I've been switching as much of my major company comics reading from singles/floppies/periodicals/whatever to collected editions as possible over the past year or two, but I still do like to get the occasional superhero title on a monthly basis. Part of it's nostalgia, sure, but if the book is written well enough, I truly enjoy the fun and anticipation that that 30 day (if only) window can bring about. The All New Atom was that book for me for a while, at least until Gail Simone left and Rick Remender, talented though he may be, killed my interest dead in the space of a single issue. Blue Beetle picked up the baton from there, and though some of the fun dropped off with the departure of writer John Rogers, it still remained a good read until it was finally canceled. I doubted anything would take it's place, but then came Captain Britain and MI13.
The concept sounded decent, and I certainly liked many of the lead characters, but the number of truly good stories I'd read featuring the likes of those characters wasn't all that high. It was spinning out of Secret Invasion, an event that I wasn't reading, nor had any interest in catching up on in the first place. And honestly, I was sort of already mentally holding the spot for Agents of Atlas (the first issue of which was a good read, but surprisingly, not the thing I needed an immediate monthly fix of). So even despite the presence of Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk, two creators whose work I respect and enjoy, the book seemed an unlikely candidate, but once I gave it a shot, it quickly won me over for a number of reasons. And those would be, in no particular order...
1. The covers. While you can't judge a book by them, they can certainly help pique your curiosity about the contents beneath them, so standing out is important. And the series' uniform trade dress, for my money, is very eye-catching:
The top band of color and logo immediately sets the book apart from others by not only uniquely branding the book (which any logo does by nature), but by drawing in your eye with it's uncluttered design. Sometimes a book's title can get lost in the cover action, but the color always removes it from the scene, so you always see it. And if you have a shop that racks books in such a way so that you only see that top 3rd (or less) of the cover, the noticability increases even more. I also love the way that each issue's logo makes use of colors from the cover image, and that most of the cover images actually describe some of the action within, rather than going the "random pin up" route. And yes, I realize that this particular cover is a bad example of that, but it's my favorite this far, so I'm using it anyway. This gallery proves my point better.
2. Continuity: K.I.S.S. Many of the book's main characters have some of the most convoluted backstories in all of Marvel history. Go and read up on, say, Captain Britain or the Black Knight online or old issues of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe sometime... they'll make your head spin. Worse still, a huge number of said stories have rarely, if ever, been reprinted in the U.S., so there's a lot of stuff you're walking in the door that you won't or even can't know. The solution? Ignore all that. Or at least don't pay much mind to it. One of Cornell's biggest strengths as a writer on this series is being able to acknowledge that these characters do have pasts, but that you don't need to know all of that past to understand what's going on now. No overly expository infodumps, just as much backstory as we need to get the gist, and then he moves on. If you want to learn more about Spitfire's vampirism, Captain Britain's time in Otherworld, the Black Knight's many, many curses, you can do that on your own time. Just know for now that they happened.
3. (or maybe 2a.) Events: tangential at best. Yeah, the book starts off as a Secret Invasion tie-in, but all that you really need to know is that shape-changing Skrulls are invading the Earth and throwing Super Skrulls (Skrull warriors with the composite powers and appearances of several super-heroes) at Earth's defenses. Lots of stuff is going down in America, but we're only going to be concerned with the U.K. here, where the Skrulls are hoping to gain the power of all Earthly magic (England being particularly magicky, you see). So while it does tie into the larger Secret Invasion framework, the story is compartmentalized enough that you can read it without having to know or even care about the rest of what's going on, especially since actions taken by MI13 head Pete Wisdom to turn the Skrulls away from England really set the tone for the rest of the series.
4. Characters Old and New. As I said, the book's cast is largely made up of disused and/or misused characters, all of whom have a lot of excess baggage coming in the door. Most of the baggage is chucked, or at least pared down to manageable, only-as-story-requires levels, and they're all given a fresh coat of paint... a new costume here, a fresh outlook there, and it all works out for the best. Captain Britain, Black Knight, and old Warren Ellis stand-in Pete Wisdom have never been more interesting, and Spitfire, vampire speedster from WW2, is interesting for probably the first time ever, especially given her unique, fiery relationship with new team member Blade, who hunts vampires for a living. And then there's the brand new character, Dr. Faiza Hussain, who not only serves as our audience identification character, but may also be the first positive character of a Muslim background created for mainstream superhero comics since 2001. And not just that, but she's proud of her heritage, has strong family ties, is a capable member of the team despite any feelings she may be in over her head, and is now the chosen possessor of the most powerful artifact in all of English lore. She's a fantastic creation, and I love to see her character growth from issue to issue.
5. Mad Ideas. A Super Skrull with the powers and appearances of some of the biggest and baddest wizards in the Marvel Universe (like a brilliant and terrifying patchwork Ditko creation). A punk fairy. A Duke of Hell using the dreams and desires of housing complex residents to create an army of Mindless Ones to overrun the Earth (again with the Ditko). Dracula and Dr. Doom having a tête-à-tête on the moon:
And better still... Dracula, still on the moon, mind you, SHOOTING PROJECTILE VAMPIRES AT THE FREAKIN' EARTH.
I mean, come on, people. If an idea that crazy doesn't win you over, nothing will. Give this book a shot. It's a fun read, and it's gorgeously illustrated. If you're going to pay way too much for a comic book, anyway, it might as well be something fun.