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COMIC COVER CONJECTURE: Guessing the Story of Ms Marvel #16

Clave challenged Jaws to guess a comic book story just by looking at the cover. What, if anything, can Jaws get correct about the content inside without ever actually reading the comic!?!

The comic book in question: Ms. Marvel #16 from 1978.

Ms Marvel 16 (1978). Cover by Dave Cockrum.

Jaws: First off, wow. It is easy to forget that Ms. Marvel is a really long-running Marvel character. Most of us probably know the a recent iteration of the character when she was written by Kelly Sue Deconnick. But this throwback cover has some real doozies here.

First off, it’s only issue #16, so this is only a little over a year since Carol Danvers has become Ms. Marvel. But this cover: a giant squid? Plus, the main villain: Tiger Shark, a classic Marvel villain who has a great backstory – an injured Olympian swimmer who gets injected with the DNA of Namor and a tiger shark, because if you are going to mess around with DNA, why not double dip.

So what exactly is going on?

Clave: Before you make your guess on the story, I want to give some quick background on the cover artist, Dave Cockrum. 

Dave Cockrum was kicking butt over at DC with Legion of Super-Heroes in 1975, but left Legion over a dispute concerning the return of his original artwork. In the move to Marvel he took an unused character design with him to would go on become Nightcrawler in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. 

That began a legendary pairing with Chris Claremont on X-Men where the duo was responsible for revamping Jean Grey into Phoenix, as well as introducing Black Tom Cassidy, Lilandra, the Shi’ar Empire, the Imperial Guard (who were a loose parody of the Legion), and the Starjammers. Cockrum’s cover of X-Men #101 remains my favorite comic book cover to this day. 

Cockrum also helped Claremont out on his other ongoing assignment, Ms. Marvel, penciling two issues wherein he designed a fantastic new costume for Carol Danvers. Although he did not draw their first appearances in the pages of Ms. Marvel, Dave was the designer of both Deathbird and Mystique. Put a pin in that. 

Jaws: Cool info, now here goes my guess on the story… So, I don’t know of any direct connection with Ms. Marvel and Tiger Shark. Her Rogue’s Gallery isn’t very locked in the same way that someone like Spider-Man’s is.

But, clearly there is some kind of beef here. So, Carol Danvers has a day off when she decides to visit the New York Aquarium. But while there, a giant squid exposed to Kree technology communicates with her that the aquarium has recently been taken over by a new leader: the infamous Tiger Shark.

Clave: Go on…

Jaws: But Tiger Shark is on to her and when she jumps into the tank to help the Giant Squid, Tiger Shark turns the squid against Ms. Marvel, using some sort of technology. A fight ensues, and while Carol is uber-powerful, the fight underwater nearly gets to her…until the Squid breaks free of Tiger Shark’s control and helps to bring her to the surface. 

Revitalized, Ms. Marvel dives back down to bring Tiger Shark to the surface, defeating him once he is removed from the water. And the Squid, along with the rest of the Aquarium staff, are deeply grateful, granting Ms. Marvel / Carol with a lifetime membership! And for a long time, it was where she brought all potential boyfriends on their first dates! (And let it be known that personally, I ‘ship her and James Rhodes AKA War Machine!)

Clave: Oh, man, what you came up with is bonkers! Sadly, you aren’t even close. I award you no points.

Here is the actual story from Ms. Marvel #16, supported by actual panels from the interior of the comic.

I can’t recall the plots points of Ms Marvel #15 and I can’t be bothered to look it up, but Tiger Shark kidnapped Namorita for some reason and Ms Marvel got involved somehow. And because – unlike modern comics – heroes were actually heroic back in the day, Ms Marvel went to the Avengers for help in rescuing Nita.

When she arrived at Avengers mansion, Beast attacked her, of course, because Marvel loves using a misunderstanding to have their heroes fight each other needlessly:

Marvel loves to have their heroes fight one another.

Scarlet Witch calms down Beast but they perplexingly don’t end up helping anyway. But they give Carol access to the lab and she creates a potion on water breathing she uses Kree knowledge to create a serum that will allow her to breath underwater for about 90 minutes, a finite length of time that – you guessed it – puts a timer on the plot.

Ms Marvel at this time wasn’t all-powerful like she is in the MCU, but she was an excellent hand-to-hand combatant, having been taught by the Kree. Tiger Shark, on the other hand, was simply a bruiser. So, although Ms Marvel found his lair quickly, it was clobbering time, so she made a strategic retreat with the plan to ambush him and counter his strength with leverage.

But bruisers are bruisers and he slung a torpedo at her. That’s when things got good.

Tiger Shark is fun.

The torpedo did two things:

  1. First, it rung Ms Marvel’s bell.
  2. And it woke up a giant sleeping squid!
This was when comic books were fun.

The squid sequence was over quick, but remember when comic books knew they were supposed to be fun?

Carol outsmarted the squid and her plan ultimately worked – she grappled Tiger Shark and knocked him out using pressure points, although the dude should be fairly pressure resistant considering the undersea depths he lived him, but gosh-danged-it, comics are supposed to be fun, not physical science simulations.

Shocker, but Ms Marvel won the battle in the exact seconds her magic potion ran out and readers thought for sure she’d drown…

But Namorita had gotten herself free of her shackles during the battle, found the unconscious Carol Danvers, placed her in an air pocket in a sunken ship, and finally got her to the surface. It was a happy ending for everyone but Tiger Shark and the poor squid, who was only trying to take a nap.

Jaws: First off, Marvel always loved that hero versus hero violence. They needed a hero safe word or something. And give Tiger Shark a little credit; the man threw torpedos as a weapon.

I am not surprised about the angry giant squid. You wake me up from my Sunday afternoon nap and I am a bit of a beast as well. And Namorita? Give me some New Warriors!

Clave: Not so fast. There was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it B plot in the comic and those two panels turned out to be the very first cameo appearance of Mystique!

The first cameo appearance of Mystique in Ms Marvel #16 (1978).

Dave Cockrum never set out to create Mystique and Chris Claremont never set out to write her, but Cockrum remembers how it came to be thusly:

Dave Cockrum was doodling character designs and this became Mystique.

“This drawing was done for fun and hung in my office until my partner Chris Claremont wandered in one day, saw her, and started to drool. ‘I want her!’ he said. He named her Mystique, gave her powers and added her to the Uncanny X-Men rogues gallery.”

But before she became one of the all-time great X-Men villains, she first appeared in Ms Marvel #16 in disguise, a state that we’d come to realize was Mystique’s whole mystique. She’d then appear in her Dave Cockrum form in Ms Marvel #18 and the rest is history.

Jaws: So that is pretty cool behind the scenes on Mystique. Claremont always did recognize some potential just from a little bit of a character or a sketch. I mean, Wolverine was a hack who fought Hulk before he became a member of the X-Men (and then on to the iconic status of the 80s and 90s.)

And you said Dave Cockrum created Nightcrawler and Mystique? That is really interesting given how later writers and artists have connected those two! A pretty vanilla introduction for her but cool to see how they planted the seeds. (And no one did better at planting seeds than Claremont!)

Clave: The entire first run of Ms Marvel is worth a read through. There are times when it will send your baloney-o-meter off the charts, but that’s what fun comics are for.

Jaws: So that’s the story from Ms Marvel #16 with a cover by Dave Cockrum. What do you have for me next, Clave?