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Captain Marvel / Ms. Marvel Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews - Page 1

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Marvel Comics has had various Marvel-related heroes which I'll lump together here...

for the Shazam! guy go here.

For other related appearances see: The Avengers: The Kree/Skrull War, Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Perez vol. 2, The Untold Legend of Captain Marvel (mini-series), Women of Marvel Comics,
plus various Avengers TPBs (mostly Ms. Marvel/Carol Danvers appearances).

GNs/TPB published by Marvel Comics

cover by WeeksCaptain Marvel: Secret Invasion  2008 (HC & SC TPB) 136 pages

Written by Brian Reed. Pencils by Lee Weeks. Inks by various.
Colours: Jason Keith. Letters: Todd Klein. Editor: Stephen Wacker.

Reprinting: the 5 issue mini-series (2007) plus Civil War: The Return

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Oct. 2014

Published by Marvel Comics

There have been numerous characters to hold the name Captain Marvel, from the original guy (whose rights currently reside with DC Comics) to various Marvel Comics characters, of which the most famous is arguably this guy -- Mar-Vell, of the alien Kree race who had a sporadic publishing history before being killed off in the rather definitely titled graphic novel: The Death of Captain Marvel, published some three decades before this mini-series (though in comic book years, presumably it's only supposed to be a few years earlier).

But suddenly Captain Marvel reappears in modern New York. The initial theory is he hasn't come back to life, but is experiencing a time paradox -- this is simply Marvel from before he died! But there are curious aspects, like that even Marvel's memories seem a bit fuzzy after the experience, and he has weird indistinct flashbacks he can't make head nor tale of. As well, Marvel's reappearance has inspired a wealthy woman calling herself Mother Starr to establish an entire religion/cult around Marvel's seeming miraculous resurrection.

And just to add to the muddle this follows on the heels of Civil War (the previous cross-title crossover epic) and at the beginning of the next one: Secret Invasion (from which this derives its title for the collected edition) in which the shape-shifting alien Skrulls attempt to infiltrate and invade earth.

And muddle is a good word for it.

This is perhaps a good illustration of the problem with modern comics and their incestuous, obsessive continuity. Because it doesn't fully hold up (particularly read a few years later) as a stand alone read, seeming too much like what it presumably was -- simply a sidebar to the Secret Invasion epic. But as well, it's not clear how much you need to bring to the reading. The story involves super-heroes Iron Man (then currently director of the spy agency SHIELD) and Ms. Marvel (obviously with her own history with Marvel, and currently Iron Man's agent). Plus other characters like a SHIELD agent, Sante, and a tabloid reporter, Nathan Jefferson, not to mention would be evangelist, Mother Starr. Characters I'm not sure if we are supposed to know from other comics (Jefferson and Starr act as if they've had other encounters -- but maybe writer Bran Reed is just trying to hint at events that occur off the page).

It's also -- arguably -- a good illustration of the nature of some modern comics that clearly want to seem like grand, profound, thinking person's sagas -- without fully pulling it off. The whole idea of a religious group rising up around Marvel's return is rife with social commentary. And it touches on the idea of whether super heroes should be proactive in social and political arenas, not just fighting super villains. While Marvel himself is presented as a brooding, uncertain figure. Heck, even the frequent allusions to classical art (Mar-Vell is curiously fixated on a real life painting by Charles Le Brun) all seems like Reed thinks he's written something really high brow. And it is boosted by Lee Weeks striking, realistic and atmospheric art (at least on the first few issues -- some later inkers are a bit heavy, though it's still solid work).

But it can also feel a bit like Reed is relying too much on the concepts and less on the storytelling. You can come away remembering the broad strokes ideas, whether it's the pretensions to philosophical rumination, or simply the mystery surrounding Mar-Vell (and why villains -- also seeming back from the dead -- are coming after him), rather than the scenes themselves, the dialogue, the human interaction. Even Reed seems aware of flaws in the underpinnings -- such as when characters acknowledge that in a super hero reality, characters come back from the dead all the time, and Marvel himself wasn't exactly a top-of-the-line character so it seems weird a cult would spring up around him like he's the second coming or something.

Of course some of that may have to do with the broader Secret Invasion saga as, without giving too much away, Skrulls are certainly involved with the new religion -- but I was never entirely sure why or to what extent.

