A Skrull invasion force did it's best to conquer England, and it almost succeeded. The Skrulls killed one of England's premier champions, Captain Britain, and seized control of the island nation's most powerful natural resource, magic. But Britain's other heroes weren't about to give up hope. Through sacrifice and sheer determination, they brought Captain Britain back and rallied to kick the Skrull invaders out of their country.
Such was "The Guns of Avalon," the first story arc in writer Paul Cornell and artist Leonard Kirk's ongoing Marvel Comics series, "Captain Britain and MI:13." CBR News spoke with Cornell about the fallout from the story, as well as what future dangers await the team in the next arc, "Hell Comes to Birmingham."
When Captain Britain (also known as Brian Braddock) returned from the dead at the end of issue #3, the British people were surprised to see their champion had undergone some cosmetic changes: he was clad in a new costume and no longer wearing a face-concealing helmet. "I wanted Captain Britain to be a straightforward, front-facing hero, and not hide his features," Cornell told CBR News. "He doesn't have much of a secret identity now, so that's not an issue. Besides, Leonard draws such great expressions, and this story's all about character, it felt like we were muffling our voice by putting him in a mask."
Captain Britain's resurrection changed more than just his heroic togs. "As we reveal in issue five, the limits of Brian's powers are now tied in to his emotions. So if he's feeling very determined and confident, then he's very powerful, but if he's losing it then he'll really be losing it," Cornell explained. "He's as strong as he used to be, and he can fly, and that's all due to his magical nature, not to his costume. I've always seen him as something like the Shazam Captain Marvel, a hero formed through magic. Which means the subjective nature of what he can now do feels apt to me. As he himself says about great feats depending on whether or not he can gather all his courage together, he says: 'well, I am Captain Britain.'"
In "Captain Britain and MI:13" #3, Pete Wisdom opened the doors to what appeared to be a mystical prison in the dimension of Avalon and let loose all sorts of supernatural evil. But like Pandora before him, Wisdom also freed something else: hope, which came in the form of the being known as Merlin. "He's hope in that he gave us Brian back," Cornell stated. "And that's the last we'll see of him in the book for... a long time."
"The Guns of Avalon" arc also saw the character of Faiza Hussain undergo some changes as well. When the story began, Faiza was just a young doctor doing her best to help her country in its time of need, but a chance encounter with a Skrull device endowed her with super abilities that allow her to both heal and hurt. "She could do some terrifying harm if she wanted to," Cornell remarked. "She can safely pull apart bodies, leaving the person conscious, and make whatever changes she wants to, down to a quantum level. In the case of the Skrulls, she could stop them changing, but holding people in place is the least of it. She's gained an intuitive knowledge of how bodies work, also."
Super powers weren't the only extraordinary thing Faiza received in "The Guns of Avalon." On the final page of "Captain Britain and MI:14" #4, she pulled the fabled sword Excalibur from its latest resting place. "She was seen as worthy," Cornell said. "It's always the youngster who gets it and has to prove themselves. And she has one great big act of destiny to perform with it, way down the line. I like the fact the team have swords: Excalibur; the Black Knight's Ebony Blade; Blade's adamantium odachi."
Blade joins the cast of "Captain Britain and MI:13" in issue #5, in stores September 17. Initially, the vampire hunter also known as Eric Brooks receives a warm welcome from his new teammates. "They've deliberately invited Eric in, so there's no initial character conflict," Cornell said. "Only then things get a bit complicated and, well, a lot of people are at each other's throats. Ahem."
Blade joining MI:13 brings the team's core ranks back up to six members. One of the team's original members, John the Skrull, perished in the "Guns of Avalon" arc, something that's weighing heavily on the minds of certain team members when issue #5 begins. "At the start it looks like they've all been very professional and got past it," Cornell remarked. "But then we start tugging on those dangling threads a little bit. You know Pete Wisdom especially isn't one to just shrug something like this off. He lost one of his team."
The Skrulls were magically banished from England at the end of "The Guns of Avalon," but that doesn't mean the invading shapeshifters have forgotten about the UK. "We're in the Marvel Universe, and the Skrulls are going to keep on being mentioned, and we'll roll with all the big changes," Cornell said." For a start, the Skrulls nearly down the RAF transport that's racing across the Atlantic, trying to bring Blade to Britain."
Captain Britain, Blade, Pete Wisdom, Spitfire, the Black Knight and Faiza Hussain represent the core cast of "Captain Britain and MI:13," but there will be some degree of fluidity in the team's ranks going forward. "We're absolutely on for other British heroes popping in, and the team set up (as displayed in issue five, the epilogue to 'The Guns of Avalon') is designed to allow that," Cornell explained. "Union Jack cameos in that issue, and Captain Midlands appears in the arc that follows, 'Hell Comes to Birmingham.' News of which is going down very well with the guys at the Birmingham Comics Show, by the way."
"Hell Comes to Birmingham" kicks off in "Captain Britain and MI:13" #6 and follows up on the repercussions of Pete Wisdom letting loose the horde of supernatural evil in issue #3. "Something that Pete let out comes straight for Earth, and it's a full on fight as MI:13, with military back-up, scrambles to stop them," Cornell explained. "We've got hordes of Mindless Ones, military jet strikes, a terrible series of choices for Brian, and Pete trying to deal with his issues in a war zone crowded with civilians. This is another war movie against the supernatural, with a lot of that shaky modern camera work and explosions. And our guys are pushed to the brink, as always. That's what I aim to do with this title, see if these guys are still heroes if I push them this hard, then a bit harder, then a bit harder-- and they've always turned out to be. That's the joy of it."
MI:13's chief adversary in "Hell Come to Birmingham" is a sinister, infernal being named Plotka. "He's a lovely new Leonard design, in a rather Steve Ditko vein. He's a Lord of Hell. He's not exactly humanoid," Cornell said. "He's got an important and so far unseen function in the mystical side of the Marvel Universe. And he's decided to conquer the world exponentially from a tower block in Birmingham. He's also so got our team's number, only they go in without knowing that."
The story of MI:13's struggle against Plotka's infernal machinations is a mixture of widescreen superhero action and supernatural horror. "British Marvel always used to be about whimsy. Fuck whimsy. We've got a sense of humor, but that comes out through character under pressure," Cornell remarked. "This is pow pow pow, character character character, pow pow pow. Our heroes have declared that they don't kill. That is, they don't kill people. They're not so worried about sending demons back where they came from with swords and bazookas. By which I mean, you know, actual bazookas. What kind of age rating do you think we have?"
If readers were amazed by "The Guns of Avalon," they should hold onto their hats while reading "Hell Comes to Birmingham," because Paul Cornell's enthusiasm and ideas get bigger and bigger with every issue of "Captain Britain and MI:13" he completes. "I'm still having this enormously great time with my editor Nick Lowe and Leonard. I'm grabbing this chance with both hands," Cornell said. "I just wrote pages and pages today, cackling to myself as I did it, because this beauty is getting all my creative energy. I'm glad that, from the sound of it, the readership is into it too."