Captain Universe vs. nameless hordes of something or other. Artist: Steve Ditko.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1979
Creators: Bill Mantlo (writer) and Michael Golden (artist)
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It's generally held that one reason superheroes have such timeless appeal to adolescent males is the phenomenon of reader identification — boys just love imagining themselves in the place of a hero who can mop …

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… the floor with whoever opposes him. It's no coincidence that perhaps the most popular one of the 1940s, when the genre first flowered, was Captain Marvel, where the connection between the big, strong hero and the small, helpless boy was most explicit. So it makes sense that a superhero who could be anybody who is pure of heart and noble of purpose would be a huge hit.

But a lot of things that make sense in theory don't turn out so well in practice. Captain Universe, who was exactly that kind of superhero, made a few sporadic appearances, including a reasonably serious attempt at promotion, and wound up mostly fizzling.

Cap first appeared in Micronauts #8, published by Marvel Comics with a cover date of August, 1979. The story was written by Bill Mantlo, a prolific Marvel writer of the time who was also associated with The Champions after creator Tony Isabella (Black Lightning) left, Alpha Flight after creator John Byrne (Iron Fist) left, and Deathlok after creator Rich Buckler (Reagan's Raiders) left. The artist was Michael Golden, who has done a variety of work for Marvel and DC, among others, including Batman and G.I. Joe.

Captain Universe came to be (in that story, at least — an impression was given that some version of him had been around a while) when Ray Coffin, a former astronaut who had entered the Microverse, where the series was set, got zapped with The Uni-Power and thus, temporarily at least, gifted with an excellent array of super powers as well as a spiffy costume to show them off in. The Uni-Power was a subsidiary of The Enigma Force, which apparently powered The Time Travelers, a mysterious bunch who operated in that realm. Since the series was licensed from Mego, the toy company that produced Micronauts as a set of action figures, most things having to do with the Microverse didn't interact much with the rest of the Marvel Universe, and thus remain pretty much undefined.

But The Uni-Power broke out into the Marvel mainstream, and with it, Captain Universe. In fact, Cap even had a trial run in Marvel Spotlight, a 1980s revival of the '70s try-out title where Werewolf by Night and The Son of Satan had gotten their starts. He never moved out into his own comic, however, probably because of limitations inherent in the concept. Since each of the three issues featured a different person in the Captain Universe role, there wasn't much of an opportunity to develop multi-issue sub-plots, or to generate reader interest in the supporting characters.

Captain Universe continues to turn up in Marvel comics, however, as The Uni-Power keeps on zapping various individuals in times of need. Even those who are superheroes already sometimes get it — Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and Daredevil have all been Captain Universe at one time or another, as has Bruce Banner between sessions as The Hulk. He's even, despite lack of continuity in "his" "life", been part of an extremely minor superhero team, The Law Enforcement Squad, which also included Red Raven, Dr. Druid and others with similar name recognition.

According to a blurb used in the Marvel Spotlight run, Captain Universe is the hero who could be you. As long as he could be anybody, he'll no-doubt continue to show up from time to time, as one person or another.


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Text ©2006 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.