When I first fell into the world of comics I came for the art and stayed for the story. Growing up, I watched all the superhero cartoons but never really got into comics.
That changed around 5th or 6th grade. I was drawn to the Marvel world in general and the X-Men in particular.
In time I branched out and tried to find as much as I could. In those days you had no Wikipedia to help you sort out the story or characters. You were just thrown in whole hog, and it was mostly up to you to figure it out. Sometimes that meant tracking down back issues or finding someone who had those stories. My home town offered limited access to comics. The grocery store had a spin rack. A favorite malt shop had racks where I spent a lot of time. Eventually I found more options at the mall in Waldenbooks. It was there that I found my first original graphic novel.
At that time Marvel was experimenting with standalone oversized stories marketed as Original Graphic Novels which were in continuity with the comics. They had quite a few, but the first to catch my eye was The Death of Captain Marvel. Everything you needed to know was in the title. The art on the cover had the super hero in Death’s embrace. I was sold. I begged my mother to buy it for me and I immediately read it.
There were so many characters I didn’t know, but it was Marvel so I was excited. The premise of the story is that Captain Marvel is an alien warrior who sides against his alien race to protect the Earth and the human race. He had connections to many superheroes through his years of adventures and they all played a part in this new, original story. In a battle with an exploding super villain (I know, comics) Captain Marvel had been exposed to extra-dimensional particles and soon developed terminal cancer. I couldn’t believe it. A superhero felled by a disease so human. I could feel the grief and despair he felt in those pages as he fought to stay alive while the other heroes tried to find a way to save him.
At that time, my grandmother was dealing with a terminal illness, so the idea of a fight to live spoke to me. And then the book lived up to its promise. Captain Marvel died. Really died. No joke. No gimmicky resurrection. No hoax. He died. Marvel Comics let one of their marquee character (for goodness sakes his name was their company name!) die.
And stay dead.
The story affected me greatly, and I have fond memories of that final page where he died. It taught me that not all battles can be won. That not everyone is going to stay alive. But what matters is that they lived. And that they made a difference. And to Marvel’s credit, this story has stuck. Captain Marvel is dead and has stayed dead (notwithstanding a time travel trick). I recently re-read The Death of Captain Marvel (available at Amazon), and the story remains as powerful as ever. It stands the test of time.