Writer: Brian Reed
Artists: Lee Weeks (p), Stefano Gaudiano (i), Jason Keith (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITORíS NOTE: Captain Marvel #1 arrives in stores this Wednesday, November 14.
Ariel Carmona Jr.
In an age of retro-revivals, Marvel brings back yet another character left for dead, literally. The re introduction of Captain Marvel (not the one youíre thinking of) into the mainstream Marvel universe carries with it both a convoluted back story and a challenge: Can the House of Ideas fashion an interesting read out of a B list character from long ago?
Of course, Captain Marvel is the character responsible for introducing the graphic novel to the masses, and The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin is considered in some circles among the finest examples of the form, so Marvelís move to bring back the Mar-Vell character is a big gamble.
Well, if any one can do it, Brian Reed can. The upstart but talented writer has been handling the writing chores on another Marvel character from the 70s, Carol Danvers, and has been doing a terrific job of it thus far. It seems that cosmic style storytelling is his forte, and I am pleased with the results of this introductory tale.
The justification for bringing back a character which was supposedly a victim of cancer is provided by Tony Stark early in the book when he telepathically communicates with Heather Sante explaining Marvelís brief appearance during the Civil War conflict. He points out Mar-Vell technically hasnít died yet; instead he was pushed forward in time, past the point he died from cancer. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been keeping track of him in Paris.
Reed does a good job of using the captions to convey the characterís inner feelings. This convention is used again and again in comics today, but in this issue it is especially compelling as Starlinís own words are echoed by Reedís version of the character. The conflict between dying in bed and on his back is in contrast to this Kree Warriorís sense of identity. Lee Weeks is a competent artist and his rendition of the superheroes, the human cult followers and the battle sequences are up to the task.
This is a very good introductory comic to what is sure to be an interesting character study of a super hero best known for the way he exited the Marvel universe so many years ago.
Itís hard to think of many characters more ill-suited to the po-faced misery of todayís Marvel Universe than Captain Marvel. Perhaps itís because Mar-Vell is descended indirectly from his cheerful namesake at DC, or maybe itís simply because he lived and died before the grim 'n' gritty trend kicked off, the circumstances of his own death aside. Either way, Mar-Vell seemed a bad fit when he returned during ďCivil Bore,Ē and I half-expected Marvel to ignore that important contrast and portray him as some leather-clad gun-toting space arsehole, but to be fair Brian Reed does seem to be aware of said contrast, and moreover appears to be treating it as a key point in his take on the character.
From this first issue, it looks like weíll be seeing an examination of Captain Marvelís place in, and reaction to, the darker world in which heís found himself, where former friends and colleagues act like hyper-violent cretins for no good reason. Itís a surprisingly complex and thoughtful approach that has more than a hint of irony to it; Mar-Vell is pure and untarnished and unambiguously heroic in comparison to this new world, but with his decision to ďchoose life,Ē in the words of a certain heroin-seeped Caledonian odyssey, a life-affirming choice that few would begrudge him, Mar-Vell is actually being hugely irresponsible regarding the sanctity of the timeline. Thereís a good conflict in there thatís dramatic without being superficial and obvious (unlike ďCivil BoreĒ itself), and combined with that essential distinction between the more straightforwardly heroic Mar-Vell and the absurdist dystopia the Marvel Universe has become, thereís a lot of fertile story material there for a good writer to exploit. Whether Reed is that writer remains to be seen, but heís off to a good start here, and itís worth noting that despite the introspective script, Reed largely avoids the heavy-handed and pretentious nonsense that has marred series with a similar approach, such as J. Michael Straczynskiís recent Silver Surfer series. Only when Mar-Vell ponders an old painting at the Louvre are there signs of the comic taking itself too seriously, but the moment passes soon enough.
The art team wonít be winning any awards for their work here, but itís a solid, professional job with excellent storytelling and strong characterisation, unblemished by silly colouring or bungled attempts to look like Jim Leeís work from fifteen years ago. Thereís even a hint, in the ever-so-slightly elongated anatomy of the characters, that thereís a Jim Starlin influence in Lee Weeksí linework, and I wonder if itís a deliberate choice, as itís quite fitting considering Starlinís association with Mar-Vell.
All in all, this is a strong start to a series that I didnít believe would have any direction or purpose to it. Marvel has pleasantly surprised me, as has Brian Reed, who did not impress with his work on Spider-Woman and the pointless Illuminati. Reed seems to have a sense of the titleís direction, as well as some good ideas for the character, and the comic drips with potential as a result. For the first time in a long while, Iím actually pretty confident about a new Marvel title; therefore, watch it sink within a year.
