UNEARTHED: The Death of Captain Marvel, Part Two

We continue with this unsettlingly somber collision of superherodom and death. It should be noted that Mar-vell does return from the dead numerous times over the decades but he always goes back to being dead at the end of the story. Still, it’s interesting that Marvel allowed this story to happen at all. Perhaps the character didn’t enjoy the same mainstream popularity that other heroes did. Regardless, on with the tale:

Mar-vell takes a slight dig at the human race with that middle panel comment. He’s not wrong.

Quick question: does Mar-vell’s hair grow directly out from his mask? That second panel seems to support this idea. And with Mentor’s question in the third panel, we get a rare wordless panel:

And after this pregnant pause:

I always thought this was a really cool panel. Not only is Mar-vell’s face half-shadowed, but seeing his teeth in the shadow gives him a slightly creepy, skeletal appearance. At the same time, the background strokes indicate a jarring, off-kilter mood to the panel, giving us insight into how Mar-vell feels about telling his partner the news.

And on the next page, this full spread. Starlin really knows how to use silence to great effect, and the ingenious layout and shapes of the panels conveys both Mar-vell speaking with his partner and Mentor looking down at them from a balcony. This is one of those things that comics does really well, in that the medium allows for very precise capture of moments in time.

Here’s more history from Mar-vell’s life. We’re introduced to Rick Jones, who you might remember from Unearthed: Avengers #4. He’s Marvel’s perennial sidekick, having been such for Mar-vell, Captain America, and the Hulk. It’s kinda weird that he hasn’t been in the MCU at all.

I don’t know if it’s ever been made clear that this Negative Zone might or might not be the same one from the Fantastic Four, where bad guys like Blastaar and Annihilus live. Weirdly, there appears to be air in what’s otherwise some kind of cosmic void.

Here’s a fun quiz: How many characters can you name in the above splash page? I can do 15. So I guess I’m not as Marvel Elite as I thought I was.

The Big Bad of the MCU! We’ll see him again when we get further into Warlock some time in the future.

Speak of the devil and up he jumps! My favorite Starlin character by far, and maybe my favorite in the entire Marvel Universe.

Rick learns about Mar-vell’s condition. And seeing it from the side, I’ve noticed that Starlin has an interesting grasp of how low a ribcage should go.

Rick accuses Mar-vell of just giving up, and it’s a cool scene. Rick’s young, this is absolutely how he’d behave, especially after adventuring through the Marvel Universe and seeing all manner of miraculous sights.

Here’s more wacky Starlin ribcagery. Look at how LONG he thinks they are! Also, what a weird pose in that second panel! It’s like Mar-vell knows he has to stoop just to be included in it!

I think this is a really lovely insight and I’d bet that Starlin has had this direct experience in his life, to be able to capture it here.

Keep in mind that you NEVER saw this kind of tone in Marvel superhero comics before this. Sure, maybe the odd one-off “Mary Jane dumps Peter Parker” kind of sadness, but this quiet acceptance was pretty remarkable.

Rick does a pretty smart thing here, and this scene really kinda shines a light on why superheroes in general are a tricky subject to attempt.

Harsh, Rick-o. And maybe a more modern take would be “You won’t take on anything you can’t monetize.” Well, of course an anti-cancer treatment would be big bucks, but these are superheroes, and they don’t do things like that, right? Yup.

And there it is, for me the crux of this story’s impact on me as a youth, reading it. The Marvel Universe is full of mysteries and wonders, but it still has cancer, and a hundred other maladies that no one has solved. So why not? How much ‘realism’ should a superhero world contain? Is a superhero’s entire job just to preserve the status quo? Other later comics delve into these questions far more deeply than this one does, so we’ll leave it there for now. Tune in next week for Part Three!