Posted by Don MacPherson on July 20th, 2011
Captain Marvel: The Death of Captain Marvel hardcover collected edition
Writers: Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart & Doug Moench
Pencils: Jim Starlin & Pat Broderick
Inks: Jack Abel, Bruce Patterson & Jim Starlin
Colors: Jim Starlin, Carl Gafford, Glynis Wein, Ben Sean & Steve Oliff
Letters: Tom Orzechowski, Elaine Heinl, Diana Alberts & James Novak
Editors: Roy Thomas, Roger Stern & Al Milgrom (original)/Mark D. Beazley (collection)
Cover artist: Jim Starlin
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $24.99 US
A couple of years after I started reading Marvel comics in the mid 1980s, I discovered its line of graphic novels, though today, they’d really been seen more as graphic novellas. They were squarebound, but about the size of a thin magazine. I think the first one I read was Revenge of the Living Monolith, and not long after, The Death of Groo. One of the best known of these graphic novellas was The Death of Captain Marvel, and while I wasn’t familiar with the character, the fact that it was about a hero’s struggle to come to grips with his approaching (and that it featured just about everyone in the Marvel Universe) appealed to me. I never ran across a copy though, so when I saw this reprint edition, collecting that novella and other material, on sale at a discount, I decided to check it out. What I discovered was that original graphic novella was as good as I thought it might be, but the supplementary material leading up to the character’s curtain call was confusing, contrived and somewhat disconnected from the real point of the book.
Mar-Vell, a captain in the intergalactic army of the Kree, became a hero when he settled on Earth and rejected his homeworld’s plans for invasion. Over the years, he’s fought a variety of villains — among them, the explosive Nitro. Eventually settling into semi-retirement on Titan, the inhabited moon of Saturn because it’s the home of friends and allies, Mar-Vell discovers that during his first encounter with Nitro, he was exposed to a nerve agent that’s led to him developing cancer. As experts across the galaxy strive to find a cure, friends travel to lend support and pay their respects.
This book features reprints of four comics: Captain Marvel #34, Marvel Spotlight #s 1 and 2, and the afore-mentioned Death of Captain Marvel graphic novella. The problem with this collection is that one has to wade through material that didn’t merit inclusion or revisitation in the first place. I get why the first comic was included. It features the encounter that eventually leads to the title character’s physiological plight later in his life. It’s a fairly generic super-hero story, but it’s fairly accessible as well, as it’s set in the wake of a previous storyline. It’s also plotted and illustrated by Starlin. It’s an unremarkable story but not particularly irksome either.
The Marvel Spotlight reprints are incredibly frustrating though. I can’t believe they’re reprints of the first two issues of a series, as they’re wholly inaccessible. The issues take place in the middle of an ongoing storyline to which the reader of this reprint volume isn’t privy. I had little idea of what was going on in those pages, save for the fact that Captain Marvel and his allies were pitted against a sentient computer mind. Why the conflict was unfolding and who such antagonists as Stellarax and others actually were eluded me. The conflict from the Marvel Spotlight material really didn’t seem to have much to do with the point of the book; it simply shared a setting with the graphic novella segment.
Furthermore, Pat Broderick’s artwork for those issues is just as confusing as Doug Moench’s script. There’s an almost stream-of-consciousness approach to the visuals. There’s little flow to the action, and weird elements keep popping up from out of nowhere. The designs for the villains are odd and random in tone as well. They’re crude and weird, not intimidating. Fortunately, the artwork on the final chapter, the graphic novella from which this hardcover book derives its name, is much stronger. Starlin’s work in that segment of the book as compared to the first is leaps and bounds ahead. There seems to be a much more thoughtful, measured approach to the line art. Steve Oliff’s colors add a softness to Starlin’s work that’s in keeping with the more reflective and character-driven tone of the story.
I love that Starlin’s graphic novella isn’t about super-hero action at all. Sure, a couple of action scenes bookend the work, but really, it’s about how people deal with death. Starlin’s script isn’t perfect. He seems to repeat himself a bit too much and states some elements too overtly rather than letting the art, the characters’ expressions tell the story. But the fact that he brings a superhuman’s legend to a close with an all-too human ending is touching and effective. Ultimately, all of the strength of this volume is to be found in its final, satisfying chapter. Honestly, I’d recommend tracking down a copy of the original graphic novella rather than dole out $25 for this padded collected edition. On its own, it’s a much more satisfying read. 5/10
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