The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 38: Marvel Comics – Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel: The greatest dead superhero since Jesus.

Captain Marvel – The Death Of Captain Marvel

Ooook. This is one of the big ones. Any list of the most important Marvel stories ever is going to have this one somewhere on it. In fact, it might be the best comic story that gives away it’s ending right in the title of all time.

Here’s the skinny: Captain Marvel is a Kree (alien race, not important) soldier, that has turned his back on his people to become one of Earth’s heroes. He lives on Titan with the Eternals (ancient race of superhumans often mistaken for Greek gods, also not important) with his girlfriend. Everything is groovy.

Until he gets cancer. Bummer. And then he dies. Major bummer.

So why is this story so important? Because it had never really been done before (This book was published in 1982). Superheroes had died before (though not often), but those deaths usually occurred at the climax of huge galactic battles that saved the world in the process. A larger than life hero dying a fairly mundane, ordinary death had just never been done.

The story itself is well told, though obviously somewhat depressing. Jim ” I never met a space epic I didn’t like” Starlin handled the script and the pencils, and if I had to pick one comic that really captured the man’s talent, this would be it. This is the story of a man facing his death, and Starlin handles it with class and dignity, but he also manages to throw in some superhero action, and ties the personal tragedy into the larger Marvel Universe.

What’s most important here is the legacy the story left. Captain Marvel became a far more influential character dead than he ever was alive, and the fallout from this story is felt in Marvel’s stories almost 30 years later. What’s most interesting is that though they’ve skirted very close on numerous occasions to bringing him back, Marvel thus far has resisted the urge, and has kept Captain Marvel dead. This is unheard of in modern superhero comics, and it’s a nice tribute to a great comic story. This is pretty much essential for any serious Marvel collection.


Captain Marvel – Secret Invasion

A few years ago, Marvel proudly trumpeted the return of Captain Marvel! Yay! He’s back! Oh wait, he’s not. He’s actually an alien saboteur that was brainwashed into THINKING he’s Captain Marvel. I think Marvel was hoping that they could brainwash me into THINKING that this was a good idea, but alas, they could not.


Captain Marvel – First Contact, Nothing To Lose, Coven, Crazy Like A Fox, Odyssey

So if CM died, how could there be more Captain Marvel comics? It’s his son, of course! You know, the one that Marvel forgot to mention until 15 years after they killed him? Of course. About 20 years after the character died, Peter David took it upon himself to write the adventures of the wayward son of one of the greatest heroes Marvel had ever produced. What resulted was a book that was critically loved, and yet so controversial that the publisher of Marvel at the time publicly threatened to cancel it on numerous occasions.

The character’s story really starts with Avengers Forever, a Kurt Busiek-penned opus that merged (less sexy than it sounds) Genis (son of original Captain Marvel) with Rick Jones (former sidekick of Captain America; former sidekick of the Hulk; former sidekick of the original Captain Marvel; former sidekick of something called Rom: Spaceknight, etc). So now the new series begins with Cap in LA, and he’s bound and determined to follow in his father’s quite daunting footsteps. Since the two characters are merged, only one of them can be on earth at the same time. While one of them is in LA, the other is in the Negative Zone, which sounds like bad nightclub that just plays Careless Whisper on an endless loop, but is really just a strange dimension that Marvel uses for it’s more unusual stories.

And so begins one of the stranger, yet more enjoyable series that Marvel has produced in the last decade. First of all, this was actually two series. The first one was more of a straight forward superhero story, that was eventually cancelled for reasons far too complicated to go into here. Only the first 6 issues of this series was ever collected, unfortunately. The second series was Peter David’s attempt to answer the question of what would happen if the galaxy’s most powerful hero went bugshit crazy.

Now, Marvel actually tried this again recently with a horrible character called The Sentry, but the attempt wasn’t nearly as successful as Peter David’s was. There is much to love about this series: The quick and witty writing, the well-rounded supporting cast (including the only time I’ve ever found Rick Jones interesting),  the cartoony adventure art style of Crisscross, and the menacing threat of the protagonist. Yes, threat. This Captain Marvel has buckled under the weight of his own powers and is slowly, painfully going crazy. And it’s entertaining as hell to watch.

As you might have guessed, I love this series. But it does have it’s flaws:

Flaw 1 – Pacing. In short, this series both meanders and feels rushed at the same time. After rereading David’s Hulk and X-Factor runs recently, I’ve seen this as a regular occurence in his writing, and I see it as a bit of a throwback to a time when series would go on for decades, as opposed to months. It’s not really a weakness so much as it is a characteristic. Other writers write for the trade, David writes for the Omnibus. And so plots often feel rushed, or even abandoned, but given enough time, David usually picks up all the pieces and makes them make sense.

Flaw 2 – The second series didn’t go far enough. What I mean is this: IMO, this story should have ended with Genis becoming such a threat that all of Earth’s heroes would have to team up to destroy him. But for whatever reason, that never happened, and so Marvel tried to have their cake and eat it too, and ended the series prematurely with Genis  portrayed as a flawed hero, as opposed to the raving sociopath that David has written him as for most of the series.

These are minor nitpicks. This is a series well worth your time, if you like a healthy dose of comedy in your superhero comics, and if you like the boundaries of what constitutes a superhero book pushed a little bit. Although some of the pop culture references David uses come across as extremely dated now, the writing is razor-sharp. The art is also top notch, and my only hope is that Marvel eventually puts the rest of David’s first series into trade one day.


Next up: Daredevil!

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