I’ve often bemoaned the fact that the X-Men never have any fun these days. They never have time for a trip to the Westchester mall, for example, or a game of baseball. But my nostalgia for those issues in which mutants took to the backfields of Xaviers School for Gifted Youngsters ignores one salient fact – I had no idea about the rules of baseball and what I did understand bored me rigid. I wonder if Captain Britain writer Paul Cornell was similarly nonplussed, as he seems to take revenge this issue, as MI:13 face their most difficult task – getting through an afternoon of cricket.
Lord, that game is boring and don’t believe anyone who says that all Englishmen love it. Cornell does use it well in ‘British Magic’, though, as the run of play motivates Brian’s memories of the missing Meggan, and illuminates his emotional state. We see just how much she meant to him and how it’s breaking his heart to be without her. I’ve been with Meggan since her first appearance in Marvel UK’s Captain Britain strips in the mid-Eighties (seriously, I was filling the lettercols with inane ramblings even then) but she’s never seemed as alive as she does here. Cornell cuts through her metamorph nature and shows us the ordinary young woman who became extraordinary.
Meggan’s amazing nature is showcased more directly in this issue’s other story, ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. Cast into the nether regions (oo-er missus) awhile back, it seems Meggan hasn’t been whimpering at the mercy of demons. We see her innocence, intelligence, courage and empathic abilities shape her into quite the force for good. She finds a tiny spot of hope, cherishes and nourishes it, and sets out to find a way home. What Meggan finds isn’t what she expected, but I expect it’ll make for a darn good tale if Cornell gets to it before the regular MI13 book’s early demise.
This sequence is full of wonderful moments, as Cornell somehow makes Hell seem a rather charming holiday spot. Marvel’s inconsistent portrayals of the dark dimensions make this permissible, though – who knows the true nature of hell?
As well as Meggan’s present struggles, we’re reminded of her past, growing up as a ‘freak’ among Britain’s oft-abused Roma community, cast into a labour camp in Mad Jim Jaspers’ alternate reality and fighting to define happiness with her knight in gaudy armour, Brian Braddock.
Oh, and Meggan finally gets a superhero name, and it’s so perfect for Mrs Captain Britain that I won’t spoil it unless asked.
God bless Paul Cornell for taking the opportunity to use the bigger format to do something different. Rather than give us a throwaway tale, he conjures up two beautiful character studies that show two people with strength and sweetness in equal measure. Two complete people who complement each other. It’s a massive shame that we won’t see them back together for an extended period anytime soon, but let’s hope they’re at least reunited before series’ end.
British veteran Mike Collins pencils the Meggan story with flair, giving us a sense of Alan Davis without sacrificing his own attractive style and doing a bang-up job of presenting the heroine’s latest look. Credit also to inker John Livesay and colourist Jay David Ramos for adding depth and tone.
Adrian Alphona and colour artist Christina Strain bring a wonderful pastoral feel to Brian’s cricketing memoirs. If you can channel the English summer – all three days of it – on to the comics page, they’ve done it.
Finally, cover artist Greg Land gives us some Marg Helgenberger-ish model in a Meggan costume stepping on a sea monster. It’s a striking image, but not Meggan.