Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Classics - The Death of Captain Marvel

In 1982 Marvel Comics decided to get into the Graphic Novel business, which promised to be the next big thing.

In the years that followed they published some great stories and some not-so-great ones, but none was better than the first one - The Death of Captain Marvel.

It was a shocking move to kill off a mainstream hero, and they wisely turned the job over to the man who had put Captain Marvel on the map: writer/artist Jim Starlin.

I suspect they decided to "kill" CM because his history was so convoluted. He started as a Kree warrior trying to infiltrate the Earth's military to spy on our planet - but he kept finding himself forced to defend our world, and his name - Mar-Vell - was "Americanized" into Marvel.

It was a good start, but then it got weird. Marvel was given super-human powers by an odd alien creature, then he got a new red-and-blue costume and was exiled to the Negative Zone, and he could only leave when eternal sidekick Rick Jones struck the Nega-Bands on his wrist together, and then Marvel gained Cosmic Awareness and battled Thanos (this part during Starlin's excellent run on the title), then he got caught up in various alien battles, and then his comic was canceled.

So rather than sort all this out, I suspect the powers that be decided it would be easier to kill off the good Captain and bring in another hero later with the same name but a simpler origin. (Wonder how that worked out?)

Taking advantage of the greater page count and the more "adult" format, Starlin crafted an amazing, touching story where the hero faces the end not because of a villain's schemes - but rather because he has contracted cancer.

The story takes us through Marvel's slow descent as he tries to fight against the disease while making his peace with the world.

It's moving, entertaining and very well-crafted. Starlin even inked the art himself - though I have to admit that, surprisingly, the art isn't quite up to his usual work. Some of the figures are a bit stiff or the proportions seem slightly off in a few panels (perhaps he had to rush to meet the deadline?) - but those are minor quibbles when you're talking about such a powerful effort.

It was a great sign of the promise Graphic Novels held, and while later efforts couldn't quite reach the same heights, that's only because this story set the bar so high.

Grade: A


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