Welcome to the latest (and last!) installment of Super-Blog Team-Up, where I and a dozen other intrepid comics bloggers all take on the same subject. This time, we are looking at death, both for pop culture characters and for the Super-Blog Team-Up itself, which meets its demise with this installment!
I’ve selected the Death of Captain Marvel for my topic — Jim Starlin’s 1982 send-off to the throw-away character he had made relevant a decade before. This was a sixty-six page stand-alone volume, the first in a series of original graphic novels published by Marvel, and while this is a talky and sentimental book (just this side of maudlin), it is still a good read, and particularly meaningful to me, Captain Marvel fan that I was.
No one got Captain Marvel’s life better than Jim Starlin, and I can’t imagine anyone doing better with his death. Starlin is all-in, here, kicking things off with a Captain-Marvel-as-Pietà beneath a title that leaves no doubt how this story will end up.
But how do you build tension in a tale where the outcome is known from the start? By setting out the emotional stakes, of course. Just as in any other superhero book, where we know the good guy will triumph over the big bad (but don’t know if they will get the date with their best girl), here we know that Marvel will die, but we don’t know how it will happen. Most importantly, we can’t anticipate how the Captain will face his own death, though we might have guessed.
It turns out that Captain Marvel died as he lived — with grace and uncommon understanding.
First, though, we go back to the beginning, as Starlin opens with a cogent summary of Captain Marvel’s career, framed as a recording Marv himself is making for posterity. It’s sad to realize that many readers might have been coming to Captain Marvel for the first time here, expressly to witness his death, but I guess that’s what you get when bumping off a low-sales C-lister. Even for fans of the character, though, Starlin’s summary is strong reading, nicely condensing the character’s origin and hitting the high points in his unique career — telling how Captain Marvel turned against his Kree overlords and went native on Earth; how he received Cosmic Awareness and became earth’s protector, and how Marvel and company triumphed over Thanos in final battle (for the time, at least).
Ol’ Marv sure had his share of colorful foes!
Then there’s a bit of action — because this is a comic book, after all, and Starlin always made sure even the most cosmic threats could be undone by a punch in the mouth. This time it is cultists worshipping Thanos’ turned-to-stone body. Marv makes short work of them, and even this action sequence crams in talking in this very talky book … in this case Marvel’s thoughts as he battles, nicely illuminating what makes him different, that he uses his cosmic powers to anticipate his enemies and to defeat them with a minimum of violence, and certainly no loss of life. It is Captain Marvel at the height of his powers, and his most self-aware.
It is also his final fight in this earthly realm.
It is in the aftermath of that battle that death begins to claim Captain Marvel. You know how it is in old movies — that no one has a cold, unless it signals the onset of a fatal disease?
And a page later, the fatal diagnosis.
A bit more backstory reveals Marvel was inflicted with his disease from exposure to Compound-13 while battling the villain Nitro, in a tale that marked the end of Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel, and in which Starlin left the Captain for dead. Well, it only took a decade, but Starlin got his way!
With his death all but certain, Marvel goes on his farewell tour, breaking the news to his lover, Elysius, and then to his old partner, Rick Jones, who does not take the news well.
Those characters do join in the attempt to devise a cure, but the medical race-against-time is a subplot doomed to fail, and not just because Starlin gave away the conclusion of this tale with the title. In short order it is discovered that Captain Marvel’s photonic Nega-Bands are all that is keeping him from dying on the spot, but that those same bands inhibit any treatment the heroes might devise. The clock is ticking down with no real hope of a cure.
The Captain’s final hours are spent receiving visitors, and here is where the book really starts to tug on your heartstrings. There’s good characterization here, such as when The Thing fills the leaden air with old war stories, while Spidey can’t stay in the room …
… but more than any individual interaction, I loved this part of the book because it let Starlin fit Captain Marvel into context, to show how he was a special and important force in the lives of everyone in the Marvel Universe. He drove home the emotional void that Marvel would leave in his passing, and made that so much more important than all the goofy super villain fights and team-ups that comprised the Captain’s career.
Seemingly every hero in the Marvel Universe made the pilgrimage to bid the Captain goodbye.
One-by-one, the heroes parade by Marvel’s bed — even a Skull general, who gives Marv a Medal of Valor for being such a great adversary! — but in the end, despite Rick Jones’ continual railing against unkind fate, only one outcome awaits …
And with Captain Marvel on death’s door, it is inevitable who would visit him last!
In the theater of his mind, Thanks restores Marvel to health, and sets up one last battle.
The fight only runs a page or two — and it’s no time-mind synch-warp — but it does let Marvel go out on his feet, battling back against Thanos and his phantoms, and allows Marvel to accept that he is finite, and that even the best of the good fights must one day come to an end.
