RETURN OF THE REAVER
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Captain Britain: Return of the Reaver
Enter: Joshua Stragg! 10
The Reaver Returns 13
Right versus Might 16
Flight and Fight 19
Other tales by Chris Smillie 23
(...even though you lost my Captain Britain boomerang...)
So who is this 'classic' Captain Britain? Well, if you are more familiar with the Union Jack (or Flag if you prefer) draped superhero from Excalibur, then it's him...and yet, not. Yep, they are both called Brian Braddock, they have the same parents and they were both given their powers by Merlyn. That's pretty much where the similarity ends.
'Classic' Cap was born in a UK-only weekly comic in the mid-1970s. He had an all red costume with yellow lion rampant emblazoned across his chest. He wasn't a mutant and, originally, couldn't fly. He had a staff as a weapon that could produce force fields and lengthened to become something to be used a pole vault. He later exchanged this for the Star-Sceptre (and our story starts just after this), which did much the same thing, only also allowed him to fly for short periods. Captain Britain originated when Brian chose the Amulet of Right over the Sword of Might. He could then alter identity from the superhero Cap to the wimpish Brian merely by rubbing the Amulet.
So why did I want to write stories about a hero that has changed so much? I feel the original had so much potential that was so little explored. Firstly, the Amulet of Right was such an important symbol in the mythos, it always galled me that it was so easily forgotten. Another forgotten element was the disintegrating power of Cap's staff (and presumably the Star-Sceptre too). He used it once to destroy a wall, in the Captains Britain/America v Red Skull epic, then promptly never used it again! Seems a strange power to forget. Added to that, his staff had four studs - expansion, force field, disintegration and...he never pressed the final one! What did it do? I think we should be told!
And something else that's forgotten are some great early foes. People like the Reaver, Hurricane and Dr Synne were too easily removed, never to be seen again. We know nothing of the Reaver, except his name and that he chose the Sword of Might, making him the natural arch enemy of Cap. But why did he invade Darkmoor? How come some researcher knew his name? What happened to him when Cap defeated him? I think we should be told!
"Do you sense it father?"
"Aye, Roma. The snake eats it's tale" replied the Wizard of King Arthur's court.
Roma, the daughter of Merlyn, giggled at the old man, her long dark hair rippling down her back. "Thou wert always so cryptic father."
With a startle, the Wizard raised an eyebrow at his daughter's laughter, then smiled himself. "Aye, that I may be, that I may be." He shaped the crook of his back. "But an evil is in the air. The old challenges return anew."
Roma put a comforting hand on the arm of her father, ruffling the long flowing gowns of the enigma. "Surely, thou hast faith in thy Champion, father?" Using her long beautifully tapered hand, Roma, brushed back the long cascading white hair from beneath Merlyn's brow. "The Captain hath faced these dangers afore, aye and more, yet won." She smiled. "With his added knowledge and the Star-Sceptre, the Captain must surely win again?"
"Aye, if he ever discovers the full might of the Star-Sceptre that may be the case." agreed the old man. "And yet, the Champion chose not to explore the full abilities of the staff, meaning the power of invisibility is now lost to him forever." Merlyn looked down, his brow befuddled. "The Champion hast barely time to set himself for these challenges. His enemies plot and learn their abilities. And behind those miscreants be the most clever of all - if not the most wise."
The Wizard held his daughter by her shoulders. "Be not fooled my daughter. This be a challenge the Champion may not return from."
"Nay!" Merlyn stopped the protestation with a hand. "Thou wishest to aid thy Captain. It cannot be so. The die is cast. Captain Britain must face this without our guidance!"
The forests and moorland around Darkmoor were an ideal place for Captain Britain to work-out. Much of his power derived from instinct and some strange inner knowledge, almost as though, he thought, there were other Captain Britains whose experience he drew upon in some veiled way. Still, his technique and use of his recently acquired weapon, the Star-Sceptre, improved with training.
Not only was Darkmoor a scenic place for a workout, it was also a lot safer than the University's gym. The Captain grimaced as he remembered having to switch identities to physics major Brian Braddock when another student entered the room. And who would that student be? None other than Jacko Tanner - the bully that made Brian's life a misery! Brian almost broke his backside the last time he had to change back to his civilian identity.
