Ms. Marvel #1
Ms. Marvel swoops onto the scene, sporting scarf and bare midriff, tossing around cars to foil a bank robbery and relying on her “Seventh Sense” to get out of — and into — trouble. There is a feeling of “just add water” with this first issue, with Ms. Marvel borrowing the costume of Captain Marvel, and the book borrowing the supporting cast of Spider-Man — Carol Danvers gets a job in the magazine division of the Daily Bugel, sparks up a friendship with Mary Jane Watson, and even rescues J. Jonah Jameson from the clutches of the Scorpion in the book’s second action sequence. But the book tries for something new, too, with Carol and Ms. Marvel unaware they are in fact the same person, and with the origin and dimension of Ms. Marvel’s powers left as a mystery for another issue. The action is by-the-book (John Buscema supposedly didn’t like drawing superhero books, and it shows here), but the script is loaded with more characterization than you’d expect, with one sequence where Carol Danvers barks down Jonah Jameson in a salary negotiation being the highlight.
Ms. Marvel would go on to enjoy a rocky career, but her debut issue was competent and readable and even aware, in it’s late-70s way, of gender issues, looking at a woman’s life in the workplace, and punctuating an action scene with a little girl declaring she wants to grow up to be a hero just like Ms. Marvel. (And where else was a Marvel kid supposed to turn? All the best female superheroes were across town, working for DC!)
- Script: Gerry Conway
- Pencils: John Buscema
- Inks: Joe Sinnott
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MS. MARVEL #1
I sampled a few issues of this newest Ms. Marvel when they hit digital about year ago, and thought it a very good book that I didn’t particularly like. After checking back in with this new re-launch, I’m a fan. Kamala Khan’s life has gotten more complicated since I saw her last — her powers are more evolved, she’s joined the Avengers (!), and it looks like it is harder than ever for her to juggle her school and personal life with her superhero duties. All of which makes for grounded and believable internal conflicts in the story of a teenage girl who changes her shape and pals around with Iron Man. The art in this issue is split between Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona (the Dreaded Deadline Doom strikes already?), but both artists are excellent, and Ian Herring’s nuanced colors hold it all together. G. Willow Wilson’s script reflects a writer that has become very confident with her subject — about half the issue is devoted to two-thirds of a love triangle which deeply concerns our hero, but she doesn’t figure in those scenes at all, save by her absence. And the rest of the issue features Ms. Marvel fighting the twin forces of a giant frog and creeping gentrification — the kind of plot you’d expect from the late, great Steve Gerber! Wilson makes them both work in this throughly delightful book.
Approachability For New Readers
There’s plenty of backstory but it doesn’t get in the way of our tale.
You bet. And I expect I’ll go back and give Ms. Marvel’s first issues a second chance, too.
Read more about Ms. Marvel at Longbox Graveyard
Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.
This week, Longbox Graveyard is pleased to welcome a new guest blogger in Dan Gvozden, an esteemed member of the Super-Blog Team-Up crew, and also the master of the extraordinarily awesome Superior Spider-Talk site (which you should visit RIGHT NOW). Dan has generously offered to fill a gap in my Spider-Man knowledge by counting down the Top 10 Loves of Peter Parker. Even a Spidey tyro such as myself can think of two names to put on Spidey’s list … but filling out a full ten requires a genuine Web-Head Authority! And so, without further ado, I present the Superior Spider-Talker himself, Dynamic Dan Gvozden!
We all know the “Parker Luck” and how it sets out to make every aspect of Peter Parker’s life as Spider-Man into a trip down misery lane. It is the bedrock of what makes Peter such an enduring and enjoyable character and it also provides the many obstacles that he will eventually have to overcome as part of his eternal struggle. If there is one struggle that seems to be ongoing for Peter Parker it is in his dating and romantic life.
If superheroes are really just soap operas printed on a page with a limited color set, Peter has the soapiest life of them all. Sure the “Parker Luck” plagues his relationships, but for a guy with such bad luck he sure isn’t in short supply of women in his life. Whether it be for a single date, a roll in the hay, or a long-term romance, I present to you my Top 10 Loves of Peter Parker:
10 Sara Bailey
Sara who? Do you mean that Spider-Man had a relationship with Jean Grey’s deceased sister?
