Monday, June 24, 2013

Titanic Troubles, Part 4: Captain Marvel 33

Captain Marvel #33 (July 1974)
"The God Himself!"
Steve Englehart/Jim Starlin-Starlin/Klaus Janson

Doug:  Words?  You say the words are more important in a funnybook than the pictures?  Well then, you've come to the right place today, as Silver-Tongued Steve Englehart takes over the wordsmithing chores.  Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle -- but this is a lot of words!

Karen: You ain't kidding. I think I remarked to Doug in one of our emails a few weeks ago that this issue felt like a giant-size book written by Roy Thomas! It's just chock full of words. Even the previous issue was pretty heavy in this area, but Englehart manages to blow it out of the water.

Doug:  Karen and I have said on numerous occasions that we're not going to just scan comic pages for the sake of scanning them; however, in this case we'll make an exception because a) it's so danged long, it'd take me two long paragraphs to summarize anyway, and b) Englehart really does do a nice job of encapsulating about a year's worth of plotlines in just two pages.  And Jim Starlin's pictures aren't bad, either!  So, gaze if you will below on pages 2 and 3 of today's issue.  I think you'll agree that it's really a neat bow on what has gone before, leading us up to the material we've been covering this month on the BAB.

Karen: Basically, if you'd never read an issue of Captain Marvel before, those two pages would tell you all you needed to know to follow the story! Starlin makes some unusual coloring choices on the second page of the recap -the top series of panels are all in reds and oranges, the middle series is pastels, and the bottom is green hues. It all works but it's noticeably different from your standard coloring of the day. In fact, the coloring of the entire book looks pretty gorgeous.

Doug:  Now, after that, what a way to follow it up but with a beautiful 1/2 splash page that serves as the final bridge to "current" events.  Rick Jones, faced by a raging mad Thanos at the conclusion of Captain Marvel #32, bangs the nega-bands together and brings forth the Captain himself to do physical battle with the mad Titan.  Mar-Vell engages his enemy, who as Karen remarked two weeks ago is about 12-feet tall!  The Captain's blow barely moves the giant, who returns a ferocious assault of punches, rays, and more punches.  But just as he's about to finish Mar-Vell, Thanos is distracted by one of the ships from his space fleet crashing to Earth (see last week's review of Avengers #125).  He smugly remarks to himself that the Avengers have taken his bait.  His attention now drawn away, Thanos extinguishes the blaze within which he and Mar-Vell had done combat, and leaves.  Captain Marvel lies prone, until he hears a voice -- the holographic image of ISAAC.  The manifestation of Titan's computer system records that Mar-Vell was easily defeated, which the Captain begins to contest.  As they talk, ISAAC chastises the Kree warrior somewhat, asking him if he does not know that the only way to counteract the power of the cosmic cube is with cosmic awareness -- which Mar-Vell possesses.

Karen: Thanos batters Mar-Vell mercilessly. It's just no contest. Seeing that, you can't help but wonder how Thanos will be beaten. But it becomes clear that his space assault was not what it seemed. I also like seeing Mar-Vell's frustration here. He really doesn't know what he's going to do to beat Thanos, but he knows he has to try.

Doug:  I'll admit to being a bit stumped by the next part of the story.  We've remarked throughout this series of reviews that omnipotent villains do everyone a service by not just blotting out reality.  I suppose even gods need their leisure, and delaying the seeming-inevitable must be a part of that.  We flash back to the end of the aforementioned Avengers #125, where Thanos lurks on the roof of Avengers Mansion, watching Earth's Mightiest Heroes disembark their crafts.  And then he says to himself that of which I'm unsure (motive and manifestation, I guess) -- he says that he has shifted the entire planet Earth into a space/time continuum one heartbeat ahead of normal, and that the Avengers are now out-of-sync with the planet, effectively living between the seconds.  Say what?

Karen: I'll admit, I have no good answer for you regarding why Thanos would go to so much trouble to take the Avengers out of the picture. Surely he could have just put them all in a stasis field (as he had before) or sent them a billion light years from Earth, or simply destroyed them with a thought. Why he would bother to go to such an extravagant plan makes no sense, other than the idea that he wanted to toy with them. Actually, it would make more sense if the Avengers could see what was transpiring but were helpless to do anything about it. But other than Mantis, who we'll get to, I'm not sure they really knew what was happening.

