There's a tendency to dismiss the comic book industry as being hopelessly juvenile with an infantile addiction to graphic violence and adolescent sexual imagery. Unfortunately, in some cases, this is a correct assessment. But then there are the other, too often ignored comics that transcend such self-imposed limitations. The Death of Captain Marvel is one such example.
Originally published in 1982, this was the first of Marvel's graphic novels and it has been said, quite correctly, that it revolutionized an industry that had started to grow fatally stagnant. Just as the title says, Jim Starlin's wonderfully written and illustrated novel details the last days of Marvel mainstay Capt. Marr-Vell (an alien better known as Capt. Marvel in one of those delightful comic book coincidences). After years of battling various cosmic foes of all size and evil, Marvel finds himself felled by that most human and realistic of diseases. He had cancer and a great deal of this graphic novel examines how his super powered friends react to the death of one of their own from a disease that could have afflicted any of them. Though Starlin allows for a bit of the expected super heroic melodrama, overall the Death of Captain Marvel is distinguished by a quiet, contemplative mood as Marvel deals with his impending death. In the end, its rather touching and truly thought provoking.
The term graphic novel is one that gets mocked. It sometimes seems to reek of fanboy pretension. The Death of Captain Marvel reminds us of what a graphic novel was originally supposed to be. A comic book, yes, but a comic book for adults -- a comic book that eschewed the melodrama and absurdities of a monthly title and instead used the format to say something truly special. The Death of Captain Marvel more than lives up to that promise.