Thu
May 27 2010 12:37pm

Best Graphic Story Nominee #4: Captain Britain and MI13—Vampire State

The fourth nominee of the week is Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13: Vampire State. It is the third volume of Captain Britain and MI13 (turns out there’s no “the” in that title), a Marvel series that ties in to the Skrull/Secret Invasion arc that has been going on for some time now. I would strongly recommend reading the first two volumes, but I think that it’s technically possible to read it alone. It would also help to have some familiarity with the Marvel universe. This is the comic with the highest entry-bar, I think, out of the whole list of nominees, but I also think that it’s enjoyable for someone who isn’t a regular comics reader. Get the three trades and go for it, yeah?

Cornell, also a writer for Doctor Who, is nominated for the Best Novelette this year in addition to the Best Graphic Story Award. He was recently interviewed on Tor.com by Teresa Jusino, discussing both his nominated works and his other writing.

Captain Britain and MI13: Vampire State is the most “comic book”-ish of the comics nominated for the Best Graphic Story Award. It’s part of an ongoing universe story in the Marvel continuity and contains characters (like Dr. Doom) that would only be recognizable to a regular reader. It also has superheroes in suits and a huge amount of crossover appearances, like Marvel!Dracula. (I am not well versed in Secret Invasion, so it’s likely I missed some things in here that a regular follower of the storyline wouldn’t.)

The story opens after Captain Britain and his team have kicked the Skrulls out of Great Britain at a price, and a new invasion is gearing up to take advantage: Dracula and his “kingdom.” The fight between Dracula and the team is elaborate and involves a lot of feints and tricks—always the best part of a space battle—that also allow for a comfortable amount of character development. Spitfire’s storyline in this is the most engaging, in my opinion, and also the hardest. She’s the one who has to go behind enemy lines and do terrible things for the success of the mission. She’s the one who has to decide to have her own son killed. Of course, in the end the good guys win (and Dr. Doom is still playing his own side), and the couples are merry, but it’s an interesting trip to that ending.

Arguably, if it weren’t for all the characters you need to know or the background stories, this could be a standalone story arc. The plot is concise and fits perfectly into the trade collection. That may make it more accessible than I give it credit for, but we’ll see.

I like Captain Britain and MI13, but I prefer the secondary leads to Captain Britain himself. I find their stories more interesting and engaging, especially Jacquelyn and Faiza. This volume definitely catered to my preferences. Jacquelyn’s struggles with her vampire nature and her son, as well as the general torment she endures to infiltrate Dracula’s stronghold and save Britain from the invasion, make her one of the toughest characters in the comic. I’m not sure how I feel about her pairing off with Blade, because I’m not always thrilled when every character must end the story in a cutesy romantic entanglement, but it could work to develop her further in the future. I like the way the women look and dress in Captain Britain—generally, not a lot of excess cleavage or, ahem, details showing in their tight suits. (I did find myself wondering how one would keep on the headscarf while flying/doing battle/etc., though, in Faiza’s case. Judiciously applied bobby pins?)

Faiza is fun because she’s a strong woman with strong faith and capability. There aren’t many Muslim characters in comics. Christian or agnostic seems to be the default, just like the predominant skin color is white—it’s the bias of Western media, played out on paper instead. I love that her faith is part of her power, and also that she wields Excalibur. That’s just cool. A woman with Excalibur is a nice touch.

The problem I did have with the comic is, strangely, the last page—as I’ve hinted already, I’m not generally thrilled by the idea that everyone needs to pair off in romantic liaisons at the end of a story. Brian and his wife getting back together is understandable. I’m cool with that. But why everyone? Why does every woman need to pair off with a man, or if you want to look at it the other way, every man pair off with a woman? I would have been happier with some of the characters just sitting down for drinks or hanging out relaxing after their victory. Something other than the neat, clean pairing solution. It just feels forced. In real life, it is pretty rare for a group of friends/coworkers to evenly couple up together.

The art is nice—it’s generally vivid and effective to tell the story it’s telling. There are a lot of bright colors in this comic. It’s not quite up to the level of Fables or Batman, this time around, so I can’t give it the double thumbs up.

Overall, I had fun reading this and I think Paul Cornell is a good writer who wants to tell interesting and creative stories. It’s not my choice for the winner, because I did have some nitpicks with it, but I liked it. (Really, these comics are all Hugo nominees. I’m pretty sure it would be hard to truly dislike any of them; they’re pretty quality stuff.) Pick it up, check it out, and decide if this one’s your vote.

Tomorrow, my choice: Fables—The Dark Ages.


Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.

4 comments
Teresa Jusino
1. TeresaJusino
For me it would be SUCH a difficult choice between this, Fables, and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, as I think they're all equally good for different reasons.

Didn't have as many nitpicks as you did with Captain Britain. I think this story's strength is that it IS an ensemble comic. I cared about Brian no more or less than anyone else, and I think that's a testament to the strength of these characters. It's also why I like Captain Britain so much. With Captain America, there's always the feeling that people are trying to impress him. If you met him, you might feel underdressed. :) Whereas Capt. Britain is someone who, even though he's a shining example of what to be, a role model, he's also relatable and doesn't hold himself above his team. Which is interesting, considering that I've always thought of England as a country that holds to class distinctions.

I also didn't have a problem with the pairing off. Then again, Cornell is a notorious romantic, and that's part of what I like about his writing. :) I like the faith he puts in relationships. And it doesn't feel sexist to me. It's not about a woman needing to be saved, or a man being a man - it's about people working better when they're part of a good team than when they're alone. :) I like that.

But I ALSO wondered about Faiza's headscarf. And yes, bobby pins are likely. :) But also, I think that would make for an interesting story on its own. If it did fly off her head, where would she draw the line? Would she let if fly off? Would she go to trouble to keep it on? I'd love to see that in a future Faiza story.
Teresa Jusino
2. TeresaJusino
BTW - I just noticed that you linked to my interview with him! Thanks! He's a cool guy indeed, regardless of the outcome of this particular contest. :)
Brit Mandelo
3. BritMandelo
@teresajusino

I think Brian just had less personal pull for me as a character than Jac or Faiza, and in this volume he was a little less "on-screen" than they were, I thought. I still like him, though.

I think the relationships thing is a personal grump, too. Some are fine, but it never strikes me as "real" when everybody gets all romantic. Some of them could just be friends, you know? Best friends don't have to be romantic partners. Almost all my best friends are male. If just one of the "couples" at the end had been doing the best-bud thing instead of the romance-thing, I would have been double thumbs up.

PS--I loved that interview.
Brian2
4. Brian2
I thought the ending as a whole needed more room to breathe, through no fault of Paul Cornell -- he had to pay off a huge amount of material in the last issue of the series, and did some very tight writing to get it all in. Too bad he didn't have more room. Too bad, for that matter, the series didn't go on so he could have had more room.

As the the final bits, though, "I could murder a cup of tea" was, in context, the best last line I can remember reading anywhere. And the closing credits, so to speak, were a perfect way to follow that. They're deliberately old-fashioned, and they give you cameos of the characters as you'd like to remember them ending up. In a series with this strong a sense of relationships, that's mostly people ending up happily close to each other. Except possibly for Pete Wisdom. Not sure exactly where he is with that woman, and in any case you can't imagine it'll last for very long. But he likes it that way, so that's good, too.

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