Doug:  On Titan, Mentor has nursed Moondragon back to health, and takes her to see what is in a prison -- 17 survivors of Thanos' assault on Titan.  Mentor's anger towards his mad son boils, and he voices that he wishes Thanos be crushed!  Back on Earth, Captain Marvel picks up the cosmic cube and begins to try to formulate his next move.  Suddenly he is aware of another presence in the room, when Mantis appears to him in the form of a wraith!  She tells that while she possesses complete control of mind and body, she and her teammates will be of no use to Mar-Vell.  This isn't going to be easy...

Karen: Seventeen Titans left from the 114 who had survived Thanos' first attack on Titan years prior. You have to wonder how Mentor could allow Thanos to go free after the first attack on Titan, but then, he was his son. I know we've both expressed some annoyance with Mantis in the past, but she was obviously Englehart's darling and he manages to work her into the story here. Although she does little more than provide a sounding board for a Mar-Vell that's about at the end of his wits. I thought it was interesting that rather than have Mar-Vell and Rick discuss what to do via the link they share, Rick was out of the picture for this final issue and Mantis took on that role. The Captain is really in the depths of despair once he hears that the Avengers will not be able to help him; "One by one, my hopes are being stripped from me - soon I'll stand naked and alone- and soon I must meet Thanos -for the final time!"

Doug:  Death appears, and Thanos continues to court her.  She looks to the sky, however, and Drax the Destroyer returns, pledging once more to exterminate the mad god.  He attacks, and Captain Marvel soon joins the fray.  I felt that there was a compliment paid to both warriors when Thanos gave up his humanoid form and reverted to his "spirit in the sky" mode.  The three combatants fight tooth-and-nail, with Thanos pulling a stunt somewhat akin to the unbelievability of ol' Hercules towing Manhattan island back into place (Marvel Team-Up #28, which we some day must review!) -- he uproots a skyscraper and hurtles it after the fleeing Drax and Mar-Vell!  And nothing falls apart!  Wow!  Drax turns on the projectile, however, and shatters it with one punch -- now that's power.  Mar-Vell tells his ally to cover him -- he has an idea.  Landing back on the roof where he'd seen Mantis, Mar-Vell finds that she and ISAAC are there.  The three of them talk, and come to the conclusion that Thanos, fancying himself a god, can only be a god if he is worshiped.  Since all who know him fear him and wish him dead, his power must then not be natural but only from the cosmic cube.

Karen: Every time we see the Destroyer in this saga it is pure excitement! Drax has one goal, one purpose in life: to destroy Thanos! He goes at this with relentless fury. Starlin seems to really throw everything he has in to these scenes -the art bursts from the pages. And of course, when Thanos throws a building at them, it holds together -he's a god! He wouldn't be much of a deity if he couldn't pull that off. The theory developed by Mar-Vell, Mantis, and ISAAC doesn't really hold up for me -what about Thor or Odin? Where are their worshipers? But perhaps since they once had worshipers, they were already empowered. I like the idea though -it has sort of a Twilight Zone feel to it.

Doug:  But, Thanos (being omniscient, you now), suddenly turns his attention to the rooftop and attacks.  The assault forces Mar-Vell to drop the cube; as he dives for it, Thanos warps reality in an effort to disorient his foe.  He then does what he most likely should have done all along -- murder Captain Marvel.  Mar-Vell begins to age rapidly, but as he does he takes his last lifeforce and hurls his body toward the cube.  With one big karate chop, Captain Marvel crushes the cube.  Instantly, Thanos blinks out of existence, and we see Death... celebrate?

Karen: Thanos' attack on Mar-Vell seems genuinely threatening. The panels that show the Captain aging are very effective; there's a feeling of suspense as he brings his withered hand up to strike the cube. The sequence of panels on the next page, showing Death going from beautiful woman to cackling skull are also smart story-telling.

Doug:  Back on the rooftop, things slowly begin to return to normal.  Steve Englehart, for all the kidding I was giving him at the top, really seals the deal with his script on the last page.  I won't put a stain on it with my own words -- as you can see, it's presented in its entirety below.  It's really a fantastic page.

Karen: There have been times where we (or other folks around here) have questioned some of Englehart's work, such as West Coast Avengers.But this page is an example of why Englehart might very well have been the best writer of the Bronze Age. The man had a way with words, and was one of the best at conveying emotion.

