Friday, December 23, 2016

Live Kree Or Die - The Only Good Alien!

The Kree-Skrull War is appropriately celebrated by most as one of Marvel's great early epics of storytelling. It is a story which has its oldest roots in the earliest days of a budding Marvel and a story which at once closes story lines and opens others. But what is often overlooked when this epic is showcased is the significant role that "Our Pal" Sal Buscema played in the early chapters. With inks by himself and longtime ally Sam Grainger as well as veteran George Russos he drew nearly half of the story, but is often forgotten because of the later work Neal Adams did when he famously debuted on the series.

The story by Roy Thomas begins in Avengers eighty-nine in Miami where the Avengers are hunting down the Kree Captain Mar-Vell. After a quick slugfest he is shot by Rick Jones who surprisingly is no longer connected to the Captain by dint of the Nega-Bands. Mar-Vell is swiftly taken to a lab to extract deadly excess radiation which is soon to prove fatal to those around him. This radiation had come about when Captain Marvel was able to finally find a way out of the Negative Zone thanks in no small part to Reed Richards who had himself been trapped there in the pages of Fantastic Four and who Cap had seen escape through a portal to the Baxter Building.

Avoiding the deadly threat of Annihilus Cap makes good his escape but then runs afoul of the Avengers who have answered an intruder alert. They follow Cap to the Cape in Florida where they capture him. Thanks to the Vision his deadly radiation is dispersed. But the story shifts to the distant homeworld of the Kree and we see Ronan the Accuser defy the Supreme Intelligence and activate Sentry 459 who attacks as the story closes.

In Avengers ninety the Sentry takes Captain Marvel and disappears with him as the Avengers get a rundown on the Kree on Earth as well as Mar-Vell's long career.

When they return to the Avengers Mansion they find a distress call from the Wasp saying that her husband Hank Pym, the Yellowjacket is lost in a mysterious green area of the Arctic. The Avengers head north to follow Goliath who had gone earlier to assist, and find a world where time seems to have been lost and ancient pre-historic beasts roam. There they find both Goliath and the Sentry protecting a Kree experiment run by Ronan which will devolve the humans of Earth and remove them as a threat to the Kree Empire. As the story closes we see Yellowjacket himself has been turned into a ferocious caveman.

As the next chapter opens in Avengers ninety-one, Yellowjacket kidnaps his wife Wasp showing more tenderness in his transformed state than Ronan expected.

The Avengers meanwhile battle the Sentry and a mind-controlled Goliath and defeat the latter. The latter captures them all and the Vision and Scarlet Witch are held prisoner and we get a hint of the romance which will blossom between the two. While Yellowjacket battles other scientists turned cavemen for the Wasp, Ronan reveals his scheme to use the atavistic radiation of the Kree outpost to devolve all of humanity into dust. But Quicksilver and Rick Jones are able to bring an attack which stifles that plan while Ronan gets an urgent message that the ages-long Kree-Skrull conflict has broken out again. He leaves to serve and the Senry without instructions shuts down as the transforming radiation disperses and the changed humans return to normal. The Avengers seem to know more is coming soon.

In the next chapter in issue ninety-two the Avengers recover at the Mansion and are shocked to learn that the technicians they saved have taken the story to the authorities. The result is a congressional investigation headed up by a unscrupulous fame-seeking politician named H. Warren Craddock. The Avengers are called to testify before his committee as is Captain Marvel. SHIELD is called upon to see to it that the Avengers and especially Mar-Vell do not elude the public. When Captain Marvel saves Carol Danvers public attention is somewhat more positive to him but she quickly indicates he should come with her to find some measure of isolation from the media. He agrees and Nick Fury allows them unofficially to elude capture.

(This is  a strange array: In addition to Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and the Human Torch, we have Catman, Fighting Yank, Fantoman, the Green Lama and the Heap. They come from several defunct Golden Age companies.)
As the Avengers head off to testify Rick Jones reveals that he has been having some incredibly potent dreams populated with the four-color heroes of his comic book drenched youth. The Avengers refuse to cooperate with Craddock's committee and when they return to the Mansion they find Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man there who voice their disapproval and disband the team effective immediately.

Outstanding stuff, a real nifty blend of adventure and social commentary. Clearly Thomas is attempting to evoke the infamous McCarthy hearings of the 1950's when he creates the loathsome Craddock and the Avengers are the noble types who stand up to the browbeating. But this does call into question the nature of the team as they are officially sanctioned by the United States government. Given the situation one is forced to agree that while it is a strong reaction, the behavior of Cap, Thor, and Shellhead is not totally without merit. We shall of course see that more is at play there, but the uncomfortable nature of the Avengers, a team of vigilantes and ex-criminals who become agents of the government is a sticky wicket indeed.

It's great to see Sentry 459 back in action. Sal does a great job drawing him and his oddball nature of being something more than robot and less than a fully-realized living entity is developed a bit when he's compared to the Vision, another more fully developed enigmatic artificial being.

(Mister Fantastic first enters the Negative Zone in Fantastic Four #51 1966)
As for Captain Marvel, splitting him from Rick was a crucial step in setting up this story. The two of them had evoked the classic Billy Batson-Big Red Cheese combo in the last issues of Cap's magazine and it's nice to see that thread untied going forward. The tie-in to Fantastic Four was also neat and the weird landscape of the Negative Zone did become a bit more fully realized. We'd seen it had some really dark and dangerous denizens in the pages of the FF and now that becomes more fully realized in the larger Marvel Universe.

More next time as after this skirmish the Kree-Skrull War takes over for a blistering few issues. And with the war comes the great Neal Adams.

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  1. Avengers #89 is such an evocative comic for me. I bought it from a newsagent's and tobacconist's shop while holidaying in largs in 1971, and it reminds me of there, as well as the living-room of my old house, where I re-read it once we'd returned home. In case you're interested, Rip, you can read my reminiscences in part ten of my 'Favourite Comics of the Past' series over on my blog.

    1. Ironically Avengers #89 was the first issue of the series I'd missed since becoming a diehard fan with the Panther's debut in issue #52. Why I missed it was anyone's guess, the vagaries of the newsstand world of the time. I have some weird gaps in my early stuff for pretty the same unknown reasons.

      For me one comic which evokes specific memories of time and place is Captain Marvel #6 (the one with Solam), as I remember reading that one under a homemade lean-to we cobbled together in a rainstorm. I was also eating a pickle-loaf sandwich and why I remember that one as opposed to several hundred others is complete mystery.

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    2. What a great reminiscence, Rip. There's a story to go with all our comics, but we just can't remember them all, sadly.

  2. The dairy store near where I grew up sold comic book 3-packs for 25 cents. (They must have been news agent returns or something.) I can recall getting Captain Marvel #5 (“Mark of the Metazoid”), Ghostly Tales #60 (w that nice, creepy Mr. Dedd cover) and an Archie that I gave to my twin sister….The Captain Marvel got dunked into my neighbor’s cheap swimming pool and it bummed me out as after I dried it out the issue had a sort of warped, waviness to it.

    1. Ah water damage, lovely water damage. I have a few of those myself, some I did and others I picked up for pennies in back issue bins. If you don't give a scrap for condition, at least once upon a time you could find some decent reading hiding in those long boxes.

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