This is it folks…my 200th post on MY COMIC RELIEF!!! Just as I did with my piece on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for my 100th post celebration, I wanted this one to be extra special. And I could think of no better subject than Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers was one of those characters who exploded into popularity during my seventeen year hiatus in comic reading. She’s also one of the characters I was most excited to meet when I returned! I don’t think it’s at all hyperbolic to say Captain Marvel represents the future of Marvel Comics. Reinvented by Kelly Sue DeConnick, shepherded through the Second Superhero Civil War by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, and now under the brilliant stewardship of Margaret Stohl, Carol Danvers has become Marvel’s true North. Providentially named, I believe Captain Marvel represents the best of what Marvel Comics was, is, and can be.
Over the summer, when David and I left the theatre after his first screening of Wonder Woman, he was obviously blown away by the film. As we discussed it, he mentioned Marvel’s lack of any character like her. I began to list some of Marvel’s strongest female characters but he clarified, “No, not like that. Marvel doesn’t have any female character as iconic as Wonder Woman is for DC.” I wanted to protest…..but he was right. Even the casual pop culture observer can identify DC’s Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Marvel’s never really had a flagship female character like Wonder Woman. But ever since Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel #1 hit the stands in 2012, Carol Danvers has been taking up that mantle and moving to the center of the Marvel Universe (with legions of loyal and passionate Carol Corps fans behind her!). While she may not have been there from the beginning, she’s here now and she’s all the more important for it.
Carol Danvers wasn’t created during my time away from comics. Rather she began as a side character in Mar-Vell’s title (the original Captain Marvel) in the 70’s before inheriting his powers and her own costume. Brian Michael Bendis would make Carol the center of his Avengers team and place her in the Marvel Universe spotlight with his 2004 run on The New Avengers. Her growing popularity lead to a new solo series, Ms. Marvel, which ran for fifty issues from 2006-2010. Then, with Kelly Sue DeConnick at the helm, Carol Danvers would get a new costume and take the title of Captain Marvel for herself. Like Miles Morales, I knew Carol Danvers was a character I needed to meet. I had heard all about her in my time away from comic reading. I’d seen Captain Marvel was one of NPR’s Best Books of 2013 (one of only twelve comics to make the list). I knew she was important. I knew she was fun. I knew she was exciting. And I had to get to know her for myself! The Christmas of 2015, when Kalie restarted my love affair with superhero comics by giving me collections of Deadpool and Ms. Marvel, would also see a few Captain Marvel trades come my way. As anyone who’s ever read her would expect, I loved the character I found in those pages!
It’s easy to see Captain Marvel’s appeal. As a character, she’s strong. She can fly. She can absorb energy and emit high intensity energy blasts. She’s damn near invulnerable and has a pretty high gear healing factor to handle anything that doesn’t bounce off of her. She could go toe-to-toe with Superman on his best day. But she’s also funny, not quippy like Spider-Man or inappropriate/self-aware like Deadpool, but bantery. Her adventures are classic superhero stuff. She’s flying around the galaxy fighting all manner of super villains, aliens, robots, and monsters.
But she’s deeply human too. Carol takes on way more than she can manage. That’s just who she is. She’s scared of letting anyone down and – superhuman abilities or not – she pushes herself past her limit. While her physical strength may have no easy upper limit, there is certainly a limit to what anyone can carry emotionally. She won’t back down from any fight but she also doesn’t know how to say “no” to anyone either…even when she really needs to. She’s a military woman, having reached the rank of Colonel in the United States Air Force. She’s a recovering alcoholic. She loves Star Wars so much she named her cat (well…her alien Flerken that looks like a cat) Chewie. She’s bold, impulsive, and certainly not one for “feelings talk” :). She carries responsibility for everything on her shoulders and she feels she needs to right every wrong, stop every evil, and protect everyone all the time because (as she sees it) with her powers she can so it’s her job to do so. That’s not healthy…but there’s something all of us can find to relate to in her character.
In Captain Marvel I found a comic that feels so fresh while providing all I’d expect to find in the most classic superhero stories. Now I can’t imagine my monthly comic exploits without her adventures! Given when and how I came to the title, it’s been Margaret Stohl’s present run that is the most definitive for me. It’s her Carol Danvers that feels like my Captain Marvel and it’s her run that I’ve read and re-read the most. In part, it’s her incredible writing and intimate characterizations. Carol and all the members of Alpha Flight feel like real, living and breathing, three dimensional characters. But it also has to do with my being able to begin the title with Margaret Stohl.
