Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel Vol. 1 (1967-69/2013)
Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Don Heck
Collecting Marvel Super-Heroes #12-13, Captain Marvel #1-9
Trade Paperback, 246 pages, Marvel Comics
Retail price $24.99
In late 1967, Stan Lee handed Roy Thomas the “assignment” of writing the tales of a new character (of sorts) named Captain Marvel. But, as most comics fans know, Captain Marvel had been bounced around for many years, the subject of much controversy as to who really owned that character and his name. (all of which is explained in the Roy Thomas introduction.)
Fortunately, Thomas had learned a thing or two from Lee, including how to plot an interesting story, how to create subplots, the creation/adaptation of not one, but multiple alien races, and every now and then, a little romance (if not love triangles). Thomas took Lee’s own idea of an alien race called the Kree from the pages of the Fantastic Four (issues #64-65, to be exact) and developed it into a character named Mar-Vell, a member of the Kree who has come to Earth perhaps to save it, perhaps to destroy it. Thomas adds a little complexity into the mix by making Mar-Vell’s superior officer, Yon-Rogg, a man plotting to kill Mar-Vell and steal away his girlfriend, Medic Una. (I’m not making these names up, honest!)
While the names may sound ridiculous, Thomas’s stories create tension on multiple levels with Mar-Vell trying to survive attacks by Yon-Rogg, keeping his Earth identity a secret from Carol Danvers (head of security for a missile base), and ultimately to find out whether or not Earth should be punished for destroying a Kree sentry. While the fight scenes are pretty standard (and sometimes sub-standard) for the time, Thomas keeps things moving while Gene Colan’s art elevates the book to near-greatness, at least for the first six stories. (Thomas and Colan yield to the team of Arnold Drake and Don Heck [inked by Vince Colletta] starting with Captain Marvel #5.) Colan was a master at portraying the dark sides of characters wrestling with moral ambiguity. You see it a lot in the way he draws eyes, frequently hiding the irises, but also in his characters’ body language and point-of-view angles. If nothing else, reading this collection makes me want to seek out all of Colan’s work.
Yet the Drake/Heck combination works well also; I have no quibbles with their product. The entire collection is one large story arc, something rather unusual for an untried character at the time. There’s much, much more to say about Captain Marvel and the directions he took after this volume, but that story will have to wait until I’ve read Volume 2. If you’re a fan of Silver Age superheroes, you really can’t miss with this first volume of Captain Marvel.