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!
Once again, Paul has allowed me, your old pal, Dean Compton, to venture into the Bronze Age with you guys! It’s funny, but I have noticed that whenever I get out of my 90’s comics bubble, (which all of you can read more about at The Unspoken Decade) and come here to chronicle some Bronze Age favorites, I only deal in the very bright (as my prior articles on SHAZAM! and All-Star Squadron prove) or the very seedy (Punisher, this article) elements of the age. Just like Billy Joel, I don’t know why I go to extremes, but unlike Billy Joel, I allow characters like Hulk to take me to extremes. Also unlike Billy Joel, I cannot play the piano.
Another thing Billy Joel and I do not have in common is the fact that he was a living, breathing being when The Rampaging Hulk debuted in 1977, while the world would have to wait with bated breath for two more years for me to emerge. That’s just another reason for me to be jealous of Billy Joel. I mean, he had a great career, he married Christie Brinkley, and he also had the chance to buy something as cool as The Rampaging Hulk right off the shelf.
There’s no proof that Billy Joel frequented 7-11 after 7-11 while on tour, pushing back magazine after magazine until they were dog-eared so that he might find these Hulk comic books, but there really isn’t any proof that he didn’t either, and I prefer to think that we live in a world where the Piano Man demanded his tour bus stop at newsstands as he tried to find these. I also prefer to think that his tour bus is shaped like a giant piano, so my thoughts are most likely not worth much. Besides, isn’t that a funny image to have in your head now?
The images in The Rampaging Hulk usually are not so funny. They tend to be somewhat visceral, as black and white does Bruce Banner’s green alter ego very well! Of course, it does not hurt that we get some great art by several masters. The first few issues are done by Walt Simonson in what i think may be his most underrated work ever, which is nothing short of a war crime in my book.
Before I show you any of that though, let’s discuss the magazine…I hear you whining, Ok, one picture from Simonson, but then it is right back to the background behind The Rampaging Hulk!
Now that your appetite for Walt Simonson has been momentarily sated, let’s chat a bit about the background of this magazine. It started in January of 1977, which is a good year and a half before Hulk debuted on TV. With issue #10 of the magazine’s run, the magazine will become full color and start to focus more on adventures like the ones TV Hulk would have, and it would also start to have lots of interviews with the cast and crew of the show. After those changes, I find myself disenchanted with the magazine. I know this is probably blasphemous, but I have never cared for the Lou Ferrigno/Bill Bixby Hulk TV show. Even as a youngster, I thought them to be cheesy and silly. Later, when I saw the made-for-TV movies with Daredevil and Thor, I liked them more due to my penchant for crossovers, but I still hated the changes that were made to Thor and Daredevil.
That having been said, I wonder why this was launched when it was. Was there an outcry for more Hulk material in 1976 and 1977? Was this just added in anticipation of the TV show? If it was added for the TV show, they did it in a rather odd way, as the first none issues deal with filling in gaps in Hulk’s history.
That’s right. This title is set YEARS earlier than when it is released. In fact, it is designed to fill in gaps between the end of Hulk’s original series (which only lasted six issues, believe it or not) and when he started appearing regularly in Tales to Astonish,so in many ways, this is one of the first “retcon” type of title. Of course, it apparently caused more harm than good, and so later it was determined that these stories were all fake, told by one of the characters located therein. I find it sad that they could not work any of these into continuity (for whatever that is worth) because these issues are very fun and very solid. Doug Moench writes most of them (Jim Starlin writes a GREAT issue) and while I do not think it stacks against his Master of Kung Fu or Moon Knight work, I still like it a lot, and it is probably unfair to make the comparison. It is sort of like comparing albums by The Beatles. I mean, Rubber Soul isn’t as good as Revolver, but they are both amazing albums by amazing creators.