Doug:  To my partner, I say "thanks!" for scheduling this four-pack of cosmic comics.  I had only previously read Avengers #125, and it's somewhat out-of-context without the two bookend CM issues.  And as a middler-not-a-hater on cosmic stories, I had a blast.  This was really well done and top-notch talent-wise.  I enjoyed Jim Starlin's art throughout, and we got a very nice treat in seeing his pencils embellished by Joe Sinnott, Dan Green, and Klaus Janson.  I'll put that threesome up against just about any other threesome, at least as this played out in June.  To say that the entire plot (of course going back several issues before we picked up the trail) was grandiose would be an understatement.  Just a really well-executed, fun, slice of Bronze Age comics reading glory.

Karen: I had a blast revisiting these books and doing the reviews with my partner. I'm very happy that he enjoyed them and glad that they got such positive response from all of you. And I can't wait to jump on to the two 'biggies' -Avengers Annual 7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2!


Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, yeah, rub in the fact that I'm currently reading these stories in a b&w Essentials book. Actually, though, thanks for posting those pages - I obviously had no idea Starlin changed the coloring schemes in those initial pages. Tres cool.

As for the issue itself, I think it's a very satisfying conclusion to the whole story. And I wasn't too bothered by the weaker aspects, e.g. an apparently omnipotent Thanos doing weird things like putting the Avengers out of phase with time, etc. Even the building maintaining structural integrity made sense to me, as I figured Thanos was keeping it together by force of will.
Also, loved Drax here. Pretty much love him everywhere; I first saw him in those much later issues of Captain Marvel (when Broderick was doing the art) and I loved him from the start, so I thoroughly enjoyed these early appearances.

Anyway, I'll just conclude by saying I thoroughly enjoyed your reviews of these stories, thanks for posting them, and thanks for giving me an excuse to read this outstanding story.

p.s. given your upcoming reviews of those two annuals, I'm wondering if I should re-read the entire Warlock saga or just go back and read the two annuals and see what that's like. Decisions, decisions...

Doug said...

Edo --

From one who is a Starlin novice (for the most part), I would say that I was able to enjoy the two Annuals we have coming up. However, had I a more extensive knowledge of the minutiae of Adam Warlock, Mar-Vell, and Thanos, I think I would have enjoyed them more. Just having read some of Karen's comments on Avengers Annual #7 (we are finishing the review early this week), she's pretty giddy; I hope I come across as really liking it, but you'll find her fully invested and rewarded.

Hope that helps (in other words, read some Warlock!)!


Anonymous said...

My first introduction to Starlin and this whole epic was the Avengers annual...I was maybe eight years old and saw it on a spinner rack in a drug store and nagged my Ma to buy it for me.
But the dense, mysterious backstory and the dynamic art led me to make a personal vow to someday get all the back issues, which I did, much later, when I was sort of grown up.
Starlin's run on C.M was classic, but I thought his run on Warlock was even better, and the writing and artwork on those two annuals...
my favorite comics. Thanks for showing this stuff here.

david_b said...

Strongly agreed on all counts.

As mentioned before, I tumbled into the Thanos saga with MarVell ish 28 (searching for all things Avengers when I first started collecting..).

This issue is near perfection.

I'm getting through the Thanos/Avengers TPB now, trying to follow the final Warlock chapters, but ish 33 works on several levels very effectively..: recap, action, movement of story, motives, you name it.

And it does it with LOTS of words (already mentioned..), climbing towards stratospheric, 'MacGregor-Jungle Action' levels. Yet the art and panel work add a rhythmic flow to the action and narration. Hate to use the well overused 'space opera' to describe, but you literally have a 'cosmic symphony' in motion going on here.

For those bracketers who didn't like Starlin overtaking Kirby in the Bronze..., it's hard to argue this. I STILL wish Starlin would have said 'yes' to taking over the FF during this time, just imagine how this would have played through..??

Nope, the Avengers were picked to gueststar in this fantastic intergalactic tale, unquestionably topping the Kree-Skrull War.

As mentioned, I love the pace of this story, reaching fantastic levels, then settling back down to those somber, near wordless panels on the memorable last page/epilogue. I LOVE the depth of expressions on Mantis and the Avengers. Some are blank, others reflect new depths of cosmic understanding.

No words were needed.

Us readers are left just as speechless.

Karen said...

"Giddy?" Well, I guess that's a pretty apt description. I really love these books. I much prefer this storyline, and the two annuals, over the Infinity Gauntlet. I just think it's a better story all around, and I like Starlin's art better.

Doug said...

Like a schoolgirl... ;)


PS: As I said a few reviews ago, I am a convert. I really want to read the entire Thanos tpb, and I envy David B. for having done so!

david_b said...

