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Jim Starlin: The Bringer of Death to Comic Book Characters by Alex Grand

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with positive reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Death is the cessation of vital functions, however sometimes it is given a cosmic tag as a universal truth.

Jim Starlin wrote some of the best cosmic stories as writer, artist or both and to celebrate his contribution to the history of comic books, let’s also acknowledge the Death he has brought to both Marvel, D.C.and Independent Comic Universes.  I don’t think there are many comic book creators that understand comic book death quite like him to the point where he co-created Marvel’s Death cosmic entity.  Jim Starlin’s Death is said to have her first Marvel appearance in Captain Marvel 26, 1973. However, he did portray Death in a fanzine called Star Studded 18, 1972 in a Dr. Weird story where a little girl meets Death in a vision.  Notice that Dr. Weird looks like Drax the Destroyer, who is fighting a universal battle against the Cosmic Entity of Death which is a theme he brings into much of his professional comics work.



Jim Starlin would bring this notion as Death as a cosmic entity into an early non canon Marvel story written by Stephen Skeates in Journey Into Mystery 1, vol 2, 1972. Technically, that would make this Starlin/Skeates issue, Death’s first Marvel appearance. Inked by Mike Ploog no less!  A story of a hired killer who can’t stop dreaming of this girl, who also dreams about him.  He runs out of his house unable to sleep without the deathly dream, and sees her in the street, he swerves into a crash and dies, and finally she stops having the dream.  He, however, dies as the cosmic entity of death laughs because Death had intended him to die.




Captain Marvel 26, 1973 was the next time Starlin would depict death as this cloaked figure for Marvel, this is considered as the Cosmic entity’s Death’s first appearance of the Superhero Marvel Universe death as we know it.  This issue has her standing as an ominous figure next to Thanos in his second appearance after Iron Man 55, earlier that year.



Considering that we see Starlin killing off alot of characters, it would make sense that he creates a being like Thanos whose name means Death, and who falls in love with the cosmic death entity whose bidding he follows out of a sick love.



Starlin’s Death is front and center on Star Reach 1, 1974.  Star Reach is a comic that brought together the underground style of comic book and fused it with people from Marvel who created their own comic book so they would own the copyrights.



Inside of the Star Reach comic, Jim Starlin actually penciled and wrote the story of the Birth of the Death entity as an old man telling the story to a young child.  At this point we’re seeing a pattern that Jim Starlin likes to write and draw about death.



In another story in Star Reach, Starlin writes and draws about the Death building which was the Marvel New York office, which also featured a cloaked figure…. Death!


Drax the Destroyer was created by writer/artist Jim Starlin, for Iron Man #55 (February 1973) and his physical likeness was modeled after Dr. Weird from Star Studded Comics 1963 like shown in our second article entry. Drax’s origin was discussed in Jim Starlin’s Captain Marvel 32, 1974 discussing that he was Arthur Douglas, a human male whose family was attacked and killed by the supervillain Thanos. So more death comes our way, and in the 1970s Marvel Universe, Thanos was the vehicle through which Starlin would kill characters or their familes.  In this case, Drax’s wife!



1975, Warlock 10 shows another example of the Thanos Bulldozing killing machine creating more death with Adam Warlock and his friends feeling sorry wondering if they would be next.  Well it would all come to a head in Avengers Annual 10, 1977 when Starlin concludes his 1970s Thanos Death Saga.



Avengers Annual 7, January 1977 is when the 1970s Thanos Saga would come to a gritty and death filled conclusion.


Avengers Annual 7, 1977 starts off answering the question of whether Gamora or Pip would be next by showing Gamora in the death throes after crushing injuries by Thanos.  Adam Warlock takes it upon himself to finish Thanos as a threat to the Galaxy, but not without Gamora dying first.



Later on in the same issue, Thanos also then kills Pip the Troll whom Adam Warlock finds.  Pretty cryptic to see Thanos sneaking up on him in the dark, then Pip, dead and sprawled out on the floor staring at the viewer.



Jim Starlin wrote and penciled Thanos’ Sanctuary Ship which had a similar star or planet destroying blaster ray that would wipe out Suns and planets powered by a Soul Gem.  Take in mind this was before the Star Wars Death Star released much later in 1977, but also note that this is very much the same.  Thanos’ Death Star is shown here killing millions of lives by extinguishing a Star with surrounding planets, and similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars Film when Alderaan was killed off, Moondragon hears millions of voices dying all at once in a debilitating horror.



So at this point, Thanos is a murder machine, that Starlin uses to plow through the universe granting… death.  Adam Warlock takes a stand against him, and in the process is killed by Thanos as Death presides over, triumphant.




However, this story wrapped up with Adam Warlock, momentarily resurrected long enough with his Soul Gem to kill off Thanos, and granting our murderer, the gift of … death.


So there is a theme of Death being a very strong part of Jim Starlin stories in this era, but that doesn’t stop here.  We find that Starlin continues to bring more death to more comic book characters.

Vanth Dreadstar is a Jim Starlin created character who looks close to himself and premiered in Epic Illustrated 1, 1980 the Marvel Magazine in a 14 chapter limited series called the Metamorphosis Odyssey edited by Archie Goodwin.  This magazine was nice because it allowed the creators to keep the copyrights to their characters.  However we find that this story telling is also not very short on… death.



Here is Vanth Dreadstar, quite seriously bent on accomplishing his space mission and killing anyone in his way, and In this case, we see Jim Starlin’s face saying that he is actually death.  For example here he is killing Aknaton in the Metamorphosis Odyssey, 1980-1981, again with no real hesitation, a death occurs.



