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Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 1

February 16, 2017

So, a brief history lesson to start:

During the Golden Age, Fawcett Comics published Captain Marvel, a Superman-like hero that switched places with a young boy. Apparently, Captain Marvel’s books outsold Superman’s at times, but that came to an end in the 50’s, when DC sued Fawcett. DC alleged that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman and won, and Fawcett was forced to abandon the character.

Over a decade later, a tiny publisher made use of the lapsed Captain Marvel trademark to debut their own series of the same name, which bombed because it was terrible. Right after that series disappeared, Marvel’s publisher exhorted Stan Lee to create a new character in order to claim the trademark for the company. And Marvel has held onto the trademark with minor character after minor character ever since (until Carol Danvers assumed the name, at least).

Interestingly enough, DC later acquired the rights to the Fawcett Captain Marvel. But they have never been able to use that name, at least not for a book title, because of the whole trademark issue. As a result, most of us know the very first Captain Marvel as “Shazam!” today.

So, we have a hero who basically created to secure a trademark, not unlike She-Hulk or Spider-Woman, two heroes who have struggled to stand on their own at times. Captain Marvel had the advantage of not being a gender-flipped version of a major hero. But he also didn’t have the name recognition that comes with that, either. I was interested to see how would he fare as a brand new character, how he would develop, and how he would eventually end up dying of cancer.

Captain Marvel #1 (cover date May ’68)

And we start in media res, with Captain Marvel battling a robotic Kree sentry… No, wait, this is actually a continuation of a story that started elsewhere. Where? They don’t bother to say. So much for #1s being good jumping-on points, eh?

OK, a little online research shows that Captain Marvel actually debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #12-13. Let’s try this again…

 

 

 

Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (cover date Dec ’67)

All New! Never Seen Before! The Coming of Captain Marvel! Plus five “all-time greats from the Golden Age,” although none of those stories (featuring Black Knight, Destroyer, Captain America, Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner) were digitized. Were they just reprints of old Timely stories, I wonder? (Timely was the precursor to Marvel comics)

We open with a splash page of a white-haired, pink-skinned human wearing a 50’s-style space-man outfit, standing apparently on nothing, with his legs spread-eagled. He’s pointing a ray-gun at the reader. A very pointy rocket flies out from between his legs, coming straight at the reader, its point thrusting upwards near the man’s crotch. I’m not sure, but I think it would be hard to find a more phallic opening shot in a Comics captmarvel-01-aCode book. Stan Lee and Gene Colan get the credit, with Frank Ciacoia inking.

Apparently Gene Colan, despite the co-credit, has said that he had no involvement in the character’s conception. Of the design of Marvel’s initial costume, he once said, “It was awful – just an imitation of any of the other costumed characters I’d ever done.” To me, the costume looks a little bland, but maybe that’s because it’s mostly white. Which, come to think of it, you don’t see very often on super-heroes. Or at least I’m having trouble thinking of any right now.

captmarvel-01-bSo as we get to the story proper, we find that the rocket is a manned spaceship, which would make the space-man from the opening into a giant. The ship belongs to the alien Kree, who look exactly like humans of European descent (I gues the blue Kree were a later invention?). We quickly establish that Colonel Yon-rogg is running the show, and he is sending Captain Mar-vell (the white-haired guy) to his death so that Yon-rogg can claim the heart of the ship’s medic, Una, who has a thing with Mar-vell. Stan Lee, love triangle, check. Although perhaps it’s not a proper triangle since Una doesn’t want anything to do with Yon-rogg.

What’s more interesting here is that Mar-vell needs a “breathing potion” to survive on Earth. I don’t remember that ever being a thing with the Kree (or any other alien race, for that matter) in modern times, so I’m assuming it’s been forgotten out of existence. The potion is good for an hour, although it’s only needed if Mar-vell removes his helmet.