None of that mattered now. Brian could swing free through the air, as he bounded from ground to tree, vaulting distances Olympic athletes could only dream of. Although he currently used the Star-Sceptre as a pole - the Sceptre would extend in the same way as Brian's former staff used to - he was in fact capable of flying over the ground. However, as the Sceptre would only grant him 15 minutes of flight at a time, he decided not to rely on such a tactic but keep it in reserve.
As the Captain bounded over the moors, he came to a sudden drop in the landscape. It brought back instant memories. Despite being the other end of England, the area closely resembled the place where he had fought Dr Synne. The Doctor was actually a friend of Brian's, who's mind had been taken over by a computer located at Brian's ancestral home, Braddock Manor. Seeing Dr Synne revert to his colleague Christopher Thorn as he was dying caused a great deal of sadness.
Brian seemed to be reflecting quite a lot on his formative days as Captain Britain. No doubt part of that was when he was forced to confront his past when in the otherworldly company of Merlyn and Roma. Still, there was something else there. Something he could not quite decipher...
The alarm from his clock buzzed away in the bag he carried - time for work again! Actually, Brian looked forward to this mundanity - his life having been subsumed by super-villains, spies and legendary figures. After this, the dual nature of light was mere child's play! And anyway, what harm, could there be in the remoteness of Darkmoor? As he leapt back across the moors, a figure watched the red-and-yellow superhero bound his way back to the Research Facility. A figure with a good reason to carry out his revenge in this most tranquil of places.
Enter: Joshua Stragg!
Arriving at a short distance to the Research Facility, Captain Britain touched the Amulet of Right, launching a cascade of energy that resulted in an instantaneous, miraculous transformation into Brian Braddock.
Shaking himself down, Brian continued the short journey out of the woods into the Centre. A quick 'hello' to the security guard, Derek Skinner, and he was in. Now, if only he could get to the laboratory without bumping into -
"Hey, Braddock, yer Lordship!"
Jacko Tanner! Brian thought he would be safe away from Tanner by going back to the research facility on the border with Scotland, only for Tanner to be given a project in the very same centre.
"Whatcha bin doin', yer Earl-ness?" said Tanner as he breathed cafeteria on Brian. "A wee blue-blooded stroll in the woods?"
Braddock heaved a sigh. After the Red Skull, Tanner should be nothing to Braddock but he really got under his skin. "Well, if you must know, I was looking for some mushrooms."
Tanner bowed even closer to Brian's face, "Ooh, a fungal foray?" as he showed off to his equally nauseating friends. "Found any magic ones?"
Braddock throw his arms up in despair. "No, and it's not even the right habitat. I'm sure there must be some chanterelles out -"
The crowd laughed even harder as Tanner continued his goading. "Well, if you find Chantelle, give her a big kiss from me. On second thoughts," laughed Tanner, "don't. You probably wouldn't know how."
"Chanterelles, not Chantelle. They're yellow -"
"Yeah, just like you, Braddock." stated Tanner as he pushed Brian out of his way and went back to his research.
"Do you feel it, Captain Britain?" wondered the figure? "Can you feel that I'm close, like I do you?"
The figure sat in the darkness of the woodland feeling the vibrations that coursed through his sword and armour. "We're connected don't you know?" mused the figure. "Our origin, the same. Our destiny, the same."
The figure lifted the visor on his helmet, allowing his beady eyes to study the place he knew so well - Darkmoor Research Centre. The figure had studied there for many years, eventually becoming the head of nuclear research. A position he coveted, not only for the prestige, but for the reward possible. After submitting, a paper detailing how the research could be used to produce small-scale nuclear weapons, rather than the intended energy input into the National Grid, he was dramatically sacked. Of course, it may have been wise, under other circumstances, to send the figure to a more military-minded department but that was not to be. For, not only, did the figure want to build nuclear weapons, he also wanted to sell them to the highest bidder - be that ally, enemy, freedom fighter or terrorist. Only power mattered.
