Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Marvel's Space-Born Super-Hero!

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.

NOTE: This is a Dojo Revised Classic Post. 

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  1. That looks a great collection. I read these tales in black and white in the UK "Titans" comic where it was published in landscape format with
    2 pages reprinted on each page. It wasn't a great format to enjoy this tales but Cap grew on me. I certainly recall the great Colon and Heck art .

    1. I am hopelessly nostalgic for the green and white uniform. I think it's a darn fine look, especially when drawn by Colan and especially with Colletta inks.

  2. This original Captain Marvel had for me much of the same appeal as the one-shot Guardians of the Galaxy, since both were attempts to use the tropes of the superhero genre within the domain of science fictional comics with some political content.

    This may be a misjudgment on my part, but somehow this doesn't seem like the kind of concept Stan Lee would invent on his own. Of course once Marvel as a brand became successful, Martin Goodman wanted to keep the name in their copyright, so Goodman's input would have been the primary motivation for making up the character. I see that Lee and Thomas shared editorial duties on Marvel Super Heroes #12 and that Thomas becomes the writer on #13, remaining so for a few years afterward. I tend to think Thomas might have furnished the bulk of the "alien spy" concept, just as he articulated the idea of a Kree-Skrull enmity in CAPTAIN MARVEL #2-- an enmity that I don't think had ever been mentioned previously. Just pointless fan speculation, I suppose.

    1. The Kree were still so new that linking them in with the Skrulls was a classic Thomas move. It proved to be a fantastic notion. A lot changes in those early CM stories pretty quickly. So I'm inclined to think Stan whipped up the debut with conversations perhaps, but left it Roy to tinker with it.