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Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 28

Avengers #93 (cover date November 1971)

“This Beachhead Earth!” by Roy Thomas (w), Neal Adams (p), and Tom Palmer (i). Neal Adams! An artist so great that he’s featured in not one, but two comic book halls of fame! I didn’t even know there were multiple comic book halls of fame. I wonder if this issue ended up being a month late because of Adams taking the title over; I don’t know what his reputation for speed is, but his detailed (especially for the time) style has to be more time consuming to produce than your typical artist’s work.

So, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are at the mansion when the Vision stumbles in and collapses. Ant-Man (Hank Pym) arrives soon after, revealing that Iron Man summoned the founders to the house – presumably not including the Hulk. And no Janet, either. We get a brief recap of Pym’s creation of Ultron and Ultron’s creation of the Vision before Hank shrinks down and enters the Vision’s body in order to repair it. This is a cool-looking sequence! But not very consequential. After Hank finishes the job, he confirms to Cap that he’s left the Avengers for good, and takes off.

The Vision wakes up and expresses bitterness over how the three other heroes disbanded the team. But we didn’t, they protest! The Vision immediately realizes what has happened, and fills the others in on last issue, and what’s happened since. After leaving the mansion, the four ex-Avengers drove up to Carol’s farm. The Vision flew over to the house, but was laid low on the way by some ground-to-air energy blasts. When the twins went looking for him, all they found were three cows… who then turned into the (visible, male) members of the Fantastic Four! Caught off guard, Pietro and Wanda fell to the Fantastic Fakes, who then carried the siblings away. The Vision, after he was shot, hid intangibly inside the ground until his attackers departed, and then headed back to Avengers mansion, where he collapsed. And now we’re all caught up! Huh, I just realized that the Vision left Goliath at the farm without even telling poor Clint that there are hostiles about. That wasn’t very nice.

Canny readers will recognize the shapechangers as probably being Skrulls. That they would take the form of cows is either a callback or a follow-up to the end of FF #2, where Reed gets the very first Skrull invaders to change into cows and hypnotizes them so they stay that way. In the mid-90’s miniseries Skrull Kill Krew, it was established that the original cow-Skrulls from FF #2 were turned into hamburger-Skrulls and eaten by unsuspecting humans, so regardless of Roy’s intentions maybe we can just say that these cow-Skrulls are a homage rather than the originals.

Inside a heretofore unseen high-tech room, Mar-vell and Carol Danvers are held captive by a few Skrulls in their natural form. After some harsh words are spoken, the Skrulls are alerted to Goliath’s presence on the farm, and they send the FFakes to go round up Clint. But first Clint runs into Rick Jones, who knows something is up and is hiding. Alas, his warning comes too late – the Thing and the Torch come barreling at Goliath, who is taken by surprise and knocked out! Rick evades capture for as long as he can, but eventually he gets wrapped up by Mr. Fantastic.

Evil Reed Richards concedes to Rick that he is a Skrull, and reveals his past as one of the original Skrull invaders that was hypnotized into being a cow. Oops, I guess Skrull Kill Krew was a straight-up retcon. Hmm, I can’t think of a good explanation to reconcile the different versions; no No-Prize for me. He explains that the cow-Skrulls were “revived” by a “hyper-beam from space,” but before he can detail his secret plan the big guns – Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and the Vision – arrive!

Back in the high-tech room, Mar-vell frees himself by banking a uni-beam shot off a mirror and into the power source for his restraints. Why doesn’t anyone ever take that thing away from him!!! He escaped from the Super-Skrull back in Captain Marvel #3 with a similar trick. That’s three times he’s escaped restraints because no one bothered to take his weapon away from him, and two of those times were in the last two issues! “I – never realized you were – so powerful!” gushes Carol. What?! You’ve seen him defeat aliens and giant robots how many times now?

Mar-vell fills Carol in on the whole intergalactic war deal. Carol points out that if Mar-vell is the only Kree on Earth, then his people probably aren’t aware the Skrulls are here. As much as the Captain wants to aid the Avengers outside, he realizes that he has a greater duty, despite his status as an exile – he must warn his people of the Skrull presence on Earth. And the only way for him to do that is to cannibalize his uni-beam with parts from the Skrull ship (which appears to be where they’ve been held all this time) to fashion an “omni-wave projector!” Such a device can “send an instantaneous message to the Kree Galaxy – across the void of hyper-space!” But the projector is a closely-guarded Kree secret, one that the Skrulls would give “ten planets” for. It’s not just a great phone, “it can also become – the most dangerous weapon in the cosmos!” More dangerous than the Ultimate Nullifier?!

We then get a really neat split-page sequence, where the top half of several pages shows Mar-vell and Carol as the man of the Kree constructs the device while bathed in the green light of the Skrull vessel, while the bottom of those pages contains the Avengers’ fight with the FFakes, as seen from the washed-out color of the ship’s view-screens. In the middle is some old-style blocky computer font that’s narrating a countdown to a blast-off.

