Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 30: Avengers #92

'Space-Born Super Hero' continues as I look at Avengers #92 (1971), a continuation of the Kree-Skrull War with the story "All Things Must End" by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema (inks by George Roussos). First, a word about the cover: it depicts Captain America, Iron Man and Thor standing in judgment over the present team of Avengers. It was around this time that Captain America, Iron Man and Thor began acquiring their reputation as the 'Big Three', as they were the Avengers with their own titles and they tended to show in the book when a big event went down. Fandom began to ascribe this 'Big Three' status to them as some kind of half-remembered hazy vision of the Avengers' golden age and in due time, fans would judge the 'worthiness' of an Avengers team on the basis of how many 'Big Three' were present. The truth is, the 'Big Three' never really had a dynamic in the 60s and didn't truly develop one until the late 70s.

We pick up at Avengers Mansion where the Avengers are enjoying some downtime, when Jarvis rushes in to show the team a newspaper headline: 'Alien Plot to Conquer Earth Disclosed!' It seems the research scientists whom the Avengers saved from the Kree (last issue) blabbed everything to the press. Turning on the television they see the President has appointed H. Warren Craddock as head of the new 'Alien Activities Commission', granting him emergency powers to deal with the supposed alien crisis. Craddock says he has a list of "153 'model citizens' who are actually alien spies." If any of this reminds you of the infamous House of Un-American Activities, then congratulations, you're paying attention. Captain Marvel and Rick Jones are still staying with the Avengers and Mar-Vell considers turning himself over to the authorities, lest he taint the Avengers by association. At first the Avengers leap to Mar-Vell's defense, but Goliath thinks the idea has some merit. "Then everybody'll calm down," Goliath assumes. Vision points out this could be start of a slippery slope: "If first a man of the Kree can be confined for no reason, then detainment of androids will follow--next of mutants--then giants..." It seems like a stretch to say it will follow, but Vizh has a point. Still, Mar-Vell worries about what's going on with his people as they fight the Skrulls.

Meanwhile, a helicopter vehicle brings Carol Danvers to New York. As the Avengers are looking at the mob which has formed outside the mansion demanding 'Give us Captain Marvel!' (well maybe you should have bought his comic when that was an option) Just then, Carol's helicopter draws near, when it suddenly plummets from the sky. Captain Marvel hears her send a radio distress call to the mansion and quickly flies to her rescue. Or, he tries to; Mar-Vell tries to catch the vehicle and slow its descent but he's not very good at it so Vision joins him and absorbs most of the impact (poor Vizh). The Avengers recognize Carol (they met her in issue #90) but Wanda is concerned for the Vision and the damage he took. The Vision tries to dissuade her, telling her not to concern herself about him. This upsets Wanda, but Vision dismisses her as being "too emotional". The romantic tension continues! Pietro takes offense to Vision's tone, thinking he's being insulting to Wanda. Poor Pietro -- eventually he'll figure out what's really going on and then he'll be unhappy.

Scanning the skies, the Avengers see a squad of SHIELD jet planes patrolling overhead, with Nick Fury & Dum Dum Dugan among the crew. The Avengers realize they've been placed under surveillance. Taking Carol inside the mansion, they ask her if she's part of the surveillance but she tells them she's taken a leave of absence from the Cape and wants to aid Mar-Vell in return for saving her life more than once; her suggestion: Mar-Vell could hide at her family farm upstate. Well, running and hiding isn't Mar-Vell's choice as he hasn't even had a chance to defend himself from accusations, but Vision agrees with the plan and encourages them to depart; Carol and Mar-Vell borrow a Quinjet and quickly outpace the SHIELD agents. And who's watching the watchers? It seems Fury is being observed by Craddock and he accuses Fury of letting Mar-Vell escape, but Fury notes Mar-Vell still hasn't been charged with a crime. Just after switching off his video link to Craddock, Fury confides to Dugan that, having memories of the Japanese concentration camps during World War II, he's not particularly avid about obeying these orders.

Goliath notes that by aiding Captain Marvel in his escape the Avengers have broken their record of cooperating with the law. Rick suddenly finds himself thinking about old comic books and sees images of various old super heroes from the 1940s (some of Roy Thomas' favourites), and several of them aren't even Marvel characters (like the Heap). It comes out of absolutely nowhere, but this is a pivotal detail in the finale. Goliath spies a man being bullied outside the mansion for standing up for the Avengers. Goliath storms out to save the man, but it's a trap: the man being bullied delivers a summons to the Avengers. Seeing no other course, the Avengers (and Rick!) head to the city courthouse, where they find the Fantastic Four have also been summoned due to their own experiences with the Kree. Under Craddock's directions, the research scientists testify about how Ronan transformed them into cavemen; Mister Fantastic explains what he knows about the Kree's history and of Sentry#459. The Thing is no help as he claims he doesn't recognize Goliath, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Vision as the real Avengers; Ben is the original revisionist Avengers fan! Ben also clucks his tongue at the team for letting Captain Marvel depart.

The Vision is the first Avenger to take the stand but after admitting he's an android, Craddock tells him to stand down, declaring that "a robot could only parrot what others tell it to say." Vision is outraged by this but quietly sits down, cautioning Craddock to end this "trial by accusation". Rick begins to recall a dream he had of Mar-Vell following Carol out to her farm house, but being attacked by something with tentacles. Perhaps he and Mar-Vell still have a psychic link? Rick tears out of the courthouse, determined to help Mar-Vell. The disruption caused by Rick's exit convinces Craddock to end the hearings for the day. Returning to the mansion, the Avengers find the place has been ransacked by the mob outside. To make matters worse, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor have popped up to wag their fingers. "We feel you acted irresponsibly in shielding Captain Marvel from investigation. Thus, by authority of our by-laws, we three hereby declare the Avengers disbanded--for all time." Iron Man concurs: "Better no Avengers than those who have disgraced the name." Disheartened, the Avengers depart, leaving Jarvis to clean up.

Thoughts: One of the most compelling elements of the Kree-Skrull War is that it depicts how the conflict is viewed from the outside by the men and women who live in the Marvel Universe. This becomes a sort of recurring element in various Marvel epics to come; not that there's anything sexy about super heroes talking about laws and regulations, but it does make for quality drama and can provoke the characters to put into words a rousing defense of why they do what they do. I mean, unless the writer wanted the bureaucrats to be proved right. Fat chance that would ever happen!

Captain Marvel's story diverges somewhat from the Avengers here, but it will continue as a subplot as the series continues.

Next: The Kree-Skrull War continues in Avengers #93!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 29: Avengers #91

Welcome back to 'Space-Born Super Hero' as my tour through Captain Marvel's story continues in the epic 'Kree-Skrull War' with Avengers #91 (1971)! The story, "Take One Giant Step--Backward!" is by Roy Thomas & Sal Buscema and picks up where the last one left off: a brainwashed Goliath joining Sentry#459 in attacking the Avengers, while a mutated Yellowjacket menaces the Wasp and Captain Marvel is imprisoned by Ronan. Fortunately, Yellowjacket doesn't kill the Wasp as he finds her beautiful and instead carries her off into the jungle. Ronan sees this and makes an odd comment: "Natural enough, on a barbarian world such as this--where childbearing has not yet been superceded by more civilized practices." Is he implying that the Kree grow all their children in laboratories?