Paul Brian McCoy:
Captain Marvel is a character with quite a few links to the current Marvel Universe, so it should come as no surprise that the creative types have figured out a way to bring him back without annulling his death by cancer (originally written and illustrated by Cosmic Jim Starlin in 1982). He has a son in the Young Avengers (Hulkling), whoís half Skrull and half Kree. Thereís the current Quasar, Phyla-Vell (now headlining Annihilation: Conquest), who is the sister from an alternate reality of his son-by-way-of-cloned-DNA, Genis-Vell (who is apparently dead and in pieces, scattered throughout time???). Plus, as an added bonus, Marvel Boy has recently been retconned into existence in the regular MU, instead of being on an alternate Earth. Oh yeah, and thereís Ms. Marvel over in the Mighty Avengers. Thereís also his relationship to Elysius of the Eternals (sheís the one who impregnated herself with his cloned DNA, giving birth to Genis-Vell). Since Neil Gaimanís reworking of The Eternals, I donít know where she stands in the current Marvel Universe, but she was mentioned during the Civil War one-shot The Return. And there are probably some things Iím forgetting. Iím not actually that knowledgeable about the character, but the internet is our friend.
What Iím getting at is that Captain Mar-Vell has had a pretty big influence on the Marvel Universe, not the least of which was the impact of his death. The story of his becoming the cosmically powered Protector of the Universe and his eventual death are collected in The Life and Death of Captain Marvel. Itís a good collection, and Iíd recommend checking it out if youíre interested in the character. Granted, itís a little dated, but Starlin was just starting out, and it provides a good insight into how a master at creating interesting morally challenging stories develops those ideas. I íd further recommend tracking down the Warlock Special Edition six issue series to see Starlin revisit his Captain Marvel storyline, creating a much more effective work. Captain Mar-Vell plays a role in the conclusion of that 1977 storyline, and The Death of Captain Marvel continues the story five years later.
You might have noticed that I havenít even mentioned the book Iím supposed to be reviewing. Thereís a reason for that. Thereís really not much to say about it Ė the story, anyway. Put your spoiler goggles on, because hereís what happens in this issue. Although, to be honest, I wouldnít even consider these spoilers, since thereís nothing really surprising or exciting. Nothing that I reveal here will spoil your reading. Trust me.
Mar-Vell is back and moping around because heís supposed to be dead and his legacy didnít really amount to much, what with superheroes fighting each other and all. Tony Stark enlists a special agent, Heather Sante (who unlike the good Captain, I canít find anything about online, but apparently sheís dealt with time travel, alien life-forms, and alternate realities???), to find him in Paris. And in a throwaway line, the idea that Mar-Vell was the warden in the Negative Zone prison is denied, revising his continuity already. There also seems to be a cult forming, organized by a character named Mother Starr who had some contact with Mar-Vell during the Civil War final battle. Now they worship Mar-Vell while wearing robes modeled on his costume. And Mar-Vell has holes in his memory in what can only be described as a desperate attempt to create some sort of interest in, and forward movement for, whatever story this mini-series is trying to tell.
Oh, and apparently Mar-Vell kills a villain, seemingly with a history with him, but according to my research this character was only ever really a Spider-Man villain and is already dead (killed back in 1986). Maybe thatís on purpose? I donít know. He identifies himself by both his not-so-secret identity and his costumed name, so there should be no confusion. Heís already dead, alright. There have been a couple of other people to assume his mantle, but this guyís dead. And Mar-Vell apparently kills him again, but thatís not really clear or even given much attention. Is this supposed to be important? I just donít know, and I donít think I care.
Anyway, now heís back. Hooray. This comic is boring from start to finish, even with the big battle scene at the end. Thereís nothing in here to make me interested in following up on the character.
The art, on the other hand, is very nice. Weeks and Gaudiano work very well together, telling the story smoothly with a graceful use of layout and very detailed settings in which they ground the action; what there is of it Ė mostly this issue is standing or sitting around talking Ė even though thereís a Civil War flashback, the above mentioned apparent murder of a super-villain, and a giant robot attack Ė it really sounds like there should be some adrenaline involved in the reading of this book, but no. There really isnít. The use of light and shadow helps create a mood of serious introspection throughout the issue that looks great, but the story doesnít live up to it. As it is, Iíd be tempted to follow this series just for the art, but when Weeks and Gaudiano move out of the shadows and focus on characters in daylight, Iím not as impressed. Faces are over worked, with excess lines and awkward expressions. However, the final page shot of Captain Marvel revealing himself to New York (no, not like that, perverts) is gorgeous and really captures the best that these artists are doing in the issue.
All in all, Iíd say skip this one, unless you like really nice pen and ink work. The story is a non-starter. Go track down those other Captain Marvel books I was talking about earlier if you want a good cosmic story. This story doesnít seem destined for the stars.
