Friday, November 23, 2007

Cap's Dead, But Not the Captain!

"Nobody's dead but Bucky."

Wait, Bucky's alive? Winter Soldier? Ooookay....

In the great tradition of comic book companies bringing a long-unused character back from the dead in order to sell a few books, we here at The Latest Issue are proud to review Captain Marvel 1, also known as "Hey, that's not Billy Batson!" #1.

Actually, our good friend Mar-Vell isn't dead yet. No, the story doesn't take place before the events of Jim Starlin's The Death of Captain Marvel, back in 1982.

Or does it?

Actually, this Captain Marvel story takes place not long after the Marvel Civil War, during which a time-displaced Captain Marvel accidentally got ejected from the Negative Zone and immediately was put to work as warden of the new superhero gulag that our friend Steve of Stevereads so pleasantly reminds us exists each and every time we review a Marvel comic. Iron Man had a reason for giving Mar-Vell such a ridiculously silly assignment: He didn't want Marvel to die.


As any fan of science fiction will tell you, time travel is tricky business. Our friend Brian said so in his Sound of Thunder review on Moving Picture Trash. Change something, even the smallest thing, and you could seriously frack up the space-time continuum. Mar-Vell has already fought Nitro in the battle that caused the cancer that eventually ended his life, so he already carries this curse in his blood. He will eventually die of cancer, once he's returned to his own time. But if Mar-Vell were to take up arms in the conflicts that come naturally as a superhero, and he were to die before returning to his own time... You see where I'm going with this. Marvel doesn't want to die on his back. He wants to eventually die a warrior's death. So he abandons his post in the Negative Zone prison. And he leaves.

He disappears.

To France, where he spends his time at the Louvre looking at paintings and pondering a life that ended poorly, at least in his opinion. This lasts as long as it takes for some idiot super-villain named Cyclone to find Mar-Vell, try to make a name for himself by offing an already-dead hero, and wind up paste.

The ensuing story involved a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Heather Sante, a strange cult that worships the return of Captain Marvel, and Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man (I know he's got a movie coming out, but does IM have to be in every comic Marvel puts out these days? Avengers, Order, Thunderbolts, Penance, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, etc until I throw up), all of which is compounded by the fact that it's a scant five-issue series, a sign that the company doesn't have much faith in attracting too many new fans with this new, improved CM.

And is he really improved? The Captain Marvel who died almost 25 years ago was comfortable with his inevitable demise, knowing he'd lived a full life, the only way he knew how. This Marvel hates the idea of dying "in my bed. On my back." He wants to die in battle, an honorable death. Apparently the Kree became Klingons when I wasn't looking. It's a bit much, creating an emotional paradox where there had existed none before.

And yet we can't hate this title. We actually like it very, very much. Brian Reed (Ms. Marvel, New Avengers: Illuminati) was tabbed to write this series, and he's done a spectacular job. The dialogue is crisp, the storytelling is smooth, and it really couldn't have been done any better. Despite the inconsistencies of Marvel's character, it's really only something people who read earlier Captain Marvel would pick up on, and how many of those people are still reading comics? The artwork by Lee Weeks (Incredible Hulk) is incredible. Vast landscapes and enclosed spaces, closeup faces and action sequences, none of it looks poor in the slightest. There are a few panels with nonexistent backgrounds, but such minimalism is rare and gives the art almost an old-timey look to the not-too-recent history of comic art.

We really didn't know what to think of the return of Captain Marvel. For geeks with long memories, this should be the start to a spectacular series, even if it's one that's far too short. I fear new fans will miss this book, however, and I feel I have to urge them: Read this book! It's fantastic and shouldn't be missed by anyone!

On a side note, be sure to also check out The Death of Captain Marvel. It's old, but damn good, and you should see for yourself a tribute to one who was once right up on that pedestal with the Fantastic Four and The Avengers.


Elmo said...

I'm used to Lee Weeks doing gritty, street level stuff, but his shots of space, Saturn in particular, blow me away.

Elmo said...

Er, for those of us awaiting our deathbeds before reading Richard Dawkins, I can safely conclude that the paradox in question has been grossly inflated by Hollywood. You could wipe out entire an species or leave a whole city in the Pleistocene (smootches, Julian May) without affecting the present.

steve said...

Julian May! Excellent shout-out, Elmo! But now that she's lamentably out of print, how many people will even know who you're talking about?

I liked the issue too - and loved the artwork, of course - with only one objection. OK, TWO objections, but I've received some subtle hints that my first objection has been stated rather too many times. So I won't mention that the first thing a time-shifted Mar-vell should have done is punch a whole through Tony Stark's head.

But the other thing that bugged me was Mar-Vell off-handedly killing Cyclone. I mean, the guy's been brought back from a time (and a hair style) in his life when he wouldn't have done that under any circumstances - not even to the lousy Kree who stole his girlfriend! It's like Gianni says in his piece: retroactively dropping in things that weren't there in the first place is a kind of dirty pool.

Still, it was a great debut - can't wait for the next issue ...

Gianni said...

You hit it right on the head, Steve. I didn't blink when I first read that scene and Cyclone got wasted, but then I read The Death of Captain Marvel and suddenly I'm thinking "What the frack??"

I guess it was unavoidable, a character respawning in a new time simply CAN'T be the same he or she was before, the difference in cultures is too great for the writers to be that loyal to any past rendition of the character.

Beepy said...

Hey, Giani! Just checking in to say "Woot. Woot." Oh how I wish I read these comics and could therefore enjoy your analysis. Perhaps you boys should include me in the loop when you are passing issues back and forth.

Elmo said...

Sure, I'll bring in comics- printed on anti-snot paper.