Page 45 Review by Stephen
Thanos fans, this is a classic companion to Jim Starlin's WARLOCK (extensively reviewed) wherein your favourite, purple, craggy-chinned Death-doter casts his first considerable shadows. These two books are where the story of Thanos starts and I commend this to you almost as unequivocally as I do Jim Starlin's WARLOCK which is tragic in its truest, time-twisting sense.
But let us begin at what is most emphatically an end, with The Death Of Captain Marvel.
"You know, I've been thinking a lot lately of all the people I've met in my lifetime. I've made quite a few friends along the way. I also keep remembering Adam Warlock. I was with him when he died. His was a hard and sad life, filled with pain and confusion.
"When death came for him he welcomed it as a friend. I'll not do so.
"I've enjoyed this life. It's had its bad moments, but it's had far more good moments. I'm going to miss it."
Surprisingly haunting, even to this day, this was a landmark publication from Marvel in 1982 for so many reasons: it was its first original graphic novel; it was Jim Starlin's return to a character we all thought he'd long had his final say on; and it featured the death of one of Marvel's flagship superhumans not in self-sacrificial battle but quietly, in bed, from the all-too human disease of cancer.
Like Mark Millar and Leinil Yu's more recent, magnificent SUPERIOR, it remains the antithesis of everything that all too often irks me when real-life issues like incapacity or bullying enter the arena of superhero comics. All of Marvel's preternaturally bright scientists turn up when they finally learn of the good Captain's fight, and they try and they try, but they still can't save him. Nor should they have. Back in 1982 it would have been a magic-wand insult to all those with incurable strains of the disease which was far less treatable than it is now.
Fighting the disease or lying down and accepting your fate...? Now that is explored here in great depth from all sides of the argument and poor Rick Jones - whose teenage transgression originally compelled Bruce Banner to leap into the detonation zone of his own Gamma Bomb and so become the Incredible Hulk, and who was once bonded to Mar-Vell by those place-switching Negabands - takes it harder than most.
Seven years ago a supervillain called Nitro (oh, it's always Nitro - see CIVIL WAR) succeeded in stealing a canister of nerve gas from the United States Army. During his explosive battle with Captain Marvel the canister fractured and its lethal nerve agent began to leak out, threatening to kill thousands of local residents. And Mar-Vell - with his alien physiology providing immunity to so much physical harm - stopped up the proverbial damn with his thumb. And promptly passed out. "Is this the End of Captain Marvel?!" screamed the Next Issue caption with customary alarm. Well, no. The thing about superheroes is that they get knocked down, then they get up again: you're never going keep them down. And so the Kree soldier soldiered on for many further adventures.
In publication terms, it wasn't even a sub-plot.
Seven years later, and the Captain is recording his memoirs for posterity. His one unique ability is his Cosmic Awareness, giving him an empathic knowledge of shifts in so much around him. But that power turns itself inwards and, long before he is diagnosed, he already knows he is dying. The photonic nature of his Negabands staved off the carcinogenic effect of the nerve gas for seven whole years, but the period of remission is over and now, gradually, one by one, his friends and family find out.
I adored Starlin's art. In so many ways he took after the photo-realists like Neal Adams with some extraordinarily impressive neo-classical figure work. But then he'd give it a more expressionistic edge, making the jaws more jutting and gesticulations more angular. The Death Of Captain Marvel graphic novel boasted plenty of both, along with some striking colour art from Steve Oliff. He forsook the rich, warm colours of the preceding series for something altogether more pallid and nuanced, especially during the deathbed sequence.
Coming back to Starlin, there's a particularly brave panel which stood out a mile after Mentor asks Mar-Vell if his lover, Elysius, knows of his terminal condition. After a moment's silence he looks up from a panel over which Starlin has scrawled - literally scrawled - not photo-realistic shadow but thick lines of creeping darkness right emanating from his face whose eye sockets and teeth are emphasised so as to suggest a skull, and says,
Better still is the composition of the page in which he does break the news to Elysius, out in the sunshine of an idyllic cityside park on Titan, each silent panel interspersed by a narrow window as Mentor watches protectively over them, then withdraws respectfully leaving the couple alone and the window empty and black.
"Meanwhile, on the far side of the royal palace, down a long and quiet corridor and behind oak-panelled doors
a woman sits with her man. The long hard vigil that all lovers fear begins."
It's a dignified and respectful book, guest-starring so many of your favourite Marvel characters shown to be unusually uncomfortable: awkward in their impotence and unable to express how they feel. Isn't that so often the way with cards of condolence? I like this. I still like it a lot. And Starlin wrote a very difficult final few pages very, very well.
Before then, however, you're in for 250 pages not just guest-starring but fully featuring the Avengers, Rick Jones and The Thing as they first learn of Thanos. The hard way.
Seriously, if you've loved Marvel's most excellent modern two-parter INFINITY VOL 1 and INFINITY VOL 2 with their shared Page 45 review, and you are intrigued enough to learn how Thanos' legacy began, it is with the life and strange death of Adam WARLOCK and then here.
Reprints CAPTAIN MARVEL (1968) #25-34, IRON MAN (1968) #55, MARVEL FEATURE (1971) #12, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #1 and material from DAREDEVIL (1964) #105 and LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARVEL #1-5. Those aren't the dates they were published in, but the dates those series began in order to distinguish them from Marvel's more recent titles of the same names.