#1 - coverThe Untold Legend of Captain Marvel

1997, three (extra-sized) issues, Marvel Comics

Writer: Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich. Pencils: Scott Kolins. Inks: John Lowe.

The Untold Legend of Captain Marvel is an impressive creative achievement. Namely in the way that it manages to appeal to long time fans and continuity buffs -- while being largely self-contained and entirely accessible to the casual reader. Other comic book writers might take note.

Firstly, this mini-series is about Marvel Comics' Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell, the alien Kree warrior) rather than the guy who says "Shazam!" over at DC Comics.

At first glance it seems like a kind of curious project. It's a three issue mini-series (each issue 32 pages of story!) that seemed to come out of nowhere (unless there was some other Captain Marvel revival occurring around the same time). A comic presenting a retro tale of a character who had been killed off more than 15 years before and so readers might only have come across him in very occasional flashbacks or retro stories squeezed into the pages of anthology comics. What's more, this wasn't a throwback to the familiar Captain Marvel -- the red-and-blue suited super hero -- but as he was in his very earliest adventures, a white-and-green suited alien soldier. This is even a prequel story, set even before Marvel arrived on earth!

What the editorial impulses were that led to it, I don't know.

But where it becomes interesting is that on one hand the story is chock full of little references and continuity nuggets that'll appeal to long time readers -- featuring Mar-Vell, and introducing his first love, Una, and his arch-rival, Yon-Rogg (characters important in the first score of Captain Marvel stories published in the early 1970s, but not really later). It's set within deep space and the star-spanning Kree empire, with minor appearances by Skrulls, and the Sh'iar, including the Imperial Guard -- all familiar from other Marvel Comics. And with the main adversaries proving to be the Brood -- creatures modelled after the critters from the Alien movies and also familiar from other Marvel Comics, notably the X-Men, but which were introduced after Captain Marvel's day. And there are occasional cryptic lines and foreshadowing (like a character commenting Captain Marvel, as a man of action, was unlikely to die in bed -- when readers know that's precisely how he will end up dying!)

And yet all of that is completely unimportant to reading and enjoying this story just for itself alone. All these characters and alien races are introduced and explained as natural parts of the story being told here -- you could just as easily imagine this is a stand alone adventure with no connection to any other comics out there.

Indeed, you might wonder if the creators had wanted to pitch the idea of a stand alone space adventure story -- mixing Star Trek, Star Wars, and Alien -- but it was suggested if they use familiar Marvel Comics icons (including Captain Marvel) it might make it easier to market.

And it does work quite well as a stand alone space adventure.

If this were a big budget Hollywood movie -- I suspect most people would declare it a top notch example of a space opera. Heck, if written as a novel, it holds up as a well plotted, well-paced story, with elements of mystery-suspense, exciting action, some plot twists and turns, solid character interaction, and some clever ideas and scenes (including how the characters escape in the climax, which seems plausibly rooted in the technology). I'm not sure I'm that familiar with Tom Brevoort or Mike Kanterovich as writers (I know Brevoort's name but can't quite associate it with anything) but it's a well written adventure, with solid dialogue. Scott Kolins art is also effective -- his figures a bit blocky, but the scenes well composed, and the environments suitably bright and hi-tech, as befits a series going for a kind Star Trek/Gernsbackian vibe.

So if you're just looking for a space adventure, but know next to nothing about Captain Marvel or Marvel Comics' assorted alien races -- this works as an enjoyable space adventure (with elements, of course, of horror). And if you love the way comics can interweave continuity like Christmas Tree lights, or are simply an old time fan eager to revisit with Captain Marvel in his original incarnation -- this should hit the spot.

It's not often that a comic book serves two masters so well.