Thursday, December 1, 2011

Captain Marvel, Peter David's Run Part 1

I use to really love Peter David's writing. From his Star Trek novels, to his legendary Hulk run - I really enjoyed him as a writer. My enjoyment of his work has waned in recent years. One of Peter David's faults is he can sometimes inject too much of himself into his writing - which became a lot more apparent and off-putting during George Bush's time in office during 2000s. I however reacquainted myself with his current on going series, X-Factor - and have loved the Angel-style Super Hero Detective series.

Anyway, one of the series I followed and quite enjoyed from Peter David was his Captain Marvel run. A Kree Alien Warrior, sworn to protect Earth, even against his own people, Captain Marvel was a largely defunct character - having died from cancer in a well remembered death. A son, dubbed "Legacy" was introduced. Supposedly a lover of Captain Marvel's, Elysius of the Moon Titan, had combined Captain Marvel's DNA with her own to create a son - accelerated growth and implanted memories included. Legacy's real name is Genis-Vell (his father's name was Mar-Vell, hence the super hero name). I never had the opportunity to read any of those issues, but by all indications it was another failed attempt to remake an established hero and make him "cool".

Genis, though, got a surprise make-over in the Avengers mini-series "Avengers Forever". In it, Rick Jones (former partner to the original Captain Marvel), became a pawn in a war between two time travelers - Kang and Immortus. Seven Avengers where plucked out of various different point of time in Avengers history to help protect Rick and save the universe. It was an excellent, if convoluted, series by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco. Two of the Avengers from the future where Songbird and Captain Marvel, Genis who was updated with a costume more similar to his father's - but with an amazing looking star field adorning his face.

During this series it was revealed that sometime inbetween Songbird's time period, and Genis' - the two would be lovers. Songbird at the time didn't know about this - but their potential romance would be a topic bounced around in future storylines.

The big kicker of Avengers Forever was when Captain Marvel switched places with a future Rick Jones - scarred and missing one arm. Events played out where the young Rick Jones was injured and near death. Captain Marvel saved Rick, but at a cost, by merging him with the current day Genis. When the series was over, and everyone was returned to their own timelines, the current day Rick Jones was immediately connected with the modern day Legacy, now transformed into the star-faced style costume.

Rick Jones, when he was partnered with Mar-Vell, wore a pare of gold bracelets called "Nega-Bands", which when clanged together would make Rick switch places with Captain Marvel. (The other person always being switched over to Negative Zone, and visa versa. Suddenly Rick found himself once again bonded to a hero like this. Although instead of trading places between Earth and the Negative Zone, they now switched places with the subatomic world of the Microverse. Luckily, Captain Marvel now seemingly possessed "Cosmic Awareness", like his father had, which allows him to know everything about his surroundings and the universe at large. Genis now seemed a bit more centered and less childish than he previously was.

That's where the Captain Marvel series by Peter David begins - placing Rick Jones/Captain Marvel in LA, where Rick is trying to repair his relationship with his ex-wife Marlo. Being molecularly bonded to a Cosmic Superhero didn't make that any easier. Marlo and Rick also run a comic store, prime for comic in-jokes aplenty.

The series was very wacky, light adventurous fun, often playing to Peter David's talents, and allowing him to do humor and poke fun at politics, pop culture and about the comic industry in general.

I've only been able to read the TPB, collecting the first 6 issues of the series -- and it seemed to me that it began on a bit of a shaky start. Despite trying to explain various aspects of this weird and wacky universe, characters where introduced that even I was less than familiar with. Chriscross, the artist on the book, did a good job - with a unique style of drawing people; but his art simply wasn't as good it later would be.

A fight/team-up with the Hulk helped with the transition, though; seeing as this series was being written after Peter David was unceremoniously kicked off his critically acclaimed 12-year run on the Incredible Hulk.

Being molecularly bonded to Captain Marvel, Rick had a very "Quantum Leap"-style way of communicating with him - seeing the Captain's reflection in mirrors and reflective surfaces -- though the traditional floating head, denoting their psychic bond, was used as well. Perhaps that was why a ghost was introduced into Marlo's life -- giving her a character only she could hear and speak to as well.

From the very beginning Captain Marvel's control over his "Cosmic Awareness" was always an issue. At first he was seeing events, which where to take place in the future, happening right then and now in front of him. His powers where simply off-kilter -- something that was dealt with by the cosmic super heroine Moondragon, who used her psychic powers to help train Genis in more properly using his Cosmic Awareness. Moondragon became a big supporting character in the series - probably mostly due to her humorously arrogant attitude, and the trouble it caused for Rick.

