Wednesday, June 3, 2009

1982 - The Death of Captain Marvel

The Death of Captain Marvel Graphic Novel
Writer/Artist: Jim Starlin

The Death of Captain Marvel was Marvel Comics' first graphic novel and its success would be followed by a series that would define that graphic format. Every once and a while, you come across a comic that you can proudly endorse as the reason you still read comic books. The Death of Captain Marvel is one of these.

Superhero deaths can be seen as easily been undone or gimmicky. For example, how often does a recurring villain return from the grave? Or an implied death lead to a sales bump. These deaths are usually meaningless as the reader knows that the character is too valuable to the comic company and they'll find some way to bring him back.

However, in this case, Starlin delivers on the title of this work and to this day, Marvel has seen fit to keep him among the dead. (That is, if you ignore the recent "return" of Captain Marvel during the Secret Invasion storyline.)

"I’d done Captain Marvel and then Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart and some others worked on it and the sales had gone down. It finally came to be cancelled so they thought “Well, let’s just kill him off” and bring in the Captain Marvel that eventually became Photon. So they asked me if I’d kill him off. And I said “OK”. This was a deal. I was trying to get Dreadstar happening and part of the deal was that I’d do the graphic novel and then Dreadstar. So the Death Of Captain Marvel was a side-deal for me and I figured I’d just knock it out and have him blown up in an explosion like dozens of times before, but as I kept doing it I kept thinking “I don’t want to do this story, these stories are already done, done to death. The Doom Patrol died this way, he died this way, characters die and they usually die in explosions.” And my father, at that point, was suffering from cancer. Eventually he succumbed to it. So, sort of a way for me to work out my feelings about his death was to write about it.

- interview with Daniel Best for Adelaide Comics and Books

Captain Marvel and Elysius (his wife) retire to Titan in the company of Mentor and Eros. He was helping Mentor and Eros fend off a few of Thanos' dedicated worshipers when his health began to deteriorate. Isaac, Titan's computer system, confirmed that he had cancer. He was exposed to a deadly biological cancer-causing agent during a recent battle with Nitro. His Nega-bands had kept the disease at bay, but the cancer had mutated.

The mutated cancer resisted all conventional treatments and Mar-Vell accepted his fate. Friends from Earth made a special trip including Rick Jones, the Avengers and the Thing. The Skrull general Zedrao made an appearance and awarded Mar-Vell with a Skrull Medal of Valor in respect to a worthy enemy. The Kree, however, joyfully rejoiced at their traitor's condition. Thanos returns from the dead, to "escort" Mar-Vell into death's embrace.

Starlin reminds us that dying is a part of life and that death even happens to costumed heroes. The story was inspired by the death of Jim Starlin's own father who also died from cancer. There's a strong personal feeling imparted in this story and conveys what he's learned having gone through it himself.

In terms of Captain Marvel's character, Starlin focuses on Mar-Vell's inner conflict in that a warrior such as himself must meet death in bed. Mar-Vell's struggle and gradual acceptance of his fate is endearing.

"The serenity of his passing conveys a staggering emotional impact as the story deftly treads the fine line between the trivial and the over-dramatized. Expressive pencils and inks by Starlin at his peak contribute to one of the finest comic books ever produced."

- The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide

Look for it.


  1. Picked this up at an independent book store a few years after it came out. My stepfather was really pissed at me for spending 10 whole dollars on "just one comic book." He had no trouble spending tons of money on what turned out to be pretty worthless baseball cards, tho.....heh.

  2. And this was one of the more great deaths, thankfully they haven't brought Mar-vell back. They've tried a few times indirectly, but I'm glad Mar-vell has stayed dead.



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