In the top sequence, Mar-vell completes the omni-wave projector, but then reconsiders and crushes the device with his hands! Carol freaks out and then reveals herself to be the Super-Skrull! Mar-vell had an inkling because she called him by his Kree name, and the real Carol never knew it. But – your Kree name sounds exactly like your superhero name. That’s how you got your superhero name! K’lrt punches and then gasses the Captain, and prepares for a take-off with our man of the Kree, Pietro, and Wanda on board. And presumably Carol as well? Oh duh, she’s been K’lrt all along. I suppose they wanted him to escape his restraints – this time – so that he could build the omni-wave projector. I hereby retract my complaint. Pretty clever setup all around, K’lrt. *slow clap*

Outside, the Avengers battle the FFakes until the tide slowly begins to turn in their favor. Just then, the farm-house falls away to reveal a space-ship underneath, which flies off into the air! Goliath grows really big, grabs hold before it gets too far, and starts pounding away on its hull. But then he unexpectedly shrinks and loses his grip. It turns out he hasn’t been taking his growth serum, and it ran out. Doh! Thor catches Clint before he goes splat and the Super-Skrull escapes with his captives. The situation is looking grim, and the Avengers are in low spirits.

Next: Mandroids, whee.


Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 27

Avengers #92 (cover date September 1971)

“All Things Must End!” by Roy Thomas (w), Sal Buscema (p), and George Roussos (i).

The Vision, Pietro, Wanda, and Clint are chilling at the mansion (the Vision is wearing slacks and a white sweater, and I cannot convey just how disturbing that looks) when Jarvis comes rushing in with the newspaper. The three technicians from Alaska, despite being sworn to secrecy, have blabbed to the press about the Kree “invasion” of Earth. The President has appointed one H. Warren Craddock, a McCarthy-type who is convinced that aliens have infiltrated America, to look into the matter. Craddock even uses the “I have here in my hand a list of alien spies” bit, in case the comparison wasn’t clear enough already. Craddock knows that a race called the Kree tried to de-evolve a section of Alaska, and that Captain Marvel is maybe an alien himself.

On cue, Captain Marvel and Rick Jones enter the room, with Mar-vell proposing that he give himself up to the authorities. Hey, remember that time you stole the United States’ first manned lunar rocket? Maybe you should turn yourself in! Clint thinks it’ll cool things down, but the mutants and then the android are against the idea. “If first a man of the Kree can be confined for no reason,” states the Vision, ignoring that the government does actually have plenty of reasons to want to question Mar-vell and that he actually was an alien spy, “then detainment of androids will follow – next of mutants – then giants – until, ultimately, a left-handed man would fight a right-handed man to the death – for the remnants of a bombed-out planet!” Woah. I see your hyperbole chip has been turned up to 11, Vision!

Outside, Carol Danvers is piloting a helicopter above the mansion for some reason? And oh, look, there’s a patented MU insta-mob of protestors around the building, with signs that read “Avengers are Traitors!” and “Earth – Like it or Leave it!” You can always count on the citizens of the MU to turn on its heroes on a dime. Then again, if my house got blown up or torn down every few months in super-slugfests, and crime never got any better despite all the supers running around, I’d be looking for an excuse to protest, too. I can’t imagine what property insurance must cost in MU Manhattan.

Anyway, Carol’s having engine trouble because why not, and the helicopter is falling. Mar-vell rushes outside, and though he can’t fly, he can jump real good because our gravity is lighter than what he’s used to. He slams into the bottom of the copter and grabs hold, which does nothing but tip it into a nosedive. Nice going, Mar-vell. Luckily, the Vision heads up to the roof and allows the copter to land on his super-dense back. Mar-vell jumps free, but man, the copter is crushed! There’s no way Carol survived – no, wait, she’s ok too. Wanda is worried that the Vision might be hurt, which is silly since Carol wasn’t, but the android notes that he’s very hard to damage. She gives him the old “how can you be so analytical” routine, and he fires back with the tried-and-true “stop being so emotional” bit and then walks away. Good times.

Pietro is about to slug the Vision for being rude to Wanda when they’re distracted by Nick Fury and Dum-Dum Dugan flying overheard in a snub-nosed fighter plane. A Mig-17, maybe. The SHIELD agents have been ordered to keep tabs on the Avengers, although Nick notes his distaste for the job. At least they’re surveying the mansion in person! It’s not like you ever see the head of the FBI or NSA in one of those flower vans parked down the street. Or is Fury just an agent at this point?

Once inside the mansion, Carol explains that she’s taken a leave of absence from the Cape in order to help Captain Marvel, instead of the other way around. She knows of a farm in upstate NY where he can lie low until things blow over. Mar-vell doesn’t want to run – he wants to prove his innocence – but he’s talked into leaving with Carol in a Quinjet (with Mar-vell piloting; when does Carol get retconned into a pilot, anyway?). Nick Fury and his wingmen try to follow, but the Avengers jet leaves them in the dust. Craddock appears on a monitor in Fury’s jet to give him some guff, and doesn’t get very far before Fury turns the screen off. It turns out that Nick let them get away while making a show of giving chase, but he “didn’t do [it] for [Captain] Marvel… I did it for – America!”