With that, he is gone, putting a bookend on what I’ve previously argued is an accidental masterpiece, a superheroic career with a genuine beginning, middle, and end. Marvel’s death was touching, and it elevated everything that came before. May he remain dead! With other characters carrying on his trademark-sensitive name, there’s every reason to believe the Captain can remain at his well-earned rest.
Plus, this Kree Captain Marvel doesn’t have to be alive to remain a fictional force in our lives. His life (and death!) live on through stories that are made more poignant by his eventual demise.
Re-reading these stories, in particular, has been an illuminating experience for me. A prime mission of Longbox Graveyard has been for me to revisit the pleasures of my youth, to try to fit everything into some kind of nostalgic higher purpose. Captain Marvel’s stories haven’t always fared well on re-examination, but the point, really, isn’t to determine if something was good or bad, or worthwhile to have read and obsessed over.
Re-reading these old tales is its own reward. Not because (as I once read somewhere) the stories have changed any since we read them last, but because we readers have changed. The twenty-year-old me who first read this tale in 1982 is a distant shadow to the fifty-five-year-old-me typing these worlds, but I can remember feeling sorrow for the Captain’s death, as well as an insider kind of cool for being an original fan of the character, who didn’t need a summary of his adventures.
And I can well remember thinking that death was a far-off thing that I would somehow, impossibly, never have to face, just like the good Captain himself.
At this time in my life, death is real. The best friend of my youth that I read these stories with was claimed by cancer just a couple years ago. I am (I think) in good health, with many years yet to live, but as a male in his fifties still working full-time to support his family I am well aware that I walk in “sniper alley,” with heart attacks and strokes and yes cancer too watching me through the crosshairs. I take comfort in knowing I’ve lived a good life and my passing would be mourned by many (maybe not including Spider-Man, but you can’t have everything).
Still I value my life more now than I did in my twenties, and would more greatly regret giving it up, not being able to see what became of my sons, or what children and art they might bring into this world. A fatal bolt from out of the blue would free me from the agony of U.S. politics, and Kim Jon-un’s sparkly new ICBM, and also relieve me of the duty of figuring how to bring Longbox Graveyard to a close … but aside from that, I’m not seeing a lot of upside.
So I wish myself long life, and long life to all my Longbox Graveyard readers, and when our end comes, may we greet it with the spirit of Captain Marvel, the peaceful Kree man of war.
And that end is here in truth for Super-Blog Team-Up, which announces its death with this entry. Please drop around the many other fine blogs in this project to pay your respects:
- Comic Reviews by Walt : Death Of The Mutanimals
- Between The Pages: I Have Been And Always Shall Be Your Friend
- Chris On infinite Earths: Death Of Supergirl
- Crapbox Son Of Chthulu: Death Of My Love For Marvel Comics
- Comics and Coffee: Superman: The Man Who Murdered The World
- Superhero Satellite: Death of a Collectors Passion — A redemption story
- Retroist: These Pirates Of The Caribbean Models Are To Die For!
- In My Not So Humble Opinion: The Death Of Galactus
As for whether this marks the end of Longbox Graveyard … well, you have to admit, it is the perfect opportunity, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll be back next month.
Or maybe not.
Regardless, thank you for reading, and for your many thoughtful comments through the years. Be well!
NEXT MONTH … maybe there ISN’T a next month!
CAPTAIN MARVEL #1
I still think that Ms. Marvel deserved better, but I have to admit that Carol Danvers has done pretty well by herself. The character has developed a rich history all her own and she’s even got a movie on the way. Carol owns the Captain Marvel moniker, now, and so my beloved Kree Captain can rest in peace. In her newest series, Captain Carol reports for a two-year hitch aboard a space station that protects earth against galactic threats. Her new post has a flight deck filled with space fighter craft (piloted by Alpha Flight, of all people), a meditation room, a co-ed locker room, and a serving commander who doesn’t think much of our hero. Authors Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters write Carol as confident and brash in a career-military sort of way, and they let her attitude lead her into trouble. The writers come from television and this shows in the dialogue (this is not a bad thing). Kris Anka’s art is better than his recent stints on X-Men, but isn’t equal to the script. With a location and title character in common with A-Force, I would expect some tight continuity with that other book, but we will have to see how that plays out.
Approachability For New Readers
Pretty decent. I don’t know how Alpha Flight got aboard that space station (or even where the station came from), but as a first-day-on-the-job story, it feels more like a #1 than many books in this Marvel reboot.
Read more about Captain Marvel at Longbox Graveyard
- This Female Fights Back!