The figure knew nothing of Brian Braddock - only that Captain Britain first appeared here and that he could sense his presence again. The figure had also felt the change of identity from the warping of the cosmic energies but knew not which person it came from.
"So, you feel no danger then Captain Britain?" smirked the figure. "Did you forget me so soon?"
"Got to forget about that jerk," thought Brian Braddock. "Of course Jacko's annoying but he's just not important."
Brian readied himself at the computer. "I wonder what Courtney's doing now?" he mused.
BAM-BAM! A rolled up journal banged on Brian's desk. "And when you're finished day dreaming about the latest pop band, can we get on?" The voice was Brian's supervisor, Neil Tarrant. A man determined to erase Darkmoor of the stain it had since - that day.
Brian signalled his readiness and had the computer program start running. Tarrant nodded and set the oscillator to warm-up, eventually bringing it up to operational levels. A low hum hovered over the heads of the research staff.
Derek Skinner noticed a rustling in the trees to the outer wall of the facility. It must be a bird, thought Skinner as no man nor beast could have vaulted such a wall. Surely?
A flash of yellow? Could that have been metal? The bushes parted more ferociously now, as the disturbance entered into the grey overcast light of the centre.
"You!" exclaimed a startled Skinner.
"Yes, me Skinner!" shouted the figure. "Joshua Stragg, former professor of nuclear science at Darkmoor. But you may call me -"
The Reaver Returns
"Wow, Paul," said Braddock, "Weird feeling."
Brian's fellow researcher, Paul Narey - a good humoured Dundonian, looked quizzical.
Brian continued, "When the oscillator went to full power - you must have felt that?"
Narey shook his head. "I didn't feel anything. What was it like?"
Confused, Braddock answered "You can't feel it? It's like a huge burst of energy in the atmosphere. I can still feel it. I can't believe you don't."
"No, I feel nothing," continued Paul. "There shouldn't really be anything to feel. The experiment should be completely contained."
"Yes, I know," answered Brian, "It's just that - that's weird!"
"You know the power I was feeling?" said Braddock as Narey nodded. "It's almost completely gone!"
Both Narey and Braddock checked their instruments but both concluded nothing had changed.
"Maybe it's not the instruments we should be checking," joked Narey, "but your head!"
The man once known as Joshua Stragg pointed a gleaming sword at the security guard. Garbed in a long grey tabard, with green sleeves jutting out from the green cloak below, the Reaver's look was set off by golden metal gloves and boots, with a similar style helmet, complete with visor and feathered plume. Despite the impressive stature, Skinner held no fear. As long as I keep my distance, Skinner thought, I'm safe.
Slowly, the guard brought out his taser. "Now Professor Stragg - or Mr Reaver if you prefer - put the sword down and I won't have to use the taser."
Stragg cackled, "Don't use threats to me Skinner! One chance - let me through - or suffer the consequences."
"Look, Mr Reaver," countered Skinner, "It's not as if you can exactly shoot me with that thing, so why don't -"
A beam of pure white shot out from the blade of the sword, smashing into the guard and knocking him down to the ground. Stragg walked over to the prostrate guard, "Just be thankful I let you live." said Stragg to the unconscious guard. "It's your one and only chance."
Stragg reasoned that to enter the complex, it was best to go not as either the Reaver, or as the former head of department. Instead, a faceless security guard might make the entrance all the more dramatic. Bending down on one knee, Stragg raised the sword up and brought the hilt crashing to the ground. Instantly, in much the same way that Brian Braddock transforms to Captain Britain, the Reaver was no more and Joshua Stragg stood in his place clutching a metal ball, that was once a sword, safely in his fist. And with that, Stragg pulled Skinner into the woodland, where he proceeded to swap clothes into Skinner's security guard uniform.
Stragg titled the cap of his uniform towards his eyes to maintain anonymity, as he walked towards the laboratories. As he approached the corridor to the entrance, Professor Tarrant exited said doors. With his head down, Stragg nervously walked past Tarrant, deliberately avoiding eye-contact. Safe! Tarrant walked straight past. And then -
"'Scuze me!" shouted the Professor. Stragg stopped momentarily then continued walking.