The Avengers are unsure of the wisdom of this course of action; up until now, they’ve always cooperated with the authorities. The discussion propels Roy Thomas, I mean Rick Jones, into the past, when he was reading the morally black-and-white tales of the Golden Age superheroes in the orphanage. We are presented with a tableau of those heroes: Captain America, Namor, the (not so) Human Torch, the Spirit of ’76… and some others I don’t quite recognize. One looks like the Man-Thing, kinda. Weird. “These days, you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys without a scorecard,” he muses, “and there ain’t no scorecard!” Oh no, the Avengers defied a government official! The rule of law is collapsing! You think this is bad, Rick? Just wait until the Iron Age… In any case, pay attention, this is some surprisingly long-range foreshadowing.

Right outside the mansion, a fight breaks out and Goliath goes to separate the two men involved. Surprise! It was a sham so that one of the “brawlers” could serve papers. The Avengers, along with the Fantastic Four, have been “invited” to testify before the Alien Activities Commission. The three techs from Alaska testify first, claiming the Avengers were trying to keep the whole situation secret in order to protect their alien buddy, Captain Marvel. Reed Richards states that he doesn’t know Marvel, but he trusts the Avengers’ judgment. Ben doesn’t; this bunch ain’t his Avengers (Cap, Iron Man, etc.) and he don’t know them and don’t trust them. That almost starts a fistfight with Clint! When the Vision steps up to talk, he’s dismissed by Craddock because he’s a robot and thus will only say what he’s programmed to say.

While Craddock bangs the gavel to impose some order, Rick remembers a dream he had the previous night: Mar-vell and Carol going to the farmhouse… and getting captured by tentacles! No, don’t go into the hentai farmhouse, Mar-vell! Rick races from the courtroom, a commotion erupts, and Craddock adjourns the hearings until the morrow.

The Avengers walk through the mob outside and head back to their mansion – which was just trashed by the same mob! Jarvis turned off the security measures when the crowd stormed the house, lest someone get hurt. Then Cap, Iron Man, and Thor show up and disband the Avengers “for all time.” Iron Man tells the four that it’s better there be no Avengers at all rather than a team of “those who have disgraced the name.” Thor teleports the trio away, the ex-Avengers leave, and Jarvis is left to clean up the mess.

Next: Neal Adams!

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 26

Avengers #91 (cover date August 1971)

“Take One Giant Step – Backward!” by Roy Thomas (w), Sal Buscema (p & i).

Caveman-Hank Pym is about to crush his wife Janet’s skull with a club when he has a change of heart. Girl pretty, take her home, show to Ma; that sort of thing. Ronan watches this on a view screen and muses about the stay of execution. The brutish Pym undoubtedly just wanted a mate, as “child-bearing has not yet been superceded [sic] by more civilized practices” on this world. I’m starting to get an idea of why the Kree are such monumental assholes… Ronan then goes on to recap his “de-evolution of Earth” plan to Mar-vell and to the readers.

Elsewhere, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Rick Jones battle against the Kree Sentry 459 and a mind-controlled Goliath (Clint Barton). Rick tosses rocks at the Sentry’s head, because why not? Though his actions may look futile, he actually manages to create an Asset for Wanda! The rock he throws shatters, and the Witch’s hex turns the fragments into magnetic alloys which encase the Sentry’s head, blinding it!

The Vision reluctantly solidifies his hand inside of Goliath, which causes the giant to pass out. The Sentry breaks free of the rocks, and the Vision tries the same intangible-hand trick with the giant robot. But he used it against the Sentry in their previous battle, and it’s prepared a counter-measure for the attack! The Vision is shocked into unconsciousness! Wanda is distraught at the sight and runs over to check on him, and gets shocked in turn when she touches his android body.

The Sentry creates a ring of fire around it and the fallen Avengers, and a distressed Quicksilver runs away with Rick Jones in tow. After Pietro sulks for a bit, they run across the 3 technicians that staffed the research facility that the Pyms were initially coming to investigate. The techs have been devolved into cavemen, just like Hank – and speak of the devil, caveman-Hank is there too, warning the cavemen-techs away from Janet with a show of aggression. There’s a fight, and Hank wins by virtue of still having some reflexive combat training. The cavemen-techs withdraw. Ronan notes that the Wasp could flee from the cavemen, but she doesn’t because of her love for Hank.

Meanwhile, over at the Kree citadel, Ronan binds his new captives with energy bonds that negate their abilities. The Vision and Wanda are hanging next to each other, and exchange their concern for one another before they lean in for a kiss. However, the android pulls away at the last moment, for he is a synthetic being and not worthy of Wanda’s affection. Ronan gets a real kick out of this development: an android and an outcast mutant in love! How novel!

