Sunday, October 4, 2009

Great Moments in Comics: The Strange Death of Dr. Synne

Welcome to the first installment of our all new feature, Great Moments in Comics. One of the exciting things about comics is the fact that there are just so many of them. You could spend every moment of the rest of your life reading comics and still not get through all of them (though, believe me, it's worth a try). Because of this, though, it's also a sad fact that inevitably there are going to be some all time great comics moments that you just never have a chance to even know about, much less read yourself.

Well, have no fear, because that's what Great Moments in Comics is for. Sure, everyone knows about some Great Moments, like the Fantastic Four's first encounter with Galactus or the Flash sacrificing himself to defeat the Anti-Monitor. But sometimes, even the greatest of comics moments slip through the cultural cracks and are forgotten. Not anymore, though. Great Moments in Comics will highlight some of these overlooked classics, beginning with the strange and tragic death of Captain Britain's first arch-enemy, Dr. Synne.

Captain Britain was by all accounts a bit of an odd comic to begin with. Marvel apparently was seeing some decent figures coming out of their British division, so they decided to see if they could drum up sales with a new series created for and aimed at a British audience. For this, Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe came up with Captain Britain, a recent college graduate (or something) tasked by Merlin to protect Britain from evil. For whatever reason, the comic was published on a weekly basis rather than monthly, with reprints of SHIELD and Fantastic Four or Spider-man in the back. The stories were solid, though they tended to be a bit on the conventional side.

Then convention went out the window during Claremont's epic Dr. Synne saga. Dr. Synne was a mysterious, gaunt figure wearing a menacing blue shift and thigh-high riding boots. He appeared almost literally out of nowhere, seeming to be as much apparition as man, and right from the start had Captain Britain on the ropes, outmanned and outgunned. Dr. Synne had a number of crazy tricks in his arsenal: he could apparently teleport, he had a personal force field and he had amazing powers of the mind that allowed him to both mentally control the local townsfolk as well as cause hallucinations and illusions far beyond Captain Britain's ability to understand. Things were looking pretty bleak from our hero from the second Dr. Synne appeared on the scene.

For his part, Dr. Synne appeared to be your basic megalomaniac. His plan was to test his mental powers on the simple farm folk of Captain Britain's home town before expanding his control to the more sophisticated city dwellers. As a result of this confluence of geography, Dr. Synne ended up taking control of Captain Britain's own sister (who at this point had not yet been turned into an Asian ninja and thus was susceptible to this sort of thing). No matter what Captain Britain tried, he couldn't manage to even lay a glove on Dr. Synne, instead managing to do little more than accidentally pitch himself off a cliff, get shot in the back by a farmer and eventually wind up thrown into a bonfire. Not exactly the greatest showing in superhero history. Yes, it seemed like Captain Britain had met his match and Dr. Synne was going to win the day.

But then something happened that not even Dr. Synne's amazing powers could counter: editorial mandates. Right from the get-go, Claremont had been butting heads with his editor over the direction of the book, and by the time the Dr Synne story was in full gear, change was in the air. After just ten weekly issues, Claremont was sacked (or quit -- it's hard to tell just how this went down) and a new writer was brought in, with a new direction: Gary Friedrich, long time scribe of such Marvel mainstays as Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, took over the book and immediately began turning the slightly mystical British series into a more traditional, straight-ahead superhero book.

And so, what Captain Britain couldn't manage, a writer did: the defeat of Dr. Synne. Just what Claremont had in mind for Dr. Synne, only he knows, but with Friedrich on board, things shifted almost immediately. Suddenly Dr. Synne wasn't just a criminal mastermind bent on world domination for his own egotistical satisfaction; no, now he was actually a puppet of a much more menacing modern evil -- the computer. Or, a computer. Seems like Synne actually had been given his powers from some computer somewhere and was actually a pawn himself, being used by the computer for some unknown purpose. And computers, as deadly and dangerous as they are now acknowledged to be, have one fatal failing: dependence on the local power company.

Locked in mortal combat with Dr. Synne, his every move countered and rebuffed, Captain Britain, hero that he was, seemed doomed to defeat and worse, when fate suddenly intervened in the form of an unlikely angel: his maid. You see, back in stately Braddock Manor, home to Captain Britain's alter-ego Brian Braddock and his siblings, their maid was doing her daily cleaning rounds when she happened upon the door to the basement. Nothing frustrates a good maid more than the thought of an unclean portion of the home -- a dedication to the old fashioned ethics of hard work that a twisted evil like Dr. Synne probably could never understand. Up to this point, the maid had been barred form entering the basement by her former employer, Brian's late father; but now, with the grand old man lying dead in his grave, she realized that the injunction no longer stood and so headed down into the dark depths of the computer's lair, mop in had, ready to face any scrubbing challenge that might await her.

I have taken care to set the scene, for what happened next is one of the true great moments in comics history, when the most powerful supervillain Britain has ever known was defeated and slain, not by gendarmes or the mighty hand of Captain Britain but instead by... uh... well, by an overzealous maid. Just at the moment of his greatest triumph, as Dr. Synne, in his unmatched power, was about to lay the final blow on Captain Britain and at last move forward to subdue the continent, the maid realized that having a bunch of electronics running right in the middle of her sloppy wet mopping might be a recipe for disaster. Being safety conscious, then, she did what any right thinking maid might do -- she unplugged the computer. That's right: the very computer that even at that moment was controlling and empowering Dr. Synne with its own computerized might.

Words cannot describe the scene that followed, so it's best to allow the panels to speak for themselves:

Convinced that his foe is faking this sudden weakness as part of his cunning strategy, Captain Britain leaps forward to press his advantage. But Dr. Synne is not faking:

Mere moments later, her mopping finally done, the maid re-engaged the power switch, turning the computer back on. But it was too late: Dr. Synne was already dead, leaving a puzzled Captain Britain wondering WTF had just happened. A sentiment shared not only by the computer once it rebooted, but also by thousands of British comic book readers. The saga of the computer wouldn't end there, of course: a determined Captain Britain would rush back to the manor and help save England by unplugging the computer again. And just in time: mere days later, the Red Skull would arrive and commandeer the technology as part of his scheme to defeat his arch-enemy (and sudden Captain Britain co-star) Captain America. Because what do British kids want to read about more than the tale of how an American hero helped save England yet again?

But that well thought out business decision will have to wait for some future installment of... Great Moments in Comics!

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