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The Death of Captain Marvel

Longbox Graveyard #169

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?

Well …

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:

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!

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Tell A Tale of The Guardians of The Galaxy!

Longbox Graveyard #167

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy return to theaters this week. I’m already a fan of the first movie, and of the comics — both old and slightly less so — so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to part with five bucks American to download the first chapter of Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy on my iPad.

I’d noodled around a bit with Telltale’s Walking Dead Game, and admired the conversational interface and the emotional stakes of that game, but I wasn’t especially eager to dwell in that dour world, and the game never grabbed me.

Guardians, though … Guardians is something different.

This game is frankly irresistible. You’re on the spot right from the opening screen, with ELO’s “Livin’ Thing” pouring from your speakers over an image of the Guardians punching each others’ lights out. It’s just a main menu, but it’s buoyant, happy, and demands your affection, like a puppy that’s jumped in your lap. And the game that follows is every bit as engaging, masterfully capturing the spirit and tone of the film, whisking us away on an adventure that promises a battle with Thanos, but is really more about the relationships at the heart of the not-so-dysfunctional family that is the Guardians.

The set-up could come straight from the comics — the Nova Corps calls in the Guardians to help run down Thanos, and after squeezing the Corps for future favors (or not, as you wish), we are off on an interstellar treasure hunt. There’s an alien enigma, and the Kree show up, and of course Thanos is there to chew the scenery. The game also takes a couple unexpected swerves that I won’t spoil, save to note they are completely in character and reinforce the story’s core theme of families and what makes them tick.

The interface is simple and easy to use — at least on touch screens. Back in the day we would have called this a point-and-click game. Now it’s about swiping and touching, but really, these kinds of controls haven’t changed all that much since Dragon’s Lair. Most action scenes are navigated with “Quick Time” events. Shooting and punching baddies is accomplished by tapping targets on the screen before they disappear. You dodge danger by swiping the screen when prompted. It’s pretty hard to fail, though I still managed it a time or two.

Sometimes you tap or swipe the screen to move things around. Sometimes you walk around and explore places. Star Lord flies around a bit, which was cool. There was a walking mechanic that required incessant screen-swiping that I could have done without, but for the most part, the game’s interaction economy is spot-on: not so much that you can’t appreciate the story, but not so little that you can afford to take your eyes away from the screen.

Even more engaging than the action scenes were the conversations, which don’t seem to find their way to different destinations so much as they unfold with differing tones — you can be thoughtful as Star Lord, or a dick (or both!), it is up to you. Sometimes the best response is to just let the timer run out and say nothing at all. I appreciated how the game let me do things my own way, even while guard-railing my characters — at one point, Gamora said that she’d never heard me talk this way before, causing me to reflect that, yeah, Peter is more self-centered than I was making him out to be. Gamora had rightly detected that it was me who was chatting her up, and not Star Lord! Cool.

And it is Star Lord that you control in this game. Aside from throwing a punch or two on behalf of other characters during the Thanos fight, it is Star Lord’s thoughts and actions that you will steer through each scene. Star Lord’s voice performance is probably the poorest turned in by the sound-alike voice cast, but that’s mostly down to Chris Pratt’s unique range — he really is a master at sliding between sweet and smarmy. The supporting voices are pretty strong, with Rocket being especially on-point. I would love to see succeeding chapters put other members of the Guardians in the driver’s seat, if only to see how Telltale handles a conversation tree when all I can say is, “I am Groot!”

The game’s technical performance left a bit to be desired. I played on my iPad Pro, and the textures still swam around on me from time to time, and a few of the load times had me tapping my toe. Prompts didn’t always respond to my first tap, despite hitting a static green bullseye dead-on. Based on this performance, I’d hesitate to recommend this game for lower-end mobile devices. I would expect console versions to run crisply, but fumbling for buttons on a controller doesn’t sound like a lot of fun compared to tapping screen prompts.

