After coming sharply into focus last month, “Hell Comes to Birmingham” delivers a predictably compelling conclusion. Particularly impressive is the fact that this cast remain interesting even now that many of the teething troubles from their introductions are being overcome. With one notable exception, MI13 is starting to act as a coherent unit, while never sacrificing the individuality of its characters.
There’s only one word that can be used to describe Pete Wisdom’s reaction to the betrayal of his team by Captain Midlands: miffed. Meanwhile, the solution to Captain Britain’s problems comes from an unexpected source, as Alistaire “Gordon Lethbridge” Stewart takes an unusually direct role in the action. There are a number of the standout moments that this book does so well, with Wisdom coming out slightly ahead in his monthly quote-ability contest with the title character. What makes the greatest impression this issue, however, is the return of the steeliness that sometimes comes through in Paul Cornell’s writing. Just was there was no forgiveness for the anti-Semitic Not-Us in Xtnct, Pete Wisdom’s angry condemnation of the cowardly towerbock residents blazes from the page. There’s just as much fury, although slightly more pity, in the treatment of Sid Riley, who will hopefully be allowed his shot at redemption before too long. Even more heartrending is the treatment of Megan, whose fate casts even more of a gloom over the conclusion of the arc.
This superficial character emphasis masks a cleverly structured title. Instead of artificially forcing a cliffhanger onto the end of this arc, Cornell has cleverly threaded the true nature of the Black Knight’s sword through the story as a whole, and it feels natural that it’ll be this plotline that propels the book forwards. On the artistic side, a mention is due to Mike Collins, who does a superb job of easing regular penciller Leonard Kirk’s workload in this issue. His work is far removed form his recent art for Doctor Who Magazine’s strip, with a subtly of expression and a steadiness of linework not found in his output on that title. It’s hard to say whether the artist has adapted his style for his return to a mainstream superhero book or has benefited from more sympathetic inking, but the end result is superb. Kirk also delivers his usual sterling work, never allowing the clarity of storytelling to fade despite handling an extremely challenging sequence where Wisdom encounters layer upon layer of illusion.
It’s comforting to see that Marvel’s support for the book isn’t waning, with Stuart Immonen taking over the role of “big-name cover artist”. Braddock and co deserve to be with us for quite some time.