This issue of Avengers was co-written by the regular writer of the title, Jim Shooter, and the writer of Captain America at the time, J.M. DeMatteis; like Captain America #268, it is a sequel of sorts to DeMatteis’s story in Captain America #264, which dealt with a man who harnesses and magnifies psychic forces in an attempt to remake America in his idea of its “mythic past.” This issue raises some fascinating issues about killing and death, as can be gleaned from the cover—which is shocking, to be sure, but there’s more to it than it seems.
Speaking of death, after the main attraction we will see a partial page from The Death of Captain Marvel, the first Marvel original graphic novel, in which Cap plays a very small role, but which explores many different perspectives on the final end.
Avengers #218 opens with the boy on the cover arriving at Avengers Mansion, being greeted by Jarvis and then the Wasp, and demanding to see the rest of the Avengers, mentioning Captain America by name. He finds Thor and Iron Man working, with Cap, um, supervising—and good thing for Tony he was!
Hmm, interesting pause in that last sentence, Cap. (It’s hard not to over-analyze every interaction between those two!)
Soon, the boy explains a little of his unique predicament…
…and then goes through with the threat shown on the cover. The Avengers watch in shock as his body disappears entirely, only to reappear as a single cell, developing quickly back into his previous form.
As you would imagine, they have some questions, and in answering them, the link to Captain America #264 emerges.
But wait, there’s more… he’s basically Hawkman now, with one important difference.
The Avengers sympathize with the boy, and Tony runs a battery of tests, arriving at the only explanation that makes sense… and then promises to work on a “solution,” which raises some hackles with his fellow heroes.
Cap gives reasons both principled (the dignity of life) and pragmatic (the value of an immortal’s knowledge), while Thor wants to know what’s so bad about immortality anyway!
The child, though, makes a very personal and powerful appeal, akin to a chronically ill person asking for euthanasia, but his illness is one of the soul rather than the body.
But the child sneaks out of the mansion during the night and travels by rail to Cape Canaveral, where he sneaks aboard a rocket. (There are just so many security failures in that sentence I don’t know where to begin!) The rocket was designed to study the sun, but the boy reprograms the guidance system to plunge it into the sun instead, which he hopes will end his immortal life forever.
But guess who that flame creature is below, who emerged from the sun soon after the rocket descended into it, and returned to Earth, now imbued with power to express its existential rage? The Avengers know where the boy went, but it takes them a while to connect the sunspots; in the meantime, they struggle to fight the creature. Iron Man and Thor fail to stop it, so Cap takes his shot, as unlikely as it may be…
…and seems to hurt the creature, who emits a sound Tony seems to recognize, but first he has to save Cap from catching a hot potato.
Actually, Cap, you two are even now… don’t you remember back to the beginning of this issue?
The creature speaks more, and after the Avengers realize who it is, Cap wants to talk it out. When that fails, he does the only thing that seems to work.
Wow, he gave the sun creature heartburn. (I’ll be here all week.)
The rest of the Avengers join in, and the Wasp and Thor have a brief philosophical exchange about the nature of death and killing.
I assume Thor meant to ask if you can kill someone that cannot die. (“Verily!” says the thunder god.) That really depends on what you mean by killing: the cessation of life, even temporarily, or ending it permanently. (For a parallel discussion on the relation of the act of killing to causing death, see Judith Jarvis Thomson’s classic paper, “The Time of a Killing.”)
When the creature begins to flare up and Tony fears global destruction, he asks Thor to create a vortex of air to suck the creature into space, with something falling back to Earth after it explodes.
Cap agrees with Tony, although not out of the same spirit of scientific curiosity.
While Janet and Thor play Martha and Jonathan Kent, Cap and Tony basically reiterate their fellow Avengers’ exchange from earlier.
Such is the burden of the philosopher, fellas… get used to it!
One question remains, however.
That little stinker!
While Avengers #218 asked tricky questions about death itself, the original graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel, published the same month, forced many of our heroes to confront the death of one of their own, not from a fatal battle or sacrifice to save another, but from an all-too-human foe: cancer. It’s an incredibly moving story, including many beloved characters from Earth and beyond, as well as Thanos and his beloved, Death herself.
Captain America only appears on a couple pages, and speaks only in the panels below, delivering a short tribute to Eros, brother of Thanos, who will soon become the Avenger known as Starfox.
Avengers (vol. 1) #218, April 1982: J.M. DeMatties (scripter and co-plotter), Jim Shooter (co-plotter), Don Perlin (layouts), “Embellishers Assembled” (inks), Christie Scheele (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Avengers: The Trial of Yellowjacket.
The Death of Captain Marvel (Marvel Graphic Novel #1), April 1982: Jim Starlin (writer, pencils, inks), Steve Oliff (colors), Jim Novak (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: The Death of Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection, and Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel Volume Six.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Avengers #217 (March 1982)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #268 and Defenders #106 (April 1982)
NEXT ISSUES: Avengers #219-220 (May-June 1982)
I bought Avengers #218 as a back issue in the early 1990s, and all these years later it’s still unsettling. I guess I’m one of those people who thinks about things a lot. The idea of immortality, of living forever is, in the end, genuinely horrifying to me. Continuing on and on forever while everyone else who you care about dies, over and over, through the centuries and millennia… that sounds like damnation. And if at some point in the future the human race dies out, you would then be left all alone for the rest of eternity.
I really feel that Captain America and the other Avengers are taking much too absolutist a view with their statements that killing is wrong under any circumstances. They seem unable or unwilling to look at the issue from Hardy’s extremely different perspective.
I also find this statement by Cap really disturbing: “With all he’s been through — all he’s learned — this… forever-man could help humanity immeasurably!” It sounds like Cap is stating that it is acceptable to ignore the rights and wishes of the individual if it benefits society as a whole. That sounds uncomfortably like a fascist line of thought to me, and it’s really upsetting to hear Cap of all people suggesting it.
I guess this is one of those stories that doesn’t offer any easy answers.
Yeah, they threw a lot of ideas in there — I wish they’d taken a chance to tease them out a bit more.