- Blown Away
- Captain Marvel Gallery
- Marvel Comics: A Space Odyssey
- Out Of The Holocaust — A Hero!
- Avengers — Kree/Skrull War
- Captain Not-So-Marvelous
Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.
Read Dean Compton’s column about Captain Marvel — Shazam! The Power Of One Magic Word.
(View all Longbox Graveyard Pinterest Galleries HERE).
And because it’s Friday, there has to be a Flipagram …
LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS
- Top Ten Instagram Superheroes
- Top Ten Superhero Lairs
- Top Ten Manliest Superheroes
- Top Ten Longbox Graveyard Articles (Year One!)
- Superhero Music Top Ten
- Top Single Issue Stories
- Top 1o Loves of Peter Parker (Part 1)
- Top 10 Loves of Peter Parker (Part 2)
- Top Ten Marvel Comics Characters
- Top Ten DC Comics Characters
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part I)
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part II)
- Top Ten Captain America Villains
- Spider-Man’s Bottom 10 Bronze Age Bums
- Top Ten Superhero Spoonerisms
- Top 5 Captain America Graphic Novels You Can Actually Buy (Sometimes), Read, And Enjoy!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This week I welcome a new voice to Longbox Graveyard with guest blogger Dean Compton, who offers his personal experiences with one of the foundational heroes in comics. Take it away, Dean!
Welcome to my guest blog entry here at Longbox Graveyard! I’m Dean Compton, and Paul has been gracious enough to allow me to fill an egregious omission from The Longbox. Paul has done a rather splendid job of showing us the exploits of the Captain Marvel brought to us by the House of Ideas, but so far, there has been nary a mention of the Big Red Cheese, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, the ORIGINAL Captain Marvel!
That ends now!!!
Of course, it isn’t as though Paul is some kind of evil troll just dedicated to depriving you canny readers of the chances to learn more of the Bronze Age exploits of Captain Marvel so much as it seems that he just wasn’t a fan. While I find that to be the sort of superhero fan crime that should be punishable by repeated readings of Sleepwalker and NFL Superpro, Paul has instead given me the opportunity to correct this tiny slight on what is otherwise a tremendous blog.
let the punishment fit the crime: right before Superpro tackles said crime
Lest I get too carried away here, it’s an honor to try and convey just what the Billy Batson/Captain Marvel character means to me. I have loved superheroes my entire life, and I think part of that is the safety of the heroes. I loved how they used their massive power to help those who were helpless, and while that meant lots of fun for me, it also hit very close to home because I was an abused child who was looking for a safe place like the worlds these superheroes strived to create. I also wanted to believe that those who had power did not always abuse it, and superheroes showed that to me.
Of course, that makes Captain Marvel very near and dear to me, because, as I am sure those reading a comic book blog would be aware, Captain Marvel is a kid who says a magic word to become the World’s Mightiest Mortal! If you are looking at this comic book blog and you weren’t aware, wow! How did you get here? Seriously, I’d love to know!
Take a look here and see a quick origin of Captain Marvel from SHAZAM #1 (1973).
who could have caused that exile? Don’t worry, I will tell you after just a little more whining about my childhood
So obviously, once I learned of Captain Marvel, it held a special place in my heart. I wanted to say my own magic word and be able to overcome the evil in life. In times when I just felt like giving up, Billy Batson and Captain Marvel helped inspire me to keep going, and I guess I made it out. I have a steady job in television, great friends, and a girlfriend who somehow manages to tolerate stuff like my constant need to launch into long soliloquies about Billy Batson and other EARTH-SHATTERING comic book stuff. I am not going to go into great detail about my situation growing up, but I will say that lots of folks don’t come out as unscathed as I did, and part of the reason is the hope brought by Captain Marvel into my life.
I think the first time I ever saw Captain Marvel was in the early 80’s. I’m a 70’s baby by 3 months, so many things at Longbox Graveyard happened before I was born, but anything in the late Bronze Age I recall. One of my gifts in life has been to have a tremendous memory, and so I can recall seeing SHAZAM! Slurpee cups at a young age. I also recall a Captain Marvel cartoon on Saturday Mornings paired with Hero High. I didn’t learn about Captain Marvel though (and thought his name was SHAZAM!) until I was in 6th grade. I started collecting the DC and Marvel cards of the early 90’s, and I was captured by the idea instantly.
So, now that we have gotten all that gobbledygook out of the way, perhaps you’d like to actually read about some comics. Hell, even the people who love human interest stories at this point are probably taking to the streets with picket signs reading “GET TO THE COMICS!”, so without further adieu, I’d like to share with you guys SHAZAM #1 and #2 from 1973!!!!