The two separate displays of emotion cause Mar-vell to pipe up. As long as the humans have love, he tells Ronan, the cold, heartless Kree can never truly rest easy. Ronan shrugs. He has some “delicate attachment” for the evo-rays that will further devolve the already-devolved lifeforms until they are nothing more than amoeba. “So, strain all you want, my dear Captain… Aye, cry out loud enough to be heard in the far-off Kree Galaxy itself – mankind is nonetheless doomed – doomed to return to the muck and the mire!” Okay, this is getting a little silly, and I have to wonder: wouldn’t a bomb be so much easier? Or heck, the Supreme Intelligence was going to obliterate Earth from Hala with a “hyperspace bolt” back in Captain Marvel #16. Why not just use that?!?

Outside the tower, Quicksilver grabs a sharp metal stick and does a whirlwind trick to turn the stick into a drill so he can penetrate the outer wall. He then zooms to the command room, where he just barely stops Ronan from shooting Wanda with the super-duper evo-ray. Pietro can’t really hurt anyone, but he makes a nuisance of himself until Ronan orders the Sentry to sweep the room with “arcs of death!” While the mutant speedster dodges, Rick Jones tries to free Mar-vell. But Mar-vell instructs the youth to instead grab his uni-beam (still on his wrist! That’s some seriously lax security, Ronan) and use it to shoot the machinery with a beam of solid light. The citadel, once buried beneath the Earth for millennia, proceeds to re-bury itself. Or self-destruct. I’m not sure which.

Ronan and the Sentry are prepared to go down fighting, but the moment is interrupted by a one-way transmission from the Kree Galaxy! “The Kree Galaxy – is at war! Our space-lanes have once more been invaded – our stellar freighters decimated – by our inter-nebular rivals. The entire Kree Galaxy is under assault from – the Skrulls!” Ronan immediately teleports away – he doesn’t have time for petty vendettas anymore. The Sentry tries to “generate enough power… to hold the citadel together,” even though it knows that it’s a lost cause. “But I may not falter – for I am a Sentry – a Sentry – a Sentryyyyyyy…”

Goliath wakes up and they all skedaddle out of the tower. Outside, the jungle is melting away and the devolved creatures have returned to normal. Those evo-rays aren’t very good if the effects are reversed as soon as you turn the machine off. Bombs, Ronan. Next time bring bombs.

The citadel crashes through the ice, so I guess it was just going back into hibernation. In the aftermath, Hank Pym is convinced that he’s better off as a scientist than a superhero, and officially resigns from the Avengers. “Then – I guess that goes for the Wasp, too,” says Janet, because it’s not like she gets to have her own life or anything.

Next: a bit of a breather!

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 25

Avengers #90 (cover date July 1971)

“Judgment Day!” by Roy Thomas (w), Sal Buscema (p & i).

The Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and the Vision stand against the Kree Sentry, but it defeats them all in turn. Then it picks up Mar-vell’s unconscious form while stating that it has received new orders – from whom? It is now executing “Plan Atavus.” Mar-vell wakes up and hearing that, begs the Sentry to kill him rather than carry out that plan! But the Sentry pays him no heed and teleports away, taking the man of the Kree with it. Huh, I didn’t know they could do that.

As the Avengers regroup, they’re approached by Carol Danvers, still head of Cape security. I guess she does show up again before Ms. Marvel #1; this brief appearance isn’t noted on her Wikipedia page. Maybe because all she does is demand a report from the Avengers before they can leave. They have no leads to track down the Sentry, so while they fly back to HQ Rick Jones tells them what he learned of the Kree during his time with Mar-vell, recounting Thor #146-7 (the Inhumans, created by the Kree long ago), FF #64-5 (the Kree Sentry & Ronan the Accuser), and the “highlights” of Captain Marvel’s now-canceled title.

When the quinjet makes it back to NYC, they immediately get a call from Goliath, who strangely speaks of Hank Pym in the third person… Oh wait, that’s Hawkeye/Clint Barton during his stint as a super-powered hero. I forgot that was a thing. Hank (aka Yellowjacket) and Janet Pym (aka the Wasp) have run into some trouble up in Alaska, Clint says, and need their help! The group in the jet takes off for the arctic almost as soon as they land in NYC.

Clint himself arrives solo at the ice breaker ship where Hank and Janet are supposed to be stationed. Jan comes out to meet him, but Hank is missing! There’s a flashback where Hank and Jan go to investigate a scientific outpost that has gone dark when… they come across a circle of thick jungle amid the ice! When they reach the perimeter, Hank backhands Janet (!), knocking her out. He then ties her to the giant dragonfly that they had picked up near the mysterious jungle and orders it to take Jan back to the ice breaker. End flashback. Goliath runs off to find Yellowjacket on his own, ignoring Jan’s plea to accompany him. Apparently Clint just got dumped by the Black Widow, and he just can’t handle having any dames around. Well, that doesn’t seem weird and/or sexist at all…

Within the mysterious circle of vegetation, Clint battles a strange ape-like thing and then gets zapped unconscious by… Ronan! And the Sentry! The other Avengers (including the Wasp) arrive, and are confronted by the Sentry and a mind-controlled Goliath. The Sentry orders them to leave, but of course there’s a fight!

