If you ask non-comic fans about Captain Marvel, if they remember the character at all, they’ll most likely tell you he was a boy who turned into a super-strong man by yelling Shazam! This was the original Captain Marvel, “the Big Red Cheese,” introduced by Fawcett Comics in Whiz Comics #2, February 1940. At his height, this Captain Marvel was more popular than Superman, which proved to be his downfall since it prompted DC Comics to pull out the stops to put an end to their competition. To that end, DC sued Fawcett for copyright infringement, alleging that Captain Marvel was a rip-off of the Man of Steel. This suit went on for quite a while but ultimately resulted in Fawcett agreeing to never publish Captain Marvel-related comics again.
Eventually, DC procured the rights to the Marvel Family characters but found they could not call the comic “Captain Marvel,” poetic justice of sorts, and had to resort to “Shazam!” The reason why they can’t use the CM title is because that trademark is owned by Marvel Comics. After Fawcett’s collapse in the early 1950s, the trademark was there for the taking. MF Enterprises was the first to take a crack at this, creating a new Captain Marvel in 1966. He was an android whose body would come apart when he yelled “Split!” The body parts would fly independently, his fist punching some crook or his leg kicking some creep. (Yes, I was one of the dozen or so kids who actually read this series when it came out.) They also took a crack at snapping up the Plastic Man name but there’s no point in going into that. None of this lasted very long.
Marvel was next, introducing their Captain Marvel in Marvel Super-Heroes #12, December 1967. This was Mar-Vell, the Kree warrior and it was this Captain Marvel that prevented DC from using the title in the early 1970s. The problem is that Marvel Comics must continue to use the Captain Marvel title in order to maintain the trademark and they went and killed the character in Marvel Graphic Novel #1, 1982. So, what to do? Well, how about creating a new character (in this case, Monica Rambeau) and turn her into a super-hero called Captain Marvel? That does the trademark trick. Next problem: Monica doesn’t seem popular enough to warrant continual “Captain Marvel” comics so she loses the name and it bounces around from one cosmic character to another until… well, here we are again. Needing another Captain Marvel comic book. Then, I assume, somebody at Marvel got a brilliant idea. The argument probably went something like this: “We’ve already got Ms. Marvel, who has been popular enough to have a couple of comic series and to appear regularly with the Avengers. Why not change her name to Captain Marvel?” Why not indeed?
So, Carol Danvers, formerly Ms. Marvel is now Captain Marvel. How did this happen? We don’t know yet because this issue of Avenging has come out before the new Captain Marvel #1. That’s okay. Spidey has a fine tradition of introducing character revamps, such as the Black Widow in Amazing Spider-Man #86, July 1970. He’s also introduced Captain Marvels before, having done so with Monica in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, 1982. Looks like it’s becoming a tradition.
Peter Parker hitches a ride to Boston with Carol Danvers in her two-seater airplane. As they near the city, they are buzzed by a young woman flying with a jet pack, Rocketeer style. Carol decides they should “suit up” which she can apparently do by covering herself in a glow. Spidey somehow manages to get into his costume in seconds, even though he’s strapped into an airplane seat. Carol does some fancy flying while Spidey wing-walks, catching the jet packer. But they are then forced to evade a missile fired at them by an armor-clad character who is “an agent of Blackbird Security currently in cahoots with National Federal Bank in a plot against the America people,” according to the the flying woman. Spidey realizes that the woman he is protecting is a bank robber.
Blackbird Security keeps firing missiles at the airplane. Carol has had enough. She lands the plane on the bridge from which the missiles are coming and attacks the armored man who is firing them, until police surround her. Above, the bank robber declaims, “That which I have recovered must be returned to the people,” prompting Spidey to dub her “Robin Hood.” She takes to the name but decides to spell it “Robyn Hood. With a ‘y’ for freedom.” “Robyn, there’s no ‘y’ in freedom,” says Spidey. “And don’t you forget it,” Robyn replies. (Um…okay.) By this time, Captain Marvel and the Blackbird guard are in each other’s faces. A cop apologetically explains that “National Federal offered to donate the Blackbird Security contract and the Mayor didn’t have much choice. Budgets, we don’t like it any more than you do.” The trouble is the guy in the armor is a complete butthead and he pushes enough of Carol’s buttons so that she attacks him with a power blast.
Robyn and Spidey finally get down to the bridge where Robyn draws attention to herself so that the armored guard strikes her with a missile. At first it appears that she is badly wounded but then she declares that “Whatever force they may use against me, I return to them a hundred-fold!” and grows to giant size. (“Gotta admit, I did not see that comin’,” says Spidey which strikes me as either an attempt by the writer to convince us that this development is a surprise or an attempt at a laugh line in case it’s not.) And in response to this, a whole army of armored Blackbird agents arrive and announce, “Anyone moves, you die!”
The best thing about this story is the blurring of good guys and bad guys. We know that Spidey and Captain Marvel are heroes to root for but who else? Robyn says all the right things about the crookedness of banks and the system failing and championing the people, pushing most of our (well...my, anyway) buttons. As Woody Guthrie once sang, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.” That’s right! Power to the people! We’re on the side of the little guy over the big guy. And we all love Robin Hood, right? But this isn’t 13th century England and, well, she is a bank robber. The guy in the armor is a jerk who is firing multiple missiles over a major US city but he is also an authorized representative of the law. The cops clearly don’t like him but he has a right to do what he’s doing. And just when it seems like the side to root for and against couldn’t be clearer when the big bully in the armor hits the poor “defenseless” Robyn with a missile, it turns out to be exactly what she wants. The impact turns her giant size. So, who’s weak and who’s strong? Who’s in control and who’s being manipulated? Who’s right and who’s wrong (if anyone)? Who should we be rooting for? Spidey doesn’t know. His “Lamaze coach approach” (a nice line) doesn’t work here. Guess we’re going to have to see how it plays out next issue. That’s what I like best about this issue. What I like second best is Terry and Rachel Dodson’s artwork which is always a nice balance between humor, Good Girl and action storytelling. (Though I don’t like the way they render noses.) Beyond that? Eh. It’s pretty standard stuff. It could all sort out into something really terrific but we won’t know until next issue. (Only it looks like next issue also features Captain Marvel as the guest-star and I think we all know by now how I feel about team-up books that repeat the same guest-star in two straight issues. So I’m not favorably inclined.)
Oh, and that recap page? Not funny. Getting sort of embarrassing. Sigh.
With hopes for a stellar conclusion.