The art gets the job done. The ships and space scenes are tight, and the environments are adequate. The character models have kind of a second-tier CG animated series look to them, but they work — Telltale’s animators do a fine job of wringing sometimes subtle emotion from them. Body animation is about what you’d expect, though I found Star Lord’s walk cycle a little stiff (and he walks a lot in this game). Lip synching is (usually) convincing. Scenes are well-lit, somehow giving us clearly-visible characters even inside the murkiest spaceport dive bar.

But this isn’t really a game that’s going to win you over with screenshots. The heart of the game is … well … its heart. There’s plenty of derring-do in abandoned fortresses and Kree battlecruisers, and the game does deliver with a Guardians vs. Thanos beat-down that works in an Intergalactic Wrestling Federation sort of way, but the real action in this game comes through the conversations and the relationships between the characters. In this, the game reaches back to the core of comics storytelling. After all, in the long run, there’s little doubt our heroes will defeat the big bad … but will Gamora be able to deal with her daddy issues? That’s harder to predict, and its a unique pleasure to play to find out. Yep, it’s all about the feelz, and I welcome it. I already have plenty of games where you solve everything by shooting at it.

I also enjoyed the little touches and side-gags. Rocket and Drax both got off some zingers that were entirely in character. Helping Groot ride out a hangover was appropriately gross (and all I did was listen to it). I loved that a random piece of email from the Universal Church of Truth was helpfully flagged as spam.

The chapter was just long enough for me. I didn’t clock it, but it felt like it took a bit less than ninety minutes to play the whole thing. Content felt equivalent to about three issues of a comic series. The ending came at the right time and didn’t leave me hanging so much as feeling intrigued. Some of the asides clearly set up later chapters — like Gamora’s communication with her sister, Nebula — and I think I saw Moondragon in the bar, but for the most part the chapter can stand on its own, and in this it does a better job than your average, decompressed modern comics issue.

One area where this game was more setup than payoff was in development of emotional relationships. By the end of my play-through, I’d pissed off Rocket, softened-up Gamora, forged a strong bond with Drax, and sealed an alliance with the Nova Corps, but none of that mattered in a major way in this chapter. Given that this game is scheduled to run five chapters, I can’t blame Telltale for deploying their chess pieces for later, and if I wasn’t allergic to pre-orders, I might have opened my wallet for the season pass upsell that followed the closing credits.

Once I’ve cooled off a bit I might even go back and replay the game, to see what happens if I zig instead of zag, and I can see where a player might dive deep into this thing to ferret out the different permutations of every scene. The closing score screens provide a roadmap for where I took the story, compared to the community at large, hinting at the different outcomes.

But I don’t much care about multiple outcomes — for me, I was just glad to while away a rainy afternoon with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and feel a part of their family and their troubles. Emotional reactions of any stripe are difficult to elicit with games, so hats off to Telltale for not only accomplishing this rare feat, but also making it the center of their game. If I come back for the second chapter, it won’t be to learn more about the MacGuffin that permits Peter to speak with ghosts — it will be to see if I can continue to win Gamora’s trust, and to learn if Rocket really means it when he keeps acting like I’m driving him out of the group. The game-making side of my brain tells me the actual number of outcomes isn’t that large, but my illusion of control is such that it is easy to believe my decisions created a unique outcome.

I am happy to suspend my disbelief to ride along with the team. I wasn’t much interested in investing this kind of time and emotion in Telltale’s Walking Dead or Batman games, but this Guardians of the Galaxy game really was delightful. As an experience, it was a bit more than a comic, and a bit less than a movie, but thoroughly unique and enjoyable. I hope I walk out of the theater after seeing Guardians 2 feeling half so positive! Recommended.

NEXT MONTH: #168 Wonder Woman: All All-Star Sensation

Supervillain Tournament Of Evil — WINNER ANNOUNCED!

 

The Longbox Graveyard Supervillain Tournament of Evil is complete, and the winner is …

DOOM!

Doom Wins!

Galactus got off to an early lead in the voting, but Doom built momentum throughout the week, and ending up winning handily, 60-40.

With his victories over Red Skull, Darkseid, Joker, and finally Galactus, Doctor Doom truly proved himself the greatest supervillain of all. All four of Doom’s foes were world-class … there was no easy matchups for Doom. Despite strong competition, Doom’s average margin of victory was 47 points!

