Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Marvels of Gil Kane: Captain Marvel

Marvel Comics' superhero, Captain Marvel, first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (1967) and launched his own series soon afterward.  Captain Marvel was a Kree soldier named Mar-Vell and came to Earth wearing a white and green uniform.  After sixteen issues and fading sales, a fashion emergency was called.  Gil Kane drew the cover to Captain Marvel #17 (1969) that proclaimed one of the most extreme makeovers in comics history:

Captain Marvel 17 by Gil Kane

I think Captain Marvel's read and blue costume design is one of the greatest in the world of comics.  The yellow exploding sun in the center of his chest, the mysterious nega bands around his wrist, and the weird half-mask that exposes his hair--every detail just makes him visually unique and unmistakable.

More than just the costume design--it was the way the Gil Kane drew the character.  Don Heck had briefly drawn the new costume at the end of issue #16 and it wasn't nearly as exciting.

Besides the new costume, Captain Marvel #17 has a story that focuses not on Mar-Vell, but perennial sidekick Rick Jones.  After Rick's brief stint as Captain America's all-new Bucky ends, he leaves Avengers Mansion feeling destitute.  Holographic visions of Captain America lead him to a secret base, where he discovers the nega bands.

Captain Marvel 17 Rick Jones clangs the Nega Bands for the first time

After donning the nega bands and clanging them together, Rick Jones exchanges places with Mar-Vell, who had been trapped in the Negative Zone.  It seemed like kind of a raw deal to me, but Jones was excited to be back in the superhero game.  Gil Kane really makes Mar-Vell explode back into Earth's dimension in this full page splash.

Roy Thomas crafted this pairing of Rick Jones and Mar-Vell to become the Marvelized science-fiction version of CC Beck's Captain Marvel character.  Rick Jones slamming the nega bands together is akin to Billy Batson saying the magic word, Shazam!  After DC Comics had acquired the rights to Beck's Captain Marvel, they never published a comics series featuring the character.  Their rights to a comic book series with that title had lapsed.  Marvel Comics had latched onto the opportunity, which made perfect sense--here was a Captain named after the company.  But it completely shutdown any future comics from DC with the title Captain Marvel or Captain Marvel Jr--two comics that had a long publication history in the 1940s and 1950s.  One of the smartest landgrabs in the world of comics.

Rick Jones and Mar-Vell basically had a timesharing arrangement as far as "Earth-time" was concerned.  One stayed on Earth, while the other one watched his partner's activities from the Negative Zone.  They remained in telepathic communication, giving each other advice, or in Rick's case, making a lot of jokes.   Years later, Gerry Conway would partner up Firestorm's Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein with a similar device.

Regardless of this nifty costume change and the Rick Jones gimmick, Captain Marvel was cancelled with issue #21.  Mar-Vell and Rick would go on to play a big role in the Avengers Kree-Skrull war saga.

Captain Marvel 22 the return by Gil Kane

While Captain Marvel #17 was a landmark issue, it wasn't the first one I bought.  DC Comics revived the Billy Batson Captain Marvel in 1972, in a comic titled Shazam!  I read that one first, but a short time later, Marvel announced they were reviving their character.  I bought Captain Marvel #22 when I saw it on sale at 7-Eleven during the summer in Phoenix, Arizona.  I couldn't quite understand why there were two Captain Marvels, but the cover to issue #22 by Gil Kane really made Marvel's version more attractive.  Mar-Vell's flying in a typical Kane pose and you've got that dude in the foreground where you can see his nostrils.  Nothing says panic like a Kane nose shot!

The cover blurb said:  He's back!  The Hero Who Wouldn't Die!  There you go, I was hooked.  Billy Batson was buddying up with Talky Tawny and exclaiming Holy Moley on every page.  Steranko's History of Comics had explained to me why kids in World War 2 went gaga over CC Beck's creation, but in the 1970s, that seemed weak to a kid raised on Star Trek and Spider-Man.  Mar-Vell had a cool costume and had returned from the dead.  There was no competition in coolness, Mar-Vell had won me over.  Nuff said.

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