"I said you there!" again Tarrant shouted. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
Stragg attempted to turn only slightly, keeping the majority of his face hidden. Putting on a false voice, he said "No, I don't be thinking so. I just -"
"STRAGG!" exclaimed Tarrant, and with that shouted for security.
"So, my surprise is gone!" said Stragg as he pulled the metal ball from his coat pocket. "Well, perhaps that's as well. For who need to hide when he has the power of -"
And with that, Joshua Stragg slammed the ball in his hand to the floor, resulting in the incredible transformation to
"- The REAVER!"
"I just felt it again!"
Brian looked across at Paul Narey as the charge of force shimmered within his body.
Paul threw up his arms, "I felt nothing," he said as he checked his instruments. "No change here either. Do you need a lie down?"
"No," said Brian. "It was much more forceful this time." Braddock raised his hand to touch the Amulet under his clothing, sensing that the charge appeared to be either attracted to or originating from, the pendant. "It feels like static but far more -"
Braddock's words stuck in his throat as the laboratory doors were blown open by a surge of energy.
"Where is Captain Britain!"
Right versus Might
The Reaver! Brian recognised his first foe of course. When confronted by Merlyn and Roma as he attempted to flee Joshua Stragg and his hordes, Brian chose the Amulet of Right, rejecting the Sword of Might, reasoning that he had never been a man of violence. Stragg however had no hesitation in pulling the sword free from the stone to cut down this new superhero.
Brian knew Stragg's power was at least equal to his own. What Captain Britain had in agility, the Reaver had in strength. Brian had only just been presented with his staff when battling, so was unaware of many of the powers that emanated from both that and the Star-Sceptre. Perhaps he could use that to his advantage?
The Reaver hoisted a table above his head like cardboard. Expensive calibration equipment, some of which was purchased by Stragg when employed here, tumbled to the ground. Stragg threw the table towards the oscillator with superhuman ease.
"I know you're there, Captain!" shouted Stragg. "Go on, change. I can feel you!"
That must have been it! thought Braddock as he realised the energy charge must somehow have been related to the appearance of the Reaver. Changing was going to be problematic though. Just where could he get to without being caught first by the Reaver.
"I warn you Captain!" shouted Stragg. "Soon it shall be heads that are crushed, not instruments!" And with that, Stragg reached out to his side and grabbed the nearest person. Jacko Tanner!
"Show yourself Captain - or the boy dies!"
Kicking out, Tanner screamed, "Hey, leggo!" swatting the Reaver to no avail, Tanner continued to protest, "I hate Captain Britain as much as you do. Gerroff'a'me and I'll help you catch him!"
Thanks a bundle, thought Brian. At least it's no surprise he betrayed me.
The Reaver laughed at Jacko's suggestion. "I need no support boy! But for that, you can live." said the Reaver as he threw Jacko across the room. "But you," he said as grabbed Paul Narey, "won't be quite so fortunate."
Brian looked on in horror as his friend squirmed in the grip of the Reaver. However, the lab was still too packed, still too closed-in, to attempt a transformation.
A burst of power emanated from the Reaver's sword. This had the effect of blasting the equipment, tables and personnel back to the wall of the room - and conveniently, out of the gaze of the students, staff and the Reaver. Hurriedly, Braddock rubbed the Amulet, the energy invading his mind and transforming him into the greatest super-hero of them all, Captain Britain!
Stragg immediately sensed the change in energy associated with Brian's transformation. A cruel smile played across his lips.
"Put the boy down!" commanded Captain Britain, arising from the debris. Gleefully, the Reaver respected the command, tossing Narey to one side. Stragg lifted his visor so that he could look directly into the eyes of the Captain.
"I see you have a new toy, Captain Britain?" the Reaver stated whilst staring at the Star-Sceptre. "You only won last time by my being over-confident. Well, not this time, Captain, not this time!" and with that, the Reaver pointed his sword at the superhero, letting loose a volley of magic energy towards him. With incredible dexterity, Braddock twisted his body to one side letting the blast smash into the wall behind. Such was the force, that a hole opened in the lab wall, allowing the rapid escape of most of the staff towards that side, leaving only Narey and Tanner trapped behind the Reaver.
