The Greatest Comics You'll Never See: Jim Starlin's Captain Marvel

I first posted this article back in August 2009, and while going through some files I found the original Captain Marvel/Shazam sketch that Jim Starlin drew that you see here. That being rediscovered, I thought, well, why not revamp this article and repost it? Such revisions appear to be in vogue right now, so I've fixed up some text, corrected some atrocious spelling, removed some of the bullshit and brought it into line with my writing style now - hey, kind of like what Jim did with that drawing - and, away we go! If the feedback is positive, I might revisit a few other blog posts and bring them into the now. Wait and see.

What you're looking at is a homage to the classic Jim Starlin Captain Marvel #29 (Marvel Comics November 1973) cover image, as drawn by Jim Starlin! I bought it early last year and was told, in confidence, that it wasn't a mere sketch, but the main image for the first issue cover for an abandoned Captain Marvel/Shazam (DC Comics) series. A the time I was told the story but frustratingly enough I wasn't at liberty to share the details. Now that Jim has left DC all can be revealed.

Jim Starlin began working at DC in the late 1970s, but came into his own with a stellar run on Batman in the 1980s, culminating in the legendary A Death In The Family storyline, which saw the second Robin killed by the Joker. Along the way he paired up with Bernie Wrightson to create one of the more interesting post-Dark Knight Batman series, The Cult, the sequel of which ended up being rejected by DC and reworked into a Punisher story for Marvel, which very people realised at the time, but makes perfect sense when you know it. 

Starlin and Wrightson also created the aptly titled The Weird. In 1989 Starlin left DC and returned a decade later for a handful of projects before leaving once more. Flash forward nine years and in 2007 Starlin was running fairly hot over at DC with the relaunched Mystery In Space, Death Of The New Gods, Rann-Thangar: Holy War and another relaunch, Strange Adventures.

In between these projects Starlin began work on yet another title, Captain Marvel or, as he's more commonly known to various legal machinations going back to the 1940s, Shazam. It made sense, Starlin had made his name at Marvel with their Captain Marvel and Warlock and in doing so had established himself as one of the finest writer/artists to emerge from the 1970s. In fact if you've not read the cosmic epic that Starlin weaved through Marvel in the '70s and '80s, then you really should. If nothing else it'll help explain the forthcoming Marvel movies. 

I think that, deep down, Starlin writing and drawing Captain Marvel for DC was always an obvious choice, if only for the name value alone.

So what happened and why haven't you seen it? DC canned the series before it got started. Says Jim, "It got cancelled in midstream when the upcoming Captain Marvel movie went into production. It was felt that my version was too radical a departure from the original concept." These pages are all that remain from the series, and as was told to me in 2008, that little sketch wasn't a sketch, it's actually the cover image for Captain Marvel #1, with the background being placed in via computer at a later date.

Sadly though, with Jim Starlin and Captain Marvel some things just aren't meant to be. Until then, with Jim's permission, enjoy the remaining pages! And just for comparison, I've included a scan of the original art for Captain Marvel #29, many thanks to Len Callo, who owns the original cover art. Talk about jealousy defined!

UPDATE: Throughout the years Jim Starlin has been able to maintain a high degree of quality, be it for his writing or his art. Sadly, due to an accident a while back, Jim is no longer able to draw professionally and has since announced that his days of being a professional artist are now behind him. This does not diminish his writing abilities, thankfully, and he continues to produce work. His latest work will be an ending to his long running Thanos story, which he began back in the early 1970s. Jim fell out with Marvel - again - recently and has announced that this will be the last time he works for that company. We can only hope that, at some point in the future, someone will see sense and extend an olive branch. The comic book world is bereft of writers who can tell a story, and nobody, and I mean nobody, does cosmic epics like Jim Starlin.


cease ill said…
Not much to say you couldn't intuit: fascinating glimpses into an inspired take on a classic character, from Jim STARLIN! Just wanted to say some appreciates your to stop and think about what might've been, kind of like those dreams you have where you find comic books you've never seen in waking hours...
Duplez said…
Love Starlin's work, and there's no question of the talent and artistry of this effort. I don't care for the dark take on the character.
Billy/Marvel is essentially a superhero seen through the mirror of childhood. Certainly, stories can be darker, painful, and perhaps even cathartic. At its core, the Shazam mythos is one of innocence and hopefulness.
Still, it would have been a great read.
Thanks, as always, for finding the gems.
Regards, Wayne
Tony Nichols said…
I agree with Duplez... I don't care for ANY dark/adult take on Captain Marvel... But this looks interesting. Definitely better than the current Johns' "Shazam" version of the character. I liked Jeff Smith's version, aside from some details, and the idea of Sivanna being a George Bush analog.
J.R. LeMar said…
Can you ask Starlin to release the synopsis for his pitch? I'd love to know exactly what his take on this was going to be. I really can't tell just from the art (which is gorgeous).

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