Saturday, January 12, 2013

'The Korvac Saga'

If I'm a fan of alternate histories and realities, and I am, the reason lies in a comic book Marvel Comics published up until 1984.

Narrated by Uatu the Watcher, "What If?" revisited some of Marvel's most iconic or successful stories, and showed how thy could have unfolded based on a single decision made differently. The initial run of "What If?" gave us stories, often by the talent behind the original story, of things like Peter Parker stopping the burglar and becoming a TV star rather than a superhero. Another story had Reed Richards wait for better shielding against cosmic radiation, with the result that he and his flight team never became the Fantastifc Four.

In one of of my personal favorites, Michael Korvac defeated the Avengers and pursued his dream of remaking the universe, taking out one being after another and adding their power to his own. As his power increased, the threat that Korvac posed alarmed more and more of the big hitters in the Marvel Universe until it reached the point that both he and the forces arrayed against him were unstoppable.

Backed into a corner, and unwilling to let go of his ambition, Korvac destroyed the entre universe with a single click of the Ultimate Nullifier. I want to stress that this wasn't cheap melodrama as later issues of "What If?" became. This was a logically structured story that progressed the only way it could. Even now years later, I still get a chill thinking about the way the it went.

In the regular Marvel Universe, where he did not destroy everything, Michael Korvac was the creation of Jim Shooter. He was one of many of the nemeses Shooter created for Marvel whose godlike powers were so tremendous that he was virtually undefeatable -- except of course, the heroes always manage to find a way, alternate realities excepted.

The Korvac Saga, as it is now known, first ran in 1978. Goaded on by that "What If?" story, I searched through comics conventions in my teens for individual issues in the series, and even managed to buy some. I never read the entire story until I finally got a collected edition this past week from

It's disappointing.

In all fairness, comic books in 1978 had a younger readership than they do in 2013, and so you have to expect that they're going to focus on the adventure and cosmic spectacle more than on the humanity of their characters. That is particularly true for comics about superhero teams with rosters with legends like Captain America, powerhouses like Iron Man and Wonder Man, and the occasional Norse or Greek god.

But, to a 42-year-old who still finds something to enjoy in superhero comics, this comic did disappoint. There are too many clumsy asides to bring the reader up to pace on what happened last issue; too many people casually walking around in public or in the privacy of their own home in silly costumes; and too much melodrama to make sure we know just how powerful and menacing a figure Michael Korvac cuts.

And then there are other things that just feel odd. Never in my life did I expect to see Captain America and Iron Man squabbling like children, but that's a spectacle that awaits inside this volume. "It's my turn to be in charge and give the orders!" Iron Man whines. "But you're doing it wrong!" Captain America shouts, before punching him in the face. (I am not making that up.)

That's not to say the comic was awful, though, because it wasn't. If the story seems too juvenile at times, there are moments when the writer's wit shines through. There's the fashion show hosted by the Wasp, crashed by a supervillain wannabee wearing a suit made of brown projectile quills and calling himself the Porcupine. Or there's the moment when the Avengers realize, their special flight privileges revoked, that they will have to take a bus to Queens to save the world.

The story's got some of the great Marvel cliches, like a threat to the entire universe, but it also uses some of the storytelling techniques that have made Marvel Comics worth reading for so long, such as the use of a subplot involving the Collector that finally reveals its relationship to the larger story just as the subplot concludes. And of course, this is the story that gave us Henry Gyrich, the government bureaucrat every superhero is afraid of.

All told, I enjoyed the story for what it is, though I'd be lying if I said I didn't skim it at times. On the other hand, my daughters, who still love a good superhero romp as much I once did, have been enjoying it quite a bit.

Once they finish it, I need to turn them on to the story where Korvac wins.

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