Doom is in a class by himself.

(Now, if only the movies could get him right!)

Here’s the final bracket for our tournament:

Final Bracket

 

Thanks to everyone who voted and commented in the tournament (and the comments section is open, below, to Praise Doom). If the fates are kind we will be back here next spring to run another tournament. Or maybe the Fall! I have an idea for a Halloween-month tournament that I might indulge …

… but for now, ALL HAIL DOOM!

Super-Villain Team-Up #14

 

Supervillain Tournament Of Evil — CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND!

Looks like we should have just jumped to the championship round for this tournament, sports fans … our Final Four was as devoid of drama as the preceding rounds!

The Cinderella run of #16 seed Thanos came to a screeching stop in the Final Four, as he proved no match for Galactus. Meanwhile, Doctor Doom showed the Joker that supervillainy is no laughing matter!

  • Galactus d. Thanos, 64-36
  • Doctor Doom d. Joker, 77-23

You know what that means, folks … that’s right, it’s an All-Jack-Kirby Final in the Longbox Graveyard Supervillain Tournament of EVIL!

Hail To The King!

 

Here’s the championship round bracket for the SUPERVILLAIN TOURNAMENT OF EVIL!

bracket

Let’s meet our challengers!

In the cosmic corner, wearing purple togs with a TV-Antenna helmet, hailing from Planet Taa by way of the Cosmic Egg, weighing in at 36,000 pounds, we have the Devourer of Worlds, the awesome, the mighty, the epicurean … GALACTUS!

Galactus by Jack Kirby

And in the despotic corner, wearing a green cloak and an iron mask, the dread sovereign of Latveria, weighing in 415 armored pounds, sorcerer, scientist, and stealer of the Power Cosmic … DOCTOR DOOM!

Doctor Doom by Jack Kirby

The referee for tonight’s match is Mister Fantastic!

Reed Richards by Jack Kirby

(pause while Galactus visibly blanches, and Doom throws up inside his mask)

The battle is joined! The outcome is in your hands!

Vote now!

ONLY THE MOST INFAMOUS WILL SURVIVE!

#3 DOCTOR DOOM vs. #5 GALACTUS

Doom vs. Galactus

No Ultimate Nullifiers Allowed!

 

For the final time, vote early, and vote often — and tell your friends!

(And stand up for the villain of your choice in the comments section, below!)

 

Supervillain Tournament Of Evil — ROUND THREE!

More blowouts and beatdowns in the second round of our Supervillain Tournament of Evil! Is the lack of competition a surprise, or all part of some diabolical plan? I dunno. But once again, we had a round which went pretty much according to expectations, with only our “bottom seed” Thanos “upsetting” Loki and a big wipeout in our 4/5 matchup between Lex Luthor and Galactus coming close to raising eyebrows.

The second round results (by percentage of votes):

  • Thanos d. Loki, 59-41
  • Galactus d. Lex Luthor, 71-29
  • Joker d. Ra’s al Ghul 65-35
  • Doctor Doom d. Darkseid, 67-33

I thought that Lex Luthor would put up a better fight against Galactus, but he went down harder than anyone else this round. Maybe we are seeing Longbox Graveyard’s “Marvel bias” in action here … or maybe it wasn’t Luthor at all, but instead a robot loaded with Hate Tapes!

Dead Lex

Regardless, our Final Four is set! It’s Thanos vs. Galactus, and the Joker vs. Doctor Doom!

Here’s the latest bracket for the SUPERVILLAIN TOURNAMENT OF EVIL!

bracket

 

Vote now!

ONLY THE MOST INFAMOUS WILL SURVIVE!

#5 GALACTUS vs. #16 THANOS

Thanos vs. Galactus

Deep Space Death Gods!

#2 JOKER vs. #3 DOCTOR DOOM

Joker vs. Doctor Doom

Clown Prince versus the most dreaded sovereign of them all!

As always, vote early, and vote often — and tell your friends!

(And agitate for the villain of your choice in the comments section, below!)

 

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