Captain Britain (Expanded) Omnibus Review

Captain Britain

As regular Lightgun Galaxy readers know, I’ve been reading X-Men comics from the very, very beginning. I’ve posted several reviews about this reading project already, so it’s certainly no secret that I’ve been reading this stuff.

As I made my way deeper into the 1980s, though, I was faced with some big decisions. Do I include Excalibur in this reading project? If so, should I read Captain Britain before I start Excalibur? I mean, this is a fairly complete readthrough, and it does seem like Captain Britain’s pre-Excalibur story is probably at least somewhat important. So I answered “Yes” to both of those questions. I will read Exalibur, and I’ll read Captain Britain’s 1970s and 1980s runs first.

The problem is that some of this material is really hard to find. While some of it’s on Marvel Unlimited, a lot of the U.K.-exclusive comics aren’t. There are some trade paperbacks, but those are rare and expensive. There was also an omnibus printed back in 2009, which was shoddily reprinted by Panini more recently, but it doesn’t include the earlier part of the run.

Thankfully, Marvel has made all of this so much easier to collect and read with an expanded version of the Captain Britain omnibus, released in 2022. This includes absolutely everything that’s collected roughshod in all of those other books I mentioned earlier (with one exception, which I’ll talk about in the next section).

So let’s dive into the expanded 2022 version of the Captain Britain omnibus and see what it’s all about.

What’s collected in this book?

Captain Britain

This omnibus is massive. I thought New Mutants Vol. 1 was a monster, but this one beats it by almost 100 pages. Yes, this tome contains 1,360 pages of Captain Britain comics from the 1970s and 1980s. There’s so much content in this book that the table of contents — even with it’s tiny little font — takes up three full pages.

So let me walk you through everything that’s included in this book. I should point out that in a majority of these series, Captain Britain was just one story among several (Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain, for example, and The Daredevils). In those cases, only the Captain Britain story is included in this volume.

So, this collects every Captain Britain story from:

  • Captain Britain (1976) #1-39
  • Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain (1976) #231-247
  • Marvel Team-Up #65-66
  • Hulk Comic #1
  • Hulk Comic #3-30
  • Hulk Comic #42-46
  • Incredible Hulk Weekly #47-55
  • Incredible Hulk Weekly #57-63
  • Marvel Super-Heroes (1979) #377-388
  • The Daredevils #1-11
  • Mighty World of Marvel #7-16
  • Captain Britain (1985) #1-14
  • New Mutants Annual #2
  • X-Men Annual #11
  • Marvel Tales #131-133
  • Hulk Comic #31-41
  • Marvel Super-Heroes #377 (six-page version)

This is every pre-Excalibur Captain Britain story with the exception of Captain America #305-306, which was included in the previous version of the omnibus. If you want to know where that story fits in this reading order, people often put them after The Daredevils #11 (personally, I would place it after Mighty World of Marvel #13 myself).

If you’re curious what’s printed in the previous versions of this omnibus, I’ll give you the full list:

  • Marvel Super-Heroes (1979) #377-388
  • The Daredevils #1-11
  • Captain America #305-306
  • Mighty World of Marvel #7-16
  • Captain Britain (1985) #1-14
  • New Mutants Annual #2
  • X-Men Annual #11

It’s important to note that the 2009 printing was an omnibus size and contained 688 pages, while there’s a Panini version of this omnibus released later on that is smaller page count (636 pages) and in size (10.63″ x 7.2″), and also lower in quality. I believe the Panini version was released in 2021. It’s important to know about the various versions of this if you are indeed seeking out the pre-2022 omnibus.

Captain Britain - Panini

That’s a lot of info to keep straight, which is why the expanded version of the Captain Britain omnibus is such a godsend. There’s now a simple way to collect this entire series without having to look up reading orders or try to figure out how to get the earlier parts of the run without spending a fortune on out-of-print books. Then again, this omnibus will eventually go out of print itself, creating the same problem over again…

How is the quality of the physical book?

