48 years ago this month, Marvel Comics launched a character destined to create hundreds of semantic arguments over the ensuing decades. Is he Captain Marvel or Captain Mar-Vell? However you want to designate him, this is the first appearance of the greatest Kree warrior of them all. Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Marvel Super-Heroes #12 awaits!
MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #12
Writer: Stan Lee/Bill Everett
Penciler: Gene Colan/Dick Ayers/John Romita/Bill Everett
Inker: Frank Giacoia/Dick Ayers/John Romita/Bill Everett
Colorist: Stan Goldberg
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Stan Lee/Roy Thomas
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14,000.00
Previously in Marvel Super-Heroes: Interestingly, though this is issue #12, this is the first issue to bear the masthead ‘Marvel Super-Heroes,’ as the title for the previous eleven issues was ‘Fantasy Masterpieces.’ (A reprint title, ‘Masterpieces’ represented pre-Marvel monster stories and Golden Age Marvel/Atlas stories of the All-Winners Squad and other such heroes.) With this issue, though, the book’s lead feature became the proverbial ‘tryout’ segment (Retro Review readers may remember our discussion of #18, featuring the debut of the original Guardians Of The Galaxy.) Interestingly, given the familiar name of Marvel’s new hero and the conflicts it would create with rival DC Comics, the reason for continued numbering was partly because of DC! In the 1960s, Marvel Comics were actually distributed by National Periodical Publications, with the contractual stipulation that Marvel could only publish 8 books per month which, combined with established workarounds for postal distribution, led Marvel to retitle existing books rather than launch new ones. (This is also the reason why ‘Tales Of Suspense’ and ‘Strange Tales’ were split books that showcased more than one hero per issue, as Marvel wasn’t contractually allowed to expand their line by giving both Iron Man and Captain America their own solo books.) In any case, we begin in near-earth orbit, as a Kree starship approaches our planet…
Though the Kree are a highly disciplined and militant race, this ship’s main cargo is a love triangle: A battle of hearts between Mar-Vell, a Captain; Yon-Rogg, a Colonel; and the young medic, Una. Because of this “problem,” Yon-Rogg chooses to overlook regulations and send Captain Mar-Vell down to the planet alone, a mission that seems likely to be his end. Fortunately, Mar-Vell is able to cite chapter and verse himself, calling for the customary, required 30-second farewell period designated by Kree regulations to say goodbye to Una…
Donning his protective helmet, Mar-Vell leaps from the ship’s airlock and flies (thanks to his “air-jet” belt) to the surface of the strange, new world. Once on Earth, he discovers what many alien visitors to our world have discovered, that Earth’s atmosphere and gravity provides him with extraordinary abilities!
What I find most interesting about Captain Marvel’s first appearance is that, while the Kree have appeared before in Marvel Comics, they have always been the antagonists, attacking the Fantastic Four and just being all-around jerks. (This being the Cold War, their stoic militarism and anti-freedom ways are certainly meant to be a science fiction equivalent of the Evil Communist Empire.) Mar even calls this out as he sneaks through the countryside, only to stumble upon a hidden missile base…
The missile is launched, but the guidance systems are fouled by an unexpected dose of radiation (accidentally induced by the good Captain, natch) leading them to scrub the launch, with the missile self-destructing in mid-air. The Air Force moves to investigate, finding a strange costumed man leap/flying through their testing range. When Captain Marvel refuses to stop and identify himself, they open fire on him,,,
*Insert Nigel Tufnel joke here*
Fortunately for the trigger-happy joes
of Easy Company, Captain Marvel’s weapon is non-lethal, leaving them confused and temporarily blinded in his wake, allowing the alien to escape while also explaining another of his powers.
“Can do almost anything” is a pretty broad-spectrum super-ability, isn’t it? It’s easy to see why Mar didn’t catch on immediately like Spider-Man or the revived Captain America did. Escaping from the soldiers, Mar-Vell is forced to go native and find a place to hide out while he formulates a plan…
Suddenly overcome by pain, Mar-Vell is horrified to realize that Yon-Rogg doesn’t intend to let him avoid his mission. While Mar lies paralyzed in his motel room, Yon forces Una to teleport a “wrist monitor” onto the Captain, one that will allow Colonel Yon-Rogg to track his every move, which will eventually allow Yon-Rogg to charge Captain Marvel with treason against the Kree Empire…
The band also allows the central command of the Kree Empire to contact him directly, ordering him to complete his mission by spying on the Earthmen and discovering once and for all how much of a threat they are to the Kree. As the missive ends, Mar-Vell grows short of breath…
Eventually, Mar-Vell would take over the identity of Walter Lawson, and even work alongside the Air Force officers that just tried to kill him, all the while conflicted by his love for his new planet and his duty to the Kree. Mar-Vell would graduate into his own title by 1968, a book which continued on into the 70s, never really seeming to find its niche. A new costume and powers would help somewhat, and being negatively bonded to share space with Rick Jones (in a direct reference to the original 40s Captain Marvel) made for some interesting adventures, but Mar-Vell didn’t really click until Jim Starlin brought his brand of cosmic adventure to the book in the late 70s. Sadly, Captain Marvel’s solo title would be cancelled in 1979, with Mar-Vell dying in a high-profile graphic novel circa 1982, but his tenure was just long enough that copyright issues would force DC Comics to use the title ‘Shazam!’ for their revival of the original Fawcett Comics Captain Marvel, in turn leading to the television adaptation and recent name change for Billy Batson’s alter-ego.
After all that madness, it might be hard to believe that there’s more to the issue, but title change or no title change, the book is still giant-sized, and thus gives readers a reprint appearance by the Golden Age Destroyer…
Known mostly for his stripey pants, The Destroyer is one of the few characters whose history is as convoluted as Captain Marvel’s himself. Speaking of convoluted histories, this issue also reprints a 1950s-era adventure of commie-smashing Captain America!
This tale, from 1954, seems like a curious choice for reprint, as Captain America had only recently been brought back from his long absence with the retcon that he was accidentally flash-frozen in 1945! The question of how he could have been on ice and also active during the McCarthy era led to one of the more extensive retcons of the 1970s, with the invention of a whole new Captain America who starred in these tales, one whose anti-Communist views led to him returning as a modern-age villain. The issue is rounded out with an incredibly energetic and fun Bill Everett Sub-Mariner tale, one that shows Namor as a young, impulsive, joyful character…
That may be my single favorite Namor panel, and it seems like a fitting tribute to a character at the center of some ugly comic-book rumors of late. In any case, while Marvel Super-Heroes #12 isn’t one of Lee’s Silver Age masterpieces, it’s an okay story with a relatively mediocre new character, aided and abetted by amazing art from Gene Colan (who was quoted as saying he never cared for the character of Captain Marvel anyway) leading to some of the more complicated and convoluted sections of the Marvel Universe, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall. Mar-Vell is one of those characters who is much more important (and more interesting) for his place in Marvel history, but it’s fun to see him in his earliest incarnations…[taq_review][signoff predefined=”PayPal Donation” icon=”icon-cog”][/signoff]