WARNING: The following text pretty thoroughly spoils last week’s Avengers #3. Or explains it, depending on your point of view.
Class, the fellow pictured to the left is called Captain Universe, sort of. “Captain Universe” is more of a concept than a guy; the jawline peeking out of that getup could belong to anyone called anything. Captain Universe isn’t the secret identity of a guy with a career path in super heroism. It is a free floating, disembodied power (the “Uni-Power,” to be precise) that jumps into people unexpectedly when they and/or the Cosmos need it most. If a super hero is needed, and none of them are around, and God happens to be paying attention instead of doing a crossword puzzle, Captain Universe is there. You’re walking down the street to get a bagel when suddenly Cthulu comes out of a manhole or something and bam, you’re wearing a sparkly leotard for a while. When the threat has passed, the super spree ends and you’re standing in the middle of the street in your sweatpants again with a lot of explaining to do.
Captain Universe’s power is cosmic and tends to be whatever
the writer the crisis happens to need. The Uni-Power has stopped nuclear holocausts, has repaired the walls between dimensions, and has jumped into a kid to get bullies to quit picking on him. It has jumped onto Daredevil. It has jumped onto a baby. It didn’t stop a thing called “the Annihilation Wave” so clearly it is, oh, let’s say moody vis-à-vis defining the phrase “cosmic crisis.”
(I am going somewhere with this.)
Captain Universe has, I believe, appeared in the Marvel Universe on fewer than thirty occasions since his 1979 debut, and almost a third of those were during Reagan’s first year in office. His first appearance was in Micronauts, so you will never be able to read it as long as you live.
By his very nature, Captain Universe rarely appears in the same comic book series twice. Captain Universe pops up so infrequently that every time I happen to see him I think, “Hey, look whose trademark needed to be renewed!” I would have sworn the last time I saw Captain Universe was 1991, but it seems he was in a book I read just last year. This doesn’t make me feel addled or senile, though, because Captain Universe is quite literally a non-character with no traits; it would be more alarming if I did remember seeing him.
I am telling you all of this because apparently no one else is going to.
Captain Universe single-handedly resolved the first arc of Avengers last week. In the middle of a pitched battle that would determine the very fate of Earth itself, she (it’s currently a she) walked around until one of the bad guys recognized her. She asked them to stop fighting and go away, so they did. I had to practice my deep breathing exercises to stop my pulse from pounding. And so it came to pass that, after three issues of looming genocidal cataclysm, the genociders we barely knew were defeated by a climactic nice-asking from Captain Universe, a character that no issue of the book ever introduced.
Oh, her name was typed in six-point font in a list with thirty-five other names on the recap page. In issue #2, there was a little picture of her face that said “Captain Universe” that none of the main characters discussed or mentioned. Despite the ample groundwork and rich back story of typing her name twice, though, she first physically appeared in the series in this issue without a word of introduction, or even anyone in the book saying her name. “Hey, Captain Universe! Nice to see you possessing some new rando.” Nothing. A sparkly lady walks up and says, “Guys: knock it off,” and everyone says, “Yeah, okay” and starts packing up the hatchback, taking with them all the good will the series had accrued thus far. The end.
Welcome, new reader. You can look up who you’re reading about in Wikipedia, assuming you can deduce their unspoken names through context clues. Oh, what a jolly puzzle awaits you!
People who have been reading comics for years had no idea what the hell they were looking at. I know because more than one of them came and asked me, and when you’re turning to me for answers you are in bad shape indeed.
This is the kind of thing that’ll bury a medium. I’ve gotten a better sense of what I was looking at from the first cut scene in a video game. This was chapter three, Shakespeare. Sixty pages in. Maybe you’re planning to double back in the next arc and fill in the blanks, but what if I’m not there when you do? Those odds are looking pretty bad for you all of a sudden.
There was another character playing a significant role in this issue, also a female. She got a healthy chunk of time under the spotlight and more dialogue than characters we know a lot better. For most of her appearance, her back was to the “camera.” Nobody said her name. I’ve been reading Marvel comics since I was a wee, tiny lad, and I had no idea who she was. The closest I got was “Why is Protector a woman now?” I found the one tiny name on the recap list I didn’t recognize and Googled it. I still had no idea who she was for, you see, she is a new character. This may well have been her first appearance, and no one said her name. Apparently, she will get some backstory two or three issues from now. Somebody let me know how that goes.
Why not just build a moat around the comic shop and fill it with crocodiles?
I believe in being patient and letting the tale teller tell his tale. I believe in forgetting “jumping-on points,” diving right in, and figuring it out as you go like our nerdy forefathers did. But there’s not knowing a character because you started with issue #247, and there’s not knowing a character because he last appeared when you were six years old. When debuting a new character in a team book, feel free to explain how she came to be on the team, or why everyone else on that team is working with her despite not knowing who she is. You are trying to sell more books, are you not? Having big ideas is useless unless you let the rest of us know what they are.
Jim Mroczkowski would get the Uni-Power taken away from him very quickly.