As a bit of background, Captain Marvel is one of Marvel's lesser luminaries, weighing in on the scale of characters who've had their own titles or feature slots somewhere behind Ghost Rider and the Sub-Mariner1, if only because no one's ever optioned a movie about Marv2. He debuts in the tail-end of the Silver Age as a mish-mosh of prior superhero origins3 - As captain of an invading alien army bent of dominating Earth, he is overwhelmed by the great potential in the human race and turns on his masters (a la Silver Surfer). Changing his native name Mar-Vell (No relation to Kal-El, except the obviously intentional name-alike) to Captain Marvel (See that three asterisk dealie for this one), he becomes first Earth's protector and then protector of the Galaxy (a la Green Lantern) after the death of his girlfriend (a la everyone).
Although handled pretty well - albeit largely as a lesser Silver Surfer and mostly for a handful of "relevant" science fiction stories in the seventies - he's pretty much a background character, until his untimely death promotes him to Marvel Comics' first spandex-suited saint.
Like most of Mar-Vell's better adventures, this story was written and drawn by Jim Starlin. A lot of folks love Starlin and brook no shit about him, so forgive me when I say he's one of the most unintentionally hilarious creators to ever step into the field. What other creator, for instance, would have the awe-inspiring audacity to replace Jesus and Mary with a space-faring superhero and Grim Reaper in a reproduction of Michelangelo's Pieta? Jim Fucking Starlin, that's who!
The book is a retelling of the life of Captain Marvel, made particularly poignant by the good Captain having discovered that he's suffering incurable cancer. He got it from when an exploding super-villain made him stop up a leaking cannister of nerve gas with his bare hands, which is how most folks get it.
Again, it's largely a well-done story, with Cap's final hours being spent peacefully in the company of friends and family, although he DOES get to fight intergalactic space phantoms in heaven at the end. At one point, the heroes of Earth are recruited to find a cure for cancer. This is where the hilarity starts (if you don't count the cover, I suppose). First off, the damn heroes are left to explain why none of the super-geniuses in their midst ever thought of trying to cure cancer before. Their answer? They kind of don't have one.
So, lacking a good excuse, they take to the labs. At least until Cap dies, at which point they walk away and never try to find a cure for cancer ever again. I mean, why should they, Captain Marvel's dead, right? Right.
This scene kills me:
What kind of help do you imagine Thor's offering there? I mean, yes, I know his alter-ego is a doctor (ahem, A GENERAL PRACTITIONER OR SOMETHING, FOLKS!), but come on, that's Don Blake. This is the God of Thunder, and I have it on good authority that his usual means of solving a heady conundrum is to do something as understated as drinking all the seas.
"Mayhaps I might smite yon cancer with mine mighty enchanted hammer, friend Beast!"
"No, Thor, cancer's ... cancer's too small to hit with a hammer, sorry."
"Mayhaps the elves of Diggendoggenheim may forge a TINY HAMMER with which to smite yon foul rot!"
"Look, your heart's in the right place, but really ..."
"I could strike the cancer with lightning! Or, oh wait, how about I drinks it under yon table! Arf arf arf!"
"You ... Listen, you already suggested that ..."
Surprisingly, the brain trust up there fails the hell out of curing cancer, and Marv dies, surrounded by his comrades and loved ones.
Hold it, hold it, back up. Who invited the Hulk to a funeral...?
1 That's "Sub-MARiner," not "Sub-MaREENer." Stan always gets that one wrong.
2 Swear to Zod, that's what his pals in the Marvel Universe call him. Even if it does lessen confusion between him and Captain America, it's weak.
3 He also debuts as the first superhero I've ever heard of created just to take advantage of a court ruling, to wit:
Since the 1940's, National Periodical (publishers of the Superman books) kept Fawcett Publications (publishers of the original Captain Marvel, the one in the red suit who says "Shazam" all the time) in and out of litigation over perceived similarities in their two flagship characters. The real problem, of course, was that Cap shared some superficial similarities to Superman, AND was far more popular in terms of circulation and merchandising. That's how lawsuits are born.
By the time it was all resolved, National (now DC Comics) effectively OWNED the original Captain Marvel (Fawcett had largely gone under in the meantime, and DC bought their former rival out, although litigation over OTHER Fawcett-related issues continues to this day), much to the delight of fans. Rushing to put Cap back in the funny papers, DC gets stopped by relative rookie publisher Marvel, who take DC to court to prevent the possible brand confusion over a comics company other than Marvel using "Marvel" in a book title.
The end result is Marvel won, DC had to refer to Cap and his associates under the umbrella term "SHAZAM," and Marvel - figuring what the fuck, why not? - creates their OWN Captain Marvel character. Hell, they even created their own version of the Marvel family, altho it's populated almost exclusively by dames, minorities and homos.
Additional fun-fact: The original Marvel Family consisted of dames, gimps, fatties, hayseeds, micks, geezers and beasts of the field.
Extra Additional fun-fact, just to confuse matters altogether: Okay. So. The shtick was that DC couldn't directly refer to their Captain Marvel as "Captain Marvel" on any cover or advertising. They could, if they wanted, call him 'Captain Thunder,' which was Cap's ORIGINAL name when he was scheduled to debut in Flash Comics #1. Turns out there was already a Captain Thunder at another company, and DC was publishing Flash Comics, so Thunder became Marvel, Flash became Whiz, and then in the Seventies DC used "Captain Thunder" as the appellation for a thinly-veiled Cap homage, so they couldn't reuse it for the revival, if they'd wanted to. Meh. I still like the beefy, retarded Cap better than the spacey one with the untamable mane.