The Life of Captain Marvel

The Life of Captain Marvel

By Jim Starlin and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-635-X

As much as I’d love to claim that Marvel’s fortunes are solely built on the works of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, I’m just not able to. Whereas I do know that without them the modern monolith would not exist, it is also necessary to acknowledge the vital role played by the second generation creators of the early 1970s. Marvel’s welcome of fresh, new, often untried talent paid huge dividends in creativity -and most importantly at a time of industry contraction – new sales.

One of the most successful of these newcomers was Jim Starlin. As well as the groundbreaking Master of Kung Fu, which he worked on with his equally gifted confederates Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom, his earliest success was the epic of cosmic adventure collected here.

Captain Marvel was an alien on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for Earth and was atomically bonded to professional sidekick Rick Jones by a pair of wristbands that enabled them to share the same space in our universe. When one was here the other was trapped in the antimatter dimensiom known as the Negative Zone.

After meandering around the Marvel Universe for a while, continually one step ahead of cancellation (the series had folded many times, but always quickly returned – presumably to secure the all important Trademark name), the Captain was handed to Starlin — and the young artist was left alone to get on with it. With many of his friends he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man and Daredevil) for a saga that would in many ways become as well regarded as the Kirby Fourth World Trilogy that it emulated. But the Thanos War, despite many superficial similarities would soon develop into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm.

This regrettably incomplete collection begins with Iron Man #55, and is scripted by Mike Friedrich. ‘Beware The … Blood Brothers!’ introduces Drax the Destroyer, an incredibly powerful alien. Trapped by Thanos under the desert, he is rescued by the Armoured Avenger, but it’s merely a prelude to the main story which appeared in Captain Marvel #25-33, (with an interlude starring Iron Man and The Fantastic Four’s Thing from Marvel Feature #12). Thanos is obsessed with conquest and targets Rick Jones whose subconscious hides the location of an ultimate, irresistible weapon.

With a coterie of old super-villains and a rogue fleet of starships he misdirects Earth’s defenders whilst he turns himself into a god, and only Captain Marvel – with the aid of an Eight billion year old cosmic entity has any chance to defeat him. (Completists should note that the Avengers’ battle against that fleet of aliens isn’t reprinted here, which is a pity as it’s a pretty good action issue, but the Thing joined Iron Man’s second desert battle with the Blood Brothers and that is included).

This is a key event in Marvel history, innovative and still deeply thrilling on an instinctual level. The co-creators of this opus all continued or went on to great things in the industry. As well as the previously cited Englehart, Milgrom and Friedrich, Mike Esposito, Chic Stone, Dave Cockrum, Pablo Marcos, Dan Green, Joe Sinnott, Klaus Janson and Jack Abel all lent their talents to this groundbreaking story. If you are at all interested in superhero comics, you should brave the less than polished artwork and somewhat dated dialogue for a magnificent rollercoaster thrill-ride.

The book concludes rather weakly with Starlin’s last regular Captain Marvel adventure, taken from issue #34 of the comic book. In the first part of a much longer sequence the Protector of the Universe temporarily defeats Nitro, the Exploding Man, only to succumb to the world’s deadliest nerve gas. From this exposure the hero would eventually contract the cancer that killed him, as depicted in Marvel’s first Graphic Novel, The Death of Captain Marvel. (I’ll be reviewing that particular oversized tome in the days ahead, but I should make you aware that a single book combining it and the collection reviewed above was released as The Life and Death of Captain Marvel – ISBN13: 978-0-7851-0837-5 in 2002 and might still be available if you want all your cosmic eggs in one basket).

© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.