Rick tries to help the Avengers by throwing a rock at the Sentry's head; the Scarlet Witch casts a hex which turns that rock into a magnet which covers up the Sentry's face. Meanwhile, the Vision carefully inserts part of his body into Goliath and increases his density, causing intense agony which stuns Goliath unconscious. Quicksilver had been wondering why the Vision seemed to be holding back in the fight - he realizes it was because Vision didn't want to kill Goliath by accident (Vizh's partially-solidified trick becomes a regular power feat as time goes on). Vision tries to use the same trick on the Sentry, but the Sentry has had time to prepare for the attack and generates a feedback surge which stuns the Vision. The Scarlet Witch tries to help Vision, only to be snared by the Sentry, so Quicksilver finally runs away with Rick.

Vision and the Scarlet Witch are strung up in Ronan's base nearby Captain Marvel. As Wanda begins to express how glad she is that Vision wasn't hurt, they lean close together and almost kiss - but Vision pulls away from her, declaring that as a synthetic man he can't be in love; this is the introduction of the great Vision/Scarlet Wich romance, which would become legendary as the greatest romance subplot in the history of the Avengers (which is why so many later writers would do their best to obliterate it; them what can't create, gotta destroy). Ronan is amused by their affection for each other, which reminds him of Yellowjacket and the Wasp. Yellowjacket is fighting several other cavemen (formerly research scientists). Ronan is so engrossed at mocking his foes and boasting to Mar-Vell that he hasn't been paying attention to Quicksilver. Since earlier we saw Vision show off a neat power feat, it's Pietro's turn: using a sharp metal rod, he becomes a human drill and shatters his way inside Ronan's fortress!

While Quicksilver distracts Ronan and Sentry#459, Rick tries to free Mar-Vell. Mar-vell instructs him to take the Uni-Beam off his wrist and fire it at Ronan's control panel. The blast frees the heroes and begins tearing Ronan's fortress apart. Just as Ronan and the Sentry are preparing to make an escape, Ronan receives an urgent message from the Kree Galaxy (which he's supposed to be ruling now): it seems the Kree are at war-- with the Skrulls! Yep, the Kree-Skrull War has truly begun! Realizing he needs to be back in the Kree Galaxy, Ronan teleports home. The Sentry realizes it has no programming for self-preservation, so decides it should try to use its power to hold the fortress together; it can't, and is quickly destroyed. Goliath revives and joins the Avengers & Captain Marvel as they flee the base and pick up Yellowjacket, Wasp and the research scientists (all back to normal). As they watch the Kree citadel sink beneath the ice. Yellowjacket admits he wasn't much help to the team and announces he's resigning from the Avengers; the Wasp concurs, always loyal to Hank. The Avengers wonder if the Kree will ever come back... not realizing that the Kree-Skrull War isn't done with them yet.

Thoughts: This concludes the first segment of the 'Kree-Skrull War' arc. It doesn't do much with the Kree-Skrull War proper, simply mentioning that the war has begun near the end - but with Ronan established as the Kree leader, the Supreme Intelligence deposed, Vision & the Scarlet Witch falling in love and Captain Marvel & Rick Jones no longer bound together through the Negative Zone, a few of the important pieces have been moved into place for the epic as it continues to grow.

Next: The Skrulls strike back in Avengers #92!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 28: Avengers #90

I'm back with another entry in 'Space-Born Super Hero' as I continue with the 2nd part of the 'Kree-Skrull War' from Avengers #90 (1971); it's entitled "Judgment Day" and is by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema. We open on Sentry#459 attacking the Avengers and Captain Marvel at the hospital where Mar-Vell had just been given a decontamination treatment. The Avengers try to fend off the Sentry, but the Vision is weakened from using his solar jewel to help Mar-Vell and the Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver aren't able to do much more than slow the Sentry down; when Vision tries to hold back the Sentry by increasing his density, the floor gives out beneath them. Finally, the Sentry kidnaps Captain Marvel, declaring he's activating 'Plan Atavus' before teleporting away.

While the three Avengers and Rick Jones try to determine their next move, Carol Danvers arrives. It seems she's still security chief at the Cape (we haven't seen her since Captain Marvel#18). This, then, is Carol's first encounter with the Avengers, a team she'll eventually join. After a quick debriefing, the Avengers (and Rick) return to their Quinjet to pursue Mar-Vell. Although Rick has no particular idea of where the Sentry has gone, he recaps the history of the Kree for the Avengers, relating how they created the Inhumans and the battles the Sentry & Ronan had with the Fantastic Four, then Captain Mar-Vell's arrival, his battle with the Super-Skrull, death of Una and bonding to Rick Jones. There's also a recap scene where Mar-Vell declares he now fights for Earth instead of the Kree, set right before Una's death -- but that never happened. I always assumed there must have been such a moment in Mar-Vell's history, but nope. You might wonder why the Inhumans & Super-Skrull are worth bringing up in a history of the Kree; future chapters of this storyline will make it clear this is foreshadowing.

The Quinjet flies back to New York and parks in Avengers Mansion, but the team find a recorded video message waiting for them - it's from Goliath, who answered a call from the Wasp to help her and Hank Pym in Alaska; Goliath has already gone to investigate so the Avengers (and Rick!) race past Jarvis to help their friends.

In Alaska, Goliath meets up with the Wasp at an icebreaker ship; she explains how she and Yellowjacket (Hank's identity at the time) came to Alaska to study the effects of oil drilling on local wildlife. During their exploration, they found an island covered with jungle lying in the Arctic Circle. As they flew closer to the island, Hank began to feel a strange sensation; trying to protect the Wasp, he knocked her away (is this technically the first time Hank hit Jan?), then fell into the jungle. Goliath insists on continuing the investigation solo as he's still reeling from breaking up with the Black Widow and never getting anywhere with the Scarlet Witch, concluding therefore that he "can't work with women around." On the island, Goliath defeats a large simian creature, but then Ronan appears from the trees and fires a beam from his Universal Weapon which stuns the hero. And Sentry#459 is with him! What a coincidence that this seemingly unrelated Avengers case is actually the next phase of the villain's plan!

The Quinjet soon follows Goliath, bringing the Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Wasp and Rick. Unfortunately, the Kree have done something to Goliath to sap his willpower, placing him under the control of Sentry#459. While Goliath and the Sentry fight the Avengers, Ronan hangs back inside his base on the island, where Captain Marvel is kept as his prisoner. This gives Ronan someone to monologue to as he describes the 'evo-rays' which created the island (they seem pretty similar to the Organization's weapon from Captain Marvel#10). The goal is to reverse the Earth into "the state in which the Kree first found them, eons ago" and in so doing, eliminate humanity from existence. These evo-rays have also affected Yellowjacket, who has been transformed into a hulking caveman who now steps forward to threaten the Wasp!

Thoughts: We're two chapters and the only Skrulls have been glimpsed in Rick's recap, but we'll get there... again, at the time this would have seemed like just another Avengers story, just one which seemed to be tying up loose ends from Thomas' Captain Marvel. This is a fine super hero comic, but there's better yet to come.