No. Sara Bailey is a character who was introduced in Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine who has made my list for one reason alone, she and Peter Parker were engaged. You see, after getting sent back in time to the Cretaceous Era with Wolverine, a very bearded Peter Parker (it’s a good look) begins to construct sculptures of a woman who appears to him in his dreams. This woman would turn out to be Sara Bailey.
Peter and Wolverine, in present time, attempted to stop a villain named Orb — his head is a giant eyeball — from robbing a bank but accidentally messed around with some time diamonds. These diamonds send them blasting through time, again and again, until they discover that Mojo has been manipulating them for a television show he’s running. Mojo also implanted the memories of a woman that appear in Peter’s head so that he might have a love interest in Mojo’s show.
After getting transported to the 18th century, Spider-Man and Wolverine become cowboys and Native Americans, respectively, and blood brothers. Peter has taken one of the time diamonds and fashioned an engagement ring out of it for Sara, whom he has fallen in love with in the three years that they have been abandoned in this timeline. Eventually the ring reactivates and sends the three back to the present where Peter reunites with Sara, a bank teller from the original heist they were meant to stop, only to find out she doesn’t remember him at all. The story ends with Sara discovering the archaeological remains of the statues Peter built for her with Peter sitting by the stump of the tree where both he and Sara once carved their names. Oh, that “Parker Luck!”
9 Liz Allan
Liz is one of the first of Spider-Man’s supporting cast and one of the first romantic interests for Peter. She first appears in Amazing Fantasy #15 but isn’t named until Amazing Spider-Man #4 where Peter expresses his desires towards Liz. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for Peter, she is Flash Thompson’s girlfriend at the time and thinks next to nothing of Peter. However, in Amazing Spider-Man #12 Liz gains respect for Peter when he is unmasked by Doctor Octopus and is revealed to be a brave young lad, rather than just some “bookworm.”
What follows is a madcap struggle between Betty Brant and Liz Allan for Peter’s affection, oftentimes in front of Flash who Liz is still dating. Peter thinks Liz is only interested in him now that he’s dating Betty Brant, and Betty sees Liz as just another airhead out to steal her boyfriend away from her. Liz finally admits her full feelings for Peter at graduation before running away to care for her brother Max Raxton, the Molten Man. Looks like it wasn’t meant to last, but Liz’s feelings for Peter are notable as they form one of the first romantic dramas he ever was involved in.
8 Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers)
In Ms. Marvel #34, Carol Danvers is running away from some government cronies’ gunfire, as she’s lost her powers, and Spider-Man swings in for the save. The two bicker but Peter, without consciously realizing it, asks Carol out on a date. Some times goes by and in Ms. Marvel #47 we get to see “The Amazing Spider-Date.”
The two decide to go to a fancy restaurant, with Carol paying for dinner due to Peter’s lack of money (yikes). The two banter about superheroics for a little while, Norman Osborn happens to be hunting them down at the time, and then the date goes stale, as most first dates have that awkward tendency to do. However, they eventually encounter just the thing to spice up their night … armed thugs.
The two leap into action and decide to forgo the fancy restaurant for a chilidog from a street vendor. Not much more happens with this relationship except for in the one-shot Siege: Spider-Man where the Venom symbiote takes over Ms. Marvel’s body and tells Spider-Man about her emotions towards him. No writer, other than these issues’ writer Brian Reed, has brought up this relationship again so I guess that it was always meant to be short-lived.
7 Debra Whitman
Deb Whitman first appeared in Spectacular Spider-Man #36 as the secretary at Empire State University’s Graduate School Professor, Morris Sloan. She’s one of the more average Spider-Man love interests, as she wasn’t portrayed as a supermodel or as a person with a particularly strong personality. It made her a stronger character as a result and one with an interesting past.
Her history informed much of her relationship with Peter Parker, who at the time was growing as a character in both confidence and in his career as a crime-fighter. Deb had been abused by her previous husband, who she separated from but never fully divorced, but remained a weak and easily pushed aside personality. This was often how Peter would treat her, running out on their dates more than any other of his love interests. Peter’s actions towards her are upsetting at best and downright emotionally abusive at worst. Debra threw herself at Peter issue after issue only to have him push her aside.
