Captain Marvel Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Wayne Boring, Al Milgrom, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3016-1 (HB)

In 1968, upstart Marvel was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly overtaking industry leaders National/DC and Gold Key Comics and, having secured a new distributor which would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially, the company was about to undertake a creative expansion of unparalleled proportions.

Once each individual star of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales was awarded their own title, the House of Ideas just kept on going. In progress was a publishing plan which sought to take conceptual possession of the word “Marvel” through both reprint series like Marvel Tales, Marvel Collector’s Items Classics and Marvel Super-Heroes. Eventually, showcase titles such as Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature also proudly trumpeted the name, so another dead-cert idea was to publish an actual hero named for the company – and preferably one with some ready-made cachet and pedigree as well.

After the infamous DC/Fawcett copyright court case of the 1940s-1950s, the prestigious designation Captain Marvel disappeared from newsstands. In 1967, during the “Camp” craze superhero boom generated by the Batman TV series, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot able to divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch), the series nevertheless failed to attract a large following in that flamboyantly flooded marketplace and on its demise the name was quickly snapped up by Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand new title: it had been reconfigured from double-sized reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces, which comprised vintage monster-mystery tales and Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added a showcase section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, plus new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Phantom Eagle to try out in all-new stories.

To start the ball rolling, the title headlined an alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

After two appearances, Captain Marvel catapulted straight into his own title and began a rather hit-and-miss career, battling spies, aliens, costumed cut-ups such as Sub-Mariner, Mad Thinker and Iron Man. Most frequently however he clashed with elements of his own rapaciously colonialist race – such as imperial investigative powerhouse Ronan the Accuser – all the while slowly switching allegiances from the militaristic Kree to the noble, freedom-loving denizens of Earth.

Disguised as NASA scientist Walter Lawson, he infiltrated a US airbase and grew closer to security chief Carol Danvers, gradually going native even as he was constantly scrutinised by his ominously orbiting commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg – Mar-Vell’s ruthless rival for the love of the teeming starship’s medical officer Una

The impossible situation came to a head when Mar-Vell gave his life to save the empire from overthrow from within. As a reward, colossal hive-mind the Supreme Intelligence inextricably bonded the expiring warrior with voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who – just like Billy Batson (the naïve lad who turned into the original Fawcett Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!”) – switched places with a mighty adult hero whenever danger loomed.

By striking a pair of ancient, wrist worn “Nega-bands” together they could temporarily trade atoms: one active in our universe whilst the other floated, a ghostly untouchable, ineffectual voyeur to events glimpsed from the ghastly anti-matter Negative Zone.

The Captain was an alien lost on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for humanity three hours at a time, atomically chained to Rick by mysterious wristbands which enabled them to share the same space in our universe, but whenever one was active here the other was trapped in a terrifying isolated antimatter hell…

The book was cancelled soon after that… only to return some more!

A series which would not die, Captain Marvel returned again in the summer of 1972 for another shot at stardom and intellectual property rights security.

This third stellar Masterworks compilation (spanning September 1972 to July 1974 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #21-33 plus a pivotal crossover appearances from Iron Man #55) finds him at his best and worst as mediocre tales by veteran creators were brushed aside and the hero was overnight transfigured by the talents of a very talented newcomer, making the directionless Kree Warrior briefly the most popular and acclaimed title in Marvel’s firmament.

Following another comprehensively contextualising reminiscence in Roy Thomas’ Introduction, it all begins rather inauspiciously with Captain Marvel #22 wherein scripter Gerry Conway and artists Wayne Boring & Frank Giacoia reintroduce the cosmic crusader. ‘To Live Again!’ sees Mar-Vell still bonded to Rick by the uncanny Nega-bands, having languished in the Negative Zone for a seeming eternity. Jones had been trying to carve out a rock star career and relationship with new love Lou-Ann, but eventually his own body betrays him and the Kree Captain is expelled back into our reality…

Luckily, Lou-Ann’s uncle Benjamin Savannah is a radical scientist on hand to help Rick’s transition, but as the returned Marvel unsteadily flies off, across town another boffin is rapidly mutating from atomic victim to nuclear threat and #23 (by Marv Wolfman, Boring & Frank McLaughlin) sees the Kree Warrior calamitously clash with rampaging maniac Megaton, resulting in ‘Death at the End of the World!’.

Wolfman, Boring & Ernie Chan then deal ‘Death in High Places!’ as Rick is targeted by lethal Madame Synn and felonious cyborg Dr. Mynde. They need Mar-Vell to help them plunder the Pentagon…

After seemingly running in place, perpetually one step ahead of cancellation (folding many times, but always quickly resurrected – presumably to secure that all important trademark name), the Captain was handed to a newcomer named Jim Starlin who was left alone to get on with it…

With many of his friends and fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man and Daredevil) for a saga that would in many ways become as well regarded as Jack Kirby’s epochal Fourth World Trilogy which it emulated.

However, the “Thanos War”, despite superficial similarities, soon developed into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm.

The first inkling came in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) with Mike Friedrich scripting Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that changed the nature of Marvel itself. ‘Beware The… Blood Brothers!’(inked by Mike Esposito) introduces haunted humanoid powerhouse Drax the Destroyer, trapped by extraterrestrial invader Thanos under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue. That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS…

A month later in Captain Marvel #25, Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone unleashed ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and the alien outcast’s fortunes changed forever.

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials, he is forced to admit that his powers are in decline. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests and checks in with Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by his beloved Lou-Ann of the scientist’s murder.

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 sees Rick free of police custody and confronting Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Soon, however, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell kill The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and wants Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakes to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) but does not realise the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ father Mentor and brother Eros, the horrified lad sees first-hand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld and summons Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. Inked by Dan Green, ‘When Titans Collide!’ reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan. As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, Mar-Vell is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the massive mind-leech’s final victim…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as the Kree captain’s connection to Rick is severed and he is transported to an otherworldly locale where an 8-billion year old being named Eon reveals the origins of life whilst overseeing the abductee’s forced evolution into the ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness…

Returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” goes after The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful parasite in a devastating display of skill countering super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’

Much of this saga occurs in other titles and for the full picture you will need to hunt down more comprehensive compilations but here and now, the story continues in Captain Marvel #31 with ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) wherein the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax – one of the Titan’s many victims resurrected by supernal forces to destroy Thanos…

The Titan has been revealed as a lover of the personification of Death and he wants to give her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end, he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green) and with a thought captures all opposition to his reign. However, his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring and defeating ‘The God Himself!’ (inks by Klaus Janson)…

With the universe saved, this volume of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle concludes with a choice selection of bonus bits, beginning with a comprehensive cutaway ‘Map of Titan’ from Captain Marvel #27, original artwork and covers and endpieces from 1980s reprint series The Life of Captain Marvel.

The Good Captain has never claimed to be the company’s most popular or successful character and some of the material collected here is frankly rather poor. However, the good stuff is amongst the very best the company has produced in its entire history. If you want to see how good superhero comics can be, you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth and who knows… you might see something that will blow your mind…
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.