Saturday, December 30, 2006

Stripping Down #12

Essential X-Men #146 (Panini UK)
“The End Of History” by Chris Claremont & Alan Davis (Uncanny X-Men #445-447)

To those of a certain age, Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ revival of Captain Britain* in the 1980s remains one of the greatest superhero sagas committed to the comic book page (*Not wishing to overlook Dave Thorpe’s contribution as original writer on the revamp). Key to it’s success was the cast of incredible characters, not least ‘Mad’ Jim Jaspers and uber killing machine, The Fury. The latter quite rightly established itself as the ultimate in unstoppable foes, cutting down superheroes like so much chaff; even Captain Britain himself was killed (and subsequently resurrected by Merlin) before the relentless cyborg could be stopped. Although this may have had more to do with Moore’s acrimonious split with Marvel soon after, the fact that The Fury hasn’t reappeared in the mainstream Marvel universe since has cemented it’s reputation as one of the company’s most memorable foes. Now, Chris Claremont – and returning X-artist Alan Davis – have decided to resurrect the character. Does the story enhance, or shatter, The Fury’s reputation? What do you think? Stretched over three US issues, the story starts off well enough, as a small team of X-Men discover The Fury in the bowels of a demolished and deserted Braddock Manor (the ancestral home of Captain Britain). In the first part’s promising cliffhanger, the X-Men completely underestimate the threat posed by their unknown foe and appear to pay a heavy price. However, remember this is the X-Men written by Chris Claremont, where characters are despatched and resurrected with reckless abandon. Therefore, where Alan Moore’s characters were constantly outfought by The Fury (and, Captain Britain aside, stayed dead when they were killed), here the ‘ultimate killing machine’ struggles to nail C-listers like Cannonball. After a drawn out battle, Claremont proceeds to wrap things up with his usual tired devices. X-Men joining hands to ‘channel’ their powers through a focal point? Check. A truckful of alien tech cluster bombs, handily stored in the armoury, lobbed in for good measure? Check. Compared with Moore’s Captain Britain saga, where the heroes were forced to rely on their abilities, strength of will and ‘proper’ team work to win the day, Claremont’s plot adopts the stereotypical approach of bombing the shit out of something until there’s nothing left to fight (hmmm, sounds familiar…). The closing panel sees a rather smug team, revelling in their bonding experience with little concern for the missing Captain Britain. A victory perhaps but, for this reader at least, a pyrrhic one. The irony is that, if you want a story featuring The Fury that remains true to Moore and Davis’ original vision, you’ll find it in Panini UK’s younger readers’ title Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures, courtesy of writer Jim Alexander, Jon Haward and John Stokes (see my review in Stripping Down #2). I’m just praying that Claremont doesn’t focus his attention on the aforementioned Jaspers or Moore’s superlative superteam The Special Executive. That will truly be The End Of History as far as I’m concerned…

Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures
(Panini UK)

“Night Of The Goblin” by various

For some time, Panini UK have been producing homegrown comic strips for their younger readers’ Spectacular Spider-Man title. This handy pocket sized book collects a year or so’s worth of stories for a mere £3.99 and provides a consistent level of quality throughout. Given the limitations of the comic strip format – 11 page standalone stories inspired by the 1990s animated TV series, with only the occasional nod to continuity – there is inevitably little in the way of character development. However, what’s apparent in the latter part of the book is an editorial shift that sees the comic strip adopt a Marvel Team-Up format, but also allows for greater depth in the narratives. This is particularly evident in the collection’s closing story – and sole two-parter, To Save Tomorrow/The Rule Of Four by Mitchel Scanlon. Exploring an alternate world where the roles of Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom have reversed to tragic and disastrous effect, Scanlon’s writing provides a neat set up, underpinning narrative and a conclusion which satisfies on several levels. As writer on ten of the fifteen stories collected here, Ferg Handley provides a sure narrative steer throughout, the highlight being Stormy Waters, featuring the Sub-Mariner. The Marvel Team-Up approach enables both the writers and artists to flex their creative muscles on Marvel stalwarts like the Fantastic Four, Wolverine and The Punisher, as well as lesser known (to the target readership, at least) characters like Silver Sable and Captain Britain. Jim Alexander’s writing on the latter is the best of his three contributions. Despite narrative constraints, the story packs in a mini-origin for the Captain, his first meeting with Spidey and an enjoyable climatic battle with The Red Skull, all ably illustrated by Jon Haward and John Stokes. In fact, this pocket book is a strong showcase for Haward, whose art at times evokes classic Spidey artist John Romita. The other artists – John Royle, Simon Williams and Paul Marshall – all produce work to rival their US counterparts. Knowing how much the Spectacular Spider-Man comic strip has continued to evolve and improve since the stories reprinted here, I hope that further collections won’t be too far behind.

Panini comics website

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