It took forever for Debra to grow a backbone but when she finally did she began to date her old college boyfriend, Biff Rifkin. It was the first time that readers would begin to root for another man to get Peter’s girl, as he wasn’t deserving of Debra’s affection. Biff treated her well and would spend all the time that she needed out of a relationship.
This would have been a fitting end to her character but the writers took a path that I’ve always considered as inappropriate. In Spectacular Spider-Man #68 she deduces that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and goes running to tell her shrink. This begins a complicated series of mind-games where her shrink convinces Peter to dress up as Spider-Man and confess to her that he is Spider-Man. Deb, who is being portrayed as a “typical crazy woman,” realizes how crazy it is that Peter appears to be Spider-Man, decides that she must have made it up in her mind and boards the first bus out of town.
Debbie wasn’t seen for years until Peter unmasked during “Civil War.” Once Deb hears this news she publishes a book called “TWO FACED: How Spider-Man Ruined My Life.” She seems upset about the book and later reveals that with her mother being sick she needed to exaggerate the details in order to sell more copies. Eventually she would tell the truth to the Daily Globe. Truth be told, it looks like these two never had a shot at making this whole thing work … except this time its Peter’s fault.
6 Carlie Cooper
Carlie Cooper appeared almost out of thin air at the beginning of “Brand New Day” and seemed to be designed to be Peter’s newest girlfriend, despite her short time dating Vin Gonzales. She was good friends with Lily Hollister, Harry Osborn’s girlfriend the time (who would later go on to kiss Peter Parker and be a Goblin), and quickly became a key part of Spider-Man’s supporting cast. This appearance from thin air could be why fans have had such a negative reaction to Carlie, an officer with the New York Police Department’s Crime Scene Unit.
I’ve always liked Carlie as a character because she has what many of Spider-Man’s love interests don’t, particularly Deb Whitman: a backbone. When Peter can’t find the courage to ask her out she gives him an ultimatum that gets him to finally admit his feelings and ask her out. It is this attitude that makes it totally appropriate that she joins a roller derby group as “Crusher Carlie.”
When “Big Time” begins Peter and Carlie have been dating for awhile and are discussing the idea of Carlie moving in with him, with her deciding that it is probably too early in their relationship.
Peter never tells Carlie that he is Spider-Man and considers doing it for quite some time. With Peter joining the Future Foundation, after the perceived death of the Human Torch, he begins to get a bit overextended and tells her that his trips are business trips for his new employer Horizon Labs. When Carlie finds out this isn’t true she gets angry and drunk and decides to get a Goblin tattoo to make Peter mad, as she knows that he killed Peter’s ex-girlfriend. Luckily she relents and instead gets a Spider-Man tattoo, which she worries, will complicate her relationship with Peter.
Carlie slowly begins to piece together Peter’s relationship with Spider-Man and confronts him about it, offering Peter the perfect opportunity to come clean to the woman he is dating. However, he chooses to lie to her again … well … a white lie. He tells her that he builds all of Spider-Man’s technology, which is technically true.
Shortly afterwards she is turned into a giant spider, as part of “Spider-Island,” and Peter quickly forgets about her and returns to Mary Jane’s side. His callous disregard for her wellbeing upsets her and leads her to figure out that he is Spider-Man. This is when Carlie goes from being a typical love interest to one that I respect quite a bit. Instead of allowing Peter to apologize and make excuses she flat out dumps him. I loved this moment as Peter totally deserved it and it allowed a woman to have a powerful moment in a Spider-Man book, an event that is unfortunately all-too-rare.
The two have stomached a professional relationship and Carlie has confided in Mary Jane, as the two are the only civilians who know Peter’s secret. Now she’s just been cured of the Goblin Serum and Peter’s body has been taken over by Doctor Octopus so who knows what’s in store for Peter and Carlie. No matter how things shape up it doesn’t appear that romance lies in the future for these two.