Captain Marvel is one of the first superhero characters that I remember reading. Although Iíve never been a big fan of the character, one of my first ever comics was an issue of Captain Marvel (it must have been a fairly old one, because this was back in the days when he used to swap places with Rick Jones via the nega-bands), and the image of that striking costume design set against a backdrop of Kirby-esque cosmic dots was burned into my memory from a very young age. However, I never really revisited the character until I read the story of his death in Jim Starlinís classic graphic novel, and after the disappointment of Civil War: The Return, my expectations werenít high for this book. Happily, this is a more satisfying resurrection of the character than Paul Jenkinsí short story proved to be, and Iím now convinced that the concept of Mar-Vell being plucked out of the timestream prior to his death should be one which will be able to support at least a mini-series.
The issue feels as though itís mostly setup, but itís setup which is fairly significant, and it accomplishes the important task of reintroducing the character for his potential new audience. Brian Reed kicks things off with a brief recap of recent Marvel Universe continuity that sets the stage for Captain Marvelís man-out-of-time story, providing a catalogue of all the recent upheavals that will make the modern Marvel landscape such a culture shock for Mar-Vell, and getting new readers up to speed at the same time. Weíre quickly thrown back into the finale of Civil War, with Brian Reed retroactively inserting a scene between Spider-Man and Captain Marvel into the seriesí climactic battle, addressing the complaints of those readers who were upset that such an important character received such short shrift in Millarís final issue of that mini-series. Brian Reed wisely dispenses with the pro-registration affiliation that we saw in The Return, preferring to establish his Mar-Vell as a more independent and troubled soul: his disappearance from the battle to become a recluse gives him an air of mystery, and his subsequent reappearance in Paris teases readers with some hints that there is more to be revealed about the nature of Mar-Vellís return, with the added complication that he seems to have some gaps in his memories of the past.
Reed feels very comfortable with the rich tapestry of Marvel characters that he has to work with here, and he doesnít let the need to establish Captain Marvelís new status quo get in the way of spending some time on his other subplots (one involving a Paris-based operative of Tony Stark who is sent to find Mar-Vell, and another which depicts a group of religious zealots who see the returning hero as a messiah). Reed even makes time for a musing on the nature and meaning of art: itís a monologue which seems slightly out of place here but may reveal a deeper meaning in future issues, given the apparent importance of a certain painting that has beguiled Mar-Vell. In fact, if thereís any major criticism of Reedís writing, itís that we donít spend enough time with Mar-Vell himself this issue, and we donít really get to know him as a character. Since I never really followed Captain Marvel in the past, heís more of a blank slate for me than he will be for some readers, and it would have been nice to get a sense of who he is in this first issue. Still, I expect Reed to flesh Mar-Vell out more fully in the next couple of issues, and the decision that he makes in the final few pages should mean that we get to see a lot more interaction between the star of the book and the rest of the Marvel Universe soon. It should be interesting to see how he reacts to the changes that have occurred since his death (such as the superhero divisions caused by Civil War, or the fact that heís got a son running around in the Young Avengers)
Lee Weeksí art does a good job in bringing Reedís story to life, hitting a nice balance between a classic, old-fashioned style of superhero art and the more detailed and realistic sensibilities of more modern artists (an establishing shot of the Louvre is a good example of this). Weeks shows himself to be equally adept at executing the atmospheric, cosmic visuals - such as the beautiful shot of Mar-Vellís grave or the opening starscapes - as he is the more straightforward superhero stuff, treating us to a neat reprise of Civil Warís final battle which features a cracking take on Spider-Man (I wonder if Marvel can get him to work on Amazing Spider-Man at some point?). Unfortunately, much of the action in the issue is a little hollow, bearing little or no relevance to Captain Marvelís story. However, thatís more the fault of Reedís script rather than it is the solid visuals, and Weeks does his job more than adequately, providing some satisfying superhero visuals and making the in-costume Mar-Vell look very impressive whenever he appears. I also have to mention the striking cover image from Ed McGuinness: heís an artist who has never really appealed to me before, but his bold style with its exaggerated physiques is a great fit for such an iconic-looking character.
This issue is better than I expected, and even if it doesnít really get to the meat of its story just yet, it provides a solid setup and a compelling enough concept that Iíll be interested enough to keep following the series for a while yet. It isnít without its problems: the ďurban legendĒ element of Mar-Vellís return never feels like itís fully exploited, it would be nice for the big action sequences to actually mean something for the story, and Iíd like to see Reed explore Mar-Vellís character a little more in future issues. However, this is a decent enough first issue that overcomes the stigma of The Return, suggesting that there may be a place for the classic Captain Marvel in the modern Marvel Universe after all. Letís see where it goes from here.
What did you think of this book?
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