Monday, June 10, 2013

Titanic Troubles, Part 2: Captain Marvel 32

Captain Marvel #32 (May 1974)
"Thanos the Insane God!"
Mike Friedrich/Jim Starlin-Starlin/Dan Green

Doug:  I feel sort of funny being the lead voice/framer of today's post.  It's long been known around here that the cosmic guys of Jim Starlin are more in Karen's wheelhouse than my own.  But with her blessing, I'm going to do the plot summary with the great hope that she'll add her usual sparkling commentary and make me sound like I actually know what I'm talking about!  Power cosmic, indeed!

Karen: I'm sure my partner is more than up to the challenge! Besides, it'll be fun to read your take on this whole cosmic saga. I've been a fan of it for so long that I'm probably not the most impartial reviewer.

Doug:  Hopefully after her prompting last week, you read Karen's much-earlier review of Captain Marvel #31; if you didn't, that link will take you to it.  Thanos, in possession of the cosmic cube, has elevated himself to the status of a god.  He stands opposed only by Mar-Vell, Iron Man, Moondragon, Starfox, Mentor, and Drax the Destroyer.  Drax, pledged to destroy the mad Titan, lashes out -- only to incur Thanos's wrath.  The observatory on which our heroes stand begins to shake and then to come apart.  In the melee, Moondragon is struck by some flying debris and goes down.  Mar-Vell knows she needs medical attention, which Mentor offers.  Mentor implores Mar-Vell to get to the Titan computer ISAAC -- the only chance these heroes (and the universe) have in defeating this mad god.  So in a quest to reach the Hall of Science, Mar-Vell, Iron Man, and Starfox take off.  But as they shortcut through the Eternity Tree they are attacked, as was Dorothy in Oz.  Mar-Vell and Iron Man are able to stay free, and Eros encourages them to leave him and go onward.  They do.

Karen: Right off the bat I have to comment on the art: Dan Green does a very capable job here inking Starlin. His line work is neither too thin nor too thick -as Goldilocks would say, it's just right. I'm looking at the Captain Marvel Marvel Masterworks so I can't really comment on the coloring, although in this volume, it looks very good. The way Starlin depicts the ascended Thanos, as a sort of transparent floating head in the stars, is at once simple and yet striking. Eros (I still have a hard time thinking of him as Starfox) is taken out of the picture rather quickly. But his capture does lend a heightened sense of threat to the whole affair.

Doug:  Back at the observatory, Drax rises from the destruction and again decries the vengeance he knows he will bring against Thanos.  Meanwhile, Mar-Vell and IM begin to stroll through the Hall of Science.  I thought this was strange, given the urgency of the circumstances, but it does buy Jim Starlin some time to recap for the reader what has gone before.  Thanos had kidnapped the above-named heroes and made them witness his star fleet heading toward Earth.  After that, he showed his power by imprisoning Kronos.  When the heroes had escaped, rather than kill them he again imprisoned them and made them watch his transformation to godhood.  Mar-Vell insists that it's Thanos's vanity that is his downfall; that and the fact that his newfound power is still too new for him to even grasp his capabilities.  The heroes guess that this instability in Thanos's decision-making may be their salvation.  But as they continue to move toward ISAAC, Mar-Vell senses that Thanos is indeed focusing his attention on them and is preparing to strike!

Karen: I looked upon the situation in the Hall of Science as a chance for Mar-Vell and Iron Man to slow down and try to figure out a plan -- as Thanos himself says moments later, these two are fighters and thinkers.And of course a big part of all this is that Marv has snatched up the seemingly inert Cosmic Cube; apparently when Thanos used the Cube to transform himself into God, he used all of its power. But Mar-Vell still feels it may be the key to defeating him. Starlin manages to give us a fairly concise rundown of what's happened here; that won't be the case with the next issue of CM!

Doug:  You're not kidding!  I've been a good lad and have read ahead to the end of this material we're reviewing.  When Steve Englehart takes over as scribe in Captain Marvel #33, it's all-words, all-the-time!  Man...

