Mark’s Remarks – Marvel Age #81 (November 1989)

Now where was I? Oh yes, naming my top ten all-time favorite cosmic comic books Marvel’s ever done. Last installment I listed my first five choices, leaving the last five for this time ‘round. I won’t reiterate my first five choices – thus, depriving MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE of countless back issue sales – but I will repeat my working definition of a cosmic story. A cosmic story is a story that gets you to think about the wonders of the universe and man’s place in it. All set? Let’s cruise.

My sixth favorite cosmic tale would have to be the Kree-Skrull War multi-parter told in AVENGERS #89-97, courtesy of Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and Sal and John Buscema. It was not only epic in scope, the longest continued story Marvel had then let spin, it also involved the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans, Captain Mar-vell, the Supreme Intelligence, the Super-Skrull, huge armadas, and a cast of millions. The premise was that two of the Marvel Universe’s most frequently seen alien races were involved in a constant war, the latest skirmish in which would be fought in the vicinity of Earth. The central idea of the story was the human race’s place in the scheme of life in the universe, and despite our relative technological primitiveness, Earth managed to squeak by virtually unscathed. The ideological revelation contained in the story was that the human race had greater genetic potential than either the Kree or Skrull races. Despite earlier references to Earth, as a backwater, unimportant world, both alien races were forced to admit that the human race, left unchecked, would surpass their achievements someday. After all, any world capable of spawning so many super-powered individuals had to be reckoned with. Earthman Rick Jones is stimulated at the epic’s climax into releasing his full mental potential, and that force is enough to stop the war. Whereas my personal view of mankind is not quite as exalted, I had to admit that the tale succeeded in making one think about humanity’s potential and destiny.

My seventh favorite cosmic tale was Jim Starlin’s first Thanos epic in CAPTAIN MARVEL #25-33. Thanos was a singularly powerful, singularly mad demi-god who not only worshipped Death (here personified as a woman), but sought to destroy the universe in order to profess his love for her. Now there was a motivation you don’t see every day. The Kree and the Skrull’s quest for power was easy enough to understand by our human minds, since humanity had known its own empire-building urges. But love of death and destruction for its own sake on this scale was way out there on the relatability spectrum. Human beings usually act on the interests of self-preservation and procreation – imagining a being so dedicated to self-annihilation was definitely brainfood. Not exactly a lightweight to begin with, Thanos still needed the Cosmic Cube to help him attain his goals, and if he hadn’t let the Cube’s power to transform him into a disembodied nigh-omnipotent being make him careless, he might just have succeeded. Thanos has etched his place in Marvel’s all-time annals of villainy by his audacious nihilistic schemes and his truly alien motivation.

My eighth choice is Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner’s Sise-Neg saga in MARVEL PRESENTS #13-14, wherein Dr. Strange trails an ambitious time traveler from the future named Sise-Neg back through time to creation itself to prevent him from absorbing all the mystical energy in the universe. Along the way Sise keeps getting more and more powerful. And when Sise gets back to the moment of the Big Bang, his plan is to recreate the universe in his own image. And apparently he has the power to do that. But what does he then decide? That the way things were (or will be) are as perfect as they can be, and he will only “recreate” everything as it ever was. Dr. Strange is then propelled back to his present and is forced to ponder did he indeed witness a second creation of the universe, or was the creation he witnessed the first creation, the way it always was. Was Sise-Neg actually the creator of the universe as we know it? A cosmic question, to be sure.

My ninth favorite cosmic tale is the introduction of the Celestials in the early issues of THE ETERNALS by Jack Kirby. The Celestials are not only forty times taller than Galactus, they’re also a whole bunch of ‘em, and like Galactus they too destroy worlds – not out of hunger, but out of an alien sense of worthiness. What makes them so special is not just their size, not just their mission, not just their cryptic manner, but also their role in the development of (presumably) all the humanoid races in the Marvel Universe. They are apparently the guardians of organic life in the universe and what they say goes truly goes. Although (or maybe because) we see virtually no overt displays of power, the Celestials seem unbelievably powerful, perhaps constituting a class of beings whose power transcends that of the Elders, the Watchers, Galactus, and other analogously powerful entities. Although Kirby never got the chance to resolve his storyline of the Celestials’ fifty year judgement of humanity (it was later resolved by lesser hands, mine among them), the mysterious Celestials nevertheless succeed in expanding our conception of the possibilities inherent in alien lifeforms.

And for my last choice in the cosmic sweepstakes, hmmm…it’s a tough call. One of Stan and Jack’s early Ragnarok stories? They were all about the end of the world, after all. No, try as I might I didn’t believe Earth would die just because extradimensional Asgard was. How about Jim Shooter and George Perez’s Korvac/Michael saga? It had all the right elements for a cosmic epic: a man who like Sise-Neg wished to become the most powerful person in the universe, then shape the universe in his own image. I particularly liked the scene where Korvac, hiding out as a wealthy suburbanite, mentally went about the cosmos, making certain none of the other cosmic powers was aware of him, his great power, and his masterplan. Unfortunately, the Avengers and friends stop him so we never get a chance to see exactly how Korvac would have recreated the universe (surely, he wouldn’t have just let it be like Sise-Neg did, would he?), so the serial falls just a tad short of great cosmicity. So what then will be my tenth?

Tell you what. I’ll let each of you help me decide what should go there. Write and tell me your favorite cosmic epic in care of “Mark’s Remarks” and I’ll print your answers in a future column. Who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of Cosmic Cop-Outs? Not me, that’s for sure.

–Mark Gruenwald

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