Next: The Kree-Skrull War continues in Avengers #91!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 27: Avengers #89

Welcome back to 'Space-Born Super Hero'! After Captain Marvel's title was suspended in 1970, he drifted out of sight for about a half a year before returning in 1971 via Avengers #89 and the story "The Only Good Alien..." by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema (inks by Sam Grainger). This is the beginning of the epic Kree-Skrull War, which many fans have heard of, but I've found isn't particularly well-known. It definitely is an epic, but not the sort which fans of latter-day tales like The Infinity Gauntlet or even the Avengers story Operation: Galactic Storm would expect.

Captain Marvel is still in Miami (where we last saw him in Sub-Mariner #30) but he's wandering around furtively, dressed in a trenchcoat. Suddenly, the Vision, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch approach him and he blurts in alarm, "It can't be you--not here--not now!!" The Avengers ask Captain Marvel to come with them for his own good, but as you may recall, Mar-Vell hasn't actually met the Avengers before, only Rick Jones is familiar with them, so Marv reacts badly, wondering how they know who he is. Throwing off his trenchcoat, he pummels Quicksilver (for once, Pietro is not the most quick-tempered person in the fight). As he tangles with the Vision, Mar-Vell fires a photonic Uni-Beam from his right Nega-Band which is a big 'what?' moment as up until now, the Nega-Bands haven't had a blaster built into them. Anyway, the inexplicable Uni-Beam immobilizes the Vision and Mar-Vell tries to fly away, only to encounter Rick Jones at the top of a building and Rick stuns Mar-Vell with a blaster. Rick and Mar-Vell aren't bonded? What's going on? (great opening, I must say)

Rick regrets his actions instantly. "Okay, Avengers--I did your dirty work for you." Quicksilver insists Rick should be "proud" as they load Mar-vell into their Quinjet. The Scarlet Witch takes a moment to appreciate how Mar-Vell "is an alien--marooned here from a distant star--while Pietro and I are mutants--no more at home on Earth than he! We are all strangers--in a strange land." (Roy Thomas was hep to Heinlein, whose Stranger in a Strange Land was a big deal to contemporary youth culture). The Avengers bring Captain Marvel to a hospital at Cape Kennedy where a Dr. Donaldson asks them to place "the alien" into a decontamination chair. As the Avengers watch the process anxiously, Rick remembers how it all began.

Our flashback takes us to a club in Bleecker Street where Rick was booked by his manager, Mordecai P. Boggs (who was not Rick's manager the last time we saw him, but had been trying to hire him, so evidently it finally happened). In the middle of his set, Rick suddenly felt a headache and had to get off stage. Stepping into an alleyway, he and Mar-Vell conversed mentally as Mar-Vell shows Rick an image of the Fantastic Four's Mister Fantastic inside the Negative Zone, battling Annihilus (a scene from Fantastic Four #109). We now learn Mar-Vell had been off to the side watching the entire clash and saw Mister Fantastic's escape from the Negative Zone; Marv wants Rick to help him find the same exit which Mister Fantastic used. Rick heads to the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building home and strikes his Nega-Bands together, unleashing Captain Marvel. Rick tells Mar-Vell to hurry, as he thinks he's being watched. Mar-Vell claims that's impossible as the 'aura of negativism' is concealing him. This is the first time it's been brought up in the context of the Negative Zone - for those keeping track, the 'aura of negativism' is the invisibility screen which the Kree used - Ronan the Accuser and the Helion starship could both become invisible.

Mar-Vell reaches the 35th floor of the Baxter Building: "Here comes the pay-off! Hmmm--perhaps I'd best get this over with quickly. Every day, I talk more and more like a bona fide Earthman!" The Fantastic Four aren't home, so Captain Marvel breaks into their home. At Avengers Mansion, most of the team is out investigating the Hulk, so only the Vision, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are present to learn of the break-in. Getting into their Quinjet they head to the Baxter Building while Mar-Vell opens the building's portal to the Negative Zone. It works and Rick leaps out just as the Avengers arrive, but Rick was right about being watched: Annihilus was right behind Rick and he crosses into the Baxter Building! The Scarlet Witch didn't know who Mar-Vell was but after hearing Annihilus rant about conquering the Earth she deadpans: "Suddenly, it's very easy to tell hero from villain in this melee." While the Vision holds Annihilus back, Rick reopens the portal to force Annihilus through. Annihilus thinks he can simply grab the Vision, but of course had no idea Vizh could make himself intangible; it's a sweet moment, as we readers are familiar with Vision's powers and can enjoy Annihilus quick defeat. Rick closes the portal.

However, Captain Marvel exited during the clash and stole the Avengers' Quinjet. Quicksilver notices a geiger counter in the Baxter Building is going wild; apparently Mar-Vell is carrying a dangerous level of radioactivity which he absorbed while in the Negative Zone. Rick tells the Avengers that previously Mar-Vell couldn't remain outside of the Negative Zone for more than 3 hours, so they surmise they have perhaps 3 hours to catch Mar-Vell before something tragic occurs. It seems when Rick entered the Baxter Building, he and Mar-Vell lost their Nega-Bands, which is why Marv needed the Quinjet. Mar-Vell flies the craft to Florida and picks up an old Uni-Beam he hid there (explaining its sudden reappearance in the opening sequence). The flashback ends as the decontamination chair drains off Mar-Vell's radiation, with Vision donating energy from his solar jewel to help power Dr. Donaldson's machine.

Meanwhile, in the Kree Galaxy, the Supreme Intelligence is confronted by Ronan the Accuser, who has escaped the confinement which the Supreme Intelligence inflicted on him. Ronan has killed the Supreme Intelligence's guards and declares he's now the ruler of the Kree Empire and will have revenge on Mar-Vell for besting him before. To do so, he turns back to Sentry#459, who has been immobile at the Cape ever since Captain Marvel #2. Ronan fires a beam of energy all the way from the Kree Galaxy to Earth (he used express postage) and revives the Sentry, ordering it to kill Captain Marvel. The Sentry bursts into the hospital while Mar-Vell is still unconscious; to be continued!

Thoughts: For a Kree-Skrull War, not a lot of Skrulls yet, huh? Well, just wait. It's a very subtle opening, but then, Roy Thomas had no idea he was penning one of the most famous Avengers stories of all time when he wrote it. Primarily, I think he just wanted to get back to Captain Marvel and used the opportunity to free Rick from his bond to the hero so that if Mar-Vell's series didn't return, Rick would still be a viable character.

There are quite a few great dialogue exchanges and it uses continuity pretty well, as Mar-Vell getting Rick out of the Negative Zone through the Baxter Building is a solution I'm sure every reader of Captain Marvel was suggesting at the time.

Next: The Kree-Skrull War continues in Avengers #90!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 26: Sub-Mariner #30

Welcome back to 'Space-Born Super Hero' as I look back on the appearances of Captain Marvel prior to being written by Jim Starlin. At this point, we're entering an era where the Captain Marvel series had been cancelled. However, the character didn't go into comics limbo as Roy Thomas found other places for him to appear. Today we're looking at the first of those: Sub-Mariner #30 (1970) and the story "Calling Captain Marvel!" by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema (inks by Joe Gaudioso).