To put things in perspective, there hadn’t been a Captain Marvel comic featuring the Billy Batson Cap in about 20 years at this point. DC Comics sued Fawcett Comics, the original publishers of Captain Marvel, over the fact that that they felt Captain Marvel infringed upon the copyright of Superman. The courts originally said that DC had let Superman’s copyright lapse, but an upper court then decided it wasn’t true and said the case had to be looked at again. At that point, Fawcett just settled out of court and stopped publishing Captain Marvel or any other comics. 1954 is the last year they published. (This had as much to do with declining sales after the war as anything else.) They licensed the Marvel Family to DC in the early 70’s and they eventually finished selling their properties to DC in 1991. Of course, thanks to the interim, if you are like Paul, you have been bamboozled into thinking that Mar-Vell is THE Captain Marvel at this point, when from the ashes of legality DC comics licensed Captain Marvel and his family, and gave us this!
it looks like Superman is some sort of magician here and he is taking credit for bringing Captain Marvel back
So twenty years after the courts decided that Captain Marvel infringed upon Superman’s copyright and Fawcett quit publishing the adventures of the Big Red Cheese, DC licensed the rights to the Marvel Family and brought them back in the above SHAZAM! #1. If you ask me, they really got off on the wrong foot right away. Putting Superman on the cover in this way (he does not appear in the comic book at all) just sort of cheapens the event! Instead of safely entrenching Cap in his own world in his own adventures, instead we get the instant Superman/Captain Marvel comparison. Not only is it a comparison we do not need to make, but the way Superman is drawn makes it seem like he is either taking credit for the book or that he is deigning to let it happen. Perhaps the pose is done on purpose as one final “WE WON” from DC, but who knows? That probably wasn’t the reason for it. I do like the “BOOM!” sound effect.
The creative team for this book is Denny O’Neil writing and art by CC Beck, and while CC Beck is THE Captain Marvel artist, O’Neil’s stories in SHAZAM! just are not very enjoyable. They just feel forced and, at the risk of offending the God of puns, cheesy. Even for 1973, they feel decidedly whitebread and almost insultingly inoffensive due to their simplicity. I figure either DC wanted these stories to be this way (much is made of the Marvels coming out of Suspended Animation); they are so far removed from what Denny O’Neil is good at as a writer (his “realistic” takes on Batman, or Green Lantern/Green Arrow, for instance); or a combination of the two. One thing is for sure though, after the origin story, CC’s art is about the only reason to keep reading the first issue.
I now know where James Cameron got the awful idea to call his mineral “Unobtainium” in Avatar
Yep, Dr. Sivana was behind the disappearance of Captain Marvel teased earlier in the origin panels, which to be fair, are done well. It’s when O’Neil does Sivana and his family as the most idiotic mad geniuses you will ever see or even the entire idea that Cap has been in suspended animation for the twenty years he was legally gone. It probably would have been best to have just started his adventures back up without addressing what was going on while he was gone. Of course, if they had done that, someone (PROBABLY ME) would complain about it because those years were not documented.
We have a saying for that here in the south: Can’t win for losing.
One thing that O’Neil loved to do in his SHAZAM! stories that gets old faster than baby crying on an airplane is the cheesy joke. Scope these two pages and try not to cringe at the pun toward the end. I do love the use of the “KA-RUNCH” sound effect though. I wish real world punches made that same noise.
UGH! Even in the 70’s, that suspended sentence joke had to be unacceptable and possibly a war crime
On the other hand, one of the great things about the 70’s SHAZAM! series was how it provided cool reprints of Golden Age adventures of Captain Marvel adventures, and the one we get in SHAZAM#1 is priceless to me, mostly because of how awesome this old dude is:
No one in history has ever loved string more, which makes me love this old man. Too bad for him, the people who actually own the string take string theft so seriously as to utilize a Spy vs. Spy bomb in order to stop this delightful string-loving old man.
the old guy is collecting the string TO SELL IT. Has string ever been worth anything? For real, I am really asking
There’s also a scientist in this story who believes that since they have string and vases in this other dimension, those people must be monstrous! Surprise, scientist! They look just like us!
that is truly the skulking walk of any scientist whose crazy theories have been disproven by a superhero
A quick comment on that house ad too: Do I really need Doll Man and the Atom in the same comic? I mean, I like both guys, but they both do the same thing. If Doll Man shrinking down doesn’t save the day, HOW WILL THE ATOM DOING THE SAME THING SAVE DAY?
But I digress. Let’s move along to SHAZAM #2, which starts off with a better cover, although those kids kind of scare me.
the meta cover idea always gets me. I love infinity!