Marvel himself is a kind of awkward property/character to tackle as he's been presented at various extremes, and undergone various alterations (starting out a silver haired guy in green and white with no innate super powers and eventually evolving into a yellow haired super being in blue and red; sometimes solo, sometimes paired with sidekick Rick Green, sometimes the two acting as de facto alter egos for each other; sometimes depicted as an aggressive hot head, reflecting his space soldier origins, other times as a Cosmically Enlightened warrior-monk type -- sometimes writers evoke an ambiguous middle, the quasi-pacifist fighter with flashes of temper). I actually have a fair amount of affection for the character, having enjoyed some of his past adventures. But I didn't necessarily feel that there was enough of a character here to make me care.

This even relates to Weeks art. Because even as I said it was really good, moody yet also nicely realistic -- it also lacks a certain emotion, or passion. The faces are well drawn, but largely impassive. The figures well composed, but maybe lacking an idiosyncratic body language to humanize the moments.

By the story's end (and without giving too much away) it's not really clear what Reed -- or Marvel -- intended out of the series. Whether it was an attempt to re-introduce Captain Marvel, reinvent the property, or was just meant as a one-time gimmick. And maybe that's its biggest flaw. At five issues, and despite attractive art and interesting potential, it seems a minor, undeveloped plot for itself (and would've been better as just two or three issues, or as a sub-plot in another series, like The Avengers) without making you eager for anything more to come from it.

This is a review based on the original comics.

Cover price: $ __  

Cover by Starlin The Death of Captain Marvel 1982 (SC GN) 64 pages
also re-issued in 2010 as a hardcover collection, with some additional material (reviewed below as well).

Written and illustrated by Jim Starlin.
Colours: Steve Oliff. Letters: James Novak. Editor: Al Milgrom.

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Re-reviewd: Aug. 2010

Additional notes: Originally published as Marvel Graphic Novel #1, tabloid dimensions.

Published by Marvel Comics

This was later combined with the contents of the TPB The Life of Captain Marvel, for the TPB The Life and Death of Captain Marvel. Still, later, this was re-released as a hardcover collection -- so I've reviewed the graphic novel on its own...then added a postscript review considering the additional material in the 2010 hardcover collection.


The Death of Captain Marvel -- featuring Marvel Comics' alien hero, Mar-vell (as opposed to the Big Red Cheese) -- was Marvel's first official foray into the realm of the "graphic novel" (well, other than 1978's Lee & Kirby Silver Surfer opus). It was first published in over-sized tabloid dimensions, with sturdier paper and richer colours than were (then) the norm in monthly comics. It begat what, for a time, was a regular series of "Marvel Graphic Novels" which encompassed projects featuring their regular heroes as well as independent tales.

It was also rather blatantly audacious -- or smugly self-indulgent depending on your point of view -- in that the title says it all. This wasn't a story where Captain Marvel has some grand adventure and then gets killed unexpectedly in the climax in a shocking twist. The title tells us this is the end of Marvel, and that's what the story is.

Furthermore, this isn't an adventure saga rife with twists and turns. There are a couple of minor fight scenes, but really this is a low-key drama as Mar-vell discovers he has terminal cancer -- no super villain to fight, no universe-shattering scheme to be thwarted. Just a wasting illness.

And the result is...mostly a success, without quite being the graphic classic one suspects writer/artist Jim Starlin (and Marvel Comics) was hoping for. (Starlin himself, years later, was quoted as citing this as among his most personal works).

After all, to take a super hero and tell this sort of a story smacks a little of pretention, of "hey, kids, this ain't your usual four colour fantasy fest". And some of that can be a little self-conscious, as the characters themselves remark how no one expects a super hero to die from something as mundane as disease. And Starlin even does it in a way that one could question whether it's true to the characters. After all, would Spider-Man (in a small appearance) -- surely the most "human" of super heroes -- need to be lectured about how super heroes are just people under their costumes?

Still, as a drama, Starlin succeeds in capturing the essence of the concept and dilemma, Mar-vell's mix of bitterness...and resignation, and the reaction of those around him, from former sidekick, Rick Jones, to other super heroes. There are moments of sensitivity, of realism, without straying too often into blatant manipulation or maudlinism as could so easily happen in such a story. And Starlin is a solid artist.

