Cornell & Lowe talk "Captain Britain and MI:13"

Mon, February 18th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

"Captain Britain and MI:13" on sale in May

Britain is no stranger to invasions.  In 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada --one of the most impressive naval fleets in the world-- the British people stood tall, fought back and won. During World War II, faced by the might of the Nazi war machine, UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill proudly declared the British people would fight their enemies anywhere and never surrender. Given this history, when the shape shifting Skrulls' "Secret Invasion" of Earth hits the England of the Marvel Universe, they should expect a fight.

That struggle begins this May with the launch of "Captain Britain and MI:13," a new ongoing series by writer Paul Cornell and artist Leonard Kirk. CBR News spoke with Cornell and his editor Nick Lowe about the series, which finds some of the Marvel U's most popular British heroes coming together to fight the Skrull invaders.

"Captain Britain and MI:13" has been in the works for a while now, and has undergone a number of permutations. "It was all Nick Lowe's idea, I think.  He first proposed it to me last summer, and I started throwing pitches at him which covered, in the end, every possible approach," said Paul Cornell, who also writes the MAX miniseries "Wisdom."  "['Captain Britain and MI: 13'] was nearly a musical, but [Lowe] displayed his skills with the editing and knowing the market and all that, and we finally agreed on who should be in the team, what their raison d'etre should be, etc."

"I loved working with Paul on 'Wisdom' and wanted to expose more readers to his writing," Nick Lowe told CBR News.  "So we'd talked about doing a new 'Excalibur' series (and it was announced, in fact) but for various reasons (one being the fact that two 'Excalibur' series have been launched since I've been here) we wanted to go in a different direction.  So, here we are!"

MI:13 figures prominently in Cornell's 'Wisdom' miniseries, and is a familiar organization to fans of that book. British readers can probably guess what the organization is and how it operates, but the abbreviation MI:13 and the group behind it may seem arcane to some Americans. Explained Cornell, "MI stands for military intelligence, and applies to two out of the four departments of British Intelligence, MI5 (intelligence officers operating in Britain) and MI6 (abroad).  The other two, should you be interested, are GCHQ (communications) and DIS (defense intelligence staff, the ones with the guns).

"In the Marvel Universe, they're joined by MI13, who've wrapped up all the previous British Marvel spy, superhero and supernatural stuff into one bundle. MI13's job is to deal with the weird stuff, using occult, alien or superhero methods."

The inaugural story in "Captain Britain and MI: 13" unfolds over the course of the series' first four issues. "It's about bare survival for Britain and the team, out of which Pete Wisdom and Captain Britain, in their different ways, manage to conjure up what the major, ongoing situation for our heroes is," Cornell stated. "There's a big point to what they do and why they do it, and why they'll stay together.  They're not just a random super team; they're here to do a job.  This isn't 'that British book', it's a book that uses certain things about Britain to its advantage, but we might well take these British heroes off to the States in a later story."

English cities like London and Northumbria are the central locales for Captain Britain and company's battle against the Skrulls but the impact of the series opening arc will be felt around the world. "This story has very intense Marvel U consequences involved in it," Nick Lowe remarked. "The thing I love best about Paul's story here is how big it feels. It feels important and that is rare in comics today.  The last time I felt this so strongly was starting 'Ultimates.'"

Some super teams like the Avengers are brought together by fate, while others, like the X-Men, find each other by virtue of their shared genetic traits. It's the fires of war that forge the latest incarnation of MI:13. "Our lot is thrown together as a result of the Skrull 'Secret Invasion,' Cornell said. "The series spins right off from it; we begin in the thick of that action. Britain's at war as we start."

England's state of war means the cast of "Captain Britain and MI:13" will work closely with the British government. "They are, mostly, pressed into service in dire circumstances as actual intelligence officers in MI-13, and will continue in that fashion," Cornell stated. "Though not everyone will remain calm about that.  I'm taking my cue from that very cool use of Spitfire and Union Jack in Brubaker's Captain America."

