Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Crabs, Assemble!, Part One: Marvel Masterworks: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1

Over the (Most likely...) next several months, I will be undertaking a MASSIVE reading marathon of Marvel's AVENGERS. I'm insanely behind in my comic reading, but that sometimes has a nice little side-effect: Collected editions will come out that fill holes in my unread books pile(s), so I'll put the new books in chronological order with the old books, which sometimes ends up yielding a massive pile of collected editions and/or floppies that scream out to be read together, in order, straight through. So, this is the first book (Actually, it's the second....MARVEL UNIVERSE BY JOHN BYRNE OMNIBUS was to be the first, but then I impulsively bought this book, which takes place before AVENGERS #181, so I had to read this first. Curse my continuity-mad mind!!!) of (So far!) a monstrous 27-book marathon. Join me, won't you....as we step back into the 1970's....?

 I bought this book because I'm a completest at heart. I realized that NONE of the collected editions that would comprise this marathon had AVENGERS ANNUAL #10 in them. I needed that issue....The second MS. MARVEL MASTERWORKS collection had it...but then I would need to buy the first volume! Needless to say, I now own both volumes. This is why I have no money. Anyway, what's done is done, so...how does MARVEL MASTERWORKS: MS. MARVEL, VOLUME 1 stack up...?

 Not so well. I'd avoided reading this title forever, and it was pretty much what I was expecting...loads of caption-and-dialogue-filled panels, making for a looong, clunky reading process.

 The series starts out with writer Gerry Conway, but transitions to Chris Claremont as of the fourth issue. (Claremont scripted the third issue, from a plot by Conway.) The writing is not necessarily bad, but I've long since lost patience with overly wordy comics....It's a visual medium, so having huge blocks of text describing the force of a punch, or the quality of a thunderstorm, just doesn't fly with me when I'm looking at a beautifully-rendered illustration showing me the same thing. I can put up with this for some books (I'm nuts about 1970's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, for example..), but here...not so much. It seemed like I was reading this book forever.

 MS. MARVEL was blessed with an abundance of great artists, though...the first arc featured the team of John Buscema and Joe Sinnott, and the subsequent issues were illustrated by Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard, Carmine Infantino, Tom Palmer, Frank Giacoia, Sam Grainger, and Steve Leialoha. Dave Cockrum contributes some outstanding covers, and I'm 99.999% sure that issue #12 has cover art by the legendary Jim Starlin. Say what you will about this title, but it certainly has an amazing artistic pedigree.

 The book follows Carol Danvers, formerly a CAPTAIN MARVEL supporting cast member, into the big-time. Fired from her job as Cape Kennedy security chief, Carol lands a new gig in New York City as the editor of WOMAN magazine, which is published by everyone's favorite curmudgeon, J. Jonah Jameson. (Gerry Conway goes out of his way to set up Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson as supporting cast members, only to see Claremont throw them away and never look back as soon as he took over.) Carol, through some byzantine process that I still can't begin to comprehend, gained powers similar to Captain Marvel during her time with him, and suffers from a major case of split-personality disorder. Much of the book (This collection features the first thirteen issues of the series...) finds Carol Danvers and Ms. Marvel thinking of themselves as two separate people, which drove me nuts. Claremont eventually explains this away and moves on from it, but it took way too long for me.

 The bulk of this book is comprised of random battles between Carol and whatever villain was lying around waiting to be used.....The first arc finds Ms. Marvel in conflict with The Scorpion, and ends on a high note. We've seen The Scorpion crawl up and down the faces of countless skyscrapers, so what does Carol do with him...? She knocks him around, and leaves him ON TOP OF A STATUE OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS. And HE STAYS THERE!!! Shaking his fist and exclaiming "You.--you--YOU--!" How could you not love that?

 There's also a multi-issue arc that pits Carol against one of my all-time favorite Marvel baddies, M.O.D.O.K.!!!!

 How often do you get to see M.O.D.O.K. make out with a super-hero? Oooh-laa-laa!
                                                                       Disturbing!

 My favorite part of this arc was discovering that A.I.M has a secret headquarters underneath the Fordham Road (Bronx for life, yo!) department store that my mother used to work across the street from. All of the times that we went shopping for back-to-school clothes there...who knew?
                                              I used to shop where M.O.D.O.K. worked!!

 Claremont introduces Deathbird in issue #9, who would go on to become one of his go-to villains in the pages of THE AVENGERS and UNCANNY X-MEN. It's interesting to see how much groundwork he lays with the character in this first appearance. I wonder if he had her backstory planned all along?

 The rest of the book features some really underwhelming villains, as well as a totally random appearance by Dracula, (DRACULA!!!) who randomly stalks Carol for a few panels, then vanishes. I cannot stress how weird this page would seem to anyone who is unaware of the classic TOMB OF DRACULA comic that Marvel published in the 1970's. Taken randomly, by a new reader, this Dracula appearance must be the most out-of-left-field cameo ever. It's like going  to see the new Bourne film and having Frankenstein's Monster shuffle by in the background. It was epic seeing Carmine Infantino and Steve Leialoha mimic Gene Colan on Dracula, even if it was just for one panel.

 Overall, not a terrible collection, but not an especially good one, either. Hopefully, Volume 2 will be a little livelier.

 MARVEL MASTERWORKS: MS. MARVEL, VOLUME 1 collects MS. MARVEL #'s 1-14, and features a new introduction by Gerry Conway, as well as his editorial from the first issue, a John Romita design sketch, a house ad, unused cover art by John Buscema and Marie Severin, and a few pages of original art, as well as creator bios.