Obviously I enjoyed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s iconic run and I have great respect for the vibrancy of her vision for Carol Danvers as she became Captain Marvel. How could I not?? It’s so acclaimed for a reason. And I loved how Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters put her in space alongside Alpha Flight! Alpha Flight has always been an underused team and putting them with Carol on a space station orbiting the Earth and protecting the planet from all manner of alien threats was a recipe for fun. But Margaret Stohl came to Captain Marvel at a moment when I was able to pick up the comic and go on that journey with her. I think that forms a special bond for fans in the comic genre. David Michelinie’s vision of Spider-Man will always be tightly tied to how I see the web-slinger because he wrote so many of The Amazing Spider-Man comics I read as a kid. I feel the creator at the helm when you fall in love with a comic character a) deserves much of the credit for that love and b) will always shape the core of how you see that character.
I feel lucky that I came to embraced Captain Marvel now, during Margaret Stohl’s run, and it’s her vision of Carol Danvers that I’ve let into my heart. As I stayed away from all things connected to Civil War II, I only sampled the beginning of Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters’s run so it’s in Margaret Stohl’s stories that I’ve honestly gotten to know the members of Alpha Flight – Lieutenant Abigail Brand, Lieutenant Wendy Kawasaki, Eugene Judd (Puck), Walter Langkowski (Sasquatch), Hopper, and the Alpha Cadets A’di, Dante Cruz, and Glory – in all their wonderful, loving, and dysfunctional splendor. Her writing has brought these characters to life for me as caring and complex individuals – all beautifully broken in their own ways – coming together to form something magical and something strong.
The opening arc of The Mighty Captain Marvel had a shape-shifting bounty hunter, mysterious alien vessels, and a reality-threatening super weapon all set against the backdrop of an alien refugee crisis. It also introduced the orphaned Kree child Bean into Carol’s world. The combination of an authentic emotional weight alongside fast-paced, plot-twisting superheroics had me wholly invested. Then there was the Secret Empire storyline! It was so perfectly executed it could have been read (and fully enjoyed!) without ever having picked up the main title. Now that is a tricky (and appreciated) comic achievement!
On top of all that, the comic is just fun. With Captain Marvel I get the cosmic, space adventure side of the Marvel Universe I’ve been longing for since I’ve returned to comic collecting. I’ve tried reading Guardians Of The Galaxy because I adore those films… but could never get into the comic because James Gunn’s vision is too tightly stamped in my mind. They just didn’t feel right for me. But with Carol Danvers I get all the space adventuring I want with a character who loves and quotes Star Wars as much as I do. It’s space ships! And aliens! And cosmic battles among the stars! Having Alpha Flight along for the ride makes it all the better too. I’ve always felt they were an underused team.
So in that way Captain Marvel is a character who represents the best of what Marvel Comics was and is. She is exactly what people want from a classic superhero. She’s got an incredible power set. She has fantastic adventures and deadly adversaries. And she battles evil across Earth and through the cosmos. It’s just good superheroing! I do love comics with strong social justice messages, pointing to something larger and wrestling with challenging issues. But there’s also a place (and a need!) for fun and exciting superhero narratives. That’s what kids fall in love with and what adults often seek to escape. However, the brilliant thing about Captain Marvel is she offers her readers both. In her narratives she’s as classic a superhero as you could want. In her very existence as a character she represents so much more. In so doing, Carol Danvers represents the best of what Marvel Comics can be.
As I said above (thanks to David’s spot on, post-Wonder Woman observation), Marvel has lacked a clear female flagship character for years. Obviously that’s a problem. In the past, Marvel’s been faaar too white/male oriented in both their characters and their creative talent. But thankfully that’s been changing and Captain Marvel has been a major part of this shift. It’s appropriate then that she has come to stand center stage in the Marvel Universe and is poised to do so in the Marvel Cinematic Universe too, when Brie Larson brings her to life in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s 2019 Captain Marvel film.
