‘Hell Comes To Birmingham’ has so far lacked the sharp focus of MI13’s first arc, but here the pieces are starting to fall into place, with the small hints from previous issues starting to mesh together. Although at times reliant on the readers’ familiarity with the book’s roots in the Wisdom limited series, this is the archetype of how a modern superhero series should look.
Cloverleaf may not be quite the estate from hell, but it’s definitely on its way there. Plokta the Mindful One is using the trapped Captain Britain’s power to expand his influence, while Wisdom’s team try to battle their way up to the sinister Duke. Paul Cornell’s character-driven approach means that instead of the third-issue-sag sometimes found in four-part arcs, we’re instead treated to a rush of revelations. The reconciliation between Blade and Spitfire has been clearly foreshadowed, but the fact that he can teach her a few new tricks is an unexpected twist, and will hopefully provide a means of exposition about her slightly under-defined abilities. The status quo is never changed in quite the way the reader is expecting with Fazia’s “Dark Knight” a slightly less romantic figure after his refusal to knowledge the full extent of his actions. The complication of the cast is universal, with Braddock having to confront that fact that his newfound brawn isn’t enough to get him out of every tough spot.
Most significant, of course, is the Captain Midlands’ actions in the final pages. After the death of Skrull John, it’s a wrench seeing another wonderful gag character being taken away from the book, but here he actually grows as a creation. The factor that motivates him here was hinted at during his MI13 debut a couple of years ago, and assuming that he survives the next issue, he looks set to emerge as a fully rounded figure. Uncharacteristically, the art slightly lets the side down, with a few action sequences looking slightly rushed. He still brings home the bacon when it really counts- there’s a superb illustration of Plokta as he prepares his trap and the close-up of Sid Riley just prior to the cliffhanger is heartbreaking. Other aspects of the book look sketchy, however, although it’s unclear whether penciller Leonard Kirk is being stretched by the schedule or the panel of inkers employed has resulted in the noticeable inconsistency. It’s the only black mark against a very engaging title.