One big complaint that I have about the magazine is that it did not really take advantage of its medium. When I did my Punisher article here at LBG, I noted that the black and white magazines put out by Warren, Marvel, Skywald, and others during the 70’s had a dangerous vibe to them. Many of them were a little more violent and offered a little more sexuality than color comic books (regulated by the code) could. I was not interested in the Cinemax adventures of The Hulk, but I would have liked to have seen this medium used more effectively, even if the storylines were a little more mature with some social commentary and whatnot. This magazine cost a buck in 1977, which means that the people who could afford it not only wanted more for their money, but they also were almost certainly an audience of an older age, one who would have expected some meatier stuff than what they got. Jim Starlin’s issue has some excellent death/outer space imagery (IMAGINE THAT) that fits into the grindhouse/nigh-seedy feel of 1970’s black and white magazines, but the rest of the series sort of falls flat.
That doesn’t make it a bad read though, and in fact, I highly recommend it just for the art of Walk Simonson, George Perez, Jim Starlin, Kieth Giffen, and more! In fact, there’s so much incredible imagery that it is going to be beyond difficult to keep this article to a manageable level; some of you probably already find it too wordy, so here’s some more Simonson!!!
I also want to give props to Alfredo Alcala for his great inking job; he makes Simonson come alive in a way I think many others could not. Alcala is a favorite of many pros I know, and this really makes one see why.
The basic story is that Hulk is thwarting a secret invasion of Krylorians. He does this working alongside his pal and the mascot of the Marvel Universe, Rick Jones. Of course, we all are probably aware of how intertwined Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are due to Rick basically being the catalyst for the chain of events that formed Hulk, but in case you didn’t know, Walt Simonson and Doug Moench break it down in a really cool manner.
We see very little of the traditional Hulk supporting cast. After issue #1, there’s no Better Ross, Thunderbolt Ross, or Glenn Talbot. Due to flying saucers being spotted over London, Hulk and Rick Jones head for Italy. What I especially enjoy though, is how jingoistic Thunderbolt Ross is. I mean, there’s certainly no surprise that a general in the U.S. Army is very blindly patriotic, but few would convey it in as humorous a fashion as good ‘ol Thunderbolt.
I have no idea what a milksop is, but I am working that into my everyday insult collection. Instead of hurling expletives at the drivers in Atlanta, I will shoot a milksop or two at them. My road rage is becoming more refined, and I feel like that makes me a better person. It doesn’t, but at least it makes me feel like it.
That’s really the last we see of the usual gang of Hulk Hangers-On! (Hello Stan Lee alliteration) Instead, Hulk and Rock head for Europe, where they meet the Krylorian who is on our side, Bereet!
That name may sound familiar, because she was the alien Starlord forgot he had aboard in the incredible Guardians of the Galaxy movie. She is a neat character, and due to her gentle nature, status as a techno-artist, and neat tricks like a spatial distorter and a banshee mask that doubles as a supersonic ship!
Once this trio joins forces, they gallant all across Europe, thwarting Krylorian plan after Krlylorian plan. Their adventures also lead them to meet The
Uncanny Original X-Men! I do not know if Walt Simonson ever got to do the original X-Men elsewhere (other than a stint on X-Factor, which only sort of counts in my eyes), but he does them justice here. His Danger Room sequence packs in more excitement than many other artists rendition of the X-Men in action against actual foes!
The Danger Room sometimes seems like a false danger, in that they are holograms and the like. I know that these holograms can be deadly, but there’s something much more viscerally satisfying about watching these young mutants dodge spiked balls and knives on poles. The danger comes to life, as it does when Simonson draws the Hulk completely unleashed!
Moments like the X-Men’s arrival propel this title, but I think the best overall issue is the one Jim Starlin wrote and drew. Jim Starlin has so much talent; I wonder if he could lend me some. We often discuss Starlin and his greatness, and I think nearly everyone would agree that he is indeed one of the all-time greats, but I think we often overlook his ability to do good Hulk stories. One of my favorite Hulk moments of all time happened in Infinity Gauntlet, where he and Wolvering are chatting on the roof of Avengers Mansion. The dialogue is perfect, and the if the characterization where anymore spot on, Gordon Ramsay would be here to tell you all about it,
Jim Starlin also draws a tremendous Hulk, as evidenced by his bittersweet standalone story in The Rampaging Hulk.