But, I suppose, the weakness with the tale, at least in execution, is that though Starlin has produced some great, even classic comics...he is not automatically, inherently, a flawless talent. And so for a tale that, somewhat pompously, wants to transcend its is still hamstrung by it. The dialogue, though sometimes very good, other times seems like "comic book" dialogue. And though Starlin is always a solid artist, his figures can be a bit stiff at times, and over-muscled, the faces a bit distorted. Though, curiously, I was going to remark that in storytelling and moody panel composition, this isn't maybe Starlin's best work (that would probably be his early Adam Warlock run). But flipping through the book again, I think I'm being overly judgemental, because there is some nice use of close ups and angles.

There are also a few (minor) narrative one scene having Mar-vell suggest his Kree race has no cure for his condition...then later suggesting they would refuse to help him.

And I suppose the other weakness is simply inherent in the conceit of the concept. Being simply a chronicle of Mar-vell's final days, as a "plot" there's not too much to it, no room for twists or turns (other characters work on developing a treatment but, of course, it's a forgone conclusion they'll fail). Starlin fills up some time with Mar-vell dictating his memoirs -- which is appropriate that in a tale bringing an end to his saga we get a recap of that saga.

But The Death of Captain Marvel succeeds on the basic level of storytelling, or entertainment (if you'll excuse such a description in this context)...of holding your interest enough to get you turning the pages, and to let you close the book feeling emotionally bestirred. Which is why I say it is mostly a success.

After being first published in an over-sized tabloid format (and going through a few printings), I believe it was re-released in regular comic book dimensions...and then subsequently included in the TPB The Life and Death of Captain Marvel. Then re-released as a hardcover with additional material which I comment on next...

Cover by StarlinTHE 2010 HARDCOVER COLLECTION...

Written by Doug Moench, Jim Starlin. Pencils Pat Broderick, Jim Starlin. Inks by Bruce Patterson, Jack Abel.

Colours/letters: various. Editor: Roger Stern.

The Graphic Novel plus...Captain Marvel #34, Marvel Spotlight #1, 2 (1974, 1979)

The problem with the glut of collected editions, ironically, is now often not that something isn't being reprinted...but that it's being reprinted too much. There's an increasing amount of overlap, as though the reprint editors just throw something together impulsively, without thinking about whether it's the most efficacious use of the material. In this case, the Death of Captain Marvel story was first released as a single, over-sized graphic novel, then re-released in regular comic book dimensions. Then it was reprinted in the larger collection, The Life and Death of Captain Marvel, collected with Jim Starlin's earlier CM material (which itself had previously been collected in the TPB The Life of Captain Marvel). Now it's being re-printed yet again...this time with different accompanying material.

Even then, one of the comics reprinted here -- Captain Marvel #34 -- was included in the earlier TPB. In other words...why not simply re-release The Life and Death of Captain Marvel collection? Or, re-release the original Life of Captain Marvel collection, and then reprint the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel in a second collection, but with all never previously collected comics?

CM #34 starts out as a bit of an epilogue to the previous arc, then segues into telling a minor adventure as Mar-Vell and sidekick Rick Jones tackle Nitro -- a villain who can literally explode himself. It's an okay page turner -- nothing terrible, nothing great (particularly contrasted with the classic epic it followed). It even ends on a secondary cliff hanger -- Nitro is defeated, but Mar-Vell lies near death, a plot resolved in the next issue...that isn't reprinted here. Presumably the reason the comic was included in this TPB is because it sets up stuff that relates to the Death of Captain Marvel story...but it's hardly essential to following the graphic novel.

So the only issues in this prestigious, hardcover collection that haven't been reprinted in an earlier TPB are the two Marvel Spotlight issues.

Admittedly, the two issues from Marvel Spotlight maybe make a nice counterpoint to the talky, "human drama" nature of the graphic novel, as they are the polar opposite -- fast paced action the rockets along (literally, as it takes place in space and the moons of Saturn). Written by Doug Moench, it's entertaining and robustly illustrated by Pat Broderick and inker Bruce Patterson. However, it is the closing act of a longer epic that had begun in the pages of Captain Marvel's own, then recently cancelled, comic. So though it's entertaining as a fast paced adventure, you're well aware you're coming in in the middle, and are picking up the gist of the back story as you go.