With the preliminaries taken care of, Dan will return to Longbox Graveyard next week to count down the rest of Peter Parker’s Top 10 Loves! We will see you back here next week, and in the meantime, please join me in thanking Dan for his contribution to Longbox Graveyard … and be sure to visit Dan’s site — Superior Spider-Talk — where you will find more Spider-Man features and podcasts than you can shake a web-shooter at!
(And be sure to let us know what you think of Dan’s list so far, in the comments section, below!)
NEXT WEEK: #128 Top 10 Loves of Peter Parker (Part 2)
LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS
- Top Ten Instagram Superheroes
- Top Ten Superhero Lairs
- Top Ten Manliest Superheroes
- Top Ten Longbox Graveyard Articles (Year One!)
- Superhero Music Top Ten
- Top Single Issue Stories
- Top 1o Loves of Peter Parker (Part 1)
- Top 10 Loves of Peter Parker (Part 2)
- Top Ten Marvel Comics Characters
- Top Ten DC Comics Characters
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part I)
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part II)
- Top Ten Captain America Villains
- Spider-Man’s Bottom 10 Bronze Age Bums
- Top Ten Superhero Spoonerisms
- Top 5 Captain America Graphic Novels You Can Actually Buy (Sometimes), Read, And Enjoy!
I’ve been on a Captain Marvel kick. Earlier this month, I wrote about Jim Starlin‘s swan song in Captain Marvel #34 for my Dollar Box column at StashMyComics.com, and one of my first articles here at Longbox Graveyard was on Starlin’s full Captain Marvel run in the 1970s. But what has most interested me recently is the original Marvel Comics take on Mar-Vell … the stranger from Kree in the funky old white-and-green uniform who first came to earth in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #12, in 1967.
I shouldn’t be nostalgic for this character. This isn’t “my” Captain Marvel, as I came to the character well after Marv had adopted his more-familiar red-and-blue cosmic space togs:
I really can’t defend my affection for the original Mar-Vell. I think his 1950s space aesthetic look is retro-cool (and Neal Adams agrees) …
… but by any measure this is a pretty hopeless character. Marvel’s Captain Marvel was published only to assert a trademark claim after rights to the original Captain Marvel, published by bankrupt Fawcett Comics, were coming up for renewal. Only the need to assert control over that name has kept the character around this past (near) half-century, through a series of cancellations and revolving creative teams. In fact, the character might be best known for his death!
But I come here not to bury Captain Marvel, but to praise him!
If you look at this character in the rear-view mirror AND you squint just the right way AND you exclude some of his less-inspiring adventures, you kinda-sorta arrive at one of the few genuinely complete character arcs in superhero comics. In a sum-of-the-parts equation — and completely by accident — Captain Marvel backs into being a mature and well-rounded fictional character, with a beginning, a middle, and an end; victories and defeats, loves and losses, significant transformation and a meaningful death. This unlikeliest of comic book characters — himself little more than a walking trademark case — has by strange twist of publication fate avoided the curse of the “eternal now” imposed on these ultimately-unchanging heroes of ours, some of whom have been in print as twenty-something-year-old crime fighters for seventy-five years or more.
We’re not talking Moby Dick here. I’m making my case for Captain Marvel — like all the comics I review at Longbox Graveyard — against the backdrop of other superhero comics of the past century, not against the timeless classics of world literature. But here in our four-color subculture I do think this tertiary character of Captain Marvel deserves greater study and respect. He’ll never be a Batman or a Superman or a Spider-Man, and I doubt he’ll ever get screen time in a Marvel movie (though with Rocket Raccoon on the way, stranger things have happened), but I do think Mar-Vell is a more complex and worthy figure than we’ve given him credit for, and I’m going to tell you why.
Sorting out this character’s powers and history is above my pay grade, but I will try.