That’s some of my favorite Starlin work, and if that double-page splash doesn’t convince you of Starlin’s greatness, then I guess you only have about 439783498734983 other great things he did to convince you. Something about the black and white of this magazine makes Starlin’s work sinister at the edges; that’s perfect for this book and the story he tells here, which takes Hulk away from the main tale of beating up Krylorians left and right. Starlin does not ignore the main story though, as he bookends his tale of outer space and magic with how Hulk got there and how Hulk got home in one of those bittersweet tales that Jim Starlin is really good at doing.
The other two big highlights of the series are Hulk meeting people from the rest of the Marvel Universe before he “actually” would have met them. His meeting with Namor, the Sub-Mariner is a 2-parter, and it is one of the highlights of the book to me. Namor is a favorite of mine, and I love the line of nobility and savagery that he manages to walk! Or is that swim? OR EVEN FLY? The possibilities remain endless!!!
A Hulk vs. Namor fight almost always delivers. Namor’s arrogance and prodigious strength of his own almost never allow him to admit defeat in the face of a foe, even one as superior in strength as the Incredible Hulk, while Hulk, well, HUlk just wants to smash, of course.
I am unsure when Namor got all He-Man/Conan, but that is what he decided is necessary to beat Hulk on this cover.
One thing is for sure, though; I have no problem believing that indeed, is the axe of Namor. Look at how ornate it is. Also, did they build a replica of the domed cities of Atlantis on his shield? That seems pointless, seeing as how while it may look beautiful, that part of the shield is just gonna get crushed, unless you are fighting Hulk, in which case it will get SMASHED.
I especially like the post fight sequence where Namor sees off the Hulk and the Hulk’s pals.
Also, Namor obviously lays down his smooth game on Bereet, as they become smitten with each other. I am glad Namor is not real, lest he would steal every single lady living on the surface…and some of the married ones too! Just ask poor Reed Richards! (By the way, I think there is no contest. As much as I love Namor, Sue and Reed belong together. Butt out Atlantean!!!!)
Also, isn’t it funny how Namor is talking up how green Hulk is? I mean, we all know he is green and all, but it tickles my funny bone to see Namor refer to him as green when the comic book is black and white. It shouldn’t, but hey, it’s a little pleasure, and if life isn’t about little pleasures, what do we have? Maybe a Hulk vs. Avengers story?
The last two issues before the magazine went color featured Hulk taking on/teaming up with the original Avengers…BEFORE THEY WERE AVENGERS! I find it a smidge surreal to see, but it gets pulled off fairly well, and if you say you aren’t intrigued by this cover featuring the funeral of crystal-encased Hulk, you’re guilty of perjury in the court of comic books, son!
Sal Buscema does a great job on this issue, as we wrap up the retcon portion of The Rampaging Hulk (which would be renamed “HULK” with the following issue) with a bang. The story starts in #8, and it is a really good example of the Marvel “when heroes meet” formula, in that when heroes meet in the Marvel Universe, they fight.
One of those fights that I think we all love, is Hulk vs. Thor. Thor, the noble warrior, the scion of Asgard, and the sort of arrogant prick, takes on Hulk, who is savage, unrelenting, and uncaring. I think that on the surface, we are all required to cheer for Thor, but deep down, many of us hope Thor gets put in his damn place. It’s sort of like watching a car chase on Cops. I mean, we know that the people speeding away did something wrong and are causing problems, but man, those cops act so full of themselves and righteous that I’ll be damned if we don’t start cheering for the bad guys to get away about 3 minutes into the chase.
