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Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 7

March 29, 2017

Captain Marvel #5 (cover date September ’68)

“The Mark of the Metazoid” by Arnold Drake (w), Don Heck (p), and J. Tartaglione (i).

Big shake-up time: no more Gene Colan, no more Roy Thomas. Don Heck was one of the lesser lights (IMO) of Marvel’s Silver Age. He had some prestigious assignments – he was the original Iron Man artist, and he replaced Jack Kirby on the Avengers – but his work, or at least his super-hero work, was average at best in my view. Here, his art looks rather poor, a huge step down from Colan, but maybe it would have been better with a different inker? I don’t remember his other art from this period looking quite this rough. Arnold Drake, the writer, was recently inducted into the comics Hall of Fame, although he seems to have been more known for his DC work. Both Heck and Drake had runs on Uncanny X-Men from around this same time period, which is the only place I’ve seen Drake’s work before.

captmarvel-07-aAnyway, on with the issue at hand. We open with an interstellar trial, conducted aboard the Kree starship that sits in orbit above the Earth. What was its name again? It’s not mentioned here. Captain Mar-vell has been accused by his superior, Colonel Yon-rogg, of intentionally throwing Namor into the self-destruct lever of the bacteria-laden missile, and thus sabotaging the Kree mission. Ronan the Accuser sits in judgement. The charges go beyond treason, actually – Mar-vell is accused by the Colonel of being “un-Kree.” Yon-rogg has Medic Una testify, knowing that she will passionately defend Mar-vell and, as a result, have her testimony of the defendant’s character discounted by Ronan. Just like a girl to lose control of her emotions, amirite? But the gambit is, in the end, not successful. Ronan punts on the decision, telling Mar-vell that they will be watching his future actions for signs of disloyalty.

The topic of the comatose hotel clerk, Jeremy Logan, is then raised. The clerk knows Mar-vell is an alien, and as such, he must be eliminated. Mar-vell suggests that killing the human might raise suspicions, and that the mission would be better served by simply erasing the poor guy’s memory. Ronan concurs, and beams over a mind-wipe device to the spaceship. As Mar-vell departs the ship to return to Earth, Una wonders how many more of Yon-rogg’s bullets can her true love evade. Yon-rogg, for his part, swears to himself that he will see his rival dead.

Down near the Cape, a “U-boat” has crept close to shore and discharges “special cargo XM-1” before retreating. I always thought “U-boat” referred to a WWII-era German submarine, and it will be revealed on the next page that this is apparently a Russian sub. So it’s a bit odd that the captions would specifically call it that and not even mention that it’s a Soviet vessel, although perhaps at the height of the Cold War, all that context was unnecessary. And hey, did the Soviets even have a way to launch a submarine into the Atlantic? Anyway, the sub is spotted by a US ship, but its mission is complete and it runs away.

captmarvel-07-bWhat the US boat does not notice is special cargo XM-1, which now walks along the ocean floor! It is a large blue furry humanoid, although it’s not the X-Men’s Beast (who was still human-looking at this point in time). It is the “inhuman,” “grotesque,” and “sinister” Metazoid! As the Metazoid stomps towards shore, it considers its miserable existence. It was apparently once a human who was convicted of treason by the USSR (interesting parallel to Mar-vell’s situation). Instead of execution, he was offered the chance to live if agreed to undergo experiments related to the Russian space program. The scientists tried to alter his body chemistry so that he could survive on alien planets, but something went wrong and the man was physically transformed into a monster. His new form had the “metabolic rate of 50 men,” which meant that “its strength and survival must be equally phenomenal!” Rather than shoot him off into space, the Metazoid was sent off to capture Dr. Walter Lawson (of course) and promised that, if successful, they would return him to his human form (fat chance).

The Metazoid reaches land and marches towards the missile base. As he punches his way through the soldiers guarding the base, he acknowledges that his Soviet masters have probably been lying to him, both about his mission (they promised Lawson would not be harmed or coerced into working for them) and about his reward. However, he has chosen to believe them anyway – what choice does he have? “What crimes will a man not condone – what putrid acts will he not embrace – what naked terror will he not blind himself to – in order that he may gain some feeble twisted shadow of personal freedom!”

Elsewhere in the Cape, Carol Danvers is grilling Dr. Lawson about the lack of photos in his file. Mar-vell reflects that he destroyed the photos of the real Lawson, although one wonders why, given that the two of them could have been twins. Mar-vell tries to throw her off the scent by, well, I’m not even sure what to call this:

captmarvel-07-c

That’s some vintage sexism right there

Lawson: “I’m sorry, Miss Danvers, but I have more important things to do than to deal with your professional conflicts!”

Danvers: “My what? I’d prefer you spoke more plainly!”

Lawson: “It’s perfectly obvious! You’re a woman – a lovely woman, in fact! And you’ve been given a very masculine role in life! Naturally, psychological conflicts must arise when a beautiful young woman is asked to play at policeman!”

Wow. Somehow that actually ends the conversation and Danvers’ line of questioning.