In the middle of the jungle is a citadel that’s sweeping “evo-rays” over the area. Within the tower, Mar-vell is held captive by Ronan, who explains that his plans have moved on from personal revenge against the Captain to the death of all humans. The evo-rays are changing the landscape and the creatures to the “state in which the Kree first found them, eons ago”. The idea is that the clock will be turned back on the whole planet, wiping out all of humanity and its works. That’s Plan Atavus. Why do this, asks Mar-vell? Because, Ronan answers, a civilization that can produce beings such as the Avengers and make such rapid technological progress is a threat to the Kree, and it must be destroyed!

Ronan has a point – what other planet in the universe has produced so many super-powered individuals or had such an impact on galactic affairs? Then again, if not for Earth, the universe would have been destroyed several times over. On the other other hand, if I understand the premise for Secret Wars correctly, it’s because of Earth that the entire freaking multiverse has been (or will be, from Ronan’s current viewpoint) wiped out. So maybe the Avengers, not to mention the entire population of all known universes, would have been better off in the long run letting Ronan succeed here.

Meanwhile, the Wasp has been knocked unconscious during the battle with the Sentry, and a primitive and hostile-looking caveman is approaching her – it’s a devolved Hank!

Next: the rumble in the jungle continues!

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 24

Avengers #89 (cover date June 1971)

“The Only Good Alien…” by Roy Thomas (w), Sal Buscema (p), and Sam Grainger (i).

A year has passed, and we now find our hero Mar-vell stalking the mean streets of Miami in a trenchcoat. A group of Avengers – the Vision, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch – have tracked him down, and implore the man of the Kree to come with them, for his own good. But Mar-vell gets angry, and there’s a fight! Interestingly, Mar-vell fires a blast from his wrist, as if he still had his u-beam. Which he shouldn’t, right? Zo destroyed that back in Captain Marvel #11. Mar-vell holds off the heroes and then tries to fly away, but gets sucker-shot by a ray gun in the hands of… Rick Jones?!? Whaaaa?!?

The Avengers load the Kree onto their quinjet and fly him to the Cape Kennedy Hospital, which makes me think that we’re back near Cape Canaveral (home of the Kennedy Space Center). Which, of course, is nowhere near Miami… Inside the hospital, a Dr. Donaldson and his jump-suited assistants are working in a high-tech looking lab. The doctor, an elder bespectacled fellow, implores the heroes to quickly place Mar-vell in “the decontamination chair.” (which looks like an electric chair) The assistants strap him in, a switch is thrown, and those assembled watch the resulting light show with trepidation.

Then we get an extended flashback of how we got to this point. Rick is at the coffee shop, doing his “sound of the seventies” act with Mordecai P. Boggs in the audience, when he suddenly feels weak. It’s Mar-vell trying to get his attention! Rick has been letting his Kree buddy languish in the Negative Zone for months, but during that time, Mar-vell witnessed a battle there between Annihilus and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Richards escaped through a portal back to Earth, and Mar-vell wants Rick to go to the Baxter building and open up that same portal so that they can use it to separate their bodies! Rick heads over to the FF’s HQ and bangs the Nega Bands together. Mar-vell appears and breaks into the building, which sets off an alarm. The FF aren’t home, and neither are most of the Avengers, but the Vision is at the Avengers mansion and responds to the alert. He summons the twins, and they fly over in a quinjet.

Mar-vell assumed that since Kree science is totally the bestest in the whole universe, he’d be able to figure out the portal controls in no time, but Reed’s technology is nearly beyond him. Suck it, Mar-vell! Still, he does manage to get a door to the Negative Zone open just as the Avengers bust in, and Rick leaps through the portal. Success! The two are now separate! Unfortunately, the portal doesn’t close, and Annihilus comes through, too. Oops.

Rick shuts the portal down, but before it can suck Annihilus back in, the monster tries to grab the recently-arrived Vision and take the android with him. Surprise! His claws pass right through Vision’s now-incorporeal body, and back to the Negative Zone he goes. For his part, Mar-vell is long gone, having stolen the Avenger’s jet and flown off. But a radiation meter in the portal room is going crazy, and the Vision theorizes that the Kree is full of bad juju that he absorbed while stewing in the anti-matter realm. If they don’t get to him within three hours, his normal time limit on Earth, he might die! Or destroy the Earth! Well, there’s about a 50/50 chance of either outcome. Rick grabs the ray gun he had in the opening, and they’re off!

Mar-vell is flying the jet towards the Cape (which is nowhere near Miami, Roy!!!) with the intention of stealing an Earth rocket (again) so that he can fly to the Kree Galaxy (again). I don’t think they’re built for that kind of trip, Marvy. The Nega Bands have “dissolved,” (huh, I thought he had them during Jim Starlin’s upcoming run) but he did have a spare wrist-mounted uni-beam blaster stashed in Florida. Ah, so that’s where that came from. His quinjet runs out of fuel, so he leaps down to the surface, and that’s where we fade back to the present day. Phew!

Back in the present, the doctor’s machines can’t absorb all of the “nega-radiation” in Mar-vell’s body without a new power source, so the Vision volunteers to use his solar gem. And now I feel a little foolish – “nega” obviously refers to the Negative Zone, and I didn’t pick up that that is why Nega Bands have the name they do. The process seems to be a success, but both the alien and the android are out of commission.