I jumped onto the series at what turned out to be a VERY opportune point - in a two part issue where Captain Marvel teamed up with Thor. The Mad Titan, Thanos (a big villain of the old Captain Marvel) also joined in - but surprisingly as an ally. They fought against this foe called Walker, who wanted to kill Death. (Death being a longstanding character, personifying the concept.) During the course of this adventure Walker shattered Rick Jones' arm and prematurely aged him to that of an old man. Meanwhile Marlo was in even more danger, as Death had decided to hide inside her body, to escape Walker. Eventually, with the powers of Death inside her, Marlo was able to defeat Walker.

Rick Jones, though, was still maimed and aged. His appearance, not coincidentally, was the same as we had seen in Avengers Forever. Rick even vanishes for a second only to return the next - having just appeared in Avengers Forever. Before that, though, Thanos attempted to cure Rick - which had an effect on Captain Marvel. Genis was suddenly experiencing his life backwards. He woke up in bed, on his home on Saturn's Moon Titan, with his seeming wife Songbird, just now going into labor. Genis was utterly confused, but was able to deliver his second child, Ely.) He then flashed to another time period, one in which Moondragon was an enemy, before flashing to another point - all with clues and details about upcoming storylines and plot-threads. The best part of the issue, though, was when Captain Marvel found himself in the same space as Rick Jones. The two had it out, venting their shared frustration of being bonded together like this. This issue was the first time I saw Chriscross' art - and utterly in contrast to his earlier work on the series - he had improved by leaps and bounds. The coloring of the book, as well, was more stunning.

The series continues on without a cure for Rick's condition. It's not until much later that Rick is returned to his original age, along with his arm. The series then brought in probably their best story arc - "Time Flies". Captain Marvel gets sucked into a portal through time -- humorously appearing on the toilet. That led to this inspired bit, commenting on the struggling sales of the series.

Marlo: "If you really want to know the problem, Joe, it's this. Captain Marvel's gone down the toilet."
Joe: "Really? I mean I know sales haven't been spectacular, but maybe that'll change. Maybe some guest stars, or a four-part storyline with a shock ending..."
Marlo: "See, Joe, I told you you wouldn't understand."

Time Flies saw Rick and Captain Marvel team up with other future-based Peter David characters. Spider-Man 2099, and the future where the Hulk turns evil. It was a wonderful showcase of what the series could do - mixing in humor with great adventure.

One issue afterwords is dedicated just to Marlo - as it goes through her varied history up to then, with a bombshell revelation at the end. It's revealed that Marlo has a deep, deep connection to Death. Marlo had once died briefly, during the Hulk series, but was brought back to life. It was no coincidence that a ghost has been following her all this time, or that Death herself had taken shelter inside her body. Even all the way back in Hulk #418, where Rick and Marlo get married - there was a small and concealed appearance of Neil Gaimen's "Death", from the DC Sandman series. She made that appearance just to congratulate Marlo on her marriage. Apparently Death had cut Marlo a break before, when she had been revived from death. Marlo apparently a death wish, having led a somewhat dangerous life. She's apparently been calling out to Death all her life, and when Death had merged with Marlo before - she brought back a powerful ability along with her. She has command over all Death. She literally could make the Universe die, if she put her mind to it, or even had a stray thought like that.

This is how insanely planned out Peter David's stories can be - laying clues and story threads YEARS in advance! The revelation about Marlo's connection to Death had been long coming - and it's this kind of mix of planning and improvisation that makes Peter David's stories so great.

The series, though, was on it's last legs. A storyline having Genis fight the cosmic villain Magus helped to wrap up the series. Nothing really big or earth shaking happened during these final issues - except for the surprise kiss, and announced romance between Marlo and Moondragon. Peter David is a big LGBT supporter - but even this seemed a bit surprising and controversial.

The Captain Marvel series ended at issue #35 -- but that wasn't the end yet. The series had always struggled in sales, being on the chopping block numerous times before. Fan support had been the only thing keeping the series going so far. The next phase of the series would prove to be somewhat controversial, as it went in a radical and "crazy" direction.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice insights. I only have the "Time Flies" four issues of Captain Marvel, and I enjoyed them immensely since I had previously read the Spider-Man 2099 comics.