Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"Draw!" Cries The Stranger!

One of the "strangest" battles in comics (and it has some competition), 1976's "Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!" is a bit of harmless fun on the part of writer Steve Englehart and artist Al Milgrom, while still figuring into the ongoing plot of the Supreme Intelligence which involves both Captain Marvel and his human companion, Rick Jones. And as both the title and the issue's cover make clear, the general theme of the story is taken from elements of Earth's old west: you'd best saddle up, pardners, 'cause there's a speck of trouble ahead.

Parodies of western films and serials are far from novel, having taken place for decades throughout a broad spectrum of media--the only novel aspect to them being in the way that each one is approached, though the common denominator is usually in the wink each gives to its audience. Comic books are also replete with these parodies--in fact, at the same time of this story's publication, Englehart was wrapping up another western-themed story in The Avengers, which a notice in the Captain Marvel letters page seeks to address:

I imagine this elicited a collective shrug from readers, since it's not really clear why an apology is warranted. At most the "foul-up" seems to amount to no more than an interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit.

Since the Supreme Intelligence is responsible for sending Mar-vell and Rick to this destination (and thereby setting in motion his plans for the two), at first it appears that he may have changed his oversized mind and decided to terminate them outright. But count on an old prospector named Shabby to save their hides and pull their fat out of the fire.

As we can see, it looks like Shabby has a different impression of Mar-vell than as an unidentified alien on his asteroid. From what he tells the pair, he indeed sent for a Marshall to handle "all the dadburn claim-jumpin' what's been goin' on" on this outpost. The situation is obviously absurd, and is about to become more so--but Rick reminds Mar-vell that this may be part of what the Supreme Intelligence has planned for them, so they decide to stay in Shabby's company and stick around.

Yet as closely as their destination mimics Earth's old west, it would be a struggle to speculate on what the Supreme Intelligence's game is here (though Rick is nothing short of delighted).

Both Rick and Mar-vell are able to handle Murania and his gang well enough, but it's apparent that both Milgrom and Englehart enjoyed choreographing these scenes, given the touches of authenticity they inject. That said, it's important to remember (as Mar-vell notes) that this setting is likely all for Rick's benefit, since it would carry no significance for Mar-vell--and since the goal of the Intelligence is to assimilate Rick's mind at some point, what's taking place on this asteroid is either directly or indirectly a necessary part of reaching that goal.

However, that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun in the process.

And as for the "Big Boss" that one of Murania's gang warns of, the locals later make it known to Mar-vell that they're not "lookin' for no trouble" and would prefer that Mar-vell and his "deputy" leave before the Big Boss arrives. Unfortunately, Shabby is of no help in identifying who that may be--but he nevertheless inadvertently offers the perfect lead-in for the Big Boss to make his entrance.

No, I'm not getting the Stranger's "ho ho ho" exclamation, either--though I have no doubt that it made perfect sense to Englehart on paper.

The mystery here only deepens with the sudden appearance of the Stranger--though his presence, at least, can be explained, even if a historically indifferent being such as himself has chosen to immerse himself in the customs of a bygone terran culture.

While Mar-vell isn't really being given a choice in facing down the Stranger, it seems a lopsided contest at best. Mar-vell's power and abilities are impressive, but fall far short of the Stranger's level; yet for the purposes of this story, the primary, er, draw is in seeing the two characters adopt the stance of two gunslingers facing off in the street for a duel.

Case in point: Mar-vell's opening line is priceless.

During the "shootout," it at least becomes clear to Mar-vell that the Stranger isn't an agent of the Intelligence (which would truly be going too far with the character), though that makes the Stranger no less formidable. Mar-vell's confiscated weapon proves useless against this foe, serving only to deflect from the Stranger's form and instead crack the top of the dome that holds the poison atmosphere of the asteroid at bay, forcing Rick to race to repair it. Unfortunately, the "townspeople" have become so sensitive to even the least exposure to the air that the seepage through the dome's cracks is already proving deadly to them--and, by extension, to Mar-vell.

With this fantasy/distraction now shattered for the Stranger, his threat to Mar-vell and Rick is effectively ended--and it looks like all's well that ends well for the townspeople as well as our heroes, as the two prepare to continue on. In fact, if you listen closely, you can almost hear a harmonica accompany the story's closing panels.

And Rick even gets the girl! Sort of. You'll have to pick up the issue to see why that both is and isn't the case.

Captain Marvel #42

Script: Steve Englehart
Plot/Pencils: Al Milgrom
Inks: Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

1 comment:

Jared said...

I haven't ever read this, but it seems like an odd one. The Stranger is a character I have never really found the appeal of. Like most characters introduced during the early days of X-Men, I think is he is pretty lazily designed compared to characters from other books. But it makes sense he would appear in Captain Marvel as bringing in minor characters was always Englehart's thing.

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