Brian cast his mind back to his first battle with the Reaver. Britain had won by deflecting the Reaver's sword blast back towards him by using the staff as something akin to a lightning rod. After that, Stragg dissipated into a cloud of purple smoke. Brian had assumed him taken by Merlyn after the Reaver having lost the battle. "So tell me Reaver," questioned Cap, "what made Merlyn release you?"
The Reaver laughed a throaty laugh. "Merlyn? You think that old fool captured me last time?" Stragg continued, "No, the one that has been moulding me since then, the one that stole me from under the nose of that old trickster, is a foe that wants you dead, Captain Britain."
"Who?" asked Brian. "Who could even know that battle would take place at that time? The world had never heard of the Reaver or Captain Britain at that time."
"Not this world, no." The Reaver was enjoying the look of befuddlement on Britain's face. "But I'm afraid, dear Captain, you must die in ignorance." And with that, the Reaver sent across an energy bolt towards the very heart of Captain Britain."
No time to avoid this , thought Cap. When it hits me, I'm doomed!
Flight and Fight
The bolt of energy sailed through the air towards Captain Britain. In those split seconds, Stragg flashed a smile knowing the superhero would be unable to avoid the pulse. As the energy drew closer to hitting the Captain's body, the bolt fizzled away before hitting the hero.
Underneath the blue mouth-covering, Cap smiled. However, the Reaver looked unimpressed. "You think I know nothing of your new powers?" said Stragg. "I've been following you, Captain. I've seen your battle with Dr Synne from...ah, well, that's my secret!"
"Then you know you can't defeat me, Reaver." replied Cap. "I've read up about you, Joshua. You were a great scientist and could be again. Give it up, Stragg." pleaded Braddock.
Again, Stragg gave a laugh that owed nothing to humour. "Yes, I know your powers," he chortled, "but you don't know mine." And as a result, the Reaver let loose a sustained volley of orange energy balls from his sword.
Captain Britain could feel the energy pulses hitting his force field. Although not as powerful as the initial energy bolt, the cannonballs smashing into the shield had the effect of wearing down CB's protection. "I'm going to have to do something unexpected." Brian reasoned. "If he's only seen my battle with Synne and knows nothing of the Star-Sceptre, then -" Britain called the Sceptre to extend to fighting size and dropped his force field. Simultaneously, Brian placed one end of the Sceptre in to the ground and catapulted himself like a pole vaulter towards Stragg.
The Reaver smiled a hideous smile. "Come Captain, come," he teased, "for this blade can cut anything - even your vaunted force field!"
Braddock hung in mid-air as the Sword of Might swung at empty air. "Wha -?" exclaimed a startled Stragg. "You can fly?"
"Certainly can." said Britain. "But thanks for the warning." Brian rapidly descended from his position above the Reaver, smashing into the Reaver's visor.
Stragg struggled back, his head still reeling from the boot strike. "No matter." he said. "Not even flight will save you." Stragg swung his sword in a clockwise direction, ending up pointing it at Cap. The contents of the room followed his sweep, flinging themselves at Britain with tremendous force. Unable to raise a force field in time, Cap lay helpless on the floor. The Reaver stood above him, his sword raised above Captain Britain's head.
"So, where's your Merlyn now?" teased Stragg. "Your death is just the first part of his downfall."
As the Reaver began to strike as shout of Noooo! was heard. Paul Narey, forgotten about by Stragg, smashed into the side of the Reaver as the sword was mere inches from burying itself into Britain's skull.
Angered by this intrusion, the Reaver grabbed Neary and threw him to the other side of the room. His fall only being broken by an unhappy Jacko Tanner!
The Reaver returned to the area where Captain Britain had fallen. By this time, Braddock had scrambled into a safer position a few metres from the swing of the Reaver, although still lay on the floor, obviously shaken. Just stay there, thought Brian.
Braddock pointed the Star-Sceptre to the vicinity of the Reaver. "So, what's this, Captain?" asked the Reaver. "Another force field? It was no lie. That is no defence against the Sword of Might."
