The first installment in a new series wherein I tell you that EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG. Basically, I'll be explaining why some piece of accepted comic book-related wisdom is, actually, wrong.
Accepted Comic Book Wisdom Says, "Captain Marvel was a mediocre series until Roy Thomas and Gil Kane reimagined it by adding Rick Jones, Nega Bands, and a fancy new concept to match the fancy new costume."
Originally appearing in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967), the Kree Captain Mar-Vell, in his original Green and White space costume may have been Stan Lee's attempt at making sure nobody else used the "Marvel" name on a superhero title, but it was a pretty strong concept from the start. Lee may not have had his heart in it, but he, and later writers, including Roy Thomas (who worked on the green and white incarnation of the character before revamping him years after) created a strong series that perhaps lacked only in a strong villainous presence. The Captain Marvel concept worked great. Mar-Vell was a Kree who had to infiltrate human society in order to gather information for his superiors. Meanwhile, his superior officer, Yon-Rogg, was macking on his girlfriend. There was a lot of "macking" going on in those late days of the Silver Age. So pretty much every early story was about Captain Marvel trying to reconcile his duty to his people with his admiration for humanity while he was getting stabbed in the back by one of his Kree brothers. Stan Lee inner conflict at its finest, with some pretty sweet Gene Colan and Don Heck art.
The series amped up the conflict with new potential love interest Carol Danvers (note: the first time Danvers meets Iron Man, he beats her up. He was under the control of the Puppet Master, but still, it makes you wonder why Ms. Marvel trusts Tony Stark so implicitly these days. If someone beat me up the first time I met them, I might not always trust that person so much) and then with writers Arnold Drake (of the Doom Patrol!!!) and Gary Friedrich, it became really odd, climaxing in a strange, Tom Sutton-drawn issue involving the cosmic "Zo" and designed as an acid trip. It was apparently inspired by Stan Lee's then-current obsession with what Steranko was doing in his innovative work.
These Captain Marvel stories from the green and white space-suit days were good fun, contrary to conventional wisdom, which tends to ignore their existence in favor of...
Roy Thomas and Gil Kane's revamped Captain Marvel. Premiering in issue #17, this is the Captain Marvel most of comicdom is familiar with. Even those of us who never read a Captain Marvel comic as a kid knew about the guy with white hair and the blue and red costume and the golden bracelets. He's still the Captain Marvel that we understand. Not that guy with the fin on his head and the hip holster. But the thing is, these Roy Thomas/Gil Kane stories are pretty terrible. Sure, the Gil Kane art is as good as you'd expect, and it has a dynamism lacking from the Heck or Sutton issues, but Roy Thomas may have written some of his worst comics on these Captain Marvel issues, and if you read his introduction to the Masterworks volumes, he seems inordinately proud of these atrocities.
Thomas takes everything that worked about the Mar-Vell character--the inner turmoil and Kree guilt, the space context, the blend of space opera and domestic struggle--and tosses it out in favor of some weird amalgamation of Denny O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow and CC Beck's Golden Age Captain Marvel. All of a sudden, Thomas throws perennial Hulk and Captain America sidekick Rick Jones into the mix, contriving some way to replicate the "Shazam" effect by having Jones and Mar-Vell switch places by clanking their bracelets. It's not so bad in theory--although the addition of Rick Jones comes out of NOWHERE and feels absolutely forced--but the stories he and Kane tell are the worst kind of "socially relevant" stories of the early 1970s. Instead of fighting giant robot Kree alien monsters, newly revamped Captain Marvel fights against a dude who runs corrupt low-income housing. Seriously.
It's just not good. And don't get me started on Rick Jones's rock and roll career.
Roy Thomas and Gil Kane may have given Captain Marvel new life and their legacy may live on today, but their stories in these issues kinda suck. The conventional wisdom is wrong.