We open in Miami, Florida as Rick Jones is in town for a gig. Walking by the shore, Rick sees the Sub-Mariner rise out of the water. Alarmed, Captain Marvel tells Rick to switch places with him. Mar-Vell confronts Namor and is surprised with the Sub-Mariner launches into an attack against him, crying out: "You!! You have seen the Sub-Mariner--and so--you must die!" Mar-Vell tries to fend him off, but the Sub-Mariner doesn't recognize him from their first encounter (way back in Captain Marvel#4). Suddenly, Namor collapses. Puzzled, Mar-Vell carries Namor back to the beach house where Rick is staying.

When Namor comes to, he's greeted by Rick, but instead of becoming violent, he jumps out the window, running to the shore - only to collapse on his knees in terror, seemingly unable to return to the ocean. By now, it's obvious to Rick that Namor is having some kind of mental troubles. Namor returns to Rick's beach house and Rick shows him a newspaper headline, identifying Namor as having recently sunk a yacht. Namor doesn't remember doing that. A television news report then goes over Namor's history, recalling everything from his heroism during World War II to his battles with the Fantastic Four and confrontations at the United Nations. Rick observes that "music hath charms" and suggests Namor attend his set in the hopes of calming his mind. Namor consents.

At the club - the Electric Seaweed - one man points out Namor as the Sub-Mariner - but he's actually a fan wearing a pair of false ears! According to the people in the club, the Sub-Mariner is "the first folk-hero of the ecology scene"! "Personally," one woman opines, "I still think ol' princey stole the whole bit from Mr. Spock!" Considering how popular Spock was among young people of the 60s, I could see Namor having a big following. As Rick gets up an sings a cheerful song about how all humanity is doomed because of the atomic bomb (way to go, Rick), Namor's mind snaps and he storms out of the club. "Either that's--the real Sub-Mariner--or else we just found out whatever happened to Charles Atlas!" one patron remarks. Rick switches places with Captain Marvel and Mar-Vell intercepts Namor mid-air, knocking him back to the ground near a hotel.

As Namor gets up from the fall, he discovers his memories have returned. Namor had found two men named Hugo and Markham who had designed a molecular polluter to "make a death-house out of the oceans". When Namor burst in on the men they fired a concussion grenade at him; the grenade stunned him, causing his addled state. Captain Marvel agrees to help Namor find Markham and stop the Molecular Polluter. Mar-Vell confronts Markham, who says there are two molecular polluters and he can't resist activating it, even though he knows it will make the sea radioactive. Before Mar-Vell can stop him, Markham activates the device. The Sub-Mariner confronts the device itself underwater and fends off Markham's men, then grabs the machine and flies back to the surface, heading for the skies. Captain Marvel joins him and together they fly the machine into space, where it detonates. As they return to the Earth, Mar-Vell's power is spent and he switches places with Rick. Namor carries Rick back to the ground but when he asks how Rick is linked to Captain Marvel, Rick refuses. Calling Rick "ungrateful one" Namor heads back to the ocean; Rick instantly regrets his words.

Thoughts: This is an odd issue - it takes its time with the addled-Namor and doesn't introduce the issue's villains until the last 6 pages, but it's not bad - basically a fill-in issue of Sub-Mariner, which makes it a decent place for Captain Marvel to pop into.

The best parts are the scenes in the club where everyone's into Namor; Roy pulls off some funny dialogue and it's altogether some of the better 'youth culture' material from the era.

Next: Captain Marvel's still got no series of his own. What's next? Why, the Kree-Skrull War! Avengers #89!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 25: Captain Marvel #21

Welcome back to 'Space-Born Super Hero'! I'm now up to Captain Marvel #21 (1970) and the story "Here Comes the Hulk!" by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane (inks by Dan Adkins). The cover blurb declares, "The Hulk Invades the Campus!" which suggests this issue is attempting to seek the kind of relevance among contemporary youth culture as comics such as the previous year's Amazing Spider-Man #68 ("Crisis on Campus").

The story picks up where last issue ended off as the unconscious Rick Jones is about to be crushed by the Hulk (we seem to open several issues looking at Rick's unconscious body). However, the Hulk lands just short of Rick, having recognized him as his old friend. Hulk is tempted to 'smash' him, but refuses to strike someone who is smaller than he and unable to fight. The Hulk lumbers off to get some water to revive Rick and in doing so, calms down, becoming Bruce Banner again. The revived Rick greets Bruce and explains his current predicament, giving Kane an excuse to retell how Rick and Mar-Vell were bound together. Bruce knows Reed Richards is the specialist on the Negative Zone, but tells Rick that Reed thinks the Negative Zone is too dangerous for the public and probably wouldn't help him (although Rick could easily get an audience with Reed by asking via the Avengers).

As Bruce leads Rick back to his cavern laboratory, he notes Reed has noticed connections between the Negative Zone, Gamma Rays and Cosmic Rays, so in helping Mar-Vell to get out of the Negative Zone, Bruce might also stumble upon research which will rid him of being the Hulk. Bruce is actually glad to have someone else's problems to focus on for a change. After a lengthy period of research, Bruce comes up with a name: Josiah Weller, "one of the top brains in relativity theory... and head of the research department at Desert State University!" Bruce gives Weller a ring, but it seems student radicals are performing an anti-war rally outside his office, complete with a giant bonfire. Apparently the students are convinced Weller is working on research for warfare; hearing Weller is in danger makes Bruce stressed and he quickly erupts into anger, transforming back into the Hulk. There's no way Rick can face the Hulk alone, so Rick brings out Captain Marvel with the lines "Justice like lightning... ever shall appear!!" (quoting the same poem which later inspired the super hero team Thunderbolts)

Captain Marvel tries to calm the Hulk down, which works as well as you'd expect; a fight breaks out. Mar-Vell punches the Hulk, but the blow has no effect: "I could have smashed a robot with that blow--but you're still standing!" Yeesh, Marv, you really do fight robots too often. The Hulk swats Mar-Vell asides then smashes out of the laboratory, destroying Banner's research on the Negative Zone as he leaps away to Desert State University.

When the student protestors hear the Hulk is coming, they cheer his imminent arrival: "That green brother's as much anti-establishment as any of us!" Er, just 'cause the Hulk fights the army, it doesn't mean he's anti-war. Captain Marvel catches up before the Hulk can do any damage. Mar-Vell hits the Hulk with his most powerful blows, but they do no good and the Hulk smashes him again; with that, the three hours are up and Mar-Vell is exchanged with Rick Jones. Rick then puts his own life on the line. Standing between the Hulk and the protestors, Rick tells him if he's going to hurt anyone, he'll have to kill him first. Unable to injure Rick, the Hulk turns and walks away. Mar-Vell is proud of Rick for ending the fight. "Perhaps--we make a better team than we thought, Rick!"

Thoughts: It's a pity that nothing comes of Dr. Weller - Bruce brings him up and he's the subject of the protest, but he's ultimately nothing more than a device to get Bruce angry about something. Even the protestors disappear once the last Captain Marvel vs. Hulk fight begins. What if Weller really was developing something for the army? What if the protestors were right? What if the protestors were seriously over-zealous and learned a valuable lesson from seeing the Hulk's thoughtless rampage? They're just a backdrop, unfortunately.

With this issue, Captain Marvel was quietly cancelled. The final panel announced: "And thus ends the final chapter of our second try-out of the sensational new Captain Marvel!" The book would eventually return with an issue #22, but this time the series would be off the racks for more than six months.

Fortunately for Captain Marvel, Roy Thomas wasn't done with him yet, and Roy was writing plenty of Marvel Comics!