Doug:  The attack by Thanos comes in a strange form, and seems almost typical of megalomaniacal baddies -- rather than just off their nemeses, they insist on toying with them.  In this instance, Thanos chooses to create demons who rise up from the floor to attack Mar-Vell and Iron Man.  A battle begins to rage, and Iron Man is soon overcome.  Mar-Vell fights valiantly to free his ally, but the odds are turning against them.  Knowing the demons are soulless, the heroes fight with no holds barred, but still they succumb.  Mar-Vell is cornered, when a new being materializes -- a man wearing an iron mask.  In space, Thanos makes it official that he is indeed offering the universe to his mistress Death.  She makes no response, and the courting is interrupted -- the Destroyer has found the mad Titan!  In a nifty double-page splash, Drax attacks Thanos, reminding him that the only reason Drax exists is to destroy Thanos.

Karen: Just like in our review of Marvel Feature #12 last week, we see that Iron Man at this point in time was far from invincible! It seems so odd, looking back now, what with Shellhead being such a superstar, but he really was sort of a mid-level hero. I really love the way Starlin depicts Mar-Vell in action; he looks like a real fighter, going through actual combat moves. The two page spread with the Destroyer is just breath-taking. Drax was one of Starlin's best designs and I thrilled to see him whenever he appeared. He was so relentless!

Doug:  Thanos decides that he can bring more torture to Drax if he shows the Destroyer his true history -- we then get an origin story not only for Drax the Destroyer, but another nugget thrown into Moondragon's (which was shown in Daredevil #105, of all places).  I have to take issue with Starlin's memory, however -- he writes that real estate agent Art Douglas had taken his wife and daughter (Heather Douglas -- the later-to-be-named Madame MacEvil/Moondragon) to Las Vegas to see his singing idol, Elvis Presley -- in 1953.  Say what?  Elvis made his first recording at Sun Records in 1953, and didn't chart until Heartbreak Hotel in 1956.  Ah, whatever...  Anyway, Thanos's starship came into view of the Douglas vehicle, and being seen by humans couldn't have been good.  Thanos arranged for the car in which the family was traveling to crash.  The parents were killed; young Heather escaped, to be later transported to Titan and raised by Mentor.  When Art Douglas's soul began to ascend to the heavens, it was intercepted by Mentor and Kronos -- they realized they would need a champion to defeat Thanos.  Thus was born Drax the Destroyer.  But does Thanos succeed in further torturing Drax by revealing this to him?  On the contrary -- now the Destroyer hates him all the more!

Karen: Yes, the Elvis reference makes no sense, unless we're on Earth-72 or something. That's the sort of thing that makes you feel like there was a bit of sloppiness creeping in. Then again, I suppose it would take more effort than pushing a few buttons to find the answer! Still, it detracts just a bit from the story. Not enough to ruin anything but enough to make you stop and take you out of it for a moment.Still, the origin of Drax was pretty clever -- it sort of combines a 50s sci fi film motif with a bit of the Spectre and some mythological overtones. I like how Drax knowing the truth backfires on Thanos -- he's just made the Destroyer even more driven!

Doug:  At Avengers Mansion, Earth's Mightiest Heroes receive word from the Black Panther that the Russian-American spacelab, StarCore, has picked up evidence of a huge space fleet headed toward Earth -- the same fleet Mar-Vell had knowledge of.  The Avengers immediately leap to action -- as we shall see next Monday in our review of Avengers #125!  Back in the Hall of Science, Mar-Vell meets the new being in their presence.  No introductions are exchanged, although the new figure knows who Mar-Vell is.  Mar-Vell continues to fight Thanos's demons while they talk, and Starlin again uses the dialogue to inform the reader of past events -- Mar-Vell, since Captain Marvel #28, no longer considers himself a warrior of the Kree.  He has instead become a champion for the universe of which he has attained full awareness.  Eventually the man in the iron mask reveals himself to be a holographic representation of ISAAC, the Titan computer.  Mar-Vell takes advantage of the situation, asking him how to defeat these demons.  ISAAC tells him that he cannot -- that as long as he exists, so will these demons.  Cue Rick Jones.

Karen: You can look at most of Starlin's run on the book, from #25-33 at least, and see it as one long protracted war against Thanos, but it was also about the change in Mar-Vell. He went from being a warrior to being a protector -- as we are told sometimes repeatedly -- and this had a lot of significance obviously for Starlin, who was a Viet Nam vet. Mar-Vell still used his Kree training and powers, but as he explains in his monologue in this issue, "Force must only be used as the last possible solution -- and then only enough to resolve the situation! To use more would make me no better than those against whom I must defend!" These are admirable words to be sure, but hard ones to follow in a medium that is built around physical conflict! But that ideal was not uncommon for the times, and was reflected in a lot of places, including the Kung Fu TV show, which I know from interviews Starlin was a fan of.

