This series of blogs is going to showcase the single issues, runs of an ongoing series, limited series, trade paperbacks, hardcovers and deluxe editions that I feel every comic book reader should have in their library. They are sometimes groundbreaking stories or masterpieces of an artist. Others are particularly emotional stories or just plain fun. And not all of them involve superheros (although a majority do).
So where to start...
It's the Death of Captain Marvel. The first actual original story Graphic Novel for Marvel printed in 1982. It tells the story of the Kree Captain Mar-Vell's death from something that the whole Marvel Universe can't beat...cancer. And that is why this story earns this distinction.
I read this story fairly recently in 2002 when it was reprinted as The Life And Death Of Captain Marvel along with several issues that were relevant to his history including his struggle against the mad Titan Thanos and the issue where he was exposed to the carcinogen that made him sick. The collection gives an overview of the character with only his first appearance being a puzzling omission. (check out Essential Captain Marvel Vol 1 for that)
All the issues are drawn and written by Jim Starlin who was at the top of his game with both. The issues get a beautiful recoloring, however the original Death was magazine size and the art suffers a little because of the reduction to a smaller size.
The true value is the emotional tie the story creates. It is a fairly personal one too. Anyone who has lost someone to cancer will have an immediate connection to the story. For me, it was my mother. She fought a long hard battle and after a brief period of remission finally succumbed to the disease that had metastasized throughout her body. That loss was with me for a long time and never goes away. Reading this story made me feel better (even with it being five years after her death).
Though it involves a story about a character's death, it is about his life, his accomplishments and his spirit. The story shows how he lived as friends (other heroes, gods and aliens) and enemies reflect upon his terminal state. His acceptance of his death is another key moment that resonated with me. The story presents Mar-Vell with a physical manifestation of that existential battle. He is led through this "world" by Thanos as Virgil led Dante through Hell and Purgatory. In the end he accepts Death's embrace. It may sound like this is a downer, but as Thanos says "this is not the end...only the beginning".
Now, maybe sterner hearts can resist. Even just thinking about it, my eyes have welled up a bit. When I first read this I completely lost it. That was the first and only time a comic did that to me. (I have felt regret when a favorite character dies, not full out grief) This is a story that uses the comic book medium to deal with a larger theme than the standard good vs evil ones that are the norm. It's a theme that some of the greatest writers through thousands of years of history have broached and others will continue to in the future. It is an eternal question. "Is there life after death?"
Is it on par with some of those great works about that subject? Probably not. But for me it is , making that heady subject instantly accessible. Maybe I'm just stupid.
So, the personal connection the story makes and the successful tackling of that eternal question are what makes this story a must for any comics fan.
I promise the next entry will be a little lighter in tone.