Saturday, March 2, 2013

Marvel's Space-Born Masterwork!


This little volume called out to me from the shelf, demanding to be purchased and brought into my home, to be read, read again, and cherished. I simply adore the Captain Marvel character. That adoration is no doubt to a degree the result of nostalgia. Captain Marvel was my first "favorite" comic book character. I started reading him with his debut issue and continued to do so for decades.


Those earliest episodes though, the more solidly science fiction ones are my favorites. The later cosmically aware hero is dandy, but the sci-fi warrior from the distant planet Kree, a secret agent among Earth's humans, here to take our measure and deciding ultimately to fight for us against his own people, that's the guy I fell for, that's the hero I admire.

The stories in this trade paperback Masterworks volume collect pretty much all of Cap's first wave. Here is merely a Kree warrior sent to Earth in wake of the Fantastic Four encountering the Sentry and then Ronan the Accuser. For more on the Sentry see this link.

He finds himself hidden in plain sight as Dr.Walter Lawson, a man with plenty of secrets whose identity gives Mar-Vell access to some of the most powerful weapons at an American rocket base. He struggles to fulfill his mission of espionage and battle threats from the likes of the Super Skrull, the Sub-Mariner, the Metazoid, Solamm, Quasimodo, and others, all the while surviving the manipulations of his devious commander Yon-Rogg. And there's his girlfried Una too to attend to.


Mar-Vell is a man, a soldier in a faraway land who wants to be loyal to his society, but finds himself torn as the orders he is often given make little sense, seem callous and needlessly cruel. He begins to identify with the population he has hidden himself among, finding a kinship with the enemy as it were. He is a soldier in crisis, on a mission he doesn't understand, fighting a foe he doesn't hate. If that sounds screwy in 1967 and 1968 it is, and for a whole American generation being commanded to fight a spurious war in a faraway land, such ideas were potent. There's a lot to grok in the early days of Captain Marvel, that's for sure.

The series features the work of some of Marvel's best, starting with scripts by the big man himself Stan Lee, who created the character under direct orders from Martin Goodman, to monopolize the most logical name for a superhero the Marvel Universe could have. Gene Colan was tapped as artist and was inked by Frank Giacoia, Paul Reinman, and Vince Colletta. Colletta stayed on board as Don Heck stepped in to take the artistic reins. Roy Thomas had taken over the writing, but gave way to Arnold Drake after several issues. Lots of diverse hands were certainly involved in this alien saga.

It's pretty clear that Captain Marvel was a character who did not find the sales success they wanted as they began to tinker with his premise pretty quickly. The original set-up pretty much dwindles away by the end of the stories in this volume. In this one we see the alien soldier try to remain true to his oaths as well as to the basic decency this warrior of the Kree feels for us mere humans.

Roy Thomas in his introductory essay admits to the quiet echoes of Superman, an alien come to Earth and  getting some powers and living secretly among us. It's a great premise and this variation is intriguing in many ways. It's too bad it didn't yield better sales. Roy also admits to giving Cap his distinctive green and white color scheme, an offbeat look I love. Roy hates it and soon as we all know he'll ditch it for the more common blues and red and yellow.

But in this volume it's all the green and white soldier born in space. Good stuff!

Here's a gallery of the covers of the comics inlcuded included.












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10 comments:

  1. The thing I've always been curious about with this initial version of Mar-vell is why the Kree tapped him for this spy/sabotage mission. The bad-guy-developing-empathy-for-his-enemy thing is all well and good, and textbook Marvel Comics at this point in time, but I have to assume Mar-vell was chosen above all other Kree for this mission because his loyalties and dedication were beyond question. I mean, let's face it, the typical Kree warrior is single-minded enough in terms of advancing the Kree empire and warlike agenda--it's hard to believe Mar-vell would slip through the cracks in that respect and be assigned such an important mission. If human spy cells have no problem living double lives by establishing purely normal identities in the suburbs while at the same time coldly carrying out their orders over a span of years, surely the Kree would have that down to a science and be able to expertly weed out sympathetic figures like Mar-vell before they were chosen to pave the way for invasion of another world.

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    1. The story gets twisted and re-twisted over the years, but it's revealed in the later issues that Captain Mar-Vell was picked because of his peculiar ways by the Supreme Intelligence in an elaborate scheme to undermine the status quo the stagnant Kree race. In fact Roy cleverly made this part of the Kree-Skrull War.

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  2. Never read these. I know what's going on my wish list!

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    1. I'm glad you're intrigued. I frankly recommend the Captain Marvel Essential volume over this one for a new reader such as yourself. It's cheaper and contains well twice the number of stories. You'll get all of the Captain Marvel sci-fi epic as well as some of the later cosmic hero. The whole of the saga is in there, in glorious black and white.

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  3. Sadly, this is an area of my late Silver Age/Bronze Age reading that is sorely deficient. It's been on my to-acquire list for far too long!

    Doug

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    1. I own the originals. I own it in reprint a few times, but I knew I wanted this Masterwork. It's just so beautiful. Some of Gene Colan's very best work, and it's often forgotten.

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  4. Never read any of this...basically always been annoyed by the name as I am a fan of the original Captain Marvel...funny prejudice I guess. Sounds
    intriguing, I just wish he had a name
    of his own.

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    1. It's his name which has spared him over the years actually. Captain Marvel gets dusted off every few years for some reason so Marvel can hang onto the name without dispute. Another name, and the Kree warrior might've long ago fallen into the dustbin of Marvel history.

      Ironic that.

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  5. I really wouldn't call this an 'also-ran' 60's Marvel title. True, Stan the Man wasn't heavily involved, there was no Kirby or Ditko, and Gene Colan didn't stay long. But these are fantastic comics nonetheless. The space opera hero angle is a new one for Marvel, and the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers stuff makes these early stories unique. Mar-Vell himself is noble and sympathetic despite being, initially, technically, a villain,and his costume with mohawk is weird and cool. The Marvel melodrama of the period is turned up to eleven - these are really thrilling, edge-of-the-seat, clifffhanger-packed comics that are impossible to put down. There were endless battles with 'indestructable' giant robots in 60's Marvel comics, but Mar-Vell's confrontation with the Kree Sentry is issue # 3 gets my vote as the best ever.

    Really great comics, they deserve more recognition.

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  6. Back in the day, unsold comics had their top title cut off and returned for credit,or the entire cover. The mutalated books, were then supposed to be destroyed.I seen many a store from the mom and pop stores, to holiday stores, selling them in bags three for 15 cents. In such bags, I got hooked on mar-vell, with the two MSH issues, and his first issue. I then picked up the book, from issue 6 to 62.Perhaps is both Lee and Colam had stayed on the book longer. Heck, did some of his very best work on the character.I find it kind of sad, that most fans focus on how he was killed off, rather then all these great issues. They could have done a lot more with the charicter.

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