Captain Britain Omnibus

My copy of this book was manufactured between June 18, 2021, and August 30, 2021, at Imak Offset in Istanbul, Turkey. This is the first printing of the expanded version of the omnibus, and the street date for release was April 12, 2022. Anything released prior to that is likely to be one of the smaller versions.

As I said before, this book is massive. I only own one omnibus that has more pages than this one (The War of the Realms), as it seems pretty rare for Marvel to go over 1,200 pages with these books. Obviously, they’ll make exceptions when they need to.

Captain Britain Omnibus

When you remove the dust jacket, you’ll see an incredible wraparound mural by Alan Davis. This is actually the cover of X-Men Archives Featuring Captain Britain #6, though the text has been removed and the image is reversed.

In case you’re unfamiliar, X-Men Archives was a comic series that reprinted select adventures from certain characters (Legion or Magneto, for example), and X-Men Archives Featuring Captain Britain was a spinoff of this reprint series that focused on Captain Britain (as the title implies).

There’s another X-Men Archives image on the back of the dust jacket (also by Alan Davis), this one from X-Men Archives Featuring Captain Britain #2.

Captain Britain Omnibus

Note that a lot of these stories were originally released in black and white, but some of those were re-released in color later on. Those include Marvel Super-Heroes, Daredevils, Mighty World of Marvel, and Captain Britain (1985). Anything else that was originally printed in black and white is printed in black and white in this volume. That means that some of these stories are in color, while others are in black and white.

Captain Britain Omnibus

I’m glad that they printed the full-color versions when they had them, and I totally get why they didn’t go back and color this entire book. It can be a little jarring to jump back and forth between the black-and-white and full-color images, but I honestly don’t mind. It’s kind of fun reading some of these in black and white, especially the Black Knight stories, because those just feel right without color. I know I’m talking about Marvel here, which is owned by one of the biggest corporations in the world, but reading these comics in black and white gives them a little bit of an indie-comics vibe.

Anyway, the binding on this book is impressively sturdy. With so many pages, I was worried that the binding would crease awkwardly (which tends to happen if you don’t relax the binding before reading a big book like this), but so far that hasn’t been an issue at all.

Captain Britain Omnibus

It’s possible that I’m just taking better care of my books these days, but even so, this binding feels pretty sturdy.

Is the story any good?

Captain Britain

I should point out that the original run of Captain Britain appeared in a weekly magazine that printed several stories per issue. As I mentioned earlier, the Captain Britain stories are the only ones printed in this omnibus, and each one of these stories is just seven pages. That makes a majority of this content feel like a super fast read, despite the sheer volume of what’s collected here.

This starts off with the very origin of Captain Britain, penned by none other than Chris Claremont. In the opening story, Brian Braddock is a physicist who works in a nuclear research center. He’s injured in a motorcycle accident, and is approached by two mysterious supernatural figures who offer him a choice: He can pick up either an enchanted sword or a magical amulet. Brian’s not a fan of using violence to solve his problems, so he chooses the amulet, which represents protection. He’s then transformed into Captain Britain, with a superhero costume and a staff that he barely understands.

In this first run, we see some very important appearances, from the first appearance of Brian Braddock to the introduction of his twin sister Betsy (issue #8) and his older brother Jaime (issue #9). These characters will become really important in time, and X-fans are probably familiar with Betsy as Psylocke (however, it’s the blond version that’s introduced here…)

Claremont’s run on the character only lasts for ten issues. After issue #10, Gary Friedrich takes over the book, building on the mythos and teaming Captain Britain with Captain America to stop Red Skull’s takeover of the U.K. And that’s a good thing, because up until this point, Captain Britain’s rogues gallery is pretty lame (the closest thing he has to an arch-enemy is a computer that his father built).

Captain Britain

The fight against the Red Skull is a long, serialized story that takes weeks and weeks to tell, and there’s a big shift in the middle of this storyline. Starting with issue #24, these stories are in black and white instead of full-color. At this point, John Buscema and Tom Palmer take over the art duties, and even in black and white, the series looks much better after the change in artists.