The spaceship has an “aura of negativism” to keep it from being seen. Mar-vell himself has an “air-jet belt” that lets him jump really high, and because gravity is stronger in the “Kree galaxy” than on Earth, he is stronger than your average human. Although he notes that if he dresses in Earth clothes, as opposed to his battle uniform, “my strength will decrease in exact proportion to the time I am exposed to this alien atmosphere!” I’m not sure that makes any kind of sense at all, and I’m pretty sure it’s never brought up again.

captmarvel-01-cMar-vell comes upon a rocket launch in the middle of nowhere, and runs away before he’s detected. But even so, his presence fouls the rocket’s circuitry because… radiation? He’s spotted, and a bunch of soldiers chase after him. Mar-vell pulls out his “universal beam blaster” (his ray-gun), sets it for a wide-angle blast, and blinds the pursuing soldiers with “black light.” As he hops away with his jump-belt, he muses that despite the technological progress that the earthmen have made, “they’re unfamiliar with the galaxy’s most common all-purpose weapon! For the beam blaster can do almost anything – depending on the size and intensity of its arc light!” So common that you will probably never see another one ever again in a Marvel comic.

The Kree spy switches into his Earth clothes, hitches a ride to town, and gets lodging at an old hotel. He is caught off-guard, however, when he has to sign the hotel register! Mar-vell panics, and signs “C. Marvel.” As he enters his rented room, he pats himself on the back. “All I did was Americanize Mar-vell to Marvel! It was simple!” I think that should be “anglicize,” no? It’s an odd idea, in any case. Has Mar-vell ever actually transliterated his name from Kree into English to note that it’s similar to “Marvel”?

captmarvel-01-dAs Mar-vell settles in, Yon-rogg uses some un-named shipboard device to paralyze his man on the ground. The Colonel then teleports a wristwatch straight onto Mar-vell’s arm before releasing him from the paralysis. Why didn’t they just do that before he left the ship? Just to be a dick, apparently. The “wrist monitor” can only be removed by the Colonel, and allows Yon-rogg to track Mar-vell from the safety of the ship. “This means I can never be free!” Mar-vell cries. “I can be contacted anywhere – any time – so long as I live!” Wow, dude, way to be overdramatic. Oh and by the way, welcome to life in the 21st century.

The wrist monitor instantly has an incoming call, although it’s from the Kree homeworld and not Mar-vell’s boss. The Imperial Minister of the Supreme Intelligence lets Mar-vell know that their sentry (a big robot) has failed in its mission on Earth, as has Ronan the Accuser, and now it’s Mar-vell’s turn (both of those events took place in the Fantastic Four’s comic, I believe, although no issue numbers or even footnotes are provided). And failure means death. Curiously, failure didn’t mean death for Ronan, did it? What it seems to come down to is, every Kree but the ship’s medic wants Mar-vell dead.

The Imperial Minister hangs up, and Mar-vell’s breathing potion runs out, forcing him to don his helmet. He looks out the window, reckons that his spaceship has already left the planet’s surface, and considers how alone he truly is now. And with that, it’s… over? The next issue blurb is: “the attack!” which gives me hope that something interesting might happen soon. Or not so soon, since the next issue is cover-dated 4 months after this one. Way to keep the momentum going!

As premieres go, Mar-vell’s is a bit lackluster. There’s no real origin story. Mar-vell is a “captain in [an] intergalactic space fleet,” and we know nothing else about who he is, aside from his affair with Una. He has no special abilities. Everything unusual about him – his strength, his jump-belt, his ray-gun – appears to be standard issue to his race and rank. His situation, on the other hand, has potential. He’s an infiltrator from an alien race, operating solo on a hostile planet, and his support team is actively trying to get him killed. Presumably he’s going to turn into a hero of the earthmen at some point, which could be bad for him, given that most Kree already want to see him dead.

Overall it seems less like the first chapter of a superhero story, and more like a pulp sci-fi tale. Which is fine, but not what I would expect to see in a book called Marvel Super-Heroes.

Next: the attack of what?

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7 Comments
  1. Pinkius permalink

    I’m not particularly interested in comic books, but analysis of a thing is often more entertaining than the source, I find. In this case at least it is.
    If you keep doing writeups on the comics, I can’t promise I’ll read them all, but I’ll give it a shot ;P

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. And Now For Something Completely Different | Daddy DM
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  4. Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 4 | Daddy DM
  5. Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 15 | Daddy DM

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