Next: Sub-Mariner #30!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 24: Captain Marvel #20

Welcome back to 'Space-Born Super Hero', my look back at the hero Captain Marvel in his pre-Jim Starlin days. Today we're up to Captain Marvel #20 and the story "The Hunter and the Holocaust" again by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane (inks by Dan Adkins). It's worth noting that six months passed between this issue and the previous one; in fact, Captain Marvel is stumbling towards a long-term hiatus. This issue contains a milestone! It's the first issue of Captain Marvel to have a dialogue blurb on the cover! Hey, I didn't claim it was an important milestone.

We open in Greenwich Village (I guess Rick stuck around New York after the events of Avengers #72) where Rick is playing his guitar in a basement coffee house. Give us some mood, Rascally One: "The mood is electric... the sound is full of quiet fury... and who's to say if it signifies nothing... or everything...?" In fact, the women in the audience seem to be swooning over Rick's singing as though he were Elvis. "No doubt about it... that's the sound of the seventies!" One claims. "Boy, would I like a meaningful relationship with him!!" states another woman, woodenly. As Rick exits the shop, he finds Mordecai P. Boggs waiting for him, still trying to hire Rick as a client. Rick brushes him off again, although he admits to himself he's not sure why he doesn't get a manager.

Back at Rick's apartment, Mar-Vell's voice summons Rick to look in a mirror, where Rick sees Mar-Vell's face instead of his own. Mar-Vell has to remind Rick that they're still bound together and he needed to "shock" Rick into paying attention to him. Apparently it's been weeks since Rick let Marv out of the Negative Zone, which is a bit cruel to poor Mar-Vell. Rick seems to be having an identity crisis, so Mar-Vell reminds Rick how much he longed to be a super hero back when he first met the Hulk (specifically referencing the events of Incredible Hulk #3, where Rick had temporary control over the Hulk's mind), as well as his time with the Avengers and Captain America, then recaps how Rick donned the Nega-Bands and bested Yon-Rogg (having been 6 months since the last issue, Roy the Boy must have felt a recap was in order).

Before Rick and Mar-Vell can finish sorting out their issues, Rick hears a scream from the apartment below and he races downstairs, where he finds two men roughing up an elderly man. Rick tries to fight off the men despite Mar-Vell's insistence that they switch places. After repeatedly getting pummeled, Rick finally concedes and strikes his Nega-Bands together, releasing Captain Marvel. Mar-Vell easily bests the two men, then he and Rick have a mental conversation about how to solve their problem and release themselves from the Negative Zone. Rick suggests they look up his old pal Dr. Bruce Banner, otherwise known as the Hulk, figuring Banner would have an idea on how to liberate them. Rick directs Mar-Vell out to the deserts where Banner's secret laboratories were established so they can begin their hunt.

The search is waylaid when Mar-Vell spies a tornado, which had just ravaged a nearby town. Mar-Vell flies in to help rescued injured people, not noticing a band of green-clad men in masks who come moving into the town. They're a team of looters called the Rat Pack. The Rat Pack are not only after money and jewels from the banks and jewelry stores, they're also targeting the hospitals to get valuable medical supplies. As Captain Marvel is carrying an injured little girl to safety, the girl sees the Rat Pack below and draws the hero's attention to them; once the girl is returned to her mother, Mar-Vell flies back to confront the Rat Pack. The Rat Pack's leader (the only member without a mask) draws his gun while berating his men: "You spot a fancy costume--and you think Captain America's on yer tail! Well, he ain't Captain America--and he ain't Thor--and another thing I'll bet he ain't--is bulletproof!" Mar-Vell seems to agree, which is odd, considering his skin is tough enough to shrug off laser blasts from Kree pistols. Are Kree handguns less lethal than a Saturday night special?

Well, I guess we won't learn whether Mar-Vell is bulletproof today, as he throws one of the Rat Pack members at the leader before he can shoot the gun. With that, it seems the Rat Pack are all washed up. Mar-Vell sees more Red Cross trucks coming to help the wounded so he spends more time digging through rubble, helping them reach trapped people. "You can't hear me--but you understand, don't you, Rick? This is all that really matters--not our names in the papers--not a rock music career--but this--a chance to save a life--or dry a child's first tear! This is why I renounced my Kree heritage--my membership in a people without pity! And, this is how I'll spend the rest of my life--once I'm forever free of the Negative Zone!!" I have to say, Mar-Vell had a reputation as being a noble hero which wasn't really borne out through his earlier adventures, but with this moment it feels like his nobility has finally been made firm. When the Red Cross have things under control Mar-Vell continues on to Banner's laboratory, but his three-hour time limit runs out and he falls from the sky, then switches places with Rick. Rick, of course, is driven unconscious as he still inherits Marv's exhaustion.

From inside his lab, Bruce Banner sees Rick. The Hulk had just recently fought the Avengers and Banner wonders whether Rick is still affiliated with them and might be leading the Avengers to his doorstep. Overwhelmed by paranoia, the frustrated Banner transforms into the Hulk, who smashes his way out of the lab then takes a jump towards Rick, intending to crush him beneath his feet. To be Hulk-tinued!!!

Thoughts: Captain Marvel is becoming more comfortable with guest stars in its pages as the Hulk's involvement flows pretty naturally for the characters, whereas other guest stars like the Black Widow and Iron Man came out of left field. The Rat Pack were spotlighted on the cover, but were very easily bested in this story. Despite this, they've gone on to many more appearances in odd places, like as the primary foes of Tigra during her Marvel Chillers stories and fighting the Thunderbolts in their first issue. A team of professional looters who follow natural disasters is a pretty good fit for the Marvel Universe, considering the upheaval super hero battles usually create. They should appear more often.

Gil Kane drew the Hulk's adventures for a while and his Hulk is kind of wonderful. His action sequences continue to be energetic; Kane is the MVP of this Captain Marvel revamp.

Next: Captain Marvel versus the Hulk in Captain Marvel #21!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 23: Avengers #72

Welcome back to 'Space-Born Super Hero' and my continuing look at the character Captain Marvel in his adventures prior to writer/artist Jim Starlin's arrival. For the first time, I'm stepping away from Captain Marvel's own book as he finally made a guest appearance in a different Marvel comic: Avengers #72 (1970) and the story "Did You Hear the One About Scorpio?" by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema (inks by Sam Grainger).

Before I start, I should talk a little about where Roy Thomas was at this point in his career. During his first tenure on Captain Marvel in 1968, he was still quite a rookie. A lot changed in two years; as Stan Lee gave up his scripting duties on more and more titles, Roy assumed scripts (for a while) on each of them. The Avengers had started off reasonably strong thanks to Jack Kirby, but when Roy Thomas became scripter with John Buscema as artist the duo became what was considered (for many years) the best creative run on the Avengers, with exciting new characters like the Vision, Ultron and the Grim Reaper. As the scripter of the Avengers and Captain Marvel, it made sense for Thomas to pen a crossover and all the more so with Rick Jones as Mar-Vell's new supporting cast member; even if Thomas hadn't been the scripter at the time, it would have come up eventually.