Once the Red Skull storyline is resolved, the story flounders a bit, introducing us to a villain called Lord Hawk. This guy was one of Brian’s professors, and apparently Brian built him a remote-controlled hawk (I have no idea when he found the time to build it, because it does seem like this happened sometime after he became Captain Britain). The hawk is modified to become a weapon, and then the professor just starts calling himself Lord Hawk. He has decent intentions — he wants to stop people from polluting the earth — but his methodology is a bit off. Robotic death hawks don’t seem like the best way for him to get his environmentalist message out into the world…

Captain Britain

Lord Hawk does seem like he fits right in with Captain Britain’s lame rogues gallery, but I have to admit that I really like him as a villain. He’s just so much more interesting than anyone else we’ve seen up to this point (aside from the Red Skull, who’s admittedly a classic Marvel villain). I doubt we’ll ever see Lord Hawk on the big screen, but the concept is so absurd that I can’t help but love it.

My favorite part of the original Captain Britain run, though, comes after this, when Brian’s consciousness is sent into an alternate realm to meet with Merlin (who, as it turns out, was one of the mysterious figures who gifted him the amulet). While Merlin’s motivation seems kind of flimsy, I do like that the series starts toying with Arthurian legend. This part of the story is a nice little appetizer for what’s to come.

Toward the end of this initial run, Len Wein stepped in to write an issue (issue #37), introducing us to the Highwayman, who’s basically a low-rent Ghost Rider, and the Manipulator, who’s power is — yeah, you guessed it — manipulating people. After that issue, writing duties were handed off to Bob Budiansky and Jim Lawrence, who finished out the last two issues.

Captain Britain - The Highwayman

The book was cancelled after issue #39, which ends on a cliffhanger, but the Captain Britain story continued. It just moved into the pages of Super Spider-Man, which was renamed Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain starting with issue #231. Like the previous batch of stories, these ones are all seven pages long. Budiansky and Lawrence continue the series, picking it up right where Captain Britain #39 left off, with more Manipulator and Highwayman.

When that arc is over, Budiansky is replaced by Larry Lieber, and they have Captain Britain face off against some odd foes, including a robotic Loch Ness monster and a baron who is both a vampire and a werewolf. After that, he’s lured to an island by a villain named Doctor Claw, and then faces off against an assassin called Slaymaster who’s trying to collect a whole bunch of valuables, including a mint copy of Spider-Man #1.

Admittedly, this batch of stories feels a bit goofy, and I would hardly call any of them essential for readers of Captain Britain. It’s nice that they’re collected here for the sake of completion, though.

After this, Chris Claremont picks up Captain Britain’s adventure again for Marvel Team-Up #65-66, in which he’s introduced to Spider-Man and Arcade’s Murderworld. This storyline is actually referenced in The X-Men #123 (which is collected in the Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 omnibus). These issues are 15 pages a piece (instead of seven, like previous stories), and they’re in full color.

Marvel Team-Up

We do move back to black and white at this point, as Captain Britain was cancelled once again and didn’t reappear until the Marvel UK Hulk Comic magazine launched. The Black Knight would get his own serial in that magazine, and the whole thing is included in this omnibus because Captain Britain is a major character in the story. Not a lot of these stories are credited, but when credits do show up, they mention Steve Parkhouse as the script writer, with John Stokes on art and Paul Neary providing layouts.

And I have to say, the Black Knight serial is incredible. Here, there’s a radical shift to this dark high fantasy epic, where the Black Knight and Captain Britain are on a quest to find Merlyn (the spelling of his name changes at this point for whatever reason) in a dimension called Otherworld. The path is fraught with dangers, such as ogres and even a demi-god named Mandrac. This is a series where absolutely anything can happen, where magic runs wild and little furry dog-elves assist the heroes in battle.

