Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Marvel’s Silver Age space-faring hero Mar-Vell (of the Kree!) has managed to eke out an existence as the only member of what was once the inviolable trinity of dead superheroes; Jean Grey eventually struggled back to life (and then died again, and possibly came back to life and died again? I have trouble keeping track of this stuff) and even Bucky, once the gold standard of permanent comic book death, has not only returned but returned to loud and popular acclaim.

While Cap has managed to maintain his pole position in the cold, cold ground, the abundance of Marvel movie, television and cartoon properties currently under development seems to make it inevitable that he’ll undergo a revival. Captain Marvel, after all, never died in the Avengers movies, and if he shows up as a brand-new character in Avengers 15 or Guardians of the Galaxy 7 or the eighth Spider-Man reboot, a revival in the comic pages won’t be far behind.

The original (sort of) Captain Marvel is one of the company’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-Mariner. He debuts in the tail-end of the Silver Age as a mish-mosh of prior superhero origins: 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 (Becoming officially the third superhero at the fourth company to use that name), 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).

The expression on his face is all "What a
dick thing to say!"
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, and that includes me. 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 Death of Captain Marvel – the first of Marvel Comics’ line of Graphic Novels,during a period when the company was flexing its muscles into the burgeoning bookstore and direct markets –  is a retelling of the Captain’s lesser-read adventures, 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.

"You don't understand! We're useless!"

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. Probably their time would be better served kicking Plant-Man’s ass again.

This scene kills me:

"Nega, please."

What kind of help do you imagine Thor's offering there? I mean, yes, I know his alter-ego is a doctor, but that’s his alter-ego – typically portrayed as a fully other, independent character. This is the God of Thunder, and I have it on good authority that his usual means of solving a heady conundrum is to drink all the oceans from a horn of plenty.

"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...?


Michael Hoskin said...

Ah yes, Wonder Man is renowned for his scientific prowess. As the former CEO of a (bankrupt) industrial company he's actually overqualified to cure cancer - before he could take on task as minor as that he must first put his prodigious brainpower to work on weightier concerns such as the mystery of whether the refrigerator light stays on when the door is closed.

Unknown said...

I still remember that "Who invites the Hulk to a funeral" line from the first time you had this up.


Bram said...

Thor: giving backrubs to scientists.

Also: sure, Starlin defined the character, but never forget first appearances by Gene Colan.

Furthermore: I keep expecting my curb to show up in the comment moderation photo. Spoiler: it's An Important Issue Number.

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