Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Captain Britain #9, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated 8 December 1976. Enjoy!
I very much doubt that anyone will claim that the saga of Captain Britain before Alan Moore got his hands on it are great comics, even though several writers (including Chris Claremont) tried their best to make them entertaining. However, you can’t deny that back in the 1970s, when comics were still using a template that had been laid down in the 1930s and 1940s, first pages were often extremely informative. On this page, we find out what Captain Britain’s deal is (he’s Brian Braddock, a “student-physicist” who transforms into Britain’s “champion of justice” when he – ahem – “rubs his mystic amulet” – you know, when I do that in public, I get arrested) and we find out what the status quo is at this instant – a plane has crashed, a girl is in danger, and some weird dude on horseback is menacing our hero. Monsters brought the plane down and ravaged the girl’s mind, “monsters spawned by — the demon dreams of Dr. Synne!” Come on – how can you not love that purple prose, especially when either Irving Watanabe or George Roussos colors the words “Dr Synne” in that great green? Dr. Synne doesn’t mess around, either – he immediately conjures up a fireball and hurls it at our hero. Claremont has no time to waste! He has 7 pages of story, and he means to use them!
Trimpe, who was born, coincidentally, in May 1939 (a not insignificant month in the history of comic bookery), was perhaps reading comics in the 1950s, because the page layout is similar to what you see in comics of that time period. One large panel and two smaller panels below, forming a triangle. Obviously, the first panel is easy to read – Trimpe doesn’t really need to lead our eye from left to right, but he’s smart enough to put the burning plane on the left and Dr. Synne on the right. The third panel is interesting, because Synne seems to throw the fireball sideways, and it’s unclear why Trimpe didn’t put the villain on the left side of the panel and have the fireball coming from upper left to bottom right, which would lead the reader toward the next page. It seems like an obvious choice to make, yet Trimpe puts Synne on the right side of the panel and the fireball coming back toward the middle of the page. The “3-D” effect of the fireball is nice, but the flow of the panels is disrupted just a bit. The succeeding page shows Trimpe leading the eye with the fireball itself (the contrail – if that’s the right term – actually parallels the word balloons in the order we’re supposed to read them), so it’s not like he doesn’t know how to do it. There’s probably a reason he did it this way, but I’m sure it’s lost in the mists of time.
It’s very rare these days to get comics that tell continuing stories in such short chunks. The new edition of Dark Horse Presents comes to mind, but that’s the only one. It’s an interesting skill, and one reason these comics are entertaining is because Claremont knows he has to get on with it. This might not be a great comic, but it’s an exciting first page!
Next: Alternate realities! Those are always fun! Of course, the archives don’t exist in an alternate reality, so you can check them out at your leisure!