Across the universe, Ronan the Accuser bursts into the Supreme Intelligence’s chamber. His minions have freed him from his arrest in Captain Marvel #16 and killed the SI’s guards. Ronan brings up Mar-vell’s ordeal at the hospital on a view screen, naming the Captain “the one I hate most in all the universe – my greatest foe – my coming victim”! Then Ronan switches the view over to the Kree Sentry, still held at the Cape since its defeat in Captain Marvel #1, and turns it on remotely. The Sentry goes on a rampage, smashing its way through the missile base until it reaches the infirmary, where its quarry lies: Captain Mar-vell! So we are on the base. I am so sick of this place.

The Verdict: Man, that’s a hell of a lot more story than I’ve seen in any single issue of Captain Marvel. It’s good to see Mar-vell interacting with the larger MU, and it’s even better to see the whole Rick Jones thing disposed of. Although now we’re back to our hero having no powers and a u-beam, even if he does have a better costume now.

Next: The Avengers vs. the Sentry!

The Gaean Reach: The Cerulean Duke, Part 2

During part 1 of our hunt for the criminal known only as the Cerulean Duke, our revenge-seekers:

  • Aidon Azniko, male, a slightly unscrupulous and very rich art collector, played by me
  • Tralfaz, male, a shady scientist, played by Antony

had tracked the Duke to the conservatory planet Chernil, where he was masquerading as a pseudo-entomologist named Phostro Espen. The PCs had found a way onto the planet, secured the assistance of a researcher and functionary named Hedof Skaa, and briefly met the Duke and his flowing blue cloak. The Duke, however, did not know who they were or that they were after him!

With the help of Hedof, Aidon and Tralfaz visited some common areas of the scientific compound to try and gather information on Phostro/The Duke. Along the way, Aidon expressed his gratitude for Hedof’s aid with a line of Vancian dialog (which gave me +2 tokens). The pair suspected that Phostro, like them, was here on a fraudulent basis, and were looking for clues to that effect. But as it turned out, Espen had published several research papers through the society that were, as far as Tralfaz’s limited knowledge of Life Science could tell, legit. They did learn that Phostro Espen arrived for his current visit to Chernil about a month prior, that he spent most of his time at a place called Algo Lake, and that he had 4 brutish “assistants” that accompanied him on his expeditions to the lake. The PCs also learned that Chernil was once home to a primitive antler-headed humanoid species that had died out after the outpost had been founded.

As for Algo Lake, it lay within the Generative Zone, an area on the other side of the planet known for its explosion of new lifeforms. Getting to the zone required a planetary craft – Aidon’s spaceship was too big – and it just so happened that the pseudo-ant society had one! Unfortunately, it was already reserved for use, but Aidon used his knowledge of Punctilio (one of his investigative skills) to get the existing reservation delayed so that he and Tralfaz could use the craft. All they had to do was wait until morning.

But when they went up to their society rooms to rest… their key cards didn’t work! While Aidon went back down to bother Hedof about the issue, Tralfaz hot-wired the door and gained entry. By the time Aidon and Hedof returned, Tralfaz had not discovered anything that had been (re)moved, but he and Aidon shared a knowing look – they were pretty sure as to who had been messing with their stuff. While their concierge promised to get the keys fixed, the deceptive duo headed down to the less prestigious quarters that Phostro Espen had been relocated to, to do some snooping of their own!

When a knock on Phostro’s door went unanswered, Aidon served as lookout while Tralfaz bypassed the lock. He quickly rifled through the items in the small room, and came up with a map of the Generative Zone and Algo Lake. There were some scientific-looking notes in the margins that he did not understand, but he was nonetheless satisfied with his find. The PCs took the map, feeling certain that the Duke had already left for the Zone, and waited until they could travel there themselves in the morning.

Ooooh That Smell

The next day, the two claimed their flying ship, with Tralfaz serving as the pilot. The trip to the Generative Zone was a wonder: Chernil was a wild, untouched place teeming with all sorts of giant and strange looking insects. And the Zone was even wilder! Plants and insects both existed in amazing abundance and grew to heretofore unseen sizes there. Algo Lake itself was a large, green, and sludgey-looking body of… water? that was peppered with insectoid corpses. When the pair set their craft down on a rocky outcropping near the lake and exited the vehicle, they were assaulted by the smell of the rotting dead and the loud buzzing, chirping noises of the living.

While searching for signs of the Duke, Aidon spotted some petroglyphs on a rock wall that were covered in a thick tangle of vines. After going back to ship and retrieving a defoliant spray, he was able to examine the primitive drawings in detail – the one time his Art investigative skill came in handy! The glyphs depicted four antler-headed humanoids apparently being offered up in sacrifice at the lake’s edge by others of their kind. While Aidon studied the drawings, Tralfaz had discovered a pit that was covered with a camouflage net. Both investigators climbed in and discovered a large metal chest! Inside were a collection of helmets with yellow visors and grafted-on antlers. The pair looked at each, shrugged, and tried the helmets on for size.

