Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mission: Capture Captain Marvel!

Inbetween the times when Rick Jones was a friend to the incredible Hulk and later found himself turning into the Hulk, and following his brief partnership with Captain America, Rick began a friendship with another super-being, albeit reluctantly--Captain Marvel, trapped in the Negative Zone until Rick donned a pair of nega-bands found at a Kree outpost on Earth and was able to use them to switch atoms with Mar-vell, freeing the alien from his imprisonment in the Zone for a period of three hours while Rick took his place there.

In order for both men to lead a normal life, each of them would attempt to find a solution to their mutual problem. (Well, other than Rick simply taking off the nega-bands and saying "You're on your own, pal.") Rick thought that the genius of Bruce Banner would find the answer, though the appearance of the Hulk would see his effort end in failure; but thanks to an indirect encounter with Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, Mar-vell stumbled across a solution which would bring success at last.

Although perhaps it doesn't look very successful at first glance.

Written by Roy Thomas, "The Only Good Alien..." again takes the opportunity to make use of the dormant character almost a year after his own title ceased publication. The story begins mysteriously, with Mar-vell furtively making his way into a city with the Avengers apparently in pursuit--but why? Thomas has piqued our interest right off the bat by opening with an approach that other Marvel titles have used successfully--beginning the tale in the middle, after certain events have already taken place without our knowledge. Also helping to add to the feeling of tension in these opening pages is something that Thomas is perhaps already well aware of, having scripted the Captain Marvel title himself--that the character of Mar-vell may not be particularly well-known to readers, despite having his own title at one time; and as for those readers who steadfastly kept reading his book to the end, anything might have happened to him in the long months that he's been in publication limbo.

In the here and now, though, Mar-vell is girding himself for a confrontation with the Avengers. You may find, when all is said and done, that Mar-vell has little to no reason to battle the Avengers (certainly the Avengers don't seem to think so)--but here at Page One, when we know so little, the scenes at least help to establish that there's a threat of some kind to be dealt with, and that Mar-vell appears to be at its crux.

Presumably to give Mar-vell more of a spotlight and elevate his profile, Thomas and artist Sal Buscema have the character perform reasonably well in this skirmish, outnumbered as he is by three Avengers--though Avengers readers may not appreciate how ineffective their heroes seem to appear here. Quicksilver is taken out as Quicksilver is usually dealt with, his great speed often nullified by writers at a loss to handle his power realistically. The Vision, we discover, can be dropped by controlled light-blasts (though a weapon named "Uni-anything" tends to get a pass in stories, its power never really defined); while the Scarlet Witch remains the most passive Avenger, who hangs back and is given only certain key moments to strike in these Thomas stories, thus giving Mar-vell all the time he needs to make his escape.

We certainly have enough questions begging to be answered, by this point. Why is Mar-vell on the run? What danger do the Avengers feel he's in? Why is the fate of the world at stake? How is Rick now able to co-exist with Mar-vell in the same place? And why has Rick turned against him? A lot seems to have happened to Mar-vell in his time away--but we'll have to turn back the clock a bit to find out how things became so desperate, and how the Avengers became involved.

First, we'll need to address one more question: Where are the Avengers taking him? The group and their unconscious charge soon arrive at a hospital at Cape Kennedy, where it seems they're expected--and a startling procedure is initiated.

To gather much-needed perspective on the situation, Thomas returns us to when Rick and Mar-vell were still trapped in their existence of only one of them being able to appear on Earth at a time, with the other trapped in the Negative Zone in a field that keeps them in a virtual state of stealth. Mar-vell has unfortunately been left in the Zone by Rick for several weeks while Rick pursues a career as a singer/performer--but during Mar-vell's long stay, he had the opportunity to observe how Reed Richards, recently trapped there himself, escaped through the gateway the scientist had designed to access the Zone (thanks to Agatha Harkness, who filled the void with an illusion that allowed Reed to escape detection by Annihilus, the Zone's resident deadly nemesis). It occurs to Mar-vell to use that same gateway to free himself; and so, hopefully for the last time, Rick switches atoms with him, and Mar-vell breaks into Reed's lab in order to operate the gateway and allow Rick to re-enter our world, while allowing Mar-vell to retain his freedom.

Given how often Mar-vell has fought for Earth and come to the aid of its people, his actions here nevertheless help to see how difficult it often was to apply the word "hero" to the character and develop an interest in what happens to him in his own title. Aside from Rick's uneasiness spurring him on, Mar-vell has no reason to feel that time is of the essence and act so recklessly here, no reason not to approach the FF through normal channels (or allow Rick to do so, considering his association with the Avengers) and conduct the procedure openly. Instead, Mar-vell attacks a guard in the building's lobby and, from there, decides that breaking in from above would be a better way to go. All very rational, from the point of view of someone who styles himself a hero and yet decides that the laws of Earthmen don't apply to him.

