The Tube strike earlier this week was not much fun. Getting home from work on Monday evening ended up costing me £30 for a taxi. With the strike in full swing on Tuesday I opted not to bother going in, so I was able to catch up on a bit of reading.

I pulled volume 50 of Marvel Masterworks off the shelf, it being a collection of the early adventures of Marvel’s Captain Marvel — as opposed to DC’s Captain Marvel… or, indeed, Myron Fass’s Captain Marvel — but we don’t talk about him much (unless you’re a devoted fan of Gorilla Daze past, that is).

This book was published a couple of years ago and it’s fairly remarkable that it was the first time this material was reprinted in the US. Most of the Marvel output of the Silver Age has been reprinted over and over again in various formats. Not so for the the good Captain Mar-Vell.

I’ve not read these stories for more than 30 years (they appeared, if I recall correctly, in the Titans weekly comic from Marvel UK), so I was quite looking forward to reacquainting myself with his early appearances.

Truth the tell, they’re not that fabulous. I guess that’s the reason Marvel have been reluctant to reprint them before.

Stan Lee created the character in response to a direct request from publisher Martin Goodman who felt Marvel needed to secure a trademark for the eponymous hero. And who can blame him? If anyone is going to own the name ‘Captain Marvel’, it might as well be Marvel. What Lee came up with is essentially a lacklustre version of Superman: an alien comes to Earth, takes on a secret identity, and fights villains with the strength he’s gained thanks to Earth’s lighter gravity. Mindful of his ‘heroes with problems’ trope, Lee gave Mar-Vell a wimpy girlfriend, a nasty boss, and a requirement that he put his hat on every hour lest he suffocate in Earth’s atmosphere.

It’s clear that Lee had little interest in the character beyond sketching out the bare necessities in Marvel Super-Heroes #12, and the second half of the origin story was written by Roy Thomas. Thomas continued scripting as the Captain gained his own book, but was gone after a few issues, replaced by DC escapee Arnold Drake.

The magnificent Gene Colan was the visual creator of Mar-Vell, and his work on the early stories is solid, if uninspiring. I don’t think he had much interest in the book, either. And Vinnie Colletta’s trademark inking saps any life his pencils may originally have had. Later, Don Heck inherited the penciling chores.

So, okay, they’re not great comics, but they are fairly important seeing as how Mar-Vell was essentially the last of the Silver Age, classic House of Ideas characters. By some standards, the arrival of Mar-Vell marks the end of the Silver Age.

And, yes, they’re worth reading — but not too often…