It’s pretty rare for a female superhero to inherit a name legacy from a male superhero without that name being feminised or in some way altered. So it was for Ms Marvel (military pilot Carol Danvers), whose origin and powers as a superhero was closely tied to that of the alien warrior Captain Marvel (or Mar-Vell), and whose name was chosen accordingly. I have to say, I kind of love that it was ‘Ms’ and not something involving ‘Miss’ or ‘Girl.’
And then Captain Marvel died. Unlike the majority of dead superheroes, he did not come back.
One of the big buzz worthy comics announcements of this year was that Carol Danvers would be returning to her own title, but giving up the ‘Ms Marvel’ name she has held since 1977 in favour of ‘Captain Marvel.’ If that wasn’t exciting enough, she was also being written by an up and coming female writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Oh, and the costume was being changed so instead of having her usual leotard and flowing blonde locks, she would be fully clothed from wrist to ankle, and her hair would be shorter.
Add to this some amazing, powerful covers doing the rounds which have had no compunction in setting Captain Marvel up as a feminist icon, and… yeah. It was all pretty exciting.
I have been hesitant to write a Where the Wonder Women Are post (yet) on Ms Marvel because I have read so little of her comics, and I kind of want to. So I thought for now I would write an entry on Captain Marvel purely based on her recent appearances since the name change, and catch up on the first 30+ years of Carol Danvers’ career at a later date.
DeConnick has written Carol as Captain Marvel in two different titles this month, launching her as a smart, adrenalin-fueled, banterific female superhero for the 21st century. I think I’m in love.
First, we have a team up with Spider-Man in The Avenging Spider-Man #9, a title of one and two-shot stories which team up Spidey with, you guessed it, other Avengers. This one, which has a big fat To Be Continued at the end of it, is a charming and fun adventure which shows us Carol’s love of planes and flight, her cool head in a crisis, her bravery and her general awesomeness. But what I liked best was how funny she was – having a witty female superhero feels a lot more subversive than having one who hits things really well, and with Captain Marvel, we have both.
Teaming her up with Spider-Man was a brilliant move, as he is so associated with banter that it tells us a lot about Carol that she keeps up with him quip for quip, while flying a plane, and arguing with people.
I loved the artwork, too, by Terry and Rachel Dodson – bright colours, beautiful plane illustrations, good action shots and facial expressions with plenty of character in them – something often lacking in female comics characters where ‘pretty’ is often prioritised over ‘has more than two two emotions.’
“The helmet is retractible — Carol’s nearly indestructible so she doesn’t really need a helmet, but she’s not impervious to pain. So, when she’s doing something like, oh, flying face-first into space, she might bring the helmet up to make herself more comfortable. It’s also got symbolic value as the design harkens back to her origin as part-Kree warrior. Emphasis on warrior — by which I mean there’s a display element. Like the Captain Marvel equivalent of warrior paint or a necklace made from the skulls of her enemies.”
[Kelly Sue DeConnick on Captain Marvel’s new look.]
The writing in this issue is extraordinary. From a banterific fight with Captain America in which he convinces Carol that she deserves to take the “Captain Marvel” name in full, to a touching and powerful internal monologue about heroes, flying and her powers in which Carol convinces herself to take the damn name, we learn everything we need to know about the new Captain Marvel in this issue. Her personality, her drives, her motives, her compassion… and what matters to her.
It’s particularly cool how much DeConnick has taken the idea of Carol being an Air Force pilot, and the kind of personality that is drawn to that kind of career. What would it be like to be a person who lives for risk and adrenalin, if you were so powerful you knew that you couldn’t be hurt?
Some other interesting details include the way that Carol runs hotter than most humans, and how that can be used to achieve some everyday good. And I like the portrayal of her as a tinkerer and engineer – someone who knows how to fix a coffee machine and can’t help doing so.
There’s a historical aspect running through the story, about what it was like for female pilots in previous generations, which gives a sense of Carol belonging to a tradition just as important as that of the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, or the Avengers, or anything else.
I’m going to have to get used to the artwork – I found the darkness of the first several pages (especially the scenes with Captain America and Spider-Man) quite jarring in comparison to the brightness of the Spider-Man issue and the Captain Marvel covers. In particular I was disappointed at the lack of detail in the faces and a couple of alarmingly shiny butt shots. But I was getting more accustomed to it by the end of the issue… so I guess I can live with it? It’s a shame that the internal artwork doesn’t live up to the fabulous covers that are being used to promote the character and her title.
But hell, the art would have to be a whole lot worse than this to turn me off a comic this good, with women (not just Carol) depicted in such complex and interesting ways. I want to see more of this Captain Marvel, and more and more.
Movies, people. I think I found a new female character to complain about not being in the next Avengers movie.
EDIT: Thanks to a commenter I discovered that Carol is not the first female Captain Marvel – check out Monica Rambeau, an earlier superhero with the same name. Not only is Monica an African American superheroine, but she rose to be leader of the Avengers! She later ceded the name ‘Captain Marvel’ to Genis, son of Mar-Vell, out of respect for his family, taking on the name ‘Photon’ instead. Quite outrageously, Genis later also decided to use ‘Photon,’ forcing Monica to choose the name ‘Pulsar.’ Apparently she liked it better, but that hardly makes it okay!