Why those two issues were selected, then, I'm not sure. They have little thematic or literal relevance to the Death of Captain Marvel story. If the reprint editor was just looking to fill up pages with some random Captain Marvel stories, ironically a couple of stories from just a few issues later -- Marvel Spotlight #4 and #8 -- might've made better choices. Not only are both better-than-decent tales featuring Mar-vell, but they are largely divorced from any continuity, making them both ideal for a grab bag collection...and because, as such, there'll be no pressing imperative to collect them in a later TPB.

Being as the two Marvel Spotlight issues reprinted here are the end of a longer arc...isn't it possible that, at some point, some later editor is going to think of collecting the whole story in a TPB? And then, once again, you'll have that overlap, where instead of getting a bunch of Captain Marvel'll just get the same comics, with different covers.

So, the bottom line is you could pick up this hardcover collection...but you could also hunt down the complete Life and Death of Captain Marvel collection for better value for money.

This is a reciew based on the original comic book and graphic novel publications.

Cover price:

The Life and Death of Captain Marvel  is a TPB containing material previously collected in The Life of Captain Marvel and the graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel.

The Life of Captain Marvel  1990 (SC TPB) 240 pgs.

The Life of Captain Marvel - cover by Jim Starlin

Story by Jim Starlin. Scripts by Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart. Drawn by Jim Starlin. Inks by various.
Colours: Jim Starlin. Letters: Various. Editor: Roy Thomas.

Reprinting: Iron Man #55, Captain Marvel (the first Marvel Comics series) #25-34, Marvel Feature #12 (with covers) (1972-1974)

Rating: * * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

Published by Marvel Comics

This was subsequently re-released as The Life and Death of Captain Marvel -- which reprinted these same issues but, in addition, included the graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel (which I review here).

There may be a curse on the name Captain Marvel. The first character to bear that moniker, though hugely successful in the 1940s, has limped through the last few decades, achieving only cult status. Likewise, Marvel Comics' Captain Marvel had a bumpy career, undergoing dramatic changes in premise, costume, powers, and even personality, before being killed off. But like his predecessor, he's achieved cult-icon status. (Of course Marvel Comics has tried a couple of the other characters with the name, including a version who is this character's son).

The Life of Captain Marvel reprints the longest, and perhaps most important, adventure of that 2nd most famous character to bear the name Captain Marvel. It collects the saga of the earth-based alien superhero, Mar-vell, and his battle with the would be universe-conquerer, the power mad Thanos, and the latter's quest to gain the all-powerful Cosmic Cube (known variously as the Thanos War, The Cosmic Cube Saga, and other such designations). It introduces us to Thanos, the demi-gods who live inside the moon of Titan, and Dax the Destroyer, and involves Iron Man, as well as The Thing and The Avengers, not to mention various villainous types. This was also at a time when Mar-vell was playing alter ego to side kick Rick Jones, the two exchanging atoms in times of trouble (an obvious homage to the original Captain Marvel).

And it's the sheer superfluidity of concepts and threads that makes this such a rich read -- it's a true epic, willing to branch off onto sidelines and sub-plots, yet where everything is tied together. In addition to Thanos, villains like the Super Skrull, and the mind-controlling Controller crop up. Some modern long form sagas can seem rather minor in comparison, as a simple, linear plot is stretched out over multiple issues. Not so here, with plenty of twists and turns, and lots of characters running about.

This never boring, sprawling epic is full of action and adventure, but also forays into philosophy and metaphysics as Mar-vell attains a kind of comic book enlightenment -- Cosmic Awareness -- in mid-story, instilling him with a broader world view. Captain Marvel spouting philosophy in mid-battle may seem hokey, but having a hero articulate the notion that violence must always be a last resort and mustn't exceed the minimum needs of the moment, is refreshing and even thought provoking.

Mar-vell's metamorphosis gives the saga its extra just don't expect a hero to be dragged out of his adventure in mid-story to a funky other-dimensional plane and undergo a perception altering experience -- particularly not when most readers probbably didn't feel he needed an attitude adjustment in the first place. And most comic writers, too. Later Mar-vell scribes emphasized his Cosmically Aware powers over his Cosmically Aware philosophy.

Overall, the Life of Captain Marvel is a fun, fast-paced, occasionally mind-blowing, roller-coaster ride.