“What perfect timing,” came a melodious, cultured voice from behind the pair! Aidon and Tralfaz spun around to see The Cerulean Duke, aka Phostro Espen, standing at the edge of the pit with his four accomplices! They each had a projac (a lethal ray gun) in hand aimed at the pair – there was no escape!

The Duke was kind enough to explain that he needed sacrifices for the lake in order to… awaken it? He then would be able to command the awakened sludge to destroy the scientific outpost, leaving Charnil’s rich biological treasures for the Duke to exploit! The plot seemed rather mad to Aidon, who chided the Duke in a convoluted Vancian quote (+2 more tokens) that took us, the players and GM, some time to work out the meaning of. Besides, Aidon noted to the Duke, his plan couldn’t work – there’s only two of us but the petroglyphs showed four sacrifices!

No worries, replied the Duke, as two of his men turned their projacs on two of the others and then disarmed them. The two betrayed minions were herded into the pit with the PCs, and directed to put on the antler helms. The end looked to be near…

“Wait!” shouted Aidon. “If you’re going to kill us anyway, I must know: where is Quandos Vorn? Do you ever know his whereabouts?”

The Cerulean Duke chuckled. “Of course I do. Vorn’s on his private planet in the Famuhaut system, admiring his fine Gaxider piece!” Aidon scowled – that piece was stolen from him by Vorn! – as the Duke laughed. “Yes, I know who you are. All your scheming have to come to naught. So come, let us put an end to this. Over to the lake shore with you.” He waved his projac towards Algo Lake for emphasis.

Catching a Ride

With few options left, Aidon and Tralfaz exchanged another knowing glance before they each shoved one of the betrayed thugs towards their former fellows! The still-armed brutes fired, instantly killing their ex-compatriots, as the PCs ran in different directions: Aidon towards a rock wall, and Tralfaz towards the foliage. As mentioned previously, getting hit by a weapon in this game is instantly lethal, and there’s not much you can do to stop an opponent from hitting you at least once. Thus we both had spend 2 tokens apiece and provide a rationale – the shoved henchmen – for how we escaped certain death.

As soon as Aidon was behind cover, he drew his own projac and aimed at the direction he had just come. As soon one of the Duke’s armed goons appeared, he fired, spending enough of his Shooting ability to guarantee a hit (your stats can be spent for bonuses to a D6 roll, 1 point for +1 to the roll; Aidon had a Shooting stat of 6 and spent 3 of that to make the shot). Scratch another minion! Then Aidon turned and ran up a natural stair in case the last thug was also after him.

But that henchman had followed Tralfaz, who had discovered a sizable lodge amidst the trees. Inside, he saw several books about the history and legends of the antler-headed people laying open on a desk. He briefly scanned them over, and discovered some of the Duke’s writing – the Duke had tried giving sacrifices to the lake before, to no effect, and hoped the antler helms on the next batch would be sufficient to trick it into coming alive! Tralfaz ripped off his helm as he headed to a large garage, which contained the Duke’s aircraft along with fuel barrels and supply crates. As the last thug entered the lodge, Tralfaz ducked behind a line of large crates.

Meanwhile, from atop a rocky plateau, Aidon looked around for any approaching enemies and saw nothing. But he knew the Duke was a clever and resourceful fellow, and sitting out in the open was not a wise move. He feared to go back down the stair, lest a charged projac be waiting for him. He feared to look over the edge, lest the Duke was waiting to shoot him if he poked his head out. As he cast about for an escape, he heard the background buzz grow louder, and glanced up to see a large pseudo-wasp flying overhead! Using all of his Athletics stat (he had an Athletics of 5, and spent all of it for a +5 on the roll), Aidon barely made a running leap to grab onto the creature as it flew past! It dipped dramatically but kept moving towards the treeline, and more importantly, there was no sound of a raygun being fired. Aidon closed his eyes and hoped that his luck held on that front until his ride reached some cover.

Back at the lodge, Tralfaz fired and missed as his pursuer came into the garage, and the henchman ducked behind some cover of his own. In searching for something to give him an advantage over his foe, Tralfaz noticed that one of the crates contained explosives…

Once they were safely in the forest, Aidon let go of the pseudo-wasp and dropped to the ground, sustaining some minor cuts and bruises in the process. As he stood up, he was shaken by an impressive BOOOM! that lit up the sky with flames from not too far away. He cautiously headed towards the source, and found a signed and dazed Tralfaz and a burning lodge. “Did you get the Duke? Is he dead?!?” demanded Aidon, but his companion shook his head no.

The pair raced back to their own ship, for having blown up the Duke’s, theirs was now the only way to leave the Generative Zone. And indeed, he was in the cockpit, trying to hot-wire the vehicle! When the blue-cloaked criminal saw Aidon and Tralfaz approaching, he cursed them loudly and profanely. Aidon pointed his projac with both hands, took a breath, and squeezed the trigger. He was no great shot, and hitting the Duke from that distance and with the cover of the ship would normally be nearly impossible. But I spent a token to regain all of my Shooting ability, and then dumped it all into a single roll. And then rolled high! The shot hit, and the Cerulean Duke was dead.

