Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin, The Complete Collection

Captain Marvel Jim Starlin Complete Collection

A couple of weeks ago, Marvel had a fire sale on many of their Kindle / Comixology digital collections. I grabbed many of them (too many) and one of the first that I re-read was Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection. This retails now for $9.99, during the sale it was $4, but it's a great trip down memory lane regardless of the price. This could be called Thanos Volume 1, because it not only includes Captain Marvel #25-34 by Starlin and others, it also includes Iron Man 55 by Starlin and Mike Friedrich (first appearances of Thanos and Drax the Destroyer), Marvel Feature 12 (The Thing and Iron Man vs the Blood Brothers, working for Thanos), Moondragon's origin from Daredevil 105. The collection ends with the first and probably the best Marvel Graphic Novel ever, The Death of Captain Marvel. Plus covers and material from various reprints over the years.

Captain Marvel 25

Naturally reading the original comics is great, but let's face it, unless you've got them perfectly preserved they degrade over the years / decades. Reading these digital versions is a blast because the colors and details really pop. Take the cover to Captain Marvel 25 as an example - I doubt the copy I have in my longbox looks that good. I bought the original off a newsstand in 1973, knowing nothing about the character other than the Avengers held him in high regard. I did know a lot more about Rick Jones, having read about him in reprints where he was Captain America's sidekick.

The collection doesn't start with Captain Marvel. It begins with Iron Man 55, where Drax and Thanos enter the Marvel Universe for the first time. Starlin's artwork is a bit rough in this story and the first few CM issues. He doesn't write the dialogue for these stories, but he's clearly the plotter and designer of all these new characters. Starlin introduces so many great new characters in these stories, I suspect in hindsight it's incredulous that he developed them for Marvel. His debut issue of CM involves Mar-Vell facing a horde of enemies, which is really a test conducted by Super-Skrull to report back to Thanos on the Kree warrior's abilities.

Captain Marvel 26

Starlin's artwork is a bit rough in these first few issues. But he's improving with each one of them. I loved issue 26, where The Thing fights Captain Marvel. The fight is due to mistaken identity - Mar-Vell believes The Thing is really Super Skrull; The Thing can't explain the situation because his vocal cords have been silenced. Flimsier excuses have been used before! It's the beginning of a beautiful partnership between Starlin and The Thing.

Captain Marvel 29

Jim Starlin really ratchets up to the next level with Captain Marvel 31.  This is the issue where he writes the full story for the first time, and he has Al Milgrom inking him for the first time. The cover is iconic and was used on slurpee cups and other stuff. Mar-Vell transformed from a Kree warrior to a the Protector of the Universe by becoming "Cosmically Aware". This was a very 1970s concept, like if you meditated enough or became one with nature you could improve things more than with just sheer violence. But it seems Starlin had a plan for this character from the start. In the early stories, Mar-Vell is a very capable warrior but a bit reckless and prone to mistakes. A very strange, almost Ditko-esque being named Eon helps Mar-Vell walk through his past mistakes and to transform into something new. And into someone with blond hair instead of silver, because the latter made him look too old!

Captain Marvel 31 original artwork

Starlin's original cover to Captain Marvel 29. John Romita clearly re-touched the face and neck, which probably did not please Starlin.

What were the immediate changes in Mar-Vell due to Cosmic Awareness? He became aware of himself and his surroundings. He began to see bigger patterns. He still fought like hell, in the next issue there was a terrific battle with the Controller. But at least Mar-vell tried to talk the villain out of it before kicking his ass.

Thanos uses Cosmic Cube

Thanos gets a hold of a Marvel object that is so powerful, you wonder why anyone would lose track of it: the Cosmic Cube. After years of villains fumbling around with this object, Thanos is the one to finally make full use of it. He becomes a God, or an Insane God as the next issue teaser states. By this point, Iron Man, the Destroyer, the Titans and others have teamed up with Captain Marvel to fight Thanos and the odds were insurmountable.

Captain Marvel 33 final battle

By the time the final issue of this story came to a conclusion, the tension was ratcheted higher and higher. Thanos was learning to use the full extent of his godhood, although you wonder why he doesn't just evaporate Captain Marvel into atoms. This could be explained by a discovery made later in the Infinity War: Thanos has some defect of character that does not want himself to succeed. Perhaps that is too easy of excuse, but I bought into it!

IMG_0026

Thanos does decide to terminate Mar-Vell's life right upon his discovery about the Cosmic Cube having some residual link to Thanos' godhood. In this issue, Starlin makes the next leap forward in storytelling and artwork. It's such a mind-bending battle with Thanos in the proceeding pages, as he warps reality around Mar-Vell and Drax. Then he decides to pull the plug on Mar-Vell, by aging him quickly, but not before he can fossilize and destroy the Cosmic Cube.

Captain Marvel 34 Nitro

After this epic was done, for the readers at the time, minds were shattered. Wow. This guy Thanos had taken things to a extent no Marvel Comics villain had ever accomplished before! I was going to be a Starlin / Captain Marvel fan for life. What was going to come next? Could we look forward to years of Starlin on Captain Marvel? This was beyond compare. Unfortunately, the next issue arrived, Captain Marvel 34. The plot/artwork is by Starlin, dialogue by Steve Englehart, and it sets a new status quo for Mar-Vell's post-Thanos adventures. He battles a new villain, Nitro, a guy who explodes and reforms himself back together afterward. At the very end of their battle, Mar-Vell gets exposed to some lethal poison gas (powerful enough to destroy a whole city), collapses, and is seemingly dead. I remember thinking, well, Starlin will solve this problem next issue.

Captain Marvel 35 letters page announcement

Wrong! We got the shock of our lives, when Captain Marvel 35 (not included in this digital collection, I scanned the above from my collection) arrived with artwork by Alfredo Alcala! A nice artist on the black and white mags, but not on CM! The letters page explained that the Nitro issue was Starlin's last one. He was leaving to work on another somewhat cosmic character: Warlock! But this would set up a pattern for Starlin. He didn't mind killing off characters when he was done with them. Captain Marvel survived the poison gas and went on to many more adventures courtesy of Englehart / Milgrom and other creators - but there were longer term effects.

Death of Captain Marvel - Nitro gas

This Captain Marvel collection goes from issue 34 right into The Death of Captain Marvel. This was published originally in 1982; Starlin's last issue of CM appeared in 1974. This was a big event, for not only was Marvel getting into the Original Graphic Novel game, they were killing off a character, and there was no doubt that it would happen. Starlin was able to use the events of his final issue to deliver the death blow to Mar-Vell: cancer. And this story is a real tear jerker. There are no big fights, although there is an appearance by Thanos, post his final battle with Warlock from Marvel Two-In-One Annual 2. It is really a sad tale of what happens when anyone gets cancer and they can't win. They try to fight it, they accept what is going to happen and start to say goodbye to loved ones. I believe Starlin's father had died earlier of cancer, which gives a lot of authenticity to it. I cried when I read it originally; I cried reading it again.

I loved Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection! It made me feel like a kid again. Nuff Said.


2 comments:

  1. Ah, Starlin - his runs on Captain Marvel and especially Adam Warlock are my favorite comics sagas ever. (His work on Dreadstar is up there, too.) Some of this stuff just reeks of the 70s, but I often feel like today's comics simply aren't as daring, either in concept or in execution, as these. And The Death of Captain Marvel - what a powerful piece of work. Thanks for highlighting these!

    ReplyDelete