Admittedly, there are some weaknesses. This was among Starlin's earliest work, and his art would get better (even over the course of this series it improves dramatically) -- though even in the early chapters the visuals are energetic, and demonstrate some interesting composition and storytelling. There's some corny dialogue in spots. It isn't on the same artistic/metaphysical/intellectual level as Starlin's later work on Adam Warlock (such as his great Warlock vs. Magus epic -- reviewed in my They Ain't TPBs section), but maybe that's what's kind of fun about The Life of Captain Marvel. It's an audacious mishmash that epitomizes what super-hero comics can be.

Comics being the least respected of all mediums, and super heroes among the least respected of all genres, there's an uninhibitedness to the best of superhero comics; no one's paying attention, so they'll do whatever they like (I'm speaking creatively/artistically...rather than in the more dubious realm of gratuitous sex and violence which comics creators can be equally guilty of). At least that was true back then -- today, arguably comics have become victims of their own success, succumbing to artistic hubris and pretention. But back then, Starlin, Englehart and others really were writing from the heart. The Life of Captain Marvel is a kaleidoscope of high brow and low brow, of pulpy fisticuffs and philosophical ruminations, of urban adventure and cosmic fantasy, of corny lines one moment, and echoing Macbeth the next (with a line about "no man born of woman"), of silly humour and grimaced seriousness, of high flying, cosmic adventure and the mundane domesticity of Rick Jones contemplating his music career. When you realize the woman in the hood hanging out with Thanos is literally Death, you know you're reading a super-hero comic. No other medium or genre would have the chutzpah to mix such divergent, surrealistic ingredients. It's these similar attributes that I enjoyed so much in The Avengers: The Kree-Skrull War (which makes a nice companion piece to this). There's a scene where Mentor (the good guy leader of Titan) and an evil Skrull villain are juxtaposed, both concluding their monologues with the same phrase, deliberately trying to tease us with an undercurrent of moral ambiguity -- sure it's obvious, and heavy handed. But it's cool that they try it. And even when I say dialogue can be clumsy, I'm also reminded that comics back then set out to establish their own sense of rythym, of a literary style. There are a couple of sequences where a group of characters will be reacting to something, and the dialogue is broken up between them, so one sentence is strung out through different mouths. It's not realistic...but that isn't bad writing, as in: a mistake. It's an artistic choice. It may or may not work, but it was an attempt to treat comics as its own medium, with its own gimmicks, rather than slavishly imitate films or novels.

This story arc is heavily influenced by Jack Kirby's New Gods -- Starlin himself has freely admitted as such in later interviews. Thanos is Darkseid, Mar-vell (at least before he achieves Cosmic Awareness) is the volatile Orion, Mentor is Highfather, Eros is Lightray, etc. Even some of the themes and ideas echo the New Gods series. That doesn't take away from this epic, which still has its own identity, its own story to tell, its own philosophy to explore. Ironically, though the New Gods inspiration was there, apparently Thanos was initially more modelled after the New Gods' Metron, perhaps explaining why in his first appearance (in the Iron Man issue) he's much leaner, only bulking up into a more Darkseid like physique a few issues along (supposedly after editor Roy Thomas suggested to Starlin, if he was going to rip off the New Gods, he should rip off the best character!)

This collection retains some of the original footnotes, but not all. Often TPBs delete the footnotes that had been in the original issues. I don't know why. If anything, collections should have greater annotations for the novice reader. Like with so many comics, this draws a little on back adventures, some explained, some not. It is more self-contained than many -- this was the first appearance for Thanos and, temporarily, seems to be his end. But the Cosmic Cube had been used before, so if you didn't know that, it might seem like an arbitrary plot device. Likewise, the character of Moondragon is brought into the story part way through...with little explanation for how or why Mar-vell recruited her. Yet with all that being said, it works better than some such epics. When I first read this, I don't think I knew much about Moondragon, the Cosmic Cube, etc...but I still was thoroughly engrossed.

There was some editing here and there, in order to make these dozen issues read more seamlessly like chapters in a "novel". There are one or two spots where I could identify text clearly added to bridge one issue with the next. Likewise, the credits are lumped together at the beginning, to create a greater sense of a continuous novel, but as such you find yourself trying to identify the inkers and letterers of various chapters, with much frustration.