We first encounter our hero as part of a Kree response team tasked with finding out how one of their innumerable sentries had gotten whacked back in issue #64 of Fantastic Four. In this, the basic plot of Captain Marvel borrows from a classic science fiction trope — the tale of the super-advanced alien race keeping tabs on earth’s development, which we’ve seen in pictures as diverse as The Day The Earth Stood Still and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Kree are militaristic, imperialistic, paranoid, and (to judge by our hero’s murderous crew) eager to abuse their authority when far from the home office — early issues of Captain Marvel make much of the Captain’s superior, Colonel Yon-Rogg, trying to get Marvel killed so he can make time with Marv’s lover, the beautiful ship’s medic, Una.
with friends like these …
It’s worth saying something about our hero’s name. The book is called Captain Marvel, but the character is Mar-Vell, a Captain in the Kree military. Yeah, I know, it’s a real groaner, but it gets (a little) easier the more you say it. Aside from providing a convenient reason for our hero to have a trademarked name, Mar-Vell also conjures images of another strange visitor from another planet who becomes a defender of Earth — Kal-El, better known as Superman. Like Superman, Marvel enjoys enhanced strength and leaping abilities thanks to Earth’s reduced gravity. Confusingly, he also has a jet belt (but I thought he could leap tall buildings …?), and a “Kree battle suit” that helps him absorb damage. His signature weapon is the “Uni-Beam,” which is a laser, basically, though scripter Roy Thomas would later characterize it as a special “lens” that could channel all kinds of light effects, maybe groping towards something like the eponymous device from E.E. Doc Smith’s 1930s Lensman science fiction pulp series.
Mar-Vell is also weakened by exposure to Earth’s atmosphere, and he has to gobble down potions once every couple hours or he’ll suffocate like a fish out of water, and there are other wrinkles that are too tedious to mention, and also unimportant, because this character’s abilities and powers would prove ever-changing as subsequent creative teams re-built him on the fly. What is important about these early stories is what they establish about Mar-Vell — that he is a Kree war hero who loves his homeland but is also a man apart in that he does not blindly follow orders, and has compassion for the people of Earth. He has a keen tactical mind, and he’s a man of honor who respects the chain of command, even when his immediate commander is an incompetent dolt deliberately trying to get him killed.
Mar-Vell is also a bit of a fool when it comes to politics, letting himself get railroaded into a sham trial where he is judged guilty of treason against the Kree race, then becoming a pawn of Ronan the Accuser in his plot to overthrow the Kree Supreme Intelligence. The stories can be tough sledding to read today, but in retrospect they serve to explain why the loyal Kree Captain Marvel first turns against his home planet, then later comes to reject his militaristic ethos entirely when he achieves enlightenment during a mystical transformation in issue #29.
But that is getting ahead of ourselves, as Marv still has a series of lesser transformations to experience, including a new Gil Kane-designed costume, and blast of radiation that confines him to the Negative Zone, which he can escape only by clashing together the Nega-Bands on his wrists, and changing places with his Earth-born sidekick, Rick Jones (late of sidekicking it up with the likes of Captain America and The Hulk).
My defense of this character is starting to argue against itself, with sentences like that last, but these are comic books and external transformations like new costumes and powers are a big deal. The gimmick of linking Captain Marvel with Rick Jones also harkened to the relationship between the original Fawcett Captain Marvel and Billy Batson, while making Marvel a prisoner of the Negative Zone was a more actionable and dramatic weakness than the hoary old gotta-drink-my-atmosphere-potion liability. By fits and starts, Mar-Vell was transforming into a capable superhero who was no longer a captive of his heritage, his equipment, or his adopted home, and who was now able to roam the spaceways and chart his own destiny in life.
this never happened, but it is one of several cross-company superhero showdowns you can see at the blog of this Simpsons artist
Not all of Marv’s transformations are external. His interior life is also one of change. His romance with Una ends in her death, caught in the crossfire of Mar-Vell’s betrayal by his Kree masters, providing an early shadow of tragedy for a hero who will be characterized in many ways by the things he has lost. One-by-one, Mar-Vell’s identity is stripped away — his rank, his heritage, his homeland, his reputation are all lost.
A two-year period of cancellation of Captain Marvel between issues #21 and #22 saw Marv better integrated into the rest of the Marvel universe through guest appearances, most notably at the center of the Kree-Skrull war, one of the first great Marvel Comics cross-overs (and which I wrote about here). But it is when the character returns in his own book that he becomes something special, especially when Jim Starlin assumes full creative duties with issue #27.