Doug:  See, I knew your color commentary would be awesome!

Doug:  Mar-Vell slaps the nega-bands together, bringing Rick back from the Negative Zone.  The demons freeze, and Rick asks ISAAC (calling him "Zack") to send him back to Earth so that he can think and plan.  ISAAC agrees, and before sending him "home", Rick picks up the de-powered cosmic cube.  Once home, Rick doesn't have much time for thinking, or anything else -- Thanos has followed him!  Mar-Vell had deduced that Thanos's ego might be his only weakness.  So in his most obnoxious manner, Rick begins to goad Thanos, insulting him incessantly, challenging his godhood, manhood, and every other sort of 'hood!  But what he didn't bargain for was that the mad Titan would manifest himself again in corporeal form... uh oh!

Karen: Well, Rick can certainly be annoying even when he's not trying to get under your skin! I can hardly blame Thanos for wanting to crush him. But good grief, Thanos manifests himself about 12 feet tall! He's huge and rippling with energy! I thought Starlin got very creative here - we see Thanos' face in a sequence of spheres, striking Rick, a giant Thanos face with a mouth filled with flames, and other almost Ditko-like representations.

Doug:  I had a good time with this!  Not being very well-versed on the Starlin-verse, I thought it was still pretty accessible.  There were enough recaps along the way, and the Internet certainly helps us to fill in gaps, doesn't it?  Jim Starlin's art was great -- very detailed, due in no small part to Dan Green's inks, as Karen said at the top.  I know that those space scenes take a whole lot of time to do, and Green came through.  Although there was no colorist listed, a kudo to him or her as well.  According to the Grand Comics Database, it was Starlin himself.  Wow.  I'm definitely looking forward to the succeeding two chapters in this story -- and especially to next week's art team of John Buscema and Dave Cockrum!


Fred W. Hill said...

This first Thanos epic just really appealed to my geeky 10 year old self -- I'd been too late getting itno comics to catch either Steranko or Neal Adams at Marvel, but I got all but the first two issues of Starlin's work on Captain Marvel and I loved it. The Elvis gaffe flew over my head -- I wasn't familiar enough with his career at that time, although an older Marvelite took the crew to task for that in the letters' pages, in issue 34 I believe. And if you look at that panel, the Douglas' fashions look more akin to 1968 than 1953, which is what I believe Starlin intended, with some sci-fi explanation that Heather grew up a lot faster on Titan than she would have on Earth. Of course, maybe it would have worked better with Sinatra in place of Presley, but 40 years later it's all moot -- now they were going to see Penn & Teller!
Also, all these decades later, it does appear goofy how Thanos kept just playing with the heroes rather than just zapping them all away at once, but at least Starlin came up with a reasonbly good explanation for that and it became an important point revealed in the concluding chapter.

david_b said...

Superb review, Doug and Karen.

I don't have much to add at this point.. I merely stumbled into Starlin's MarVell/Thanos saga because ish 28 had Captain America on the cover. Having just discovered the Avengers in their ish 117, my young eyes followed some of the overall story, but I'll admit a lot was over my head, having come in after it started. Like, 'How/Why was Iron Man involved in all this..?' and so on.

Luckily, as mentioned, Starlin does get quite verbal in his numerous recaps.. I wonder, whether that was his intention, or did the editorial staff nudge him for more to have more casual, perhaps non-crossover readers stay involved..? In any case, the recaps were nice, but the associated art stayed spectacular. I recall back in the day being pretty impressed with just how sophisticated Marvel was becoming with these woven, cross-over stories.

I'm surprised at just how the Controller's look kept changing. In earlier issues, he was a normally muscular guy; in ish 28 he seemed pretty bulked up. With the limited exposure I had to all this storyline, I was still baffled with the 'controller disks' and everything. I just tried to soak up as much as possible. 'Course the Controller had his own origin story not included in the Avengers vs Thanos book, covered in IM 12 and 13..

All in all, attempting to review each of these chapters in and of themselves'll be most challenging for sure, but great job on this.

