Well, this is it. The end to a mini series most hardcore Marvel fans were dreading. I mentioned the contention over Mar-Vell in my review of the fourth issue of this series, in that he’s a very tough character to write at the moment, especially with the backlash against Civil War: The Return. Brian Reed was given the ball to try and set up a status quo for the newly reborn/time traveled Captain Marvel, and he’s certainly done that. This is a big issue, and it’s got some major things happening within its pages that cannot be glossed over for the sake of keeping this sucker spoiler free, so I’m going to spoiler the hell out of this here book, and what I think of Bendis/Reed’s choices for what to do with this character.
There’s been a tension throughout this series concerning a painting of Alexander the Great. Mar-Vell has been obsessed with it, and it obviously had something to do with his past. Well, now we know. Turns out, the painting was chosen as a trigger image. The effects of Mar-Vell’s banishment into the Negative Zone at the end of issue four led to him completely regaining his memory, and we are treated to a flashback explaining just who this guy really is. And yes, Skrull Cobalt Man was correct. He is a skrull. But he is no ordinary Skrull, nor is he an ordinary Super Skrull. Instead, the Skrulls decided to take portions of Mar-Vell’s DNA and graft them to the body of a Skrull (Is this what Reed figured out at the end of Secret Invasion 1 before going all gooey?). But things did not go perfectly. The memory alterations they were making had to be done while he was awake, and thus did not fully take. The trigger image did not work. But more importantly, he also retained the thoughts, feelings and personal history of Mar-Vell even after he woke up. So what do we have here? We have a Skrull wearing Captain Marvel’s body that knows he’s a Skrull, but doesn’t really care. He’s Captain Marvel, dammit, and nothing’s going to change that. Thus, one of the first things he does after this revelation is kill three Skrulls that are infiltrating the Church of Hala. He’s still fighting on the side of good. And we’ve got another pretty darned well written monologue to show that: “There is a war coming. And with it, many dark times. Captain Marvel would not leave his adopted world in its time of need. Captain Marvel would protect it at all costs. No matter what my body once was…I am the sworn protector of this world and her people. I will stand between the coming attack and the innocents who cannot fight for themselves. I will protect this world through the coming darkness. For I am Mar-Vell of the Kree. I am Captain Marvel.” Pretty good stuff right there. But does this revelation work and ring true?
I think it does. Sure, it once again opens the door for people to bring up the quick fix mantra, and that this is the way for them to sweep The Return under the rug and placate the Mar-Vell fans out there. And thay may be true. But if you forget that and just look at the story itself over these last five issues, you’ve got a man that has wounded pride. A man who considers himself one of the great heroes of the world, only to discover that he died the most unheroic death possible from a freak encounter with not the most threatening villain in the world. This is not the death he wanted. And he’s had to deal with that. Even though he knows he’s a Skrull, he also still retains the memories that have led him to this point. And suddenly he has the grand opportunity to get the death that Mar-Vell always wanted and fight for what is right. Honor in death is a very strong motif in Western Culture. Blame the Iliad, but it’s something to which many people (myself included) have a strong attachment. It’s the same thing you see in the Warbound that makes me like them so much as characters. It’s that consistent refrain from Planet Hulk of “May he who dies, die well.” It’s Hector fighting for the honor of his people in a doomed fight against a raving Achilles. It’s one of those ideals and tropes that is built deeply into our society. And we get Captain Marvel’s feelings here. He has a chance to make it all right again. Sure, Captain Marvel himself will never truly get his heroic death, but he sure as shit will by proxy.
We all pretty much know that this version of Captain Marvel won’t be making it out of Secret Invasion. And we all pretty much know that he will make the ultimate heroic sacrifice. And we also know that there’s a damn good chance Marvel Boy will be present for this and will use it as motivation for becoming the next Captain Marvel. This five issue mini had two goals to accomplish. The first was the technical, the Skrull reveal itself. The second, though, is altogether more important to both this story and Secret Invasion as a whole, which is the emotional resonance. We have to believe that this is a character that needs redemption, regardless of his molecular makeup. We need to know as readers that he will be doing everything in his power to make things right. That’s what this mini really had to accomplish, and I really think Brian Reed did a hell of a job in getting us inside the mind of Mar-Vell and examining the conflict, doubt, and regret that dominates his feelings, as well as his superhuman need to overcome and set things right. And he did it well enough that I buy it completely. I don’t care that he’s a Skrull. He’s a worthy avatar of Mar-Vell himself, and that’s what is important. Excellent conclusion to a very good mini, and I look forward to this paying off big in Secret Invasion.