The Death of Captain Marvel was the 2nd Graphic Novel from Marvel Comics and released in 1982. It is written and drawn by Jim Starlin, one of the great “cosmic” comic writers. He is one of the go to people for an epic, galactic level story and had written quite a few Captain Marvel book before this and had elevated CM to the level of “Cosmic Protector.” And Marvel Comics came to him and offered him the chance to kill off CM.
First some basic info on CM. In the Marvel U 2 of the major alien races are the Kree and the Skrulls (the 3rd major alien race would be the Shi’ar but they have nothing to do with this story so that was more a bit of trivia than anything important), who have been at war since they met and both have a tendency to try and conquer the Earth. CM is a Kree warrior who stood against his own people to save the Earth. This gets him branded a traitor by the Kree and exiled. Even exiled he have the Kree Empire from the Skrull Empire more than once earning the wrath of the Skrulls beyond what they normally have for the Kree. OK now back to this story.
This book is great because it takes one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe, someone who fought alien empires and things that were forces of nature on a galactic scale, and killed him in a simple human way. He has inoperable cancer. The book does a great job of filling you in on CM’s story, he knows he is dying and is recording his memoirs giving you an over view of the hero. As the book goes on he becomes sick and informs people what is happening.
All the heroes travel to the moon Titan to be with CM while the smartest of them work around the clock to try and save him. Soon after many alien races start arriving to honor him. All the while CM tries to accept his fate with grace and spends what time he has left with friends and loved ones. He is so great a hero that word spreads across the cosmos of his fate and his oldest enemies, the Skrulls send an emissary to honor his valor while the Kree do nothing. And in the end he dies.
Waiting for him when he passes is Death (robes skeletal body, you know the one) and one of the biggest baddies in the Marvel U and CM biggest foe, Thanos the Mad Titan. You know the scene during the credits of the Avengers? Yeah the dude who turns around when told it would be crazy to go at the Earth again, that is Thanos. Amazingly Thanos isn’t there for one last battle as it seems at first but to help CM accept death go on to what is comes next.
What I liked about the book is it is only about the life and death of Captain Marvel. How he deals with the hand he was dealt. The effect death has on the other heroes is mostly left alone because what matters is CM’s ending. And it ends with his walking into the light. The final image of everyone gathered around the grave marker is the back cover of the book.
Later it came out that Starlin worked on this book while his own father was suffering with and eventually died from cancer. Amazingly enough this is one of the very few deaths to stick in comics. Normally you get at most a few years before the hero (or villain) comes back. I’m not sure if it’s a case of decades of people at Marvel respecting a true classic story (I hope) or just the fear of the storm that would blow up if they dumped all over the story.