"Nope, not a force field," countered the Captain, "a disintegration beam."
"A disinteg -?" exclaimed a baffled Stragg. "It looks like you're in no position to use it, Captain. Or did you just miss?"
"Wha -?" As the Reaver spoke, the structure of the Research Facility caved around Stragg's head. The falling stone and masonry smashed around his open visor, knocking the villain unconscious.
"Neither," spoke Braddock. "It takes a second or two and - I wasn't aiming at you."
"You beat him!" shouted Jacko. "You knew that beam was holding up these floors and by hitting it, you demolished the whole building!"
"No applause necessary." said Brian, wondering what it would be like to be respected by Tanner.
"You stupid, selfish idiot!" shouted Tanner, shocking Cap. "That's my bloomin' experiment there." he raged. "You've messed up my whole summer's work!"
Captain Britain grasped the Star-Sceptre as he launched himself into the moors to find a more isolated place to change.
"Well, what do you know?" smiled Braddock. "A double win!"
Brian Braddock sat in his lodgings in Carlisle, wondering about the days action. Although Stragg was now in the custody of Cumbria Police Force, no doubt with some input from STRIKE - the UK's version of SHIELD - he was refusing to talk. The re-appearance of the Reaver caused more questions than answers for the Captain.
From what the Reaver was suggesting, there seemed to be someone directing the Reaver to kill Captain Britain. Someone that knew about the superhero from his very birth at Darkmoor Stone Circle. How could that be? Plus the Reaver spoke about other worlds. Did that mean other planets? Other dimensions? Alternate Earths? Perhaps even time-travel?
Certainly, it took a vast amount of planning to steal and guide the Reaver, but which of his enemies had that amount of ability? Certainly, the Red Skull had the intellect but he had given no indication of any knowledge of Captain Britain prior to his team-up with Captain America. As far as Brian knew, the Red Skull was unable to time-travel - wasn't he? Dr Synne had both the scientific and mystical knowledge to guide the Reaver but he was dead - at least, Brian had assumed him dead! The computer, Mastermind, could have been malfunctioning long before that night in Darkmoor, when Braddock became Britain, but that couldn't have taken and trained the Reaver - could it?
One thing is for sure - Captain Britain was about to face the test of his life - for his life!
To be continued: The Hurricane returns - with a very special guest superhero, the Human Rocket: NOVA!
Other tales by Chris Smillie
Thor in the DC Universe (fancomics): join Marvel's Thundergods as he heads to the DC worlds of New Genesis, Earth-S, Earth-X and Earths 1 and 2.
Marvel Team-Up: Spider-Man & Thor v Hulk: Spidey is in for a surprise as he bends the truth to gain a study vacation in Florida. For there's a Green Goliath ready to meet him. And his only hope? Thor, the Asgardian god of thunder. But first, Web-Head needs to save him!
Silver Surfer v Superman & Batman: In an attempt to escape the barrier erected by Galactus around Earth, the Silver Surfer breaks through a dimensional rift to the DC Universe. Such an outpouring of energy, however, does not go unnoticed by this World's Finest heroes...
Space: 1999 The Vanishing Web: Following an accident with exploding nuclear waste, the crew of Moonbase Alpha find themselves marooned and adrift in space. Coming across a massive technological array, the Alphans must wonder what new deadly threat awaits them now.
Spider-Man: What if Captain Stacy had lived? The death of Captain George Stacy, father of Gwen, marked the beginning of the blackest period in Spider-Man's life. But what if, by some strange quirk of fate, Stacy had not perished? What if Captain Stacy had lived?
The Deterrent: On the planet ship inhabited by the Cymorrians, the ultimate defender, the Deterrent, watches over his space-faring race. In the tradition of his people, there comes a time when the Chosen must take on the mantle, whilst being trained by the incumbent. But what happens when the incumbent is no longer around to guide the new Deterrent? The Deterrent is a story of growing from a boy into a man but at the heart of the tale is intrigue, manipulation, secrets and sacrifice. Whether Char will heed the advice to follow his duty or delve into mysteries best left alone remains to be seen. "comparable to (Alan) Moore's Marvelman" (Comics Bulletin)
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