UNEARTHED: The Death of Captain Marvel, Part One

Look at this cover! More important, look at that price tag! These days this would probably be $30!

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends! We’re so glad you could attend, that’ll be $29.95.

O my stars and garters, it’s been an age, hasn’t it? I don’t even know if I remember how to do these anymore. But we’ll muddle through, won’t we? Let’s get to it.

Today we’re diving into Marvel’s series of one-shot stories they called ‘graphic novels’. To my understanding, Will Eisner made this popular with his “A Contract With God” story, but the superhero-reading community will have come to it when Marvel started doing them in earnest. In this episode we’re examining the first of the series, “The Death of Captain Marvel”, written and drawn by Jim Starlin, whose work we’ve covered before. And yes, it’s quite a bit different indeed.

Here’s our Captain Marvel dictating his thoughts. Notice that his microphone is corded. As futuristic as all this other tech seems, Jim Starlin couldn’t conceive of a cordless mic.

He recounts his history as a superhero. Note the weird way he describes his relationship with this ‘Una’: “I loved this woman.” Did you? That’s a pretty cold way to state it, dude.

Ahh, the classic brooding hero. So the idea is that he’s the scout of an invading empire, and presumably he’s done this to other civilizations before. But something about Earth gives him pause. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Could it be because they look just like you do, Mar-vell? Bipedal, Caucasian? We know what you’re about, you Space Roman.

Here’s a cool, dynamic action panel. And maybe now’s a good time to mention Starlin’s interesting grasp of anatomy. Let me magnify the bit I’m talking about:

For one thing, Mar-vell’s punching arm is twice as long as it would normally be. For another thing, look at the right arm of the guy he’s punching. The muscle is super rigid and it’s in entirely the wrong position for his forearm and hand to be rotated that way. And as you’ll notice the further on we go, the torsos of his characters are weirdly long and thick. And the first set of abs below the ribcage are abnormally large. But DAMN if they don’t look powerful!

Doesn’t it seem like he’s slightly casting shade at the entirety of superhero comics? The ‘endless line’ is pretty much the entire reason for being of the genre. But I guess he’s entitled to his opinion.

An interesting series of panels here, and in the next block. The voiceover continues throughout but the speaker is never directly seen. Pretty cinematic in an era where comics didn’t always use this kind of presentation.

More of the same. It’s cool that Starlin did it this way, even if there really isn’t a reason for it. We’re not necessarily learning anything about this environment for being shown it in detail. It’s just kind of a neat change-up from the standard talking head method of exposition.

I always thought this was a cool power: Cosmic Awareness. When he focuses, Captain Marvel can expand his consciousness outward to sense everything that’s happening within its sphere. It’s like a version of Daredevil’s radar sense, but much more complete.

Here are Mar-vell’s traveling companions, Eros (also called Starfox) on the left and Mentor (father of Thanos) on the right. If you’ve seen the mid-credits sequence from “The Eternals” movie, Eros is the guy played by Harry Styles. Unfortunately, the MCU completely glossed over any of the other Titans in “Avengers: Infinity War”.

Mar-vell’s unrelenting compassion is on display here as he muses about what a good guy he is for not killing people. Also, the change from blue to black on his costume here isn’t a mistake, nor is it an indication of his use of powers or anything. It’s just Starlin changing things up for no reason. But I will say the black silhouette really messes with my ability to accept the dimensions of Mar-vell’s body in that first panel. It’s weird!

I just like that panel of a guy completely missing Mar-vell and smashing his face.


In comics you rarely get this kind of minion interrogation, and it’s interesting. But the next sequence is what’s fun about it.

Mentor UNLOADS on this dude and it’s SO GOOD. I wish more superheroes would do this.

But here we come to the crux of the story. I like the middle panel where clearly neither Mentor nor Eros know what to do. And in the third panel, we see Mar-vell using the Cosmic Awareness. FORESHADOWING.

Something’s up and we’re about to find out what. Also: Jim Starlin loves him some triceps.

So Mar-vell has cancer. And while I’m sure comics had broached the topic before, this might be the first instance of a superhero having cancer. And it’s telling that Mar-vell confesses being afraid, as it mirrors the same kind of inaction-born-of-fear that a lot of men display. “Maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away.”

We’ll just ignore the duplicate “I’ve” in that dialogue balloon.

Mar-vell here describes the incident he believes might have instigated his cancer. But I’d also like to point out that Nitro, the villain in this flashback, is also responsible years later for destroying an entire grade school, kicking off the Civil War series of connected stories. Clearly, he sucks.

A nice trick here, removing the backgrounds so the focus is on the dialogue. Mar-vell looks particularly alone in that first panel.

And that’s where we’ll end it for now. Tune in next week for Part Two of “The Death of Captain Marvel”!