This issue of MS. MARVEL was another comic that I got in one of those plastic-wrapped bundles of coverless, stripped-for-credit titles from my local Drug Store. It was certainly a “bonus book” in whatever bundle it was that I happened to purchase, and not the reason why I was making that purchase in the first place. But a comic book was a comic book in those days, even if I wasn’t all that entirely interested in it. MS. MARVEL is such a weird series launch. I can understand teh market forces that made it seem like a good idea to try a “women’s lib” super heroine. But the choice on writer Gerry Conway’s part to make the character a female equivalent of Captain Mar-Vell (a hero who always had difficulty sustaining interest in his own title) seems really self-defeating on the face of it. It was clear from the jump that Spider-Woman and She-Hulk were both conceived to protect trademarks, not because of any inspiration. Ms Marvel felt like that as well somehow, for all that subsequent creators ultimately were able to build on these sloppy foundations to create a personality of lasting value.
If nothing else, the artwork looked good on this early issue. It felt like Marvel was putting some muscle behind the launch, not only assigning thee issues to John Buscema to pencil (given that he was one of the more expensive and valuable creators then in the Marvel stable) but also by pulling in Joe Sinnott, who was similarly an A-Game player in terms of cost and ability, to ink and finish. And the end result is entertaining, for all that it’s also rife with odd decisions. Looking at this, I wonder if the idea that Ms Marvel wouldn’t know who she really was might have been an idea that somebody else (Stan Lee?) saddled Conway with, and which he moved to try to get rid of as quickly as he could. Certainly, the idea of a dual identity that the lead character isn’t aware of is novel, but the limitations seem to me to be greater than the benefits of such a scenario. It was also a bit weird to take Carol Danvers, who had been a NASA Chief of Security and set her up as the editor of a Women’s Magazine. Now, that’s a hell of a career change, and one that doesn’t really track. I’d imagine that Conway was thinking of Gloria Steinem as he cast his Ms. Marvel, but if that’s what he was going for, he may have been better off creating her from whole cloth. (The other obvious choice, Conway’s own creation Glory Grant, wasn’t going to be permitted to headline her own comic book in 1976 given that she was a woman of color–but that would have had a hair more logic to it as a choice.)
I also wonder if the decision to name Kerwin Korman in his villainous incarnation as The Destructor wasn’t a move designed to throw an elbow at the recently-closed-up Altas Comics, who had featured a hero of that name. Atlas would have shuttered right before MS MARVEL was being worked on (and Conway wrote the final issue of his series.) Again, though, a weird choice, motivated by…what? The typeface of his name on the cover of this issue even resembles the atlas character’s logo just a bit.
In any event, this issue spends a good portion of its time illuminating the backstory of its lead character. So let’s have a look, shall we?
The issue opens with Professor Kerwin Korman and a bunch of scientists from Advanced Idea Mechanics going over the playback of Ms. Marvel’s recent battle with the Scorpion. A.I.M. is interested in capturing Ms Marvel and learning her secrets (her costume, we learn, includes complex circuity which allows her to fly, a fact that was dispensed with in later years) Korman, formerly a Hydra scientist, has outfitted himself as the Destructor for this purpose. Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson’s new hire Carol Danvers steps out for a dinner with her new friend Mary Jane Watson, where she tells MJ (and the readers) about how she had been Head of Security at Cape Kennnedy, where she got caught up in a battle between Captain Mar-Vell and his nemesis Yon-Rogg over an ancient Kree weapon, the Psyche-Magnitron. But before Carol can elaborate on how this cost her her job, she begins to have another one of her blackouts and races from the restaurant in an attempt to make it home before this happens.
The Destructor, meanwhile, has followed the readings he took off of Ms Marvel earlier back to teh cave in which the Psyche-Magnitron had been hidden, and he’s amazed by the transformative power of teh energy readings he’s getting. Carol, in the meantime, has woken up the next morning with no recall of the past night. Fearing for her sanity, she goes to visit her analyst friend Dr. Michael Barnett. Barnett puts Carol under hypnosis, where she reveals to him further details about the confrontation between Mar-Vell and Yon-Rogg. It seems that Carol was caught in the detonation of the Psyche-Magnitron energy, and in shielding her as best he could, portions of Mar-Vell’s psyche and powers were imprinted upon Carol without her conscious knowledge. Barnett now realizes that Carol is the mysterious Ms Marvel who turned up last issue.
Meanwhile, the Scorpion, whom Ms Marvel had trounced last issue by knocking him into a tank of acid, has come to. driven mad with pain from his injuries, he breaks free from the A.I.M. scientists who had retrieved his body and were attempting to study it, and emerges onto the streets, running riot as he attempts to seek out the woman who messed him up. He doesn’t have long to wait, though, as Carol has transformed into Ms Marvel once more, and throws down with the out of control Scorpion. As the whole intent with Ms Marvel was to try to create a super-heroine who would punch out her enemies (Marvel had a bevy of female super heroes who possessed what was then called “point-and-zap” powers and who fought from a distance) she wades in to brawl physically, in a manner that recalls Rogue in retrospect (no doubt in part because Rogue would wind up absorbing Carol’s powers and psyche herself down the road.)
Now, Ms. Marvel beat teh Scorpion last issue when he was fresh, and he’s still walking around badly injured this time out, so their bout isn’t much of an affair. But no sooner has she trounced the Scorpion than the Destructor appears, whizzing in on a flying disk and attacking her with his uniform’s built-in weapons. In a bit of serendipity, Ms Marvel and the Destructor wind up knocking one another insensate almost simultaneously–and that’s where this particular issue is To Be Continued. The whole thing feels more like a product than it does the product of inspiration, and it’s no great surprise that the weirdo placeholder text page in this issue written by David Anthony Kraft announces that Chris Claremont will be taking over scripting with #3. One gets the feeling that Gerry Conway wasn’t all that engaged by this assignment, regardless of the fact that he (and a committee) had come up with the basic character.