When Kelly Sue DeConnick brought Captain Marvel #1 to the world, it was Marvel’s first solo book starring a female character since X-23 had been cancelled. Captain Marvel‘s incredible success in the hands of exceptionally talented creators coupled with Marvel’s intentional move to diversify has opened the doors to more brilliant comics starring female characters. Many of the comics which came in Captain Marvel‘s wake now stand as some of Marvel’s most entertaining and most innovative titles. There’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, The Invincible Iron Man, Spider-Gwen, Mockingbird, Gwenpool, Black Widow, She-Hulk (and then Hulk), Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat, and The Mighty Thor just to name a few. For that alone we can’t overstate Captain Marvel’s importance.
Despite how the may’ve been marketed in the past, comics and superheroes have never been just “a boy’s thing.” This is a truth that’s becoming increasingly more evident as female comic readership has been on the rise, in both brick and mortar stores as well as online retailers like Comixology, since 2014. As I’ve said before, everyone deserves the chance to see themselves reflected in the heroes around them. Gender, racial, and sexual diversity is important in our comic books! As a white male, I’ve always had the luxury of seeing myself reflected back to me in all the heroes I grew up loving. Everyone deserves that experience. The idea that I, as a white male, can’t appreciate or won’t read stories staring characters of a different gender, race, or sexual orientation than me is ridiculous at best and potentially dangerous at worst, as is the argument that we needn’t worry about creating more titles staring diverse characters.
But Captain Marvel is also incredibly important because she has rocketed to stardom while consistently under the care of female authors. Kelly Sue DeConnick wrote Captain Marvel from 2012-2015. Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters handled the title from January through November of 2016 while Margaret Stohl has been handling The Mighty Captain Marvel since December of 2016 (hopefully it’s the beginning of what will be a very long run!). Now she’s at the helm as Legacy numbering (and titling) has brought us back to Captain Marvel #125. Just as we need more characters of gender, racial, and sexual diversity (as there is so much more to our world than just white men) so too do we need more creators of gender, racial, and sexual diversity. The design of the character/costume alone can show the importance in having a female voice involved in creating/presenting female characters. Note the glaringly obvious differences below. From the little to the big, the same sorts of differences can be found in the nature of the narrative as well.
Now obviously I’m not trying to make the claim that only a woman can write a female character or anything like that. Ryan North’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is my favorite comic book after all. Nor am I trying to say the race (or sexual orientation for that matter) of a character must match their writer/artist. I enjoy Brian Michael Bendis’ Spider-Man with Miles Morales more than any of the titles featuring Peter Parker at the moment and I cannot wait for Ta-Nehisi Coates to take over Captain America after Mark Waid finishes his run. But I am saying it’s vitally important to expect and support diversity in the creative talent in the comic books we read. Diversity on the creative side naturally adds something to the narratives of these characters that couldn’t be there if only white men were scripting the stories. Captain Marvel proves an excellent case study for all of this. Captain Marvel is a strong female character who’s been allowed to grow into one of Marvel’s powerhouses, shaped by women who understand and present her in a fashion a male author could never accomplish. Marvel needs to see this as the blueprint for their future. Yes, it was Brian Michael Bendis who put Carol Danvers into the spotlight with The New Avengers in 2004 but it’s been Kelly Sue DeConnick, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, and Margaret Stohl who have made her one of Marvel Comics’ most popular and important heroes.
Carol Danvers also exemplifies the importance (and success potential) of Legacy Characters. In fact, she’s a Legacy Character who has far outlived her namesake. No one can argue with the fact that Carol Danvers’s popularity, relevance, and cultural reach has significantly surpassed that of Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel. If not for regularly referencing him in her title, I’m sure there would be many modern comic fans who’d’ve never heard of Mar-Vell and I doubt there are many who passionately miss him. All this is to say that, if done well, there’s nothing inherently flawed about the Legacy Character concept. It even has the potential to increase the legacy of the original character, as is the case with Carol Danvers assuming the mantle of Captain Marvel.
In Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel #1 Steve Rogers is the one who encourages Carol Danvers to become Captain Marvel. As she protests he tells her, “But my point remains. Captain Marvel wasn’t his name. It was his mantel. Now, it’s his legacy. And he wanted you to have it…Bottom line is this: You have led the Avengers. You have saved the world. Quit being an adjunct. Take the mantle.” In taking that mantle, an icon was born and we – as a culture and as a comic fandom – are all the better for it. In Captain Marvel I find everything that made me fall in love with comic books as a kid along with the emotional depth and resonance I look for in a narrative as an adult. As a hugely popular comic book starring a strong, layered, richly developed female character that’s been written by women since 2012, Captain Marvel is also brilliant beacon leading us to the future.