Unless you are me, then you are cheering for the bad guys the whole time (unless they murdered someone or are putting too many other drivers/people in danger). But I am of the 90’s folks, when things were extreme and we loved “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for being the bad guy! To the kids reading, I have two things to say: Mine is not the example to follow, and also, go read an actual comic book!
For the rest of you, here’s Thor and Hulk punching on one another.
So we get to see “The Avengers” team up and stave off a threat to the planet before they even existed! I find great comfort in the fact that Hulk treats them about the same before, during, and after his tenure as an Avenger. I like the world to be a simple place…at least sometimes.
The editor of the book provided an epitaph of sorts for The Rampaging Hulk era of this magazine:
It is very true that some of the greatest artists stepped in to try their hand at Hulk. I have already mentioned several of them, but I would be remiss if I did not show you some of what George Perez did. Perez is, in my opinion, the best artist in comic book history not named Jack Kirby. Controversial? Perhaps, but no one makes the page live for me like him.
He never did a regular feature on The Rampaging Hulk, but he did do a pin-up gallery featuring the history of a few of Hulk’s associates and enemies:
One thing I found fascinating about this gallery (and there are a couple more Perez Pin-Ups in the book) is that one can see the vast impact different inkers can have on the same penciller. That’s something that can be hard to notice for the artistically disinclined such as myself. Here though, it’s as blatant as a bank robbery in broad daylight where the perpetrator is dressed like the Hamburglar and is carrying big sacks with “$” on them. The Stranger looks mighty different than the Silver Surfer. Kieth Giffen gets to do his own gallery in issue #4, and he channels his best Jack Kirby!
I love Giffen’s work and how he has the ability to take on so many different styles. Look at this next to his stuff from the 90’s, like Trencher, and one would be astonished to find out it was the same guy working on both.
The only other thing to really mention is the back-ups, but I won’t spend too much time on them. For those picking up the magazine, like say, Billy Joel, they’d get treated to some sweet back-ups featuring Bloodstone, Man-Thing, and Shanna, the She-Devil, among others.
The back-ups are one of the most enticing elements to the black and white magazine boom of the 70’s. I have heard many folks talk to me about Bloodstone. I am not a huge fan, but just even just skimming through it made me realize that I will be back into these soon to learn more about this guy. The Man-Thing stuff interested me a great deal, as Steve Gerber can really write that sort of character just so much better than anyone else. Of course, it still could never live up to this pin-up:
All in all, I’d say the series is solid. I’d say it is must-read for Hulk fans, and a I would say the Simonson and Starlin issues (#1-4) are must read for any fans. The rest is good, but one would not be missing out on something spectacular if one were not to grab them. The series is a fun read, and the arch does definitively conclude in issue #9, so if you have the completionist bug and get #1, you will find it enticing enough to grab all 9. I also think that these have been re-printed in an Essentials volume, which would be one of the rare Essentials that would not lose anything by now being in black and white.
I want to thank Paul again for letting me write about these Bronze Age gems! I highly encourage you to check out all the cool stuff here if you haven’t, and when you are out of cool stuff here, come check out The Unspoken Decade! JNCO Jeans are coming back, so why not check out some 90’s comic book action as well? You’ll find it at The Unspoken Decade! Let Paul and I know what you think below, and I am looking forward to my next article here at The Longbox Graveyard! Hell, I am looking forward to Paul’s too!
Today, my esteemed Super-Blog Team-Up pals and I are looking at our favorite comic book villains, and when it came time to pick subjects for our co-blogging project, it took me about a second to call, “Thanos!”
Then I had to ask myself why I’d picked Thanos.
and here, Thanos may be asking HIMSELF why he picked Gamora!
Thanos is certainly fashionable, having headlined a score of comics series, and making a memorable appearance in the post-credits scene of 2012’s Avengers … but here at Longbox Graveyard I am stuck in 1978, and my affection for the Mad Titan goes back well before Thanos’ recent stardom.
