Recent events have reminded me of an incident from a few years back.
At Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon in Montréal, I noticed that there was an event each morning called “Stroll with the Stars.” The strolls, the invention of Stu Segal, were simply an opportunity to get a pleasant walk in the area outside the convention center in the company of other fans, some of whom might also be writers, artists, puppeteers, editors, or otherwise professionally involved in the field. The Sunday stroll was an hour before one of my panels, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity to get my brain working through light physical activity and light conversation, and Old Montréal is so lovely one needs no excuse to wander it.
One of the billed Stars on the stroll was Paul Cornell, who had recently begun writing comics for Marvel—the Wisdom miniseries (with art by Manuel Garcia and Trevor Hairsine) and then its successor, Captain Britain and MI-13 (with art by Leonard Kirk), both of which I enjoyed immensely. The stroll group was fairly large, and I didn’t get a chance to talk to Cornell, so I very fannishly buttonholed him at the base of the escalators inside the Palais des congrès so that I could gush at him. MI-13 was an offbeat superhero team book: the characters worked for the division of British intelligence devoted to “weird happenings” like faeries, vampires, alien invasions, and the sinister Dr. Plokta. I told him that MI-13 compared favorably to two of the great oddball superhero team books of years past, Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema’s Defenders and Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol. Well, I could barely have handed him a more on-point compliment, and we started babbling joyfully about our mutual love of Doom Patrol (he had actually a fan letter published in issue 31).
Shortly, we both realized that we were running late for panels at 10:00, and we set off up the escalators. I was scheduled for a two-person discussion of fairy tales in the comics alongside Bill Willingham, the writer-creator of the very successful Fables series. I walked into the room ... followed by Cornell, who had been invited by Willingham at the last minute to join the panel.
So we fell to talking about fairy tale comics and other folk/myth/public domain magical figures. At one point, Willingham, who is deeply conservative, brought up the matter of Faiza Hussain and the sword Excalibur.
Faiza Hussain is one of the core members of MI-13 during Cornell’s run. She’s a hijab-wearing medical doctor, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, possessing (through Comic Book Supersciencetm) the ability to manipulate organic material by thought. She’s explicitly a reader identification character, a charming woman with a pure heart, dazzled by the superheroes, the Marvel universe’s greatest celebrities. Before the first story is done, she becomes the worthy bearer of Excalibur. Yes, that Excalibur, which has been a part of Captain Britain’s fantastic background since his first appearance.
Willingham thought that he should be upset that Excalibur, so central to the heart of the myth of Britain, should be in the hands of a Muslim immigrant. He hastened to add that the story was so well done that he wasn’t shocked, and he asked how that could have happened.
I jumped in and said, “Look, Faiza Hussain taking up Excalibur is as completely English as chicken tikka masala.”
England, the England in which MI-13 lived, the England that Cornell saw outside his window, was the cosmopolitan heir of a global empire. The national dish is curry (chicken tikka masala itself was invented in Glasgow), and cricket stars named Hussain and Afzall play alongside Jones and Sidebottom. Of course there’s a Pakistani woman wielding Excalibur—why on Earth wouldn’t there be? In the years since, Faiza has in two different “alternate futures” herself become Captain Britain, the living symbol of England’s power and glory.
Those are better futures than the one we have this week. Let’s try to get back to them.
—Kevin J. Maroney
and the editors