The final issue, Captain Marvel #34, has little to do with Thanos. It has a conflict that is resolved here, but introduces plot threads that go unresolved (at least in this book) but is included for the fact that it contains story material that would later be relevant to the graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel -- a decision I can't exactly argue with.

Sure there's corny dialogue here and there, and a sense that the big ideas aren't always realized to their fullest. But nonetheless this is a breathtaking epic, both a gee whiz, goofy, four colour romp...and an ambitious, philosophically audacious saga. The Life of Captain Marvel is a thoroughly engrossing, never boring, pleasingly ingratiating, read. It's an epic that makes you glad you still read comics and even after a number of readings, stands as one of the jewels in my collection.

These issues were also reprinted earlier in The Life of Captain Marvel mini-series

Original cover price: $17.95 CDN./$14.95 USA.

cover by WeeksMarvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel, vol. 1  2005 (HC & SC TPB) 230 pages

Written by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake. Pencils by Gene Colan, Don Heck. Inks by Vince Colletta, John Tartaglione, others.
Colours/letters: various

Reprinting: Marvel Super-Heroes (1st series) #12-13, Captain Marvel (1st Marvel series) #1-9 (1968)

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: May 2018

There has been some suggestion that Marvel Comics' first use of the name Captain Marvel (they've had at least four such characters in the ensuing decades) was motivated partly by opportunism. There had been two previous Captain Marvels (the most famous being the Shazam! guy) and Marvel Comics, realizing the name was up for grabs, decided they should logically be the ones with a lock on the name Captain "Marvel."

Which might imply the property was just thrown together impulsively -- with Stan Lee only writing the first couple of stories before dumping it into Roy Thomas' lap (who then passed it to Arnold Drake) as if Lee didn't really have any sense of what to do with it beyond establishing copyright. Certainly, Captain Marvel proved problematic, undergoing multiple changes in appearance (costume and even hair colour!), powers, personality and environment, enjoying his best success a few years later as a more "cosmic" being (and one largely unrecognizable as the character in these issues!). His comic had periodic cancellations and restarts before ultimately he was killed off in the graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel.

One might cynically argue that if it's true the comic was hastily thrown together just to stake a claim to the name then it's unsurprising it had trouble coming together as a series.

But is that really fair?

Because equally Captain Marvel was introduced in the late 1960s at a time when Marvel was building upon its initial commercial and critical success by experimenting with some arguably ambitious projects like the Silver Surfer's solo series. And viewed another way, Captain Marvel was maybe too ambitious for its own good -- the initial ideas outstripping the abilities of those trying to realize them!

Because although these early issues aren't necessarily that great -- especially read years later (other 1960s comics can weather the test of time) -- I'm not sure there was too much else like it on the stands in 1968.

The premise is that Captain Marvel is actually Captain Mar-Vell -- a member of the alien Kree race sent on a mission to infiltrate and assess the human race. And the Kree aren't exactly good guys. Members of a war-like intergalactic empire, their assessment of earth could actually have dire repercussions for earth depending on what they conclude. Mar-Vell is sent alone to infiltrate an American army research base (while the rest of his Kree colleagues wait overhead in orbit). As luck would have it, he stumbles upon a dead scientist, Walter Lawson, who was en route to assume a position at the base and so Mar-Vell assumes his identity. But when trouble strikes, he's forced to go into action wearing his Kree uniform that, conveniently, doubles as a super hero costume and masks his face.

So now Mar-Vell is juggling multiple identities and agendas. He's a Kree spy, masquerading as an earth scientist, who is secretly the super hero Captain Marvel -- admired as a hero by the very humans he might have to betray. That's a lot of plates to keep spinning right there. It also means Mar-Vell was something fairly unusual at the time in comics -- a kind of anti-hero. Or at least a hero whose motives and agenda aren't altogether forthright and squeaky clean. Of course Mar-Vell finds himself increasingly ambivalent about his assignment, his sympathies shifting from the Kree to the humans.

Plus there are two strata of supporting characters with their own complications. There are the humans on and around the base, always in danger of uncovering one or the other of his secret identities -- most notably the base's chief of security, Carol Danvers (a surprisingly progressive female role for a 1960s comic...and Carol would subsequently evolve into Ms Marvel/Warbird/Captain Marvel herself). While among the Kree are Una, the ship's medic whom Mar-Vell loves and who loves him, and the evil Yon-Rogg, their commander, who hates Mar-Vell and wants Una for himself.