The kid holding the comic seems ok, but the girl and the other little boy frighten me to Kingdom Come, and if you have read that, you know that isn’t a great place to be.
SHAZAM #2, on the other hand, is a great deal of fun. Denny O’Neil and CC Beck do the main story, and O’Neil does a better job here. It seems less silly for the sake of silly, and more of the embrace of silly. Of course, a talking tiger named Mr. Tawky Tawny and a worm bad guy named Mr. Mind will sort of do that for you.
Of course, so will an old arch enemy crocodile that attacks Captain Marvel for no reason and then is forgiven. For no reason I can discern other than Beck’s great art, these pages have such charm:
if you’re so happy with the circus and your life in crime is over, why did you attack Captain Marvel? Why is he just letting you go?
The highlight of the story though is when Mr. Mind makes a FOOTBALL OF DOOM!
Of course, our hero manages to catch Mr. Mind in a neat little tale, but the highlight of this issue, and if you ask me, the first 10 issues of SHAZAM! is this backup story by Elliott S! Maggin and the brilliant Beck!
Captain Marvel meets Sunny Sparkle, the nicest kid in the world. He is so nice that people just do things for him all the time, which is good, because he is easily the creepiest child in history. In fact, he is even creepier looking than the live action kids on the cover of issue #2.
Ye Booke Nooke is now filled with hipsters and a cup of black coffee is $8.99
You see, for Sunny Sparkles, being so great is just awful because people give him things! This is somehow a problem for him. For me, I can’t think of much better, but maybe what makes Sunny Sparkles so nice is his lack of materialistic concerns like the ones I have. Of course, this is a comic book, and if I lived in comic book world like Sunny, and I had this power, I would inexorably get involved in some sort of heist and misunderstanding that would lead the most gangster gangster of all time to come looking for me.
look at Sunny on the second page looking at Captain Marvel and tell me the reason people give him things isn’t that they are scared to death of him. I dare you.
I love how the boss goes from just a sort of meany behind a desk whose cigar is also angry because he is to the most gangster gangster ever merely by putting on his hat and having a gun under his coat. Despite his ability to change from a Flintstones bit villain into the crime lord of Earth-S, even he finds Sunny’s charms irresistible.
on Earth-S, waking someone up from a nap is apparently a bigger no-no than RESIDENTIAL BURGLARY
This gangster gangster gets more impressive every page! Now he tilts his hat up slightly, and he is A TRUSTWORTHY ADULT. I love it! Later on we see Sunny Sparkle again, but he is with his rotten cousin. I wonder what New 52 Sunny Sparkle would be like. Never mind. I don’t. Please don’t, DC!
All in all, these stories are fun. If you can find them cheaply, they are worth a read simply for the golden age backups, but the issues themselves are too pricey just for those, and I am sure you can find better reproductions of those golden age stories elsewhere. These 70’s stories, while at their best they are fun, they were just too behind the times to catch on then, I am sure. For instance, I decided it would be neat while writing this blog to listen to the top albums from 1973, the year these comics came out, and let me tell you, Dark Side of the Moon does not mesh as well with Sunny Sparkles as it does Wizard of Oz!
Hope you’ve enjoyed my guest blog here! I can be heard on VOC Nation on two, count ’em, TWO podcasts that air live prior to archiving! One is called Her Dork World, His Dork World (Twitter, Facebook), and it features my girlfriend and I discussing dork culture from a male and female perspective, and it debuts on March 20 at midnight! My other podcast there should be up by now, having debuted yesterday! It’s called Compton After Dark (Twitter, Facebook), and it focuses on wrestling, comics, politics, toys, video games, and more. Listen on Tuesday nights from 11:30PM to 1AM, EST!
Be on the lookout, and if you liked this, bug Paul and maybe he will let me come play in the Longbox again with some Punisher Bronze Age stuff or even more Captain Marvel! Thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to talk to all of you again! Look at those exclamation marks. Am I Stan Lee or something?
Thanks for spreading the Captain Marvel gospel, Dean! I encourage all Longbox Graveyard readers to check out Dean’s podcasts (rumor has it a certain master of the Longbox Graveyard will be appearing on air with Dean in April …), and also keep an eye out in coming months as Dean writes about the Punisher and the All-Star Squadron for this very blog! Finally, be sure to mouse on over to Dean’s 1990s comics blog — The Unspoken Decade — where Dean attempts to shine light on the darkest age of comics! Keep the faith, Marvelites! (And I mean that in the ORIGINAL sense!)
IN THREE WEEKS: #127 Top 10 Loves of Peter Parker (Pt. 1)