Britain and MI: 13” is certainly a critical darling, and Cornell is wisely planning for the possibility that someone may hear the buzz and decide to jump on board.
Leonard Kirk’s pencils are getting sharper every year; with Jay Leisten’s inks over them, the duo’s finished product reminds me a great deal of Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger’s collaborations over the years. (Amusingly enough, Immonen contributes this month’s cover.) From the assault on the vampires in the MI: 13 headquarters, to the horrific scenes on the moon, Kirk and Leisten create a moody, sharp-edged art that perfectly brings Cornell’s script to life.
“Captain Britain and MI: 13” is a fun book, one that (to use an old chestnut) is more than the sum of its parts. Hopefully it’ll be around for a second year (and much more), because this first year has been a blast and a half. Check it out, you’ll thank me later.