You Might Also Like: Thanos & The Infinity Gauntlet
The easy answer is that I was an alienated teenaged boy in the 1970s, and alienated teenaged boys have a natural affinity for death gods who kill lots of people and sit on a throne of bones in their awesome Palace of Death. So, there’s that. But my attachment to Thanos ran deeper than his heavy metal trappings — and besides, plenty of people besides me like Thanos, and they’re not all alienated teenaged boys!
So there has to be something deeper going on with old purple-puss. And I think what sets Thanos apart is his motivation. Comics are full of megalomaniacs motivated by revenge, ego, greed, or a warped sense of justice, or even by trivialities, like being enraged over losing their hair. I think what fascinates me about Thanos — and what makes him great — is that when Thanos goes off on one of his periodic rampages trying to kill everyone in the universe, he isn’t doing it out greed or madness or a lust for power.
He’s doing it for love!
It wasn’t always thus. When Thanos made his first appearance, in the peculiar Iron Man #55, Thanos was just another outer space Hitler. Supremely confident, our villain introduced himself as Thanos the First, soon-to-be-emperor of Earth.
Iron Man would have none of it, and in concert with Thanos’ arch-enemy, the Destroyer (also introduced this issue), Shellhead quickly put paid to Thanos’ plans. That single-issue space opera might have been forgotten, had not Jim Starlin brought Thanos back when Marvel tossed him the keys to Captain Marvel several months later.
But there was one very important addition for Thanos in his sophomore appearance, in the pages of Captain Marvel #26 … that ominous hooded figure to Thanos’ right! Thanos has given himself a promotion, saying that he will now shortly be Emperor of the Universe (!), but more importantly, he says that he “recognizes death as (his) only comrade.” It sounded like a metaphor, but it was so much more. If all Thanos wanted to do was spill blood while grinding the universe beneath his heel, he likely would have been consigned to the dustbin of history long ago. No, what makes Thanos a classic villian are not the things he does so much as the reason he does them — love.
There’s that word again — love!
It is a literal love of death that drives Thanos.
This is important, because it makes Thanos — for all his cosmic scope and scale — a relatable and even human figure. Outside of the occasional game of Risk, few of us will ever try to conquer the world … but all of us know what it means to be in love. Thanos’ love is twisted, dark, and evil, but it is still recognizably love, and when people are in love … they do crazy things.
That root of human motivation serves to further illuminate another reason by Thanos is endlessly fascinating. In many way, Thanos is — us! It’s all right there, in the page of Captain Marvel #29, where Mar-Vell attains enlightenment in a brisk twenty pages, guided by the space god Eon, who narrates Marv’s battle with his “inner demon” …
Thanos is our hero’s “… cancerous other self. He is your hostility, your battle lust, the side of you which loves destruction, perpetuates hate and seeks death! He is your personal Thanos!”
Ah ha! The circle closes! No wonder Thanos feels so personal (and small wonder that Starlin recalls conceiving of the character during a college psychology course). The way Thanos loves is obsessive, twisted, and wrong, and is just one of the many obsessive, twisted, and wrong things that lurk in the hearts of even the best of us.
Finally, Thanos’ unrequited love of Death affords him one more critical component that all classic characters must have — a weakness! To love is to expose yourself, to trust another person with your deepest secrets and longings. In courting death, Thanos has chosen … poorly.
… and it is not just that Death refuses to return Thanos’ love, delighting instead in manipulating and tormenting him. Plenty of people are stuck in dysfunctional relationships — and this makes Thanos that much more relatable — but more important is that this mass murderer has a wounded heart. He is a slave to love. Again, this is something to which we can all relate … and is infinitely more interesting that a vulnerability to glowing space rocks, or the color yellow!
This most cosmic of villains has the most human failings of all. That’s the reason I so love Thanos — there’s a little Thanos in all of us!
Thanos & Death — holiday snapshot!
