Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Comics, Cancer, and Captain Marvel

Mar-Vell confirms his diagnosis in The Death of Captain Marvel (1982)

A year ago, I lost my father to cancer. In fact, one year ago this very day (but not the date, that would be tomorrow), I delivered the eulogy at his service.

Dad's final journey began, I would say, in March of 2013. Because I was driving across the state (from Bucks County, PA, to either Cleveland, OH, or Johnstown, PA), and then staying in hotels for big chunks of March and April, I had lots of time to read or listen to stories. I mean, sometimes I needed to escape into stories far removed from my situation. Comic books, obviously, were part of that although I couldn't right now pinpoint any stories I was reading at that time. I mainly remember some podcasts and memoirs I listened to.

Anyway, this past week, I've been thinking of comics as a medium for not only communication, but also transformation. All good storytelling is a vehicle for healing, so why not comics? As far as I can tell, the earliest comic book I can list as an example of this would be Marvel's THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1982). Sure, there had been "death of a hero" stories before this, and I'm sure other comic stories tackled the notion of a loved one's loss to illness prior to 1982. However, THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (Marvel's first, true Graphic Novel) was the first book to tell the story of a hero's death due to cancer rather than self-sacrifice during some cosmic or otherwise world-shattering threat. And, as it was Marvel Comics Group, this was the first time that death due to illness was played on such a huge stage. And, in my opinion, this is a story that achieved, at least on some sense of scale, that concept of story as healing agent. No, people who read the story were not cured of anything. But I know folks who were touched by that story, by the sense of identifying with the cast of characters who were watching Mar-Vell's life fade away while they could do nothing. And many of those folks continue to be touched by it.

So, are there books or stories that you turn to again and again? Are there "mere" comic books that are transformative tools for you, that enable you to process difficult emotions, to transform grief or even rage into something more useful?

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