We open on Rick Jones running across a rooftop towards Avengers Mansion when he's surprised to meet Captain America. Rick assumes Cap is going to start another fight, but Cap quickly explains that the man who hit him before (Captain Marvel #17) was the Red Skull in disguise. Cap is the one who summoned Rick to a meeting with the Avengers to investigate the disappearances of top Manhattan officials. The two enter the Avengers meeting hall and find waiting there the Wasp, Yellowjacket, Vision and Goliath (this being Hawkeye during his size-changing days). Yellowjacket greets Rick and invites him to grab a chair; Rick grabs the first chair he can find but it was designed for Goliath to sit in at his enhanced height, so Rick finds himself far too tiny for the seat.

Cap calls the meeting to order, noting that the Black Panther, Thor and Iron Man are absent (I mean, so are Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Hercules, but they had each retired from the team at the time). Cap explains they'll be briefed on their mission by agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Goliath expects Nick Fury to be the one conducting the briefing, but when S.H.I.E.L.D. appears on their video screen they're greeted by Timothy 'Dum Dum' Dugan, Jimmy Woo and Gabe Jones. Dugan reveals that at the scene of the kidnappings, an icon bearing the mark of Scorpio was found. Further, he informs them that Nick Fury is dead, recounting the details of the assassination which killed him (in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #15, just 2 months earlier). As the briefing ends, Rick reveals he's got some additional details: an hour earlier he went to Nick Fury's penthouse to see if Nick Fury could use a sidekick, having met Fury while he was acting as Cap's sidekick (this is a pretty weird rationale - Rick is already working with Mar-Vell, why would he want to work for Fury?). Within the penthouse, Rick discovers Scorpio rifling through Fury's belongings. Seeing Rick, Scorpio draws his weapon the Zodiac Key and stuns Rick while he flees.

Rick omits the rest of the details from the Avengers because he doesn't want them to know he's now bonded to Captain Marvel. Rick switched places with Mar-Vell (unfortunately the colorist forgot Marv wears gloves) and he flew after Scorpio as the villain fled on his motorcycle. Mar-Vell fought with Scorpio, but another blast from the Zodiac Key stunned Mar-Vell. Scorpio escaped, but he dropped a list of the missing officials on the scene (Scorpio is Riddler-esque in his love of dropping clues!).

Just as the Avengers are musing over these details, they receive an incoming message on their video screen. First they see an image of the three kidnapped men, then the screen shifts to display Scorpio himself. Scorpio then fires a blast from the Zodiac Key at the screen which somehow causes the Avengers' monitor to explode, stunning all of them. When the six Avengers awaken, they're being held in energy-based restraints by Scorpio. How the heck did Scorpio know the explosion would stun all of the Avengers, especially considering the Vision's powers? How did he get past the defenses of Avengers Mansion? How'd he spirit them to his own hidden base before they could wake up? Ah, whatever, the plot must be served. Scorpio boasts to the Avengers that he's going to kill them and that their deaths will be witnessed by his 11 allies - the Zodiac! Yep, this is the first appearance of the Zodiac, who would go on to many other appearances as Avengers foes (and frequently getting massacred in order to build up a different villain). There's a different Zodiac member for each of the 12 Zodiac signs, with Aries as their leader. Aries boasts that Scorpio's 'ruse' brought the Avengers together into their trap.

Aries tells Scorpio his previous failures (in issues of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) have been redeemed by his triumph over the Avengers; Scorpio gives the Zodiac Key to Aries and Aries orders the Avengers' deaths. However, although the energy screen which the Avengers are in has immobilized them, Yellowjacket and the Wasp are still able to summon ants into the building and the insects crawl inside the Zodiac's machines. They have enough time to disable the devices because Scorpio goes on bragging about the Zodiac's plans to make power plays in a dozen different world capitals. Before Aries can proceed with the Avengers' deaths, the machine fails and the Avengers surge forward yelling 'Avengers Assemble!' You might well wonder what kind of powers the Zodiac have; well, uh, not much of anything - they're almost guys wearing tights. A few have weapons... the Zodiac Key is pretty much the only thing they've got which can stand up to the Avengers.

Out of nowhere, Scorpio joins the fight, punching Aries in the face. Removing his mask he reveals he's actually Nick Fury, back from the dead! With black hair, for some reason! (this is the first Nick Fury death fakeout in Marvel history, if you're keeping track) Rick faces the ignominy of being hit in the head by Cancer. Mar-Vell asks Rick to switch places with him, but Rick refuses - he wants to prove he can win a fight on his own. Actually, the Zodiac pretty much are in Rick's power level. Pretty much the only thing the Zodiac have going for them are their numbers and even then, the Avengers quickly start mopping the floor with them. Aries then remembers he still has the Zodiac Key and uses it to create a disorienting field of energy which affects the five costumed Avengers and Fury, but before Aries can destroy them Rick attacks him and throws off his aim. The Zodiac Key blasts a hole through the wall and Aries fumes that now it needs to recharge; the Zodiac flee through the hole in the wall, then somehow seal it up behind them using what Vision calls "a strange substance". No idea which of the Zodiac could have done this, it isn't an ability or weapon that comes up in any of their future appearances. Vision's not sure if he could phase through this substance so... he doesn't even try. Still figuring out the super hero gig, eh Vizh?

Goliath grumbles at Fury for turning them over to the Zodiac, but Fury promises he would have prevented their deaths if they hadn't saved themselves. Fury explains how when he last fought Scorpio (Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #5) he discovered Scorpio was really his younger brother Jake. Jake was then seemingly killed. The mystery of Scorpio's identity was a big deal in Jim Steranko's Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and this was a pretty lame solution - it didn't fit with what we knew about Jake Fury and it comes out during a story in which the real Scorpio doesn't even appear. Fury claims he was impersonating Scorpio ever since and that the person who was assassinated in his place was an LMD. He reveals Dugan knew about the switch all along, which makes Dugan's tear-strewn face earlier a little bit odd. I guess Dugan was really into the cover-up, but why even bring up Fury's death? Anyway, Cap thanks Rick for his help and calls him 'partner', which momentarily raises Rick's spirits - until he remembers he's already committed to working with Captain Mar-Vell. Instead of asking to be Cap's sidekick again, Rick wanders off on his own.

Thoughts: The way in which Rick is brought into this story is pretty lame, considering the story ends on Rick refusing a partnership with another hero. Roy Thomas' attempts to wrap-up all of the loose ends from Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. are not quite satisfying either. I don't blame him for bringing Fury back to life, but he made a huge mess out of Scorpio here. The only saving grace is that Dave Kraft would later delve into Jake Fury as Scorpio during his Defenders run and get something poignant out of the concept.

As to the Zodiac, I'm awfully fond of them, but also the first to admit they're pretty lame. Some of them would get a bit of play here and there (Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Libra, principally) but again, they're just guys in tights. I love Sal Buscema's designs, but the 2nd Zodiac (from Defenders) were much more interesting in a fight thanks to their powers.

There's ultimately not much call for Captain Marvel to appear in this book, but this is a landmark for Rick - he's finally at peace with Captain America and the Avengers, which leaves him as a character in Captain Marvel, first and foremost.