Yet Reed Richards is no amateur when it comes to precautionary measures, and has rigged an alarm at Avengers Mansion which alerts the Vision and the others to Mar-vell's break-in--and Mar-vell finds his efforts to recover Rick complicated by the Avengers' arrival.  The Avengers--and one other.

Whatever an "aura of negativism" is that Mar-vell was so convinced would render either himself or Rick undetectable while in the Negative Zone, its description was woefully short on specifics, since we see that Rick's feelings of dread were well-founded, and he was indeed observed in the Zone by the Living Death That Walks. Still, both the Avengers and Captain Marvel stand ready to challenge Annihilus--or do they? More on that thought in a moment. For now, thanks to Quicksilver, we see that a fast attack against Annihilus only results in a fast defeat, while Wanda's power seems to fizzle when it's directed at anything too creepy--a limitation which you'd think would free up a lot of her time as an active Avenger.

The Vision's quick thinking disposes of Annihilus' threat--though it's anyone's guess why the Vision's wraith-like form isn't sucked into the void right behind his foe.

Regardless, the danger has not passed, despite the success of this procedure and Rick and Mar-vell now being able to corporeally exist side-by-side with each other. Because of Rick's neglect of "relieving" Mar-vell at regular intervals in the Negative Zone, Mar-vell's lengthy stay there has caused him to absorb a great deal of radiation which may result in his destruction, as well at that of the entire planet.

Mar-vell slipping away during the fight reveals another contradiction between this man and the one we had come to know: How could this supposed hero run out on a life-or-death battle, especially when it's due to his own circumstances that lives have been endangered? And more importantly, how could he abandon Rick, a young man who went out on a limb to help him, and who might have been murdered if the Avengers fell? Are we meant to feel sympathy for Mar-vell at this point in the story, or simply left to feel bewilderment at his actions? We discover that he's headed for the Cape in order to commandeer a rocket and modify it to return him to his home planet--but again, what's the rush? Why alienate those who fought on your behalf, and resort to theft, as well? Why is he acting like some sort of fugitive, considering even those who are acknowledged on Earth as heroes to be his enemies?

And so the story catches up with its beginning, where the Avengers track Mar-vell to Florida, and capture him before he reaches his destination. Yet in light of what happened at the Baxter Building--and with Rick now in the picture--consider how oddly those opening panels now come across. Mar-vell has little to no reason to think that the Avengers are lying when they say they want to help him; nevertheless, he reacts like a persecuted man at the end of his rope. And his urgency to flee remains unclear.

The scene in hindsight also begs the question:  Why didn't the Avengers have Rick standing among them, rather than have him waiting in ambush? It would have been Rick's entreaty to stand down that Mar-vell would likely have listened to, and his visible presence among the Avengers that would have relaxed Mar-vell's stance long enough to pause and hear them out.

In any event, the procedure to decontaminate Mar-vell has concluded (with the Vision contributing his own solar power to the effort), and both men are wheeled to recovery.

Mar-vell would go on to face new danger, this time alongside the Avengers, when Ronan the Accuser seizes power on the Kree homeworld and travels to Earth to reactivate the Kree sentry and initiate Plan "Atavus," which would de-evolve the human race and return the planet to its primal beginnings. Given the stakes involved, it would certainly be a good time for the hero within Captain Marvel to re-emerge.

The Avengers #89

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Sam Grainger
Letterer: Sam Rosen


Anonymous said...

"The only good alien is a dead alien!"
Growing up reading Marvel Comics, I caught a couple references to the legendary Kree-Skrull War and eventually picked up some reprints and a couple of original copies, in my shaky little hands.
Holy cow. Holy Skrull-masquerading as a cow.
Thomas threw EVERYTHING in here including the kitchen sink, drawing together all the elements of the Marvel Universe in one Wagnerian epic.
Even the Fin made an appearance.
I liked seeing the early Captain Marvel, and his ambiguous status as a "sometimes Avenger", which would be explored by Jim Starlin later.
Fun to see this stuff. I love the Sal Buscema art here.

Kid said...

One of my favourite comics from childhood. I never read the subsequent instalments of the Kree/Skrull war until years later, and then only in b&w British reprint mags, but my memories associated with this one issue remain vivid to this day.

Comicsfan said...

I'm certain you'd enjoy the whole saga in living color, Kid--somewhere, there's a TPB with your name on it. ;)

To be honest, M.P., I was surprised at Marvel's Golden Age heroes being brought into the story as it reached its climax. It felt like it was Roy Thomas who summoned those heroes, and simply used Rick Jones as the convenient device through which to bring it about. (Who knew that the Supreme Intelligence dug comics?)

Kid said...

Oh, I've had colour reprints of the issues for a while in hardback Masterworks volumes, CF. And I note that there was a collected edition of that particular saga which I may yet buy for the sake of handiness.

dbutler16 said...

Mar-Vell's actions are par for the course for Marvel superheroes, who usually display an IQ approximating their shoe size, with the occasional exception.

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