Basically, this feels like a superhero-comic version of The Lord of the Rings. If that description sounds awesome to you, you’re going to absolutely love this. On the other hand, if that sounds kind of lame to you, you probably won’t care for it. Personally, I think this run is the best part of this entire omnibus. This series completely blew me away.

The Black Knight

These stories are generally two to three pages long, so they move incredibly quickly, which makes the pacing of the serial feel very fast. It almost never slows down — it just keeps throwing magic curveball after magic curveball.

This particular Black Knight run is actually really hard to find — I’m not aware of any other books where it’s been collected, and it’s not on Marvel Unlimited — so I’m really glad they included it here. Plus, the text can be surprisingly small in many places, so reading it in the oversized format of this omnibus is ideal.

By the time this run wrapped up, Captain Britain was finally starting to gain some popularity — enough that he got a new serial in Marvel Super-Heroes. This is when Alan Davis began his work on the series (he draws almost the entire rest of the book), and Cap got a new costume (the one shown on the front cover of the omnibus).

Immediately following the Black Knight serial, Captain Britain is sent back to London by Merlyn, only this isn’t the London he remembers — it’s a bizarro, distorted alternate reality. That’s due to a mutant named Jim Jaspers, who has reality-warping powers (think Franklin Richards), only he’s completely mad. So reality is warped around his madness.

Captain Britain’s serial is then moved from Marvel Super-Heroes into a new magazine called The Daredevils, and Alan Moore takes over as the writer at this point. Moore’s run is incredible, and it takes a lot of previous elements of the Captain Britain mythos and works them into some genuinely great storytelling. Prepare to rethink Jim Jaspers, Slaymaster, and even that goofy computer that showed up in the original run.

After 11 issues of The Daredevils, Moore’s serial carries into Mighty World of Marvel. Moore completes his run with issue #13, but Captain Britain’s story continues until issue #16. After that, he’s finally given his own magazine.

Captain Britain

That lasts for 14 issues, and the series pretty much wraps up here. The post-Moore stories aren’t as tightly woven as Moore’s run, but they’re still well worth reading. Mighty World of Marvel #14 introduces Meggan, who Excalibur readers are surely familiar with, and I found issue #4 of Captain Britain (titled “Sid’s Story”) to be a personal highlight of the latter portion of the series.

There was a black-and-white backup story featuring the Warpies that ran in Captain Britain 11-14, and that’s collected here, and issue #13 contained a prose backup story called “Captain Granbretan,” which was penned by Grant Morrison and is also included in this collection.

This omnibus also collects New Mutants Annual #2 and The X-Men Annual #11, but if you’re reading all of X-Men, like I am, then those issues are much better read in their X-Men continuity than in this volume.

Beyond that, the early story of Captain Britain was retold in Marvel Tales #131-133. That’s basically the early issues of the first run, only recolored, rearranged, and slightly condensed. And then Hulk Comic #31-41 contained another retelling of Captain Britain’s origin, as well as the Black Knight’s origin, but in black and white. These aren’t essential reading, but they’re nice inclusions if you want to see the various retellings of the Captain Britain origin story.

Is this a good place to start reading Captain Britain?

Captain Britain

Enthusiastically yes.

Not only is this omnibus a good place to start reading Captain Britain comics, but I think it’s the best place. This massive tome starts at the very beginning and collects pretty much every appearance of the character before Excalibur (with the odd exception of those Captain America issues).

The early adventures feel creaky and old-fashioned, but if you really want to read the very beginning of Brian Braddock’s adventures, it’s all collected here. If you want to skip that stuff, you could jump in either during the Black Knight run, or when Alan Davis starts drawing the series in the 1980s. All three of those are excellent jumping-in points for the character, and all of them are in this book.

If you’re interested in Captain Britain at all, you really should think about picking up this book. It’s ludicrously comprehensive, and some of these stories — especially the later ones — are fantastic. Plus, this content features the origins of characters who will later appear in X-Men and Excalibur, so I would argue that these stories are essential for a comprehensive readthrough of the X-books.

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10 months ago

Fuck off with your damn pop-up! I AM READING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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