If we all take a moment on this page composition, shown above..:

I like how Starlin borderlines on Steranko (and to a lesser degree Brunner) in terms of composition and design. For most full page compositions, I'm STILL finding new details I didn't notice before 40yrs later.

This cover's also one of the best Thanos covers as well.

As for getting through the Thanos TPB, certain areas do require concentration and focus to follow, but these MarVell chapters as well as DD 107, MF 12, and the Avengers issues are definitely the highpoints of the entire saga.

And for all you Mantis nay-sayers, I really enjoyed her use in this story.., a very insightful weave by Mr. Englehart. Aside from the empathic stuff ('feeling others pain') from Avengers 121, she apparently has a level of 'cosmic awareness', first seen here as a set up for her future 'celestial madonna' role. As I've mentioned a few times here (last in the Avengers 125 review column..), I would have loved to have had Englehart keep both her and Swordy around for at least another year or two.., not only for the nice team dynamics but to explore/develop this cosmic identity further.

Sure would have been much more satisfying woven into this saga than the disappointing double-wedding in Avengers GS 4.

Actually, one question comes to mind, I just noticed it: How come the Panther's right arm is in a sling as the team approaches the Mansion entrance on page 5..? All other panels show him slingless.. Odd.

-David 'Count me as a giddy 14yr old schoolgirl as well' from Milwaukee

Anonymous said...

Thanks Karen and Doug for this review and all the great Thanos reviews thus far. As others have stated, I was more into the Avengers than Captain Marvel and cosmic storylines. But, I did have these old MarVell books. Your reviews prompted me to re-visit them and gain a whole new appreciation for them.


Comicsfan said...

In the "I don't... I can't even..." department, Thanos takes the time and trouble (as a god, mind you) to extinguish an insignificant fire burning in a 3- or 4-story brownstone--yet thinks nothing of ripping a skyscraper from its foundation (with who knows how many screaming people inside it) and sending it hurtling into the sky without a care for its fate. There's only one conclusion to draw: Smokey the Bear had a profound impact on Thanos as a child.

Fred W. Hill said...

And, of course,Comicsfan, Thanos wasn't called an "insane god" for nothing! Anyhow, my 11 going on 12 year old self in 1974 thought this was the greatest comics epic ever -- at least until the end of the Warlock/Magus story where Starlin greatly expanded on many philosophical elements he only briefly touched on in this tale. Of course, now I'm fully aware (as I was not in the '70s), that Starlin was very much inspired by Kirby's 4th World epic, but to be honest I still find it more fun to read Starlin's Captain Marvel than Kirby's New Gods. I also think this 1st Thanos epic holds together better than the Kree-Skrull War (maybe that would have been better if Adams had collaborated with Thomas on the whole thing and if they had expanded it by three issues to conclude in issue #100; just idle speculation).
BTw, I've recently been reading the first two volumes of DC's Starman, by Robinson & Harris from the mid-90s. Great stuff, but it amused me when I got to the part that reintroduced the Bronze Age era Starman -- a blue-skinned guy from another planet sent to help prepare for an invasion of Earth but who wound up turning against his own people to protect Earth. Sound like a certain pale skinned alien from a predominantly blue-skinned alien race? Well, it certainly wouldn't be the first echoing of characters between DC & Marvel, and I'm sure Thanos & Darkseid would have a lot to talk about.

david_b said...

Fred, great points, I agree that Starlin weaving his story through the different titles helped the pacing and florishes of this tale; the Kree-Skrull conflict suffered by only being in one title, different artists, and perhaps pressure to resolve too quickly.

'Course this saga had different artists but it's length, pacing and use of cross-overs allows for that more smoothly.

I'm reading the final chapters (with Warlock and Magus) and am trying to fully figure out the 'In-Betweener' ('Gawd, whaaaat a name.. Seriously..?'); as mentioned earlier, it's interesting to read more of Starlin's intent fleshed out.., but IMHO the best chapters seem to include the Avengers, Drax or MarVell.

Anonymous said...

Trippy stuff! Englehart must have eaten some psychadelic mushrooms here ... :)

Great story and art all around here! The Thanos/Marvell storyline definitely runs at a breakneck pace here; even the wordy introduction seems to fit nicely into the overall story.

- Mike 'can't wait for the Avengers and Marvel Two-In-One reviews!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Rip Jagger said...

After picking on Starlin just yesterday, let me say this Captain Marvel epic is the pure stuff. Beautiful and powerful and to use a word that gets way too much play...epic!

Rip Off

B Smith said...

One side effect of godhood for Thanos seems to be losing his teeth

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