The End…?

With that, the PCs’ adventure on Cherlin was over. They flew back to the outpost, gave their thanks for Hedof, and left orbit in their Phantomic Flittering with a course set for the Famuhaut system. For there was one task now on their minds – Quandos Vorn must die!

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 23

Captain Marvel #21 (cover date August 1970)

“Here Comes the Hulk!” by Roy Thomas (w), Gil Kane (p), and Dan Adkins (i). A two month gap between issues this time.

Hulk lands next to the unconscious Rick Jones and prepares to smash! But then the Hulk considers that he shouldn’t smash someone who can’t even fight back, and ends up calming down and turning back into Banner. Rick then comes to and explains his, and Mar-vell’s, predicament with the Negative Zone body swap deal. Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is the expert on the Negative Zone, notes Bruce, but Richards doesn’t want others messing around with the place. Banner does know that the “Neg-Zone is somehow related to cosmic rays… and gamma rays,” (what in the Marvel Universe isn’t!) and figures that maybe it’s a promising avenue of research for his own problem. And Ben Grimm’s, too! And so the doctor resolves to find a way into the Negative Zone!

Bruce soon hits an impasse in his research, but gets some inspiration from an unlikely source. Rick’s tales of Mar-vell remind Banner of the verse “Justice, like lightning, ever should appear / to few men’s ruin, but to all men’s fear”*, which in turn reminds him of an old professor of his, Josiah Weller. That’s some real free association going on there, Banner. But however we end up there, Prof. Weller is busy hiding in his lab, because student protesters are hurling rocks through his windows! “Student radicals want an end to research on the campus – whether war-oriented or not!” he explains when Banner rings him up. Bruce gets mad! “Dr. Weller’s a prisoner – in his own laboratory!” he says after hanging up. “Don’t they know he has a weak heart – that a thing like this could kill him??” He hulks out again, and Hulk is going to make those students pay!

* In the comic, Banner/Roy Thomas attributes the verse to the poet Thomas Randolph, and Kurt Busiek relied on Roy’s reference to make a similar attribution, many years later, in the Thunderbolts comic. However, it appears that Randolph did not write it! Roy probably got the erroneous attribution from a reference book – maybe this one. See here for more info on the correct sourcing.

Rick Jones intones the aforementioned verse as he strikes the Nega Bands together: “Justice, like lightning, ever shall appear!” I wonder if this was meant to be some catch phrase to utter upon the switch, like “Shazam!” or “Flame On!”? But it’s doesn’t catch on; this is the last we hear of it. We get Mar-vell instead of lightning (or justice), and he tries to talk the Hulk down. When has that ever worked? They fight, of course, and Mar-vell gets knocked out, of course. The Hulk then leaps off to wallop those damn millennials hippies!

When Mar-vell comes to, he’s not sure how much time has passed, but he knows he has to stop the Hulk before his three hours are up. Why not do a quick switch to Rick Jones, and back again, to reset the clock? Oh well. The protesters catch wind that the Hulk is headed their way, and some of them are oddly certain that he will join their cause. After all, who is more anti-establishment than the Hulk??? But when he arrives and announces his decision to smash them, they realize the error of their ways and scatter!

Luckily, Mar-vell arrives before the Hulk can do much in the way of smashing. Our man of the Kree crashes into the green goliath, and then summons his “full power” before attempting to strike down the Hulk. The Hulk shrugs off Mar-vell’s lovetaps and hits him so hard the Kree goes flying! Jeez, Mar-vell is like the galaxy’s punching bag. But he always gets back up! Unfortunately, time runs out as he does so, and he swaps places with Rick.

Rick does manage to talk down the Hulk, and Mar-vell notes that the two of them make a pretty good team. Rick replies that they better, since the “one guy who might have separated us – is locked in a prison… a walking green prison – called the Hulk!”

We end with a plea from the editor: “And thus ends the final chapter of our second try-out of the sensational new Captain Marvel! Now, his fate is in your hands – you, the reader! We’ll be waiting for your verdict! Don’t let us down, hear?” Apparently this plea didn’t work, because the title was cancelled after this issue. Sorry Roy, you tried.

The Verdict: Mar-vell is kind of a chump. Points for punching above your weight-class, I guess. When was the last time he actually won a fight on his own? Yon-rogg, okay, but Yonny was just a regular Kree, and had still wiped the floor with Mar-vell prior to their final confrontation. Before Yonny, Mar-vell was getting slapped silly by the Mandroid, Ronan, the Man-Slayer, Zo…

On the cancellation front, I have to say the whole Rick Jones thing didn’t work for me. I feel like this title should have been about space adventures from the start, and forget about the Earth (except maybe for a visit or two). Grounding the stories on Earth even more than they already were was a poor decision, I think. Who needs another generic Earth-bound hero fighting Earth-bound threats?

Next: Captain Marvel may be finished, but the Kree-Skrull war is just getting started!