I’ve already written about Starlin’s Captain Marvel, and while I was a bit dismissive of the stories, I didn’t mean to be dismissive of what they meant. The issues from this era are for the most part energetic and stylish superhero fist operas, characterized by Starlin’s emerging talents as a comic book storyteller, but they are also notable for the development of Thanos as an A-list Marvel villain, and for Mar-Vell’s transformation into a “cosmically aware” warrior in the cause of life and balance in the universe.
The “Cosmic Awareness” Mar-Vell gains in issue #29 of his book is an ill-defined concept, and not even Jim Starlin seems to know entirely what it means. As I noted in my review, Mar-Vell mostly demonstrates his enlightenment by admonishing other characters for their violent ways (right before he punches them in the mouth). Like most every other element of my argument that Captain Marvel is greater than the sum-of-his-parts, this part doesn’t hold up well to individual scrutiny. But what’s important here is not what happened in the books themselves so much as where the ideas would lead — by making Marv an enlightened guardian of the universe, Jim Starlin opted Captain Marvel out of the common superhero rat race and set him on an inevitable path toward martyrdom.
The path wasn’t inevitable at the time, of course — Captain Marvel still had thirty-odd issues of largely-forgettable superhero stories to endure before the book was cancelled in 1979. These issues are distinguished mostly by Marv firmly separating himself from the Kree and (near the end) meeting his second great love, Elysius, but it would be in death where Captain Marvel became immortal.
the Death of Captain Marvel, by Jim Starlin (after Michelangelo!)
With Captain Marvel cancelled, but a need to periodically refresh that trademark defense, Marvel brought Marv back one more time for Jim Starlin’s Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel in 1982. Following on from the events in the final issue of his Captain Marvel run that Starlin had created eight years before, The Death of Captain Marvel was an at-times maudlin and ruminating tale that followed Marv through his last days as he succumbed to cancer. It is a touching story, even after all these years, and it is made even more significant by the degree of admiration and respect shown to Captain Marvel by seemingly every other Marvel character, who appear in the story to pay their final respects.
Captain Marvel’s enlightenment is completed and his tale comes to an end in a memorable climax, where Captain Marvel and his greatest foe, Thanos, are at last in accord in their embrace of Death.
What makes Captain Marvel’s death so poignant is not only that it proved permanent (more-or-less) these past three decades, but that it marked the kind of resolution and final transformation rarely granted to characters in the continuous publication format of comic books. The trademark-enforcing title of “Captain Marvel” has been taken up by other characters since Mar-Vell’s death (at the present time it is held by Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel, who is another character for which I have indefensible affection), but aside from a few cameo flashbacks or spirit appearances, the man who was Mar-Vell has remained dead, and his story can be appreciated as a completed whole.
Carol Danvers takes on the mantle in Captain Marvel #1
And what a whole it is … though you have to stand back from the tapestry to really appreciate it. As I’ve let on in this conspectus, most individual issues of Captain Marvel don’t bear close scrutiny. But taken as a whole, they are a Marvel Comics accidental masterpiece. Here we have a hero who is the product of an evil and corrupt military machine, who betrays the world of his birth to protect the people he was tasked to destroy. We see Mar-Vell as patriot, traitor, ex-patriot, and a citizen of the universe as his life evolves. He becomes a great and respected hero, and transcends the normal brotherhood of superpowered champions through his enlightenment, becoming a cosmic entity and protector of the universe, a nearly-omnipotent being who loses his last battle with a very human disease. He has great loves — and great losses — in his life, and about the only aspect of life Mar-Vell does not experience is raising children (though Marvel Comics would find ways to posthumously continue his line).
And so out of this holocaust of trademarks, changing costumes, new powers, and rotating creators emerges a hero. His faults are many (and really, I can’t recommend many issues of Captain Marvel itself), but his achievements are visible in the mosaic of his existence, the product of many hands and no definitive plan. Captain Marvel matters — maybe because nobody really tried to make him mean anything at all.
I miss him! And I like it that way. Returning Mar-Vell to life couldn’t help but diminish his legend. He is my favorite hero I hope to never see again … except in the yellowing old pages of the largely-forgotten comics I write about each week here at Longbox Graveyard. Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts on Mar-Vell (or your own unlikely-yet-favorite heroes) in the comments section, below.