Thursday, May 15, 2014

Enter: The New Captain Marvel!

It's easy to forget sometimes that an annual "special" issue of a title doesn't need to be put together with the idea of it being an award-winner. It's not even necessary that it closely adheres to the main book's continuity, though it should be in the general neighborhood in terms of familiar characters of recent storylines and their up-to-date relationships with one another. If the issue needs a "This story takes place before..." disclaimer, in our minds we'll be trying to reconcile the events in the issue with its parent book, and who wants to spend a double-page-count doing that?

On that note, I also don't have fond memories of annuals that were part of crossover events in other annuals. Atlantis Attacks! The Evolutionary War! Citizen Kang! The Terminus Factor! Crossover annuals render a special annual issue for a title considerably less special when it becomes a link in a chain, and the reader reaches the ending and isn't necessarily rewarded with the satisfaction of the story coming to an end. Ideally, the annual should be a self-contained story and end on a high note, to give the reader a sense that it's capped a year of good reading in the monthly title and that the next year will have more of the same action, excitement, and quality. Other than word-of-mouth, the annual is the best sales tool a title can have, using one of the best concepts ever conceived: positive reinforcement.

One annual that gets so many of these things right is Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16--a good, fun, 48-page romp that's enjoyable from cover to cover. Written by Roger Stern and pencilled and inked by the (respective) son-father Romita team, not only does it feature Spider-Man, the Thing from the Fantastic Four, plus the Avengers, but it also introduces a brand-new super-hero--one who would go on to become one of Marvel's most distinguished and memorable characters. Best of all, you'll close the final page relaxed and feeling like you've read a good, entertaining story, where the characterization of everyone involved has been nailed and holding an issue you know you'll want to pull out to read again someday. It's not every annual that can pull that off, though in all fairness I think that many try.

Appropriately, the story begins with the one and only Spider-Man, in his guise as Peter Parker, who passes by a striking woman and notices the buzzing of his spider-sense, which tells him something isn't quite right about her. And so he decides to tail her as Spidey, and finds her tangling with a couple of muggers. He's all set to intervene, but finds that she's doing pretty well by herself:

Our other mugger decides to high-tail it, and meets a fist for his trouble. But when Spider-Man decides to investigate this woman, he gets a lot more than he bargained for:

Meet Monica Rambeau, who has travelled to New York City to get help with these strange new powers of hers. Or, as we would better come to know her:

Monica's adventure began when, as a lieutenant on the New Orleans harbor patrol, she found herself at a professional impasse with her superior officer. Monica, something of a go-getter and not afraid to make waves when it meant getting things done, was rocking the boat a little too much to suit this harbor-master:

Still steaming, Monica receives a visit from Prof. LeClare, an old friend of her grandfather, who has come to warn authorities about a deadly device he'd researched and developed that would draw energy from other universes. The South American dictator he was working for co-opted the device in order to turn it into a weapon, which forced LeClare to flee; meanwhile, his former assistant, Felipe Picaro, has taken over the project and moved the device to a Roxxon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for testing.

Fearing impending disaster, LeClare has approached Monica in the hope of launching an investigation--and she decides to first scope out the site personally, undercover.

And when we're talking about "undercover," the Romitas don't kid around where Monica's concerned:

Needless to say, Picaro takes it upon himself to escort Monica personally onto the facility and indulge her whim for a picnic. But LeClare has grown anxious, and has boarded the facility to locate the device--and for Monica, the jig is soon up.

Picaro's intent is clear--he plans to test the device, by wiping out Fort Benning, Georgia. And Monica is spurred to action, though the results of her sabotage are both unexpected and confusing:

Finding herself inexplicably back in New Orleans, Monica locates a radio and broadcasts an alert about the rig. Once that's done, she locates some clothes for herself--but, since the storage warehouse she's in contains only costumes from Mardi Gras, her choices are rather limited:

Once costumed and outside, Monica sees the rig light up in the distance, and fears for LeClare's safety. Suddenly, the thought becomes deed, and she finds herself back aboard in an instant, where all hell is breaking loose and disaster seems imminent:

Monica then finds herself sucked into the energy rift, and her own body seems to act to inhibit the dangerous energies. She then manages to seal the dimensional hole, as well as save LeClare from Picaro's attempt to kill him.