Next: Captain Marvel meets the Rat Pack in Captain Marvel #20! And I don't mean Frankie, Dean, or Sammy!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 22: Captain Marvel #19

Welcome back to "Space-Born Super Hero", my examination of the character Captain Marvel prior to the popular revamp he underwent through Jim Starlin. Today I'm looking at Captain Marvel #19 (1969) with "The Mad Master of the Murder Maze!" by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane (inks by Dan Adkins). Once again we pick up where we left off: Rick Jones is lying unconscious, having been overwhelmed by the accumulated exhaustion Mar-vell went through while fighting Yon-Rogg. Waking up, Rick switches places with Captain Marvel. As Mar-Vell flies to a town, he and Rick converse, mentioning that they brought Carol Danvers to a hospital in the Cape -- so, apparently the series is still set in Florida. Strange that we didn't see Carol lying nearby Rick. Anyway, that's the last reference to Carol for a while, I think. With this done, Rick asks to swap places again. Mar-Vell assents, but he's a little uncomfortable about remaining in the Negative Zone; neither of them are particularly pleased with the development. Of course, Rick must once again deal with Mar-Vell's fatigue from the swap and stumbles out of an alleyway into the city.

Rick notes that with Yon-Rogg dead, Mar-Vell doesn't have revenge propelling him forward so, what's his motivation now? "That's my problem, Rick... and one I'll face in due time." Um, yes, it would be good for the series' protagonist to have some motivation, y'know? Anyway, Rick picks up a newspaper and starts looking for work, but no one is interested in hiring him, primarily because of his age. One employer complains, "You look like one'a them hippie freaks to me...!" If anything, Rick dresses like a 1950s sock hopper. Determined he won't run back to the Avengers for a handout, Rick heads to the Minos Towers for a job. He's surprised to find the building looks like an immense fortress. The employer, a Dr. Webb, greets him through a video camera and the ground beneath Rick becomes a sophisticated elevator, lowering Rick into Webb's high-tech facility (earning a 'faaan-tastic' from Rick).

Cornelius Webb is slow to explain the details behind the job, but assures Rick that he's the exact age, size and emotional type for what he's doing. Webb is a sociologist performing an experiment and introduces Rick to his two pet lab rats, Theseus and Ariadne - aptly named, as they're both employed at running through a maze. Dr. Webb sends Rick back to the surface, where Rick gets to stay in one of the Minos Towers apartments. Rick makes friends with the other residents (such as a Mr. Weiss) in the days which follow and the building has impressive resources, such as an indoor swimming pool. Rick wonders where Webb's wealth is coming from and tries reading the book Webb wrote, but he can't understand it - it seems to be about nothing more than the social life of rats. One night, Rick hears his neighbour Mrs. Martino scream. He feels he could investigate this himself, but instead switches places with Captain Marvel. Having been stuck in the Negative Zone for days, Mar-Vell appreciates being released; Mrs. Martino says she saw a bat-like monster, but there's nothing there now.

Dr. Webb is curious about Mar-Vell as he watches him through his video feed (strangely, his cameras apparently missed Rick activating the Nega-Bands). In the days which follow, more residents see images of creatures. Rick is convinced Webb is behind this, although Mar-Vell is skeptical. Rick suggests Mar-Vell investigate Webb, but of course Mar-Vell can't - he can only see whatever Rick sees. Suddenly, a tiger-sized rat appears in Rick's room. Rick swaps places with Captain Marvel, but the rat vanishes as soon as Mar-Vell approaches it. At the same time, more problems arise in the building, as some residents are fleeing from smoke and others from a rising tide of water. When Mar-Vell tries to lead the other guests to safety, he finds a third danger: fire! As people begin to blame Mar-Vell for leading them to the fire, yet another problem arises as the walls of the building begin to close in on them. Mar-Vell saves one of the residents, then confers with Mr. Weiss, who is looking for Rick; Mar-Vell claims to have saved Rick.

It's Weiss who begins to put all of this into perspective. Watching the other people, Weiss remarks, "They are like the inmates of a concentration camp!" This comparison surprises Mar-Vell, who inquires further: "Auschwitz... 1945!" Weiss exclaims tersely. "I was one of the unlucky ones! I survived! No, do not look for scars, my friend! They are all... in my mind!" This outburst leads to an uncomfortable silence, when suddenly the building's elevator opens its doors. The frightened people file inside, but once the car is between floors, gas begins flooding the confined space! (yikes! having just make the comparison to the Holocaust, this is a legitimately terrifying development) Mar-Vell drags the elevator car to another floor and saves the people inside, but they've become despondant. "We're being herded, like lambs to slaughter!" One gripes.

At this cue, Dr. Webb appears on a video screen to taunt them all. Webb explains he gathered these particular people because of their ages, ethnic groups and income brackets so that he could perform this sociological test on them. He expects the book he'll write from this data will allow him to bask in royalties down in South America (which has a certain connotation when talking about the architects of the Holocaust). After this, immense blades strike from the ceilings, floors and walls around the captured people, but Captain Marvel defends them. Weiss is almost killed by one of the blades, but instead takes a stunning blow. Mar-Vell finally smashes the blades then breaks back into the elevator shaft, following it down below to reach Webb himself. Webb has automated defenses installed, tripped by Mar-Vell's body heat, but Mar-Vell destroys the sophisticated laser weapons before they can strike him. Rick can tell Mar-Vell is getting tired and implores him to rest, but Mar-Vell refuses, pressing on into Webb's lair.

As soon as Mar-Vell bursts in, Webb, ever confident, strikes him with atomic blasts while mocking him. "Really, my good captain, I was hoping for a somwhat more original exclamation from you! Something along the lines of 'great gamma rays!'... perhaps even 'holy molecules!' But, if you prefer a simple 'yaarrhhh! as your epitaph... so be it!" That Webb, he's a salty one. The atomic blasts can't kill Mar-Vell, but they are able to trigger the Nega-Bands to swap him with Rick Jones and Rick would be killed instantly in Mar-Vell's place.

Before Mar-vell can free himself, Mr. Weiss acts; having followed Mar-Vell to the basement and seen what Webb is doing, he is again reminded of Auschwitz. When Webb gloats, "After all, is it not for the betterment of the race... and well worth a few meaningless lives?" Weiss remembers an officer in the camp making the same expression. Shoving Webb aside, Weiss grabs the controls and tears out the wires; Webb's machine explodes as Mar-Vell and Rick switch places. Fortunately, the atomic energy has dissipated so Rick is fine, but the explosion of Webb's control panel killed Mr. Weiss. Webb is now truly insane: "He's only pretending... trying to fool me!" Webb raves as he stares at Weiss' corpse. "He'll get up in a minute and walk away... you'll see!" Webb insists. Rick finally gives us Weiss' full name - Jacob Weiss - and notes how Webb only refers to him by the number of his apartment: 6-K. A close-up on Weiss' forearm shows us his concentration camp number, making the parallel clear. "Excuse me..." Rick tells Webb, "I gotta go somewhere... and be quietly sick...!"

Thoughts: It should be noted that Gil Kane co-plotted this story with Roy Thomas; as Kane was Jewish, you can understand his personal interest in crafting a Holocaust story. This is an unusual way of looking at the Holocaust - it's not set in the 1940s, not even for a flashback scene. And yet, you'd have to be thick as a brick to miss all of the references and understand how Webb's experiments are being likened to those which the Nazis inflicted on their captives.

This is the first Captain Marvel story after Yon-Rogg's death and as Yon-Rogg had propelled much of the series up until now, it would be nice to get a sense of what our hero is after now. That element is lacking here, but as a stand-alone story this is easily the best issue of Captain Marvel up 'til now and I think probably the best pre-Starlin story.

