Captain Marvel fought scores of classic villains and interacted with many other heroes in his book and other books throughout the years. Eventually, Mar-Vell faced one foe that he couldn’t defeat. The Kree warrior was diagnosed with cancer after a battle with his nemesis Nitro.
Captain Marvel #34, Marvel Spotlight #1 and #2, and Marvel Graphic Novel #1
Original publication date: 1982
Writers: Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart
Art: Jim Starlin
Even though Captain Marvel wasn’t as popular as other Marvel characters, he still maintained a loyal following for decades.
What happened after the death of Captain Marvel and how his contemporaries dealt with their friend’s eventual demise was brought to life in the seminal story, The Death of Captain Marvel.
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Why Is The Death Of Captain Marvel A Classic Comic Book Story?
Jim Starlin’s graphic novel was a major milestone for the comic book publisher. It was one of their first forays into storytelling beyond their regular monthly comics.
The Death Of Captain Marvel also took on the daunting task of killing off a character that had been established in the Marvel Universe for the better part of three decades.
Death is eventual for all of us, and it’s a difficult subject that the writer/artist handled with elegance and compassion.
Beginning Of The End
The story begins with Mar-Vell realizing his own mortality. He starts off by recording thoughts for future generations and documenting his life history. He’s still known as a hero, although he’s not nearly as active as he once was.
Captain Marvel would fight a super-villain or two once in a while but had pretty much retired from that kind of lifestyle. He had no need to be a galactic protector anymore after the demise of his arch-enemy Thanos in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2.
Mar-Vell travels to the space station base of his old enemy with his companions Eros and Mentos. They are on a mission to retrieve Thanos’ corpse when they encounter some of the former foe’s henchmen. The villains are defeated, but Captain Marvel develops a concerning cough during the battle.
When the trio arrives back on the Saturn moon of Titan, Mar-Vell reveals his secret to Mentos. He accidentally inhaled a dangerous amount of nerve gas during a battle with Nitro.
The gas had mutated his cells as a fatal form of cancer began to spread inside his body. Mentos is stunned by the news, but offers his assistance, all the while knowing there’s really not much that can be done to save his friend.
Mentos calls upon the assistance of other heroes, including Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, the Beast and Thor, but unfortunately they are unable to overcome Mar-Vell’s form of what the Kree call “the blackened.”
All they can do is stand by their companion’s side until the very end.
Captain Marvel Says Goodbye
Knowing that nothing can change the inevitable, Mar-Vell begins saying farewell to the people in his life. He begins with his lady love Elysius.
With each goodbye, Captain Marvel starts to ponder his mortality. He wonders whether it’s better to know how many days you have left to live, or if it’s better to pass on unexpectedly.
How Do The Other Heroes Deal With It?
Each hero deals with the impending loss in different ways. Some like the Fantastic Four and Avengers are sad but still happy to see their friend one last time.
Others, such as Spider-Man and Mar-Vell’s former partner Rick Jones react in anger. It’s one of the many stages of grief, and it shows how important his friendship was to them.
Towards the end of the story, some of Captain Marvel’s closest companions are gathered at his bedside for his final moments. We find the hero meeting his old foe Thanos one more time on the astral plane before going to his final resting place.
The ending is done in such a way that is very respectful of the character. It’s a very human finish for one of Marvel’s most loved characters from another galaxy.
Legacy Of The Death Of Captain Marvel
Although Mar-Vell has reappeared briefly through the years, none of those appearances has lasted very long. They’ve all been brief and weren’t very noteworthy.
Captain Marvel probably will never enjoy the glorious resurrection that other characters have had. That’s mainly because no other person or creative team has wanted to tarnish the legacy that Starlin created with his masterpiece.
Starlin crafted a magnificent, honest tale that will likely never be duplicated or imitated by anyone.
Comic readers have become accustomed to seeing their favourite heroes flirt with death on multiple occasions. They always come back issue after issue. This was the first time that a significant character died and didn’t come back.
When Captain Marvel was gone, he was gone. He couldn’t cheat death like so many other characters have. It gave the story a very real quality and was something that readers could instantly relate to.
Anyone who has ever lost a friend or family member to cancer or other serious ailments or diseases could easily understand what the hero was going through. It has also been read or referred to during different real-life memorial services over the years.
Mar-Vell’s comics didn’t sell as well as other Marvel mags, but that didn’t make him any less important. Monica Rambeau took up the Captain Marvel moniker later that year in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, and other heroes have taken the hero’s name, with the most recent one being the former Ms Marvel, Carol Danvers.
All of his successors owe a debt to the original Captain Marvel, a super being that fiercely protected the galaxy until he could fight no more.
A Starlin Masterpiece
When comic fans talk about Jim Starlin, they usually refer to his Infinity Gauntlet mini-series or his Dreadstar series of books.
The Death of Captain Marvel deserves the same level of praise. It brought reality back into the medium. There are so many things in comics that force us to suspend belief. Most of them would never happen in the real world.
Having a major character die had never been done before. It was handled delicately by Starlin, and the story is a very fitting end to a rather underrated character.
The story has influenced other similar storylines at Marvel and other publishers. It still remains as relevant today as it did when it first hit newsstands.
The Death of Captain Marvel Was Featured in : Best Thanos Stories from Marvel Comic Books
Images from Marvel Comics