Marvel’s Classic Captain Marvel: Soap Opera Comics in Space (…and Earth)

I finally managed to catch the MCU flick Captain Marvel (no, I wasn’t in any hurry, obviously) and I have admit I was pretty impressed.


Not with Brie Larson — my God, she was awful — but impressed with how the producers handled the backstory of the Kree and Skrulls. Well, somewhat. At least they got the looks and uniforms right. But I think they missed a big opportunity by not using the actual (Kree) Supreme Intelligence (how hard would that have been with CGI?), and WTF was up with (Skrull) Talos’ humor? If his Aussie accent wasn’t bad enough, how does an alien new to Earth know what “jazz hands” means?


At any rate, I had to do quite a bit of explaining to the wife throughout the flick about just what was going on. That night I pulled out my Essential Captain Marvel #1 to show her how different the original concept of the character was. And how it was better.




Captain Marvel — Mar-Vell — debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 in late 1967 in what essentially was a soap opera set partly in space and partly on Earth. Written by Stan “The Man” Lee and “Rascally” Roy Thomas and drawn by Gene “The Dean” Colan, a Kree starship has been dispatched to Earth to enact vengeance following the Fantastic Four’s defeat of Sentry #459 and Ronan the Accuser (seen in FF #64 and 65). As Mar-Vell says to himself early in his first appearance, “I must make the Earthlings realize that no race may — ” He cut himself off because he stumbled onto an American missile launch site, but you get his drift.



Like he did with the Silver Surfer, Lee (and Thomas) makes use of a lot of first-person narration as Mar-Vell ponders humanity’s fate as well as his love for Kree medic Una. Not to mention how his superior Colonel Yon-Rogg (portrayed by Jude Law in the movie) has the hots for Una. Yon-Rogg constantly connives to kill Mar-Vell in the commission of his duties, but, alas, fails in every attempt. Una cries a lot as she is powerless to stop the colonel.


Mar-Vell is an atypical Kree; instead of being a near-bloodthirsty automaton-like soldier, the captain actually has a heart and cares about those in his command. He eventually comes to care for the humans he was ordered to merely observe (and in some cases kill).



This all may sound kinda boring, but Colan’s art in the initial issues is fantastic, even when inked by Vinnie Colletta. (You’ll be damn glad Colletta remains on the title after Colan departs, trust me.) There may be none better than Gene is capturing a cinematic atmosphere in every panel. Lee’s science ruminations are a little sketchy here and there (the gravity in the Kree galaxy is “far stronger” than that on Earth, and the Skrull homeworld is located in the fifth quadrant of the Andromeda Galaxy), and you can’t blame him for not knowing how certain details would be retconned just a few years later (Mar-Vell sends a signal to the Kree homeworld Hala which is “far beyond the ken of the mightiest of man’s telescopes” … but the planet is located in the Greater Magellanic Cloud, the Milky Way’s closest neighbor), but overall he is a master at utilizing believable technobabble.


The woman who would become Captain Marvel decades later, Carol Danvers, makes her debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #13. As the chief of security at “The Cape,” she immediately is suspicious of Mar-Vell, who has assumed the identity of scientist Walter Lawson, victim of an attack by Yon-Rogg whose actual target was Mar-Vell. (“Wendy” Lawson was played by Annette Bening in the film.) The intrigue persists for several issues, and features the villainy of the Super Skrull and Sub-Mariner.



Interestingly, the final panel of Marvel Super-Heroes #13 says “Don’t miss the pulse-pounding pay-off in Marvel Super-Heroes #14 …” but the actual next issue is Captain Marvel #1 because, as its opening splash page says, “The immediate response of Marveldom assembled was so overwhelmingly enthusiastic […] that we had no choice but to give Captain Marvel his own mag — at once!!”


This enthusiasm didn’t last however, as by issue #17 Roy Thomas and new artist Gil Kane “revamped” the character which included the uniform which persists to this day (as seen in the film). I’d venture to guess the waning interest began with Captain Marvel #5, when artist Don Heck took over for Colan and fans saw the distinct drop in art quality. Colan’s departure may have been due to the fact that he “intensely disliked” the original version of the character.




Captain Marvel the film features several homages to these early issues. For instance, the cloaked Kree vessel in Earth orbit is named the Helion, the same ship which transports Mar-Vell, Yon-Rogg and crew to Earth in the comic. When Super Skrull captures Mar-Vell in CM #3, he uses a mind probe (see above) virtually identical to that used by the Skrulls on Brie Larson’s character.



Almost 30 years later, Marvel put out a three-issue series The Untold Legend of Captain Marvel which further delves into the captain’s early history. It features Deathbird of the Shi’ar Empire and the Alien-like Brood featured in the pages of X-Men. The story begins with a spectacular sequence where the Kree are futilely attempting to ward off Galactus and the Silver Surfer from one of their empire’s planets. Mar-Vell shows how he is a soldier’s soldier as he opts to rescue one of his charges in lieu of a vital “intelligence matrix.”


As a hard sci-fi fan, I dig those early Captain Marvel issues. While Colan’s departure lessened the title’s quality, the stories remained pretty good right up until the character’s “reimagining.” I think if Thomas had ventured into a more in-depth analysis of the Kree’s history with the Skrulls, the original concept could have maintained audience interest.



Recommended for sci-fi enthusiasts.

Dave Huber

A ComicsGater long before the term ever existed, Dave is a retired teacher who now concentrates his efforts on exposing the insanity of college political correctness.