Hopefully Mar-Vell will get a new purpose soon - like, he ought to be trying to get out of the Negative Zone, right?

Next: Captain Marvel makes his first-ever guest appearance! It's time for Avengers #72!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Space-Born Super Hero Part 21: Captain Marvel #18

Welcome back to 'Space-Born Super Hero' and my look at Captain Marvel #18 (1969) with the landmark story "Vengeance Is Mine!" by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane & John Buscema. We pick up precisely where the previous issue left off as Yon-Rogg monitors Rick Jones and decides "The moment has come for---action!" I mean, he did only just run from a fight with Mar-Vell, but sure, Yon-Rogg, 'action'. Rick is nearly struck by an out-of-control car but dodges it; Mar-Vell points out the driver could kill himself, so Rick uses the Nega-Bands to switch places with him. Mar-Vell stops the car and finds the driver is very groggy; Mar-Vell immediately concludes Yon-Rogg must have been responsible for this. It seems pretty cunning to be Yon-Rogg's idea (kill Rick rather than fight Mar-Vell), but I suppose he's right.

We see the Negative Zone from Rick's perspective for the first time; he's surrounded by a protective aura which defends from the weird environment, but otherwise he's simply floating in a void. When he remarks the Negative Zone "ain't about to replace Disneyland!" It prompts a reflection from Mar-Vell: "You have a sense of humor, lad... something I have yet to cultivate! Perhaps we may both benefit from the accident that has intertwined our two fates!" Indeed, one of the features which made Marvel Comics of the 1960s unique was the strong humour in every series which Stan Lee wrote - and up until the Thomas/Kane revamp, Captain Marvel had been bucking the trend. Mar-Vell flies to a nearby city then switches places with Rick again. Rick finds himself at a club where some extremely 1960s young people are hanging out, eating burgers and listening to bands. It's at this point that I suddenly remembered, oh yeah, Captain Marvel was created in the 1960s! Outside of Mar-Vell casting an illusion of protestors back in issue #12, the series up 'til now has avoided everything to do with the youth culture. Comics didn't have a particularly good track record when it came to depicting 1960s young people in comics, but heck, at least Captain Marvel's creators elected to reflect the world around them.

Rick doesn't think much of the band: "I hitched a diesel truck this morning that had more soul!" When challenged to see if he could do better, Rick offers to try; one of the musicians loans Rick a guitar and it turns out Rick has a natural talent as a performer. A waitress named Trina decides "He really does have soul!" but a club visitor named Blackie boos Rick. Rick decides to swap places with Captain Marvel to teach his critic a lesson, but Mar-Vell refuses to become involved in something so petty. Instead, Rick decks Blackie in the face! Rick decides he'd better leave, but a music promoter named Mordecai P. Boggs stops him declaring, "It's fate that has thrown us together, my boy!" Although Rick isn't interested in Boggs now, Boggs is the series' latest supporting cast member (and will occasionally follow Rick to other titles long after Captain Marvel). Boggs is meant to be a W. C. Fields-type character, to the point that Rick compares him to Fields. I guess Thomas didn't trust his audience to figure it out for themselves?

Captain Mar-Vell has given it some thought and has realized where Yon-Rogg must be: back at the Kree outpost where they last saw him. Wha--? Huh--? Whatever happened to the Helion, why wouldn't Yon-Rogg be there, surrounded by his crew? Well, Mar-Vell is right: Yon-Rogg really is back at the Kree outpost, where he's holding Carol Danvers hostage like a Republic serial villain. He has his hands on an outlawed Kree device called the Psyche-Magnitron; he bathes himself in rays of energy from the device, intending to become powerful enough to challenge the Supreme Intelligence. Yon-Rogg gains the ability to conjure up "anything ever devised by Kree science" using his mind and uses this to fashion the Mandroid (not to be confused with the SHIELD battle armour, which didn't exist at the time; we'll get there), a Kree robot used to hunt and execute traitors. So, some things never change... this series really likes pitting Captain Marvel against robots. Carol watches helplessly as Mar-Vell struggles against the Mandroid but finally flies at the Psyche-Magnitron; the Mandroid shoots an energy beam which hits the device; the Mandroid dissolves as the Psyche-Magnitron stops working.

Yon-Rogg draws a pistol to fight Mar-vell (not that his pistol did any good last issue), but as they struggle a wild shot hits Carol in the shoulder. Mar-Vell is enraged, even though Yon-Rogg protests, "I... I did not mean to hit her! My shot went astray! I was not responsible...!!" However, this only reminds Mar-Vell of how Una died because of a battle Yon-Rogg engaged. A real bloodlust enters into Mar-Vell now. "Can you give me... a girl's life, Yon-Rogg? Answer me... can you give life again to one you did slay??" But at the brink of killing Yon-Rogg, Mar-Vell pulls back; he realizes killing Yon-Rogg would be a hollow triumph.

Suddenly, the Psyche-Magnitron begins overloading due to the Mandroid's damage. Mar-Vell sees Carol is still alive and knows he only has enough time to save either her or Yon-Rogg. "Then... it must be the girl!!" The Psyche-Magnitron explodes as Mar-Vell flees the collapsing Kree outpost, leaving Yon-Rogg to his death. Feeling weak from his fight, Mar-Vell switches places with Rick Jones, but Rick inherits all of Mar-Vell's exhaustion and he collapses to the ground.

Thoughts: Yon-Rogg running back to the Kree outpost doesn't make sense and brings back bad memories of how this series used to spin its wheels, but this is, at last, the final appearance of Yon-Rogg. Yon-Rogg could have been an interesting villain as Mar-Vell's superior officer. Unfortunately, every writer - Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake - made his plots so transparent. There was never anything clever in Yon-Rogg's efforts to kill Mar-Vell. Although at this point in the series he could have been called Mar-Vell's nemesis, he wound up staying dead because better villains came along - in particular, a certain fella named Thanos.

Unfortunately, this is Captain Marvel's farewell to Carol Danvers too (aside from a few cameos). With Carol and Yon-Rogg gone, the series has definitely been completely reinvented. It's a pity Carol couldn't have a place under the new status quo, but she's a security officer with NASA and the series is now about a wandering space hero who trades places with a roving guitar player. Treating Rick like Mar-Vell's secret identity unfortunately means all of Mar-Vell's supporting cast have to be let go. Fare thee well, General Bridges, Jeremy Logan and Chester Fenton. You were a kind of lousy supporting cast, but at least it was something.

Although Carol Danvers is gone, it's in this issue that she's granted her own superhuman powers. It won't come up 'til Ms. Marvel #1 in 1977, but given how powerful the Psyche-Magnitron was, it was a pretty clever idea to use this incident as the means to give her super powers. She would have been a forgotten supporting character (like Bridges, Logan & Fenton) were it not for her eventual career as a super hero.

Now, however, we have Mordecai P. Boggs and Rick's new status as a travelling musician. It's not a bad fit for Rick and will pretty become the #2 most defining thing about him as a character (#1 is that he's a sidekick). For now, the songs Rick's singing don't make me cringe, so we'll consider it acceptable.

Next: How about a Holocaust story? No, seriously, that's what we're being served in Captain Marvel #19!