And while I could go on about Thanos all day, I’m going to hold myself to a thousand words, both so I do not further try your patience, and also so you’ll have time to explore some of the other villain-focused articles that are part of today’s Super-Villain Team-Up. Please mouse on over to any or all of the articles below — and tell them Longbox Graveyard sent you!
- Bronze Age Babies — The Frightful Four (Are Brains Required for This Outfit?)
- Between The Pages — Two Villains Rule The World of Cakes: Darth Vader & Boba Fett
- Fantastiverse — Green Goblin: The Art of Villainy and Madness
- SuperHero Satellite — The Great Darkness Saga
- Chasing Amazing — Carnage: How I Helped Create This Monster
- Flodo’s Page — The Villainous Villainies of The Lamp-Lighter
- Retroist — Doom: Of Destiny & Denial
- Superior Spider-Talk — Peter Parker’s Parents
- Silver Age Sensations — The Voracious Villainy of The Crimson Dynamo!
- The Unspoken Decade — Godkillers: Doomsday and Bane
- The Daily Rios — JLA vs. The Beasts
(And when you’ve explored all of Super-Blog Team-Up, please be sure to share your thoughts on Thanos in the comments section, below!)
IN TWO WEEKS: #132 The Coming Of … The Falcon!
I’ve always had affection for Marvel’s “cosmic” heroes, and now Hollywood is catching up with me, thanks to the pending big-screen debut of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Listen in as we journey out into the cosmos, Marvel heroes style!
Welcome to another installment of The Dollar Box, where I look at special or significant comics with an original cover price of a dollar or less. This month’s issue is Captain Marvel #34, a Jim Starlin effort (with a script assist from Steve Englehart) published by Marvel Comics in the summer of 1974. This isn’t the most memorable or important issue in Starlin’s Captain Marvel run, but it has an energetic visual style, with a superior use of sound effects, and does conclude with what would prove to be a pivotal moment in Captain Marvel’s life — his death!
Created only to protect a trademark, Captain Marvel was always a tertiary book at Marvel, suffering through a series of unmemorable (yet accidentally brilliant) stories by rotating creative teams before the series was handed to a young Jim Starlin, first as penciller with issue #25, with with full creative duties by issue #27. Over the brief span of ten issues (which I previously reviewed here) Starlin would redefine Captain Marvel, transforming him into a cosmic warrior for peace and balance, and setting him to battle against the Death God Thanos of Titan, in the first of many such great outer space sagas that would become Starlin’s stock-in-trade.
By issue #34, though, that arc was in the rear-view mirror, and Captain Marvel — and creator Jim Starlin — were ready to move on to the next phase in their lives.
The first several pages of the issue were basic stuff for a 1970s Marvel Comic. The previous story was briefly recapped, then some long-simmering subplots were serviced, as Rick Jones — Captain Marvel’s earthly companion, with whom our hero must trade places if he is to escape the Negative Zone — caught up on a private life that was sidelined by a certain war for the fate of the solar system. Rick whined a bit about being Marv’s sidekick, broke up with his girlfriend, then departed on a music tour with his manager and an unenthusiastic new partner …
… and that’s where things got weird.
Weird, at least, by the standards of your usual 1970s Marvel fist opera. It wasn’t the set-up that was unusual — it was another off-the-shelf Marvel set piece, with Rick and his companions fatefully crossing paths with a villain intent on stealing a deadly nerve gas. But the entire tone and style of the issue was over-the-top and doom-driven, and also loaded with fannish Easter eggs, including a cameo appearance by Carol Danvers (who later would become one of the more significant female characters in the Marvel line as Ms. Marvel, before assuming the title duties of Captain Marvel, herself).
The plot was also enlivened by the first appearance of Nitro, one of the most gleefully-silly villains in Marvel history, a crazy man who’s entire repertoire involved blowing himself to atoms. As befit a man with such a one-trick resume, he entered the scene with a special kind of recklessness …
… and then went after what he wanted in a dynamic page that served notice that on a visual level, at least, this wouldn’t be your usual kind of superhero fight.