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful stuff...the whole Captain Marvel-Thanos-Warlock epic was the coolest thing to come out of Marvel Comics in the 70's, in my opinion. Often imitated, never duplicated. Seeing this stuff takes me back to a time and place just like music does. I read somewhere that Benicio del Toro might play Thanos in the next movie...that might be cool, actually. A good future post for you guys might be, "Who should play Thanos?" Just a suggestion.

Karen said...

Thanks guys. Just knowing we're bring back some fond memories for you all makes me feel good on a Monday! Seeing as how this is one of my favorite stories it's a real pleasure to review it and share it with you. While a product of its time, it stands up remarkably well -or maybe I am just too fond of it!

MattComix said...

As a kid (yep, I'm a literal bronze age baby, 1974.) I remember liking Captain Marvel but wishing that he wasn't called Captain Marvel because I felt that named belonged to and better suited the Fawcett/DC character.

I could never get into refering to the latter as "Shazam!"

I also really enjoyed the Nega-Bands concept because I have a affection for the idea of transformation when it comes to superheroes. This is why I like secret identities. I enjoy having that character transition from the mortal to the extraordinary and eventually back again.

Fred W. Hill said...

By the time this came out I knew a bit about Rick Jones backstory wirh the Avengers just from the MTA reprints but I was totally unfamiliar with the original Captain Marvel. This was sill a year or so before the tv show and at least a fsw momths before DC brought the Big Red Cheese back to comics, almost 20 years after they finally succeeded in suing his original series out of existence. Hmmm were DC's lawyers more powerful than Thanos back then?

Anonymous said...

You commented on the Destroyers design. To my eyes, it looks like it's based on the Timely/WWII Destroyer who later popped up in the Invaders.

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

anothe rGREAT post! Love!

Edo Bosnar said...

As I mentioned in the comment I just posted for that review from almost 4 years ago, I've finally caught up with these in my Essentials volume (the lack of color is a bummer, but there's so much great material there for so cheap).
Anyway, great review, I really enjoyed reading it (again) right after reading the actual issue. And I totally understand why this is one of Karen's favorite stories, it's truly one of the epics of the Bronze Age (together with Starlin's other masterpiece, the Warlock saga).

Doug said...

Edo, Karen, david_b, and everyone else who has loved these stories are helping to convert me! One of these days I really hope to read the entire The Avengers vs. Thanos tpb, as well as seek out the Warlock saga. I agree with you -- Jim Starlin deserves a place among Bronze Age storytellers right up there with Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Denny O'Neil, and any other luminaries of the 1970's.

We appreciate your enthusiasm!


Karen said...

Edo, you MUST see these in color! They are incredible! Starlin colored some of these issues himself and the work is very unusual and spectacular.

I think that Warlock appealed to me more as an angsty teen, while Mar-Vell appeals to me more now for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because there's more a sense of super-heroics here, but also Mar-Vell seems more grounded than Warlock. The captain was a man who took on responsibility and I suppose feels more like an adult, while Warlock in many ways comes across as a rebellious youth. But I still like both, I can just relate more to the Kree-man.

I doubt we'll get around to reviewing the Englehart/Milgrom issues that came after Starlin, but I just read those (in masterworks form), and here's something I just want to toss out there: I think Englehart saw Rick Jones as a bit of a Ricky Nelson analog.There's a scene where Rick goes to perform a concert and he's ridiculed as being behind the times. it made me think of Rick Nelson's song "Garden Party." I might be reaching on this. Maybe I'll have to try to interview Englehart and ask him!

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, yeah, I know, I always prefer color, especially in cases like this, but that Masterworks volume is out of my price range (and also hard to find these days). I occasionally do searches for either of those trades (Life of Captain Marvel or Life & Death of Captain Marvel), but they're usually out of my price range, too, and now that I have this Essentials book, the need is not as pressing.
Interesting that you mentioned the Englehart/Milgrom run: that was another big draw for me in buying the Essentials volume. It came out in the shadow of Starlin's epic, but apparently it gets quite a bit of praise from old-time CM fans - I'm looking forward to digging into that in the coming days/weeks. Too bad there won't be any reviews...

Doug, a really inexpensive way to get the Warlock saga is to hunt down those special edition reprints from the early '80s. That's what I did about a while back. I think it's still possible to get all 6 issues for less than $10. Strangely enough, this is not the case with that 5-issue Life of Captain Marvel reprint series from the mid-'80s.

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