‘Captain Marvel’ with great power, comes great insanity

Captain Marvel

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Captain Marvel vol 4. (#1-25)
Writer: Peter David
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Published by Marvel Comics

One day at a shop, a book caught my eye.  It’s very rare that I’ll see something and revert to a prepubescent “ewww, shiny” stage but just look at how awesome that damn cover is:

As it turns out Peter David’s short lived run with one of Marvel’s lesser known heroes would be one heck of a quality impulse buy.  Captain Marvel, for those who don’t know, was a preposterously powerful extraterrestrial character from the 60’s who featured prominently in the big galaxy wide story arcs but also had his own crappy 62 issue run of mostly forgettable books.  The character was criticized for being too generic and lacking much creative thought, for an example his real name is Mar-Vell which is awful because of the obvious reason but also because it bears an embarrassingly blatant similarity to a certain Kal-El from a rival brand.  The character died of cancer in the 80’s in Marvel’s first graphic novel, aptly named The Death of Captain Marvel, and has actually managed to stay that way more or less since, a rare feat in the Marvel Universe.  The character in the side picture however is not Mar-Vell but his son Genis-Vell.  He was introduced in 1993 and started his own series in December 1995; which was quickly cancelled after six issues.  In January 2000 Peter David began writing a third volume of Captain Marvel and each month his not-so-popular character was constantly in line for the guillotine again.  In fact in 2002 Marvel ran a U-Decide campaign with Captain Marvel and two other books Marville and Ultimate Adventures.  After six-months the two least selling books would get cancelled.  It was a marketing ploy to “boost” sales but I’m sure the artists involved weren’t too thrilled about it.  David absolutely had to have had a “The Heck With It!” moment and decided if they were going to keep threatening to cancel his series than he’d start writing the book his way, for as long as it stayed on the shelves.  Renumbering the series, this fourth volume of Captain Marvel easily won the U-Decide contest and lasted for 25 issues of glorious creative thought and originality.

This run was just brilliant.  The biggest problem with Captain Marvel is that he is quite possibly the strongest comic hero ever created.  Not only is he invincible and can travel through all of space but I’ve seen him destroy entire space armadas single-handed and also resurrect the dead.  If that weren’t enough he also has the ultimate super power of “cosmic awareness”.  He is aware of everything that is happening throughout the cosmos at all times.  He sees the future, the past, the whole enchilada.  These basically godlike abilities are why the series was so dry for so long, its boring, there’s not much conflict and nothing too engaging.  But David did something simply amazing with the character in volume 4.  He makes Captain Marvel unstable.  The weight of knowing anything and everything finally pushes Genis-Vell over the edge.  His actions start becoming sporadic and even dangerous.  Considering how powerful he is that makes for some real page turning stuff.  Imagine such a massively powerful figure with basically a bi-polar disorder.  The areas you can explore with that are infinite. 

In the series Marvel staple character Rick Jones has a psychic link with Genis-Vell and tries to work with/help the man but more often than not finds himself being played and toyed with like a child would play with an insect in a jar.  These interactions provide some of the more comical and unnerving moments of the run perhaps best personified in the “Coven” story-arc where Genis uses a murderer from Jones past to play games with him.  Culminating with Jones losing his cool and nearly murdering the man, summed up in this fantastic line exchange. Captain Marvel-Rick Jones

Aside from this astoundingly original direction David more and more added a personal touch to the run.  The book became less and less a part of Marvel’s character arcs and more and more the brain child of its renegade writer because, hey, whats the worst that could happen the series gets cancelled?  With a combined 60 issues between volumes 3 & 4 David kept Captain Marvel on shelves for far longer than anyone thought possible.  In fact, so respected was the effort David put into the character that when the inevitable cancellation finally came Marvel gifted him with issue #25 (it was supposed to end on #24 with the conclusion of the current story arc) and free range to wrap up the series as he saw fit.  Keeping with the more off-beat tone of vol 4 David delivered possibly the best conclusive issue any cancelled series has ever given.  Knowing it was impossible to bring all the story threads to a satisfying end in one book David went against the grain like he had for two years.  He introduced a new super character “Al the comic-book guy” into the book with the only power greater than Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness, “comic-awareness”.  As powerful as Genis-Vell was, the one foe he could not beat was Al and his fourth-wall shattering news that it was all over and the series was cancelled.  All the characters in the series are wisked off by Al, expressing emotions of confusion, disappointment and anger except for Genis-Vell who refuses to believe its all over.  He sits quietly by a phone waiting for someone to call for his help.  Surely someone, anyone at all, needed his help.  Surely someone, anyone at all, cared.  After a few panels Genis-Vell gives up and accepts the fate Al has laid out for him…just as the phone begins to ring.  Simply amazing.

Captain Marvel panel

– Matthew Younker


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