I mean -- whew! Think about all that in contrast to other comics at the time like Daredevil or Dr. Strange. Heck, consider the above description even in comparison to most modern comics. (I mean, in its weird, 1960s comic book-y way, I couldn't help likening it a bit to modern, "edgy" cable series like The Americans or Banshee). And you'll see why I say maybe the problem was it suffered from a surfeit of ambition.

And there's always the danger that the more specific your premise for an on going series (whether in comics or TV) the more problematic it is to develop (since developments necessarily require changing the status quo). So despite all those complicated and arguably ambitious threads -- the ensuing issues can just seem to spin their wheels a bit, not really developing on them much past their introduction. And the characters lack much depth or subtlety. I mean, we known Mar-Vell and Una love each other because we are repeatedly told it -- more than because a convincing relationship is being portrayed. And Yon-Rogg doesn't even try to hide what a rotter he is (I mean, surely if he loves Una, he should make some effort to actually woo her while also plotting Mar-Vell's demise -- instead he treats her just as brusquely as he does anyone else). While perhaps the biggest character problem is just Mar-Vell himself who never really develops much personality despite all those complex and contradictory emotions he's juggling. He's a blandly generic 1960s comic book hero -- in a premise that demands more of the emotional angst one associates with some other Marvel characters from the time.

After Roy Thomas, the writing chair is occupied by Arnold Drake, a then-recent DC Comics alumni whose work on series' like The Doom Patrol seemed to show he understood the Marvel tone better than many at DC (although ironically I think his work with Marvel was short-lived). And I do think there is a notable up-tick in quality, at least to some extent. The plots, at least, seeming a little more complicated, not unfolding in quite as formulaic ways. But he still hasn't figured out what to do with the characters/personality -- although he does try complicating things even more by adding romantic tension between Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers (creating now a triangle with Una -- or square counting Yon-Rogg). Although weirdly some of the writing can seem oddly sexist in a way it hadn't before (weird because Drake gave the '60s one of its most Liberated heroines, the Doom Patrol's Elasti-Girl).

Drake adds in a further complication by tossing in the idea that the real Walter Lawson (the dead scientist whose identity Mar-Vell adopted) had his own secrets. Except instead of teasing that out as a new puzzle for a few issues, it's dealt with in a couple of issues.

The first half of these issues were drawn by Gene Colan -- an artist of whom I'm an unabashed fan. However during this period he was still developing as an artist. Or at least his enthusiasm for the material, and the compatibility inkers with whom he was paired, might have affected his work. I don't know what he thought of the gig, but given Colan had a history a staying with properties for years, the fact that he was gone in a few issues might say something. You can detect aspects of the Colan magic at times -- explosive action, quirky and dynamic angles -- but it's rougher work and there's not enough of the good stuff to compensate for the weaknesses in the scripts. Colan is succeeded by Don Heck, an uneven, problematic artist at times, but who is actually in pretty good form here (the transition from lesser Colan to better-than-average Heck isn't jarring).

It's also worth noting how much these early issues presumably influenced later Marvel Universe lore. The Kree had already been introduced in a few Fantastic Four issues, but I'm guessing it was these Captain Mavel issues that fleshed them out and defined the race (and their bitter rivalry with another recurring alien race, the Skrulls) and so helped lay the groundwork for innumerable Kree-related Marvel sagas over the years!

It isn't that these early Captain Marvel stories are terrible (although given all the changes the character would undergo, I'm guessing sales weren't stellar). But they do lack some of the oomph of some contemporaneous comics, whether it be the wit and wisecracks, or the teeth gnashing angst (despite the material ripe for emotional conflict and turmoil).

But viewed another way, the ideas these issues were dragging out were really quite ambitious. Indeed, given all the modern retro comics (X-Men: First Class, Avengers: The World's Mightiest Heroes) and reboot comics (Ultimates, etc.), I can't help thinking it would be interesting for some modern creative team to revisit these old comics and their themes and threads, and see if they could re-tell the story that is so clearly lurking, only half-realized, in these old issues.

Cover price: $ __  

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