Real-life British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears in "Captain Britain and MI:13" to make the decree that gives birth to the team and its group dynamic. "Pete Wisdom is in charge, and, as he's grown up a bit (though he's still everything that makes him my particular hero), that doesn't rankle so much, at least with his initial team," Cornell explained. "At the start, our heroes are just doing what must be done--only then Pete goes and screws up a bit, but, as always, with the best of intentions."

Pete Wisdom, fellow MI: 13 operative John the Skrull (also from the 'Wisdom' series), and the titular Captain Britain are the initial members of the new MI:13. "The team isn't quite all there in the first issue," Cornell remarked. "There's a certain degree of fluidity, and one big British character, who various editors have been mentioning without naming, joins in as late as issue #5."

The cast of "Captain Britain and MI:13" are all government spies, but that doesn't mean they'll behave like secret agents instead of superheroes. "They won't be seeking publicity, but you can't stop [Captain Britain] from running into a burning building, and nor would Pete want to," Cornell explained.  "They'll be going up against a particular brand of bad guys, the genre being espionage vs.--something else.  I think we'd all be bored if they took on terrorists.

"Yes, we'll be talking morally grey areas and character conflict," Cornell continued. "But this isn't 'Checkmate' (much as I love it).  This is an out and out Marvel super team book, with a twist. And one thing I should really emphasize--we're bringing hero back.  That was Nick's phrase, and I've taken it to heart.  If this lot, particularly Captain Britain, haven't made you punch the air and cheer or weep man tears like I do in every Spider-Man movie (you know, when that passer by yells 'go Spidey go!' or when the crowd put his mask back on?) then I've failed to accomplish what I'm after.  They're heroes. They will be heroic."

"Captain Britain and MI:13" will have a supporting cast of familiar faces assisting them in their heroic missions. "Alistaire Stuart, from 'Excalibur', is back as the team's scientific advisor," Cornell confirmed. "Others from 'Wisdom' may be back as well.  And I'm looking forward to plundering Marvel Britain for cast members on a regular basis."

The Skrulls are just the baptism of fire for "Captain Britain and MI:13." Cornell already has his cast's next big adventure lined up. "It's to do with a natural resource that Britain is the world leader in, if we're talking about the Marvel Universe," Cornell stated.

The writer has to remain cryptic about his cast's future missions, but Cornell promises one thing: Captain Britain and company will always go into battle armed with potent weapons, their senses of humor. "I've absolutely made a point of keeping the jokes," Cornell said. "Just about everyone in the book has their own particular sense of humor, and quipping in the face of national destruction is absolutely the British thing to do. Loads of John Skrull sarkiness in the first issue, and a very typical Pete scene.  He hasn't got to shag anyone or anything yet, I must sort that out."

Cornell is excited to have Leonard Kirk depicting all the humor, passion, and high stakes action of "Captain Britain and MI:13." "I haven't seen any of his pages yet, but I loved his work on 'Agents of Atlas' and can't wait to see what he brings to this," the writer remarked. "Issue one especially is action, emotion, action, emotion, action action action boom!  I think he's the artist for the job."

Working on "Captain Britain and MI:13" has been a blast for Cornell, and the writer made sure he's crafted a book everyone can enjoy. "We're taking these characters forward.  I love continuity, and we're going to visit lots of well-loved people and places, but a reader new to the entire universe of Marvel Comics could, I think, pick up issue #1 and be certain about what was going on and who these people are straight away," the writer said.  "And start to be on their side right away too, I hope.

"And the characters all sound different," Nick Lowe added.  "That's another of Paul's strengths.  To be completely honest, I will be shocked if anyone who reads this first issue isn't dying to see what happens next.  Paul's a new voice in comics.  New, I say!"

CBR News' spotlight on "Captain Britain and MI:13" continues all next week as Cornell joins us to profile the individual team members.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Marvel Comics forum.

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