Friday, 20 July 2012

Marvel, Captain

Or how reading Captain Marvel #1 out of order is the correct way to enjoy the comic.

As the record shows, I’m pretty excited for the new Captain Marvel series by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy. This week the premier issue of the series came out… and I was a little underwhelmed by it. I was hoping for a great comic and what I got, while it was certainly a good comic (the writing was good and the artwork was enjoyable and there are some great ideas in there) everything seemed subtlety off, like the sections of the book were disjointed somehow. It lakes cohesion. As a result the book felt a bit like two stories sutured together, the result becoming a good but generic and maybe a little over ambitious superhero comic.

But here’s the thing, there is LITERALLY a great comic in there. It just needs a bit of reader surgery to be assembled properly.

If you don't know Kieron Gillen (writer of Phonogram, Journey Into Mystery, Uncanny X-me, etc) has a comics crafting podcast called Decompressed. His most recent episode (002) has Kelly Sue DeConnick performing a post-mortem on Captain Marvel #1. In it she humbly, and self awarely discusses the book and some of its problems. It’s really worth a listen.

DeConnick also informed us that the book was not published in the order it was originally written. The flashback section near the end set 14 years ago about Helen Cobb, was originally supposed to be the first bit. Thus, in the correct order, Captain Marvel #1 is bookended by the two Helen Cobb stories. Go read (or reread) Captain Marvel #1 in that order.

I cannot overemphasize how much better the comic is when read it in that order.

When you read Captain Marvel #1 in the right order everything suddenly makes sense. The disjointed nature of the book's sections coalesce, any somewhat perplexing events suddenly have better context, and the book develops this huge emotional resonance. Hell, even the gratuitous fight scene splash page becomes more effective as an introduction of Carol Danvers as superhero (look how far she has come).

Read in the right order it goes from being a good comic to a GREAT comic. Probably one of the single best comic issues I've ever read.

(Some SPOILERS in the next section.)

More than that, it becomes a great story about barriers and breaking through them, with a cool feminist slant.1 The proper first section lays that out with aviatrix Helen Cobb, Carol’s youthful hero, breaking the barrier of becoming a pilot but not breaking the barrier of entering space. The main story shows a critical scene where Carol breaks the barrier of entering space and then, while thinking of Cobb, makes the descision to break the next barrier and become Captain Marvel, an unqualified superhero.2 (Of course, both of these barriers were only surmountable because Cobb broke the barrier of flight, which allowed Carol to be a pilot in the first place.) The final part then becomes Carol breaking the space barrier posthumously for Cobb by carrying Cobb’s ashes into space. Thus in the correct order Captain Marvel #1 becomes a beautiful, meaningful story about empowerment and inspiration. I really, really enjoyed it.

It's a profound shame that it got fouled to show an exciting fight scene first.

(It’s also a shame how the final funeral scene, a particularly emotionally resonant and beautifully rendered part of the book, was cut in half by a double page spread of Avengers Academy ads.)

1: I also find it interesting that the book seems to lay out other barriers for Carol in the sense of misogyny in the superhero realm (The news paper title “New Captain Marvel, and He’s a She” and in the Absorbing Man’s taunts). Barriers surpassed, barriers yet to surpass.
2: I find it particularly cool that Carol decided to do this based on inspiration from a female icon as opposed to from Captain America, who is essentially an idealized paternal inspiration icon. 

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