The crisis averted, Monica and LeClare meet back in her office a couple of days later, where the Professor discloses the results of his tests on her:

But, while Monica may be reticent about tapping into her powers again, LeClare--as others have before him, in similar circumstances--appeals to this fledgling hero to use the abilities that fate has given her.

And so it's not long before Monica has another meeting with her obstinate boss, though this time intending to resolve things to her satisfaction. And with the rank she merits:

So, if everything is copacetic with "Captain Marvel," why is our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man still looking to stir up trouble?

Monica has come to New York because she's found that her energy levels are still rising and becoming a danger--and with LeClare having done all he could, she's seeking more high-powered scientific help. Spider-Man, though, knows none of this; but with his spider-sense still warning him, he's compelled to investigate her further, which can only be accomplished if he somehow disables her ability to flee as she's done before.

Fortunately, Spidey is able to get a lead on her destination when he gets a look at what she was viewing through the binoculars--the Baxter Building, still under reconstruction after the Terrax incident. Most of the FF are off-site, but the Thing is there to assess her situation and point her in the direction of the Avengers.

As we can see, Spider-Man is pursuing this "threat" out of ignorance--and when he arrives at Avengers Mansion, Iron Man has been inadvertently rendered immobile by Monica's power discharge, but still able to instruct her to seal herself in the mansion's adamantium containment chamber. On the way, however, you-know-who arrives and misinterprets information on the "intruder" from the Avengers' butler, Jarvis, before finally confronting Monica.

Iron Man and the Wasp finally clue in Spider-Man as to Captain Marvel's situation, and a hasty plan is made to drain off her excess energy. For that, there's only one man for the job:

With Captain Marvel's energies finally stabilized--wait, who says? We never really get assurances of that, much less what's to keep her energy from rising to a dangerous level again. But we're nearing the end of the story, and we're getting a strong all's-well-that-ends-well vibe right now, so we'll just have to go with it. While Captain Marvel is getting acquainted with the Avengers, the Thing arrives to make sure Spider-Man hasn't screwed things up with this case. In that respect, the Captain is feeling magnanimous:

Captain Marvel would go on to begin training as an Avenger, just prior to the trial of Henry Pym--a story where she would already begin to demonstrate her skills in problem-solving and taking action in a crisis situation. While Stern was handling her development, Captain Marvel not only rose through the Avengers' ranks but also in popularity with readers. Her origin issue in this annual is a definite keeper for any C.M. fan--and, by the way, for any fan of the amazing Spider-Man!

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16

Plot and Script: Roger Stern
Pencils: John Romita, Jr.
Inks: John Romita, Sr.
Letterer: Jim Novak


Anonymous said...

By this time in my comic's world I had left Spider-Man and was heavily into X-Men/Wolverine/Avengers/Fantastic Four. I knew the good Captain as an Avenger. No clue that her debut was in Spider-Man. I had learned from Avengers that Monica's hometown was New Orleans but I never got the sense from reading her that she ever spoke with a New Orleans/Louisiana accent. As opposed to Rouge's woeful attempt at a Southern accent. The interaction between Monica and the "thugs" was generic mid 70s Cleopatra Jones.

As for the Annuals, I heartily agree with you on Annuals needing to be 1)special b) self contained and lastly) out of continually, continuatity (?) Part of me still misses the quarterly Giant Size issues. I remember buying Avengers Annual 7, the Warlock Thanos issue, and I don't think I ever bought or read Two In One Annual 2. It wasn't until years later that I read that whole story.

Again, thanks for another great peek into the past.

The Prowler (slip sliding away one more time).

Comicsfan said...

Prowler, it's funny that you mention the Warlock/Thanos annuals, since each of those issues read as "self-contained" to me, even though they were continued stories--each still worked beautifully by itself. Just excellent, excellent work.