“Dr. Lawson” goes outside and hops in a cab driven by the only cabbie in town (although Chester the cabbie says there are actually six other taxis in the area) and heads over to the hospital to take care of the comatose hotel clerk. Chester notes that the hospital is in Hayes City, and that the town surrounding the missile base “hasn’t got more’n a drugstore.” While the car drives away, the ginormous Metazoid leaps onto its roof, somehow without alerting Mar-vell or Chester. And wait a minute, wasn’t the big blue freak just attacking the base? Why wasn’t the Metazoid being chased by soldiers, and why wasn’t the place on lockdown? I guess maybe he only took out a few guards before they could raise the alarm?

When Mar-vell gets to the hospital, the Metazoid stealthily leaps from the car onto the hospital wall, and resolves to follow Dr. Lawson until he can be captured surreptitiously. With “well-practiced guile” Mar-vell locates Jeremy Logan’s hospital room and tries to find where on the human’s head to place the mind eraser. “Locating the precise cerebral quadrant presents a minor obstacle, since I’ve had no previous experience with an earth brain!” thinks Mar-vell to himself, his hands hovering over the man’s skull. “Ahhh! There it is!” he concludes, all in the same panel. Apparently Kree fingers have the power of cerebral quadrant detection.

But just at that moment, the Metazoid breaks into the room, intent upon kidnapping Lawson for its Soviet masters! Mar-vell, confused by what exactly he is facing, leaps out of the window. Some orderlies then burst into the room, one of them carrying a straight-jacket, but the Metazoid tosses them around like dolls. Mar-vell changes into his battle suit, somehow (he wasn’t carrying his case, and it doesn’t fit under his clothes), and charges back into the room to stop the monster’s rampage. He soon discovers that the creature is stronger than he is, and that when he punches it, his fists get stuck in its gooey body. The Captain then tries out his uni-beam, to no effect. For all of the praise that got showered on the Kree weapon early-on, I’m starting to think that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Although he does note that some different setting might destroy the Metazoid. It’s just that right now, he has no time to find out what that setting might be.

Instead he grabs the beast anew, flies them outside of the hospital, and tries to drop the thing. Only he’s stuck, again. C’mon, Captain, you found out that your foe was super-sticky less than 10 panels ago. The Metazoid grapples Mar-vell mid-air, until their combined weight overwhelms the jet-belt and they plummet to the ground. The Metazoid isn’t all bad though – he twists his body so that he absorbs the brunt of the impact instead of Mar-vell. In his struggle to retain some semblance of his humanity, he doesn’t want to kill his opponent. Mar-vell is left unconscious, and Metty walks away in an ironic search for Lawson.

captmarvel-07-dMar-vell comes to and freaks out a little. He left the mind eraser on the hotel clerk, and is worried that it will be discovered and recognized as an alien device. As he runs through the hospital, he notices the radiology department and gets an idea. A zap from his uni-beam lures the Metazoid near a cannon-like x-ray machine, which is then triggered to fire a really dangerous-looking blast at Big Blue. I don’t think x-ray cannons are an approved medical device! Mar-vell’s thoughts explain that the Metazoid reminded him of the Vintar from Galaxy-7, who had an “unstable non-finite cell structure,” which made them invulnerable. When the Vintar threatened to overwhelm the Kree home world, the Kree spaceships attacked the beasts with x-rays in desperation. Luckily for the Kree, their gambit worked and the Vintar were defeated.

But the Metazoid is not a Vintar, and the x-rays actually kill it. As the Captain gazes at his fallen foe, he uncannily ponders if it, like him, was on “some grim and ghastly mission at which its soul rebelled.” But he puts those thoughts aside for now, and rushes back to Jeremy Logan’s room to retrieve the mind eraser. Some doctors come upon Mar-vell there, and the Kree flees. The doctors examine Logan, but find nothing wrong. In fact, he shows signs of awakening from his coma!

Mar-vell flies back to his ship to report his success with the clerk. As he does so, he wrestles with his duty and his conscience. Should he regret defeating those, like the Metazoid, that stand in the way of his mission? Is that not the path to treason, which his superior is so eager to prove? Speaking to himself, he wonders, “Will you let a few brief moments with your feet upon the soil of an alien world rob you of your proud identity? You are a man of the Kree! And that – you must never forget!” The issue ends with the narrator agreeing with Mar-vell’s thoughts, at some length, warning our protagonist in the process that if he develops sympathy for the Earthlings, he will drown. It’s all very dramatic.

Not a bad outing for our first issue without Roy and Gene, overall, although I really wonder just how did Mar-vell ever become this war hero of the Kree? Usually when the alien comes to Earth and discovers a conscience, there’s some precipitating event. But we haven’t seen any such thing here. In fact, Mar-vell and Una both reflect that they have always been different from their fellows, in that they have some empathy for others. But it makes me think, how did Mar-vell advance as far as he did in the Kree military if he’s constantly identifying with the targets of the Empire’s conquest? Or maybe Earth is different because the Kree look just like Earthlings? Then again, so do most other Marvel species.

Next: it’s a mystery! (there’s no blurb for the next issue)

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6 Comments
  1. How on Earth did that end the conversation!?!

    • I know, right?! The funny thing is, Carol goes on to become Ms. (later Captain) Marvel, the company’s premiere female superhero.

      • Let’s hope one of her superpowers will be a bit more backbone then!

      • It’s safe to say that her character has changed dramatically since these inauspicious beginnings.

  2. Pinkius permalink

    Boy the 70’s had a whole bunch of weird prejudice in their noggins.

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  1. Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 6 | Daddy DM

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