Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2010 Hugo nominee: Graphic Fiction: Captain Britain And MI13. Volume 3: Vampire State Written by Paul Cornell; Pencilled by Leonard Kirk (Marvel)

British writer Paul Cornell is probably best known for his work on the revived Dr. Who. He wrote three episodes, and all received Hugo nominations. Cornell has also done a lot of work at the fringes of the Marvel Universe. He's done several miniseries, but his best received work dealt with Marvel's British superheroes. He started with a miniseries on mutant Pete Wisdom from Marvel's adult imprint that emphasized the British Isles as a place of magic and fairies. He placed the mutant paranormal investigator in MI:13, a fiction British agency that deals with the weird. He then returned to MI:13 and the same themes with a new series starring Captain Britain (a superhero defined by comics legends Alan Moore and Chris Claremont). Joining Wisdom and Moore were the Black Knight, World War II heroine Spitfire, vampire hunter Blade, and a new character, Dr. Faiza Hussain. The series was an immense hit with critics and had many vocal fans, but sales were abysmally low throughout its run, and the book was cancelled after 15 issues and an annual.

This volume contains the third and final story: "Vampire State." Dracula (yes, he's a character in the Marvel Universe) decides to invade Britain to capture its magical resources, and he prepares a massive vampire army on the moon to do so. The MI: 13 team is ambushed, but they quickly put together a series of elaborate counter-measures. The battle involves a lot of twists and turns, betrayals and double crosses, and magical one-upmanship.

It's a very fun story, though it's not without its problems. Cornell seems willing to sacrifice the overall flow of the story in favor of dramatic issue-ending cliffhangers. One fake-out in particular seems just a bit too elaborate, and won't make any sense if you haven't read the previous storyline. Cornell's not afraid to delve into obscure continuity, and I'm not really sure if that's a flaw or a virtue. A lot of the story hangs on the obscure 1970s villain Baron Blood. My biggest complaint is with the art. Regular artist Leonard Kirk is fantastic, but he seems to have been running behind. Much of this volume is drawn by other artists, and these clearly inferior fill-in pages appear randomly.

The story begins with Dracula and Dr Doom meeting on the moon to discuss a possible alliance. If that sounds cool to you, you will probably enjoy this series. If not, it may not be for you, as it really relies on an understanding of superhero tropes and Marvel continuity. Personally, I don't think the series ever had time to hit its stride, so I'm not sure this is Hugo-worthy. I really do hope to see a lot more comics work from Paul Cornell though.

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