Bronze Age Beginnings

Sunday, 14 October 2012


If you’re a regular dweller within this particular dusty, dark, corner of the comic blogosphere, you’ll no doubt have seen other celebratory posts this weekend about Britain’s very own superhero.

Captain Britain No. 1 was released the week ending October 13 1976. I was 11 years old, and the power of TV advertising (plus the lure of a free Captain Britain mask) worked its magic. I plunked down my 10p and prepared myself to be thrilled by the full colour exploits of the hero we’d all been demanding (apparently).

Well, not quite. Despite a personal message from Stan Lee informing us that nearly a full year was spent ‘creating the characters, developing the themes, and producing the greatest possible stories and illustrations!’ it wasn’t particularly evident within the seven slim  pages written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Herb Trimpe (inked by Fred Kida).

Brian Braddock was a pipe smoking physicist working at the Darkmoor Research Centre, a top secret nuclear complex, when it was attacked by Joshua Stragg…THE REAVER! Fleeing the scene on a motor bike, Brian was startled by the flashing lights of a passing hovercraft causing him to drive off a cliff. Still somehow alive, but battered and broken, Brian is given an ultimatum by a couple of floating heads. Choose either the sword or the amulet…life or death…and…


Well, we already knew what he choose, because the comic opened with two pages of Brian Braddock, as Captain Britain (wearing the amulet), fighting THE REAVER (brandishing a sword). Obviously it was decided that the Special Origin Issue! should open with some senses-shattering action, but it killed the cliff-hanger ending dead.

I wasn’t very impressed, and the lie was put to the claim that a year was spent producing the greatest possible stories and illustrations, by the two superior reprints included in the issue. A John Buscema drawn Fantastic Four, and a Jim Steranko Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Beat that Cap!

Still, I gave Captain Britain a chance and bought his comic for a few more weeks, but I was never that interested. It took a few more years, and the talents of Alan Moore and Alan Davis, to make me finally like Britain’s own superhero – and for that alone it is worth wishing Captain Britain a very happy 36th birthday!

Buy Captain Britain No.1 at My Comic Shop

Saturday, 13 October 2012


With the announcement this weekend that the final roster tally for the re-launched The Avengers is expected to be 30 plus members, I’m reminded of a time during the Bronze Age that The Avengers expanded to such an extent that it took a government employee to knock some sense into them.

In The Avengers #181 (cover date March 1979) The Avengers were up to 23 members and assorted guests, prompting a revocation of their priority status and an intervention by Henry Peter Gyrich. The result? A much diminished membership of 7, and one very pissed off Hawkeye - rejected in favour of The Falcon and equal opportunities, a federal government requirement for The Avengers priority status to be reinstated.

It was an audacious twist on the Old Order Changeth theme, written by David Michelinie and superbly drawn by John Byrne (inks by Gene Day), that gave us a series of classic reaction shots, not least Hawkeye’s. Say it again Clint…

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Bronze Age Marvel Greats: Sal Buscema

Despite my love for Marvel’s Bronze Age, I would be the first to admit that there are few extended runs during this period that really hold up to repeated readings. Many are flawed by inconsistent art teams, THE DREADED DEADLINE DOOM!, or sudden shifts in writers. One of my most revered Bronze Age Marvel runs is Steve Gerber’s time on The Defenders, marred only by his very sudden departure to be replaced by Gerry Conway.

In issue #41, in response to a letter, an unnamed Marvel employee (but it is most likely Gerber himself) writes:

“In any event, we’re not necessarily sorry you disagree with Steve Gerber’s plots or that they disagree with you, because Gerber’s been relieved of his duties on the book. Next issue, Gerry Conway takes over the scripting and he promises that THE DEFENDERS will shortly resemble a super-hero book – and not the outtakes from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” – in plotting and dialogue once again.”


It struck me, though, after recently re-reading the run in its entirety, that the unsung hero is Sal Buscema. Never a flashy artist, he is an excellent storyteller and adds much needed consistency. His characters are always on-model (a practise a few of the later, more stylised, Marvel artists ignored, to the detriment of the Marvel Universe as a whole), and perfectly captures some of the more outrageous aspects of Gerber’s scripts. Just take a look at that panel above, with Val, Dr Strange and the Hulk wearing bozo masks, and marvel at the way Sal highlights the absurdity of the situation with an apparently matter-of-fact illustration. The tension between the absurd and the mundane is palpable.

Sal was inked by a variety of talented individuals (and Vinnie Colletta), but though Klaus Janson was nice (if a little overpowering), I am very partial to the inks of Mike Esposito. The most enduring image from Gerber’s run, for me, has always been Valkyrie’s despatch of a rat menacing a child in the slums, and Sal and Mike played the scene exceptionally. Enjoy.

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