MY KINDA SCENE: Adrian Tchaikovsky on Alan Moore's Captain Britain
The Tiger and the Wolf, Adrian Tchaikovsky's beautiful shape-shifting fantasy adventure, is out in paperback next Thursday and to celebrate the man himself is here to tell us about his favourite scene in pop culture - an epic battle between good and evil co-created by a very familiar author...
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Let me take you to the world of comics or, more specifically, the world of comics when you come from a village in Lincolnshire, flattest and most rustic of the English counties. It was pretty much impossible to be into comics, in Lincolnshire in the 80’s. Oh, the newsagents had them, but they never had the same ones week to week, meaning any slice of story you could grab would inevitable die on the cliffhanger to be replaced, as Adams writes, with something even more bizarre.
However baffling and frustrating I found that, I had a friend who was as into comics as you could get, and sometimes I got to read odd issues he managed to get hold of. And that was where I encountered Alan Moore. Not that I knew who Alan Moore was, or that Alan Moore in the mid-80’s was who Alan Moore is today. It wasn’t even the main story, which I think was… maybe Spiderman? Lord knows. Anyway, what I stumbled over was an issue of Alan Moore and Alan Davis’s Captain Britain, as a black and white B-story in the back*.
What I ran into was a fight scene. Specifically, a fight between one almighty powerful bad guy and a whole diverse ragbag of heroes, in whose ranks the titular captain was just one more. For anyone who had actually been following the story, this had a whole lot of context. The villain was the Fury, a sort of Terminator-type unstoppable killer, though way less easy going and fragile than any T-model ever built. As well as CB, the heroes were the Special Executive, a team of alien bounty hunters Moore brought over from his Dr Who (!) work. But I knew absolutely none of this.
Moore has played this scene on other occasions – indeed once in the same storyline against the Fury, and again, masterfully, with Gene Ha and Zander Cannon in Top 10. What got me back then was how it absolutely wasn’t a comics fight as I understood them. We all know comics fights (at least pre the 90's grimdark). There is punching and declamation and people get socked through walls but, basically, the good guys get to be heroic and the bad guys usually get to escape. This was not what happened. The Special Executive didn’t look like comics good guys to start with – they were all types of alien, many not even humanoid – they had a big lizard guy and an insect thing and a creature that shot lasers out of its TV-screen face. I loved them instantly. And they were obviously competent and tough and had complex loyalties and factions within their group – this is on-the-fly characterisation from Moore & Davis because even the regular readers had little intro to these characters beyond seeing them go into the fight – and they got the stuffing knocked out of them. Several of them got killed quite graphically. Captain B got thrown around like a rag doll. There is sheer desperation written into every moment of that fight, and you didn’t need to know the background to grasp the stakes or get sucked in.
And later on, I’ve gone back to that fight – now in full colour in graphic novel form – and stocked up with what was actually going on and who they all were (what little we ever knew, with most of the Special Executive). And you’d think I’d lose something, doing the Full Geek and reading the story from the start, with that fight as just a mid-season mini-climax. But it loses nothing. It gains, in fact. This is really early Moore, way before most of the stuff he became famous for (I think), but his writing and Davis’s art together make that scene a jewel in a complex and beautiful setting, worth coming back to and re-reading.
*: For the purists it was actually 'Waiting for the End of the World' from Daredevils #9 or so my collected works tells me.