Following the events of the epic Kree-Skrull War, Captain Marvel was once again awarded his own comic which picked up with the numbering of his old series.
This time the talents of Superman legend Wayne Boring were used in combination with new writing talent Marv Wolfman to attempt to kickstart the character, a character Marvel desperately wanted to succeed. (Maybe if Black Goliath had been named "Black Marvel" he'd have been given a few more shots at the big show.) But the series was clearly on a low simmer and going not much of anywhere when with nothing to lose the young up-and-coming talent Jim Starlin was given a stab at the Kree Captain.
Re-introducing his characters from the moon Titan, who had shown up briefly in the pages of Iron Man and Marvel Two-In-One, Starlin at long last had a worthy place to work and to showcase his epic story line featuring the mad god Thanos. And Captain Marvel had a mission and an enemy worthy of the name. (It's worth a closer look sometime in the future all by itself, I've taken a glimpse here some years ago.) It saved the series and even after Starlin left, the arrival of Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom and later Pat Broderick, kept the title afloat for several more years. (Maybe it was the change of hair color from silver to gold.) By hook and by crook Captain Marvel kept on running throughout the 70's even showing up in a revived Marvel Spotlight after his own title was once again and for all time cancelled. After that there was only one story that Starlin wanted to tell -- the story of how Captain Marvel died.
This final story really began in Captain Marvel #34, the last by Jim Starlin who had done so much to revitalize the character. In that issue Cap must save the world from a deadly government-created nerve toxin named "Compound Thirteen". His opponent is the deadly Nitro a man who can explode his every atom and them recombine them with devastating effects. Defeating Nitro finally by overloading his power by combining it with the energy of the transformative Nega-Bands, Mar-Vell is able to end the threat of the nerve toxin but not without massive exposure which throws him for a loop short term. It turns out to have had long term consequences as well.
Marvel Graphic Novel #1 no less is the setting for the final Captain Marvel story titled "The Death of Captain Marvel". It begins with a reflective Mar-Vell recording his earliest adventures, creating a record of sorts of his life and times. He is traveling with Mentor and Eros to gather up the stony remains of Thanos (who had been killed in an epic battle with Adam Warlock).
They find that the calcified body of Thanos is being worshiped by his demented followers and have to fend off their attack. That attack isn't much but it causes Captain Marvel to reveal a weakness and he confesses to Mentor and Eros that he has cancer, or as the Kree call it "The Blackend".
Soon after Mar-Vell continues to reflect on his life, a life filled with enemies both dead and alive and some few who became allies. Then he begins the grim task of informing his loved ones especially the woman he's come to love -- Elysius. When he attempts to tell Rick Jones of the dire situation, in a precautionary effort to have Jones checked out by experts, he is met with anger and frustration by Jones, an orphan who has suffered a great deal of loss. Later still the greatest minds on Earth look for a cure and like Mentor and his scientists on Titan realize that Captain Marvel has lived so long because of the Nega-bands and their energy, but that same energy makes any treatment nearly impossible. Still they continue to search and reflect on why they have not to this point used their awesome intellects to solve this problem which afflicts all humanity.
As the end nears, the heroes of the Marvel Universe assemble on Titan to pay homage and get in a final visit with the Kree soldier who turned his back on his own people to save the people of Earth many times. It is a grim and reflective group of sundry heroes who gather. Even a representative of the Skrull Empire arrives to bestow a medal on Mar-Vell recognized as their greatest foe. The Kree remain silent, rejoicing it seems that the traitor Mar-Vell will soon be dead.
Finally Rick Jones appears and he and Mar-Vell are able to mend fences as Rick opens himself up to the grief which overwhelms him. The other heroes respect this special relationship and give them time.
The end comes as Mentor announces that Mar-Vell has slilpped into a coma. The heroes assembled in a somber watch for the final moments.
But strangely for the reader those moments expand inside the consciousness of Mar-Vell who is visited by his old foe, the ghost of Thanos who takes him on a journey in which he encounters old foes which he must quickly dispatch and eventually to meet Death itself. Mar-Vell has been coming to terms with the grim reality of his situation, deep in his soul and begins the process of death.
As he embraces Death once and for all, his heart ceases to beat and joining hands with Death and with his enemy-no-more Thanos, Mar-Vell prepares for his final journey.
As the trio travel into a nimbus of light, to a destination beyond human knowledge, Captain Marvel dies and back on Titan the machines are turned off. The heroes bow their heads as the great hero passes and is pronounced dead. The end has come indeed.
When I first encountered Captain Marvel I was a mere lad of ten, just hooking onto the grand mythos of the Marvel Universe and drinking it in totally. I followed the ups and downs of Mar-Vell's varied career for many years thereafter, always regarding him as my "favorite superhero".
When he seemed to find happiness on Titan it was a grand thing. When Jim Starlin returned in the early 80's and created this final story for a hero whose time had passed, it was powerful stuff indeed. I was an adult, a married man with one new daughter and another soon to appear in a few years. This story had impact indeed.
The promise of what might be beyond the veil is a secret I more than ever want to know, and reading and re-reading saga of Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree is a splendid way to reflect on the path of life and its inevitable conclusion.
Merry Christmas Everyone! Be well.