At this point I should note this issue was a personal turning point for me as a comics fan. Probably every comics fan has “that” issue — the one where the form came alive for them, when they first flipped to the credits page to see who it was that had written or drawn a story. For twelve-year-old me, soldiering through a visually indifferent summer of comic books in 1974, this issue left me “Blown Away” (which just happened to be the title of the story). Having come to comics too late to see Jack Kirby at the top of his game (or to see Jim Steranko infuse Kirby’s work with his own particular cinematic aesthetic), the way Starlin drew this otherwise-unremarkable action opened a doorway in my consciousness.
It blew my twelve-year-old mind.
Forty years later, it’s still pretty sweet. Sure, all we really have here is Captain Marvel — a throw-away character who had just had his Elvis Year thanks to Starlin’s run — slugging it out with a dumb supervillain for a half-dozen pages, but the contest is carried off with exceptional style.
There is real visual power behind the blows traded by Marv and Nitro, and the action seems more visceral and personal when Nitro curses like a street-level thug.
That “FOOM” sound effect gets an potent workout, too, as Nitro blows himself up in ever more explosive fashion …
… before meeting his own end with one last FOOM, thanks to a deft bit of trickery by our Kree soldier-hero, Captain Marvel.
Alas, the fun was ending just as it was getting started. Captain Marvel #34 was Jim Starlin’s last issue on the series. Jim knew it, even if the audience had no inkling, though it was spelled out plainly enough (if backwards) on a mysterious road sign …
… and with the freedom of a man quitting his job, Starlin did the unthinkable. He killed Captain Marvel.
(Actually, he did.)
Cliffhangers where heroes (appeared to) die were no unusual thing in comics, then or now, but this conclusion seemed to have an unusual degree of bite. Having finally defeated Nitro, Captain Marvel struggled to seal off the ruptured canisters of Compound 13 that the villain was trying to steal — a gas that we’d previously been told was the ultimate nerve agent.
Marv pulled it off, but just barely, and even Rick Jones, watching from the Negative Zone, seemed to sense that this wasn’t a routine cliffhanger. The next issue box assured us there will be a next issue, but this did seem an unusually “final” final image.
In issue #35, of course, a new creative team picked up the pieces, and contrived to restore Captain Marvel to life, and his book would continue on through another thirty-odd mostly-unmemorable issues before its cancellation in 1979.
But the events of this story would prove unusually far-ranging.
In 1982, Jim Starlin was back at Marvel, and the publisher was experimenting with a new, full-length graphic novel form. The first installment in the Marvel Graphic Novel line would be The Death of Captain Marvel, where Starlin revealed that Marv had an incurable cancer brought on by … his exposure to Compound 13! So it turns out that Starlin really did, kinda-sorta, kill off Captain Marvel back in issue #34 of his own book — it just took eight years for it to stick!
And stick it did. Captain Marvel’s death has proven one of the more significant character deaths in the Marvel universe, touching a number of other costumed heroes, and proving almost singular in offering a genuine end to the story of Captain Marvel. The character would appear again in flashbacks and brief life-after-death cameos, but his big 2008 “Secret Invasion” resurrection was a fake-out, and now the trademark-protecting mantle of Captain Marvel has been taken up by Carol Danvers (the former Ms. Marvel) in the latest incarnation of this particular title.
But all of that was in the distant future, back in the summer of 1974, when this particular comic opened my eyes and made me a comics fan for life. The cover price was .25, but a copy in decent condition will run you about five bucks now. That seems a small price to pay for a well-crafted issue with such a cool secret history, but I’d never tell you to purchase a comic on the basis of its events forming some permanent part of a comic book universe. If Bucky can come back from the dead, then no one is safe in eternal rest … though ol’ Marv has been there, more-or-less without interruption, for going on thirty years!
May he rest in peace.
IN TWO WEEKS: #124 Ret-Con: Roy Thomas And Earth-2