Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Last Fight Of The Warrior

When Captain Marvel was left buried underneath debris of a sizable portion of Avengers Mansion following the attack of the Controller, the last thing the Kree warrior probably expected was to suddenly find himself in another dimension confronted by a giant, two-headed horror!

We've finally arrived at the point in the Captain Marvel book when the title character undergoes one last change in direction, as well as a transformation unlike his others--this time put in motion by writer/artist Jim Starlin, who would use the character to spearhead the first major Marvel event involving Thanos of Titan. Granted, Mar-vell was arguably suited to assume such a role in his current form--a former warrior of the Kree who had developed a sympathy and fondness for his adopted home, Earth, and whose insight and knowledge of tactics and Kree training might well have been assets in the struggle against Thanos. Starlin, however, had worked to present Mar-vell as being too limited in those respects--bringing something different to the table as an alien, yes, but still relying on battle strategy, strength, and punches to win the day. Mar-vell, the warrior, lives for battle and, by extension, victory--but what does he strive for when there is no foe standing directly before him? In a way, readers have been fortunate that, due to his merging with Rick Jones, Mar-vell can only exist in our universe for three hours--because if he were "his own man," so to speak, he would likely be as directionless as he was when other writers sought to explore his character beyond what we saw on the field of battle.

And so, defeated by the overwhelming might of the Controller, Mar-vell finds himself suddenly spirited away to another solar system by a being called Eon--created by Kronos (in these earlier stories, "Chronos") from a time when Olympus was the home of the original Titans, to await the day when Thanos would ascend to power and the universe would have need of a unique being to challenge him. That man, as Eon has begun to explain, is Mar-vell--but not Mar-vell as he is, a warrior with a one-track mind focused on the path to victory, but a different kind of man who relies on skill and forethought to determine a course of action.

If you've been following the saga of Thanos since his introduction in Iron Man, you're probably thinking at this point that Kronos's plans for Eon ages ago seem to be in conflict with the existence of the Destroyer, whom Kronos created in responding to a plea from Mentor for protection from Thanos. Kronos invested the Destroyer with great power to accomplish a single purpose: to bring an end to Thanos. But since Eon was prepared long before the creation of the Destroyer, we can assume that the Destroyer was created as more of a stopgap measure in order to prevent further attacks on Titan, as well as to hopefully keep Thanos too occupied to pursue the Cosmic Cube with any degree of progress. Eon was in all likelihood not even a blip on Starlin's radar at that point--so before the artist began his brief tenure on Captain Marvel, we had every reason to believe that it would be the Destroyer who would eventually deal with Thanos. Now that Eon appears to be fulfilling his role as determined by Kronos, it becomes easier to understand why the Destroyer was downgraded to being more of a nuisance to Thanos than a true threat; in fact, given the new developments with Mar-vell, you can almost believe that it's the purpose Kronos wanted the Destroyer to have all along.

As for Mar-vell, Eon realizes that this man must first be divorced from his warrior mindset before he receives any new skills that will serve him in taking a new approach in dealing with Thanos. And, having been a warrior of the Kree for most of his life, Mar-vell will have to either choose to defend that way of thinking, or to reject it. To do the latter, he'll need to face some harsh truths not only concerning his way of life, but also his embrace of it. Having already demonstrated a willingness to tackle the concept and cost of war head-on, Starlin is ready to confront Mar-vell with another such sequence that, unlike the last time, doesn't allow Mar-vell to side-step the issue.

As seasoned as he is in the ways of war, you might well imagine that Mar-vell isn't yet prepared to cede to Eon the points that are being made here, as difficult for him to deny as they might be. It's to Starlin's credit that he instead has Mar-vell making an effort to defend his past actions and choices all the more vigorously, as those sequences make it uncomfortably clear just why Mar-vell has been brought to this place. And as the discussion shifts to the various justifications that people use to kill while waging such conflicts, Eon employs a figure from Mar-vell's past who might best demonstrate the futility of the way of life he advocates.

As powerful a conclusion as Eon is able to draw for Mar-vell here, thanks to Starlin's portrayal of Una's extreme response to his presence, I might have preferred that Starlin have been satisfied with Una simply being mindless and nonfunctional--perhaps her being nonresponsive to Mar-vell speaking her name again, followed by a second panel showing a pass of his hand in front of her blank and unfocused face. Would the lack of a soul result in someone mindlessly lashing out, as pictured here? None of us have the credentials to answer that, but I'd have to think the answer would be "no"--the same answer we'd expect if the question applied to such a person laughing, or smiling, or, for that matter, simply walking.

Regardless, Mar-vell is ready to reconsider his path and make his choice. It may seem an abrupt about-face for him, given that Eon has only offered him another point of view as opposed to a true review and revelation of Mar-vell's life choices coupled with his Kree heritage; but when you think about it, he's been moving toward this point since he chose the welfare of humans over his orders. Now he decides to formalize that choice, and take the first steps toward freeing himself from his past--beginning with a dramatic metamorphosis.

Considering the choice that Eon offers here--whether to return to his former way of life with the new abilities he's gained, or to truly embrace a different path for himself--what follows is a confusing "baptism" that Mar-vell undergoes after indeed choosing "the hand of the protector" over the fist of the warrior in going forward. Eon arranges for Mar-vell to face not only his "ravagers"--representations of those former foes who keep Mar-vell rooted to his past and hold him back from his true future--but also a representation of himself that he might in some way still cling to. It's a sequence filled with irony--because how does Eon "destroy Captain Marvel the warrior" and have him truly free himself from these demons? By giving him no choice but to fight his way through them.

Blond hair or white--as far as form and intent, Mar-vell himself may have already best described what we've just seen: "...not much of a change!"

But Eon appears to believe otherwise, as this issue draws to admittedly a triumphant close:

And, back at Avengers Mansion, while it's a very different Captain Marvel who (in perhaps a deliberate use of symbolism) emerges from the rubble, Starlin ends this "turning point" tale with the nice touch of making it clear that Mar-vell has the presence of mind to realize that he's just starting this journey--and while he still may have much to learn, he's now very willing to do so. It's a closing page that punctuates the theme of the story perfectly.

Naturally, the following story has Mar-vell settling accounts with the Controller, in a debut of his new style which includes a sparkling flight trail (written off as "photonic energy exhaust") that distinguishes the character from other heroes with the capability of flight. Aside from that, you might also find interesting some closing thoughts on the character as he's evolved to what Kronos envisioned.

Una LIVES! (What, again?)

Captain Marvel #29

Story, Pencils, and Coloring: Jim Starlin
Inks: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski


Anonymous said...

So incredibly powerful! I love love love this comic. Jim Starlin is the man!

Mirko, YeaHaw!

Anonymous said...

This character was simply made for the screen. What Gil Kane/Dan Atkinson and Roy Thomas did that was later built upon by Starlin, Edelman and Moench was and still is IMHO the best "made for the big screen" hero of all time. We should join the boycott of the upcoming Captain Marvel film if they do not use Mar-Vell and trash this very forced and unnecessary current version and do marvel/Disney a favor before they jump the shark and ruin the superhero film genre.

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