In 1981, the Metamorphosis Odyssey ends in a stunning climax where the Infinity Horn explodes death all over the damn place!  By the Infinity Horn being blown, the entire Milky Way Galaxy and all its life forms are killed and all subsequently encounter death.  So our Starlin death count is already in the millions less than 10 years of work in the professional comic book business.



In 1983, Jim Starlin wrote the Death of Captain Marvel about Mar-Vell’s losing battle with cancer.  As he dies, he meets Thanos who had been dead, and death herself and submits to them both as they all walk into afterlife together.  This is a beautiful graphic novel, and raised the stakes on adult superhero story telling in the mainstream comic business.



Something also notable is that Captain Marvel actually stayed dead which is no easy task in comics so Starlin should get a prize for that.


The miniseries “The Cult”, 1988 is a fun morbid story where a Cult kidnaps Batman and exposes him to brainwashing while under captivity.  Starlin had the brainwashed drugged Batman gun down a man dead.  Politicians are also assassinated in this story by the cult members.  No shortage of death here too, folks.



Batman 417, 1988 started the 4 part “Ten Nights of the Beast” about Batman fighting a soviet assassin who kills anyone in his way.  After Starlin had his villain, the KGBeast kill hundreds of people, Starlin had Batman lock him in a sewer and leave the Russian to his death…. That was retconned later by another writer when Batman informed the police where to find his suffocating enemy, before he actually died.  



Death of Jason Todd in 1988 was written by Jim Starlin who felt that taking on a kid ward, dressing him up like this and parading him in front of killers was child abuse.  He wanted a consequence for this behavior, and also didn’t enjoy writing a Robin into the story, so after a telethon to decide on whether Jason Todd lived or died, the thumb pointed down, and Starlin delivered for us teenage readers at the time, the death of Batman’s sidekick on a silver platter.



In 1988, Cosmic Odyssey was a galaxy spanning romp with the signature DC heroes and the New Gods, 4 issue limited series penciled by Mignola but written by Starlin, and if we know Starlin by now someone is going to die.  A couple panels show here is that Planet Xanshi dies which resulted from John Stewart Green Lantern’s overconfidence.




There is also another page in the story where an entire dimension is killed off as Dr. Fate cauterizes a mulitdimensional wound infected with anti-life.  So that’s not just a person or planet or galaxy now, its an entire dimension that is killed off here!



to put the nail in the proverbial coffin, Forager sacrifices himself and dies in another panel of the 1988 cosmic odyssey tale and we have Orion shocked that the little bug had it in him, at which point, an angered Batman punches him.



But don’t worry Orion deserved that punch because earlier in the story, Orion murdered a bunch of mind-controlled Thanagarians after Superman asked him to take it easy on them for their temporary mindset.  Again, more death by Starlin in this story.



1988 is proving to be a great DEATH year for Jim Starlin because he also had his character, The Weird kill his enemy The Jason in the Weird Mini-Series he did with Bernie Wrightson.



Let’s move forward in time a little more when Jim Starlin’s cosmic death wave hits Marvel  again in 1991’s The Infinity Gauntlet when Thanos returns, resurrecting Warlock, Pip, Drax and Gamora.  They bring a modernized chapter to his 1970s Death swan song.  Thanos seizes the infinity gauntlet and in a love letter to mistress Death, the cosmic entity, he murders half of the universe right off the bat.



In 1994, Jim Starlin made his half demon half human antihero, Breed with image comics which had alot of death.  for example, the first few pages opens with this:



Breed is a fun story by the way because it explores demonic dimensions rather than the science fiction cosmic so its a nice change of pace, and still carries a large amount of death for us Jim Starlin fans.

Jim Starlin writes the Mystery in Space mini-series in 2007 which starts with the Death of Captain Comet,



and immediately we embark on a journey with how he is reincarnated into a clone body.  Although there is reincarnation and afterlife here, it still starts with cold hard death.

Also in 2007, Kid Kosmos, another Starlin creation halts the pathway of the Genociders who murder and bring death to various planets.



So Kid Kosmos has to use his cosmic energy to… stop more death from happening.

and of course the coup de grace, in 2008 Jim Starlin provided a Mercy Killing for Jack Kirby’s New Gods in 2007/8 in his 8 issue arc, the Death of the New Gods. where each one dies one by one, and in large groups where Superman, beyond his ability to control,  watched them all get killed in front of him!



At the end of the story, Superman ponders their deaths which is fitting because he flew to New Genesis and met them in their first appearance from the early 1970s by Jack Kirby.



Jim Starlin is one of the finest penciler-writers of the comic book industry, like Jack Kirby, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson and others, he can draw and write wonderful Cosmic, and street level stories and from the looks of things, we can always look forward to him killing somebody, and delivering Death to comic book characters.  By introducing that risk to his stories, it gives it a gritty palpability that appeals to both the best and worst of us.  One thing for sure, if a character needs killing, he can definitely deliver.




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Images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but rather used for academic purpose.

Journey into Mystery ©Marvel, Star Reach Starlin work ©Starlin, Warlock ©Marvel, Captain Marvel ©Marvel, Avengers ©Marvel, Dreadstar and Metamorphosis Odyssey ©Starlin, Death of Captain Marvel ©Marvel, Detective Comics ©DC Comics, Batman ©DC Comics, Cosmic Odyssey ©DC Comics, Death of the New Gods ©DC Comics, Mystery in Space ©DC Comics,Infinity Gauntlet ©Marvel, Breed ©Starlin, Kid Kosmos ©Starlin


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