Thursday, 5 February 2015

Sound Adivice: Captain Marvel Volume 1.1

Captain Marvel Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, Clayton Cowles; Marvel Comics

So, you’ve heard Marvel is producing a film called Captain Marvel in 2018 and want to know where to start reading about this hero?  You have come to the right place.

Captain Marvel is Carol Danvers, a former USAF pilot, current Avenger, and my all-time favorite super hero. I feel like it’s only fair to tell you before we move on: I have an ongoing Carol Danvers Situation, capital S necessary. There is a bias in this post, and the bias is that I think Carol Danvers is actually THE BEST.

Marvel Studios’ recent Phase 3 announcement brought us the news that a Captain Marvel film  will be hitting the big screen in July of 2018. I’m completely floored by the news, but for many people, the announcement bought questions about who this character is, why she should be the character to land the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-led title, and why this matters. With In Pursuit of Flight, collecting issues 1-6 of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s 2012 run of Captain Marvel, we see many of the story elements that have me excited for the hero Carol Danvers to gain a wider audience.

As I talk though these points, *SPOILERS* will arise, so continue at your own risk.


1. She looks like a female superhero should look.

Carol Danvers looks strong and powerful without surrendering her femininity. Jamie McKelvie’s redesigned uniform drew me to Captain Marvel in the first place—here we have a woman fighting in a flight suit instead of a bathing suit, wearing something that fans refer to more frequently as Carol’s “uniform” than her “costume.” Though a costume change may seem like a small thing, consider my own comics experience—thought I’ve been reading comic books since I was a kid in the late 1990’s, the look of a superhero was never intriguing enough for me to pick up a book until Carol’s Captain Marvel uniform hit the stands in 2012.

The art of In Pursuit of Flight supports this strength. Dexter Soy, who provides the art for the first part of this trade, is a favorite artist of mine because of how powerful Carol looks, and how dynamic his world feels on the page.

Emma Rios, who provides art for the second portion of the trade, brings a completely different style, one in which Carol has never looked more ethereal and magical.

Both artists avoid exploitive poses or costumes, and both are masters at showing emotion in their drawing.

2. Carol Danvers is confident about who she is and what her strengths are.

For all that this book touches on the question of names and titles and how those concepts impact our identity, Carol is very clear about who she is—She’s an Avenger. First and foremost, Carol Danvers is fighting to protect, save, and to serve, because that is what heroes do. She also clearly knows that she’s good at it—Her dialogue during fight scenes is some of the best I’ve read, because Carol is very aware that she excels at punching and blasting. Her confidence borders right on the edge of cockiness, and it’s a sort of confidence I think we see very rarely from female super heroes. “These girls have never seen anything like this in their lives,” she narrates as she begins to face down some powerful alien tech. “I’m an Avenger…we call this Tuesday.”

This is not, I should point out, to say that Carol Danvers isn’t smart. All the time she is reacting in the moment, she’s also putting together the pieces of what’s going on, considering her plan, and adjusting as new information arises. The USAF veteran is also a tactician, one who often adapts her plans on the fly, even if she sometimes does so recklessly, disregarding her own safety.

3. Her weaknesses are just as familiar to her.

The central plot of In Pursuit of Flight circles around a time travel adventure that sees Carol dropped unexpectedly into the era of WWII. She realizes this when she runs into the Banshee Squadron, an all-women group of WWII pilots, and realizing the potential of altering history Carol fully acknowledges that she has no idea what she should be doing. Though I’m usually not one for time travel plots, this one calls itself out early on. Time travel is a compelling problem for Carol to face, because it isn’t one she can't easily fight head on.

4. Carol maintains interpersonal relationships with other women.

For some reason, varied relationships between female characters can be hard to come by in comics. In just the first volume, we see a number of these relationships in Carol’s life, such as a supportive friendship with Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman, a friendship with Tracy, a older friend and former coworker who Carol is supporting through a fight with cancer, and even her relationship with Helen Cobb, clearly someone Carol views as a hero or mentor, and later, when the time travel plot brings Carol together with Helen’s young self, as competition. We see Carol relate to the Banshee Squadron as a fellow soldier and as a leader, as well. As a medium, comics can sometimes forget that friendships can cross generations, and that relationships have a huge spectrum of variation, In Pursuit of Flight remembers.

5. She considers the value of legacy.

First we see it at the start of our story, when Carol has to decide if she’s going to take on the mantle of Captain Marvel. It’s clear that part of her is worried it somehow lessens Mar-Vell’s legacy for her to do so—and part of her clearly wants the power and history of that legacy to become part of her own story. We see it again when Helen Cobb leaves Carol her plane in her will—Carol’s first act is to set off to prove that Helen Cobb’s flight record is accurate.

The whole of this arc of Carol’s story also considers a broader legacy—that of the women that came before her. The Banshees are our first reminder, couched in this fictional world, of a very real sexism experienced by women throughout history – women could not be pilots in the armed forces in WWII, so women much like the Banshee Squadron served in civilian support roles, even though they often were putting their lives on the line just as much as enlisted forces.  They thought of themselves as soldiers, even if no one else would recognize them as such.

Our second reminder comes with another jump to the 1960s, where the women pilots of Mercury 13 are facing down the injustice of a system that won’t allow them to pursue a NASA training program. Their hopes are dashed by their gender and their era, and it’s heartbreaking to witness these women’s devastation for both the reader and for Carol.

This story is absolutely about the legacy of women such as the Banshees and the Mercury 13 left for women who came after, an unashamedly feminist statement about how important it is for us to remember and honor their struggle for equality. DeConnick does her best to honor them in story, and Carol clearly recognizes how these women helped pave the way for her own service and the pursuit of her own dreams to fly.

6. For as much as legacy is valued, Carol sees the importance of continuing to move forward.

It’s a letter from Helen that is the final push Carol needs to take the title of Captain Marvel. “Helen would punch holes in the sky,” she reasons to herself, sitting at the edge of space thinking about her place in the world. When in the final arc of the book, she finds herself in a position to reset, to remove the weight of legacy, Carol can see the value of who she is, and when the moment comes, she rushes right in because someone needs saving, and that is what heroes do. Not only is this who she is, but it’s who she wants to be.

Carol’s story is one of continuing to dream and to push forward. She encourages it in others and expects it of herself. “You and me’ve always been like this,” Helen writes in her letter. “Always dreaming. Of higher, further, faster, more. The Lord put us here to punch holes in the sky, and when a soul is born with that kind of purpose, it’ll damn sure find a way.”


In Pursuit of Flight is the beginning of Carol Danvers’ tenure as Captain Marvel, and is as much about the shift in how she names herself as it is about the time travel shenanigans and fighting bad guys. The volume features an adventurous plot and a cast of characters to be marvelled at. The dialogue is snappy and engaging, a balance between being believable and sounding exactly like what a super hero would say.  I can, at the same time, relate to Carol’s relationships and wish I could have abilities as awesome as hers. It’s a fantastic volume if you’re new to super hero comics, or if you’re just looking for a new hero to love.

And Carol Danvers? I believe this list is just a few of the many reasons Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel has resonated with so many people. Carol is everything I want in a hero: she’s strong and confident. She lifts up and encourages those around her, but still banters playfully with her friends. While she’s facing down a challenge, she knows her strengths and her weaknesses, and isn’t afraid to own that there are some things that are not her forte. She’s both confident and questioning, strong and soft.  She flies fast, kicks ass, and looks fly as hell while she’s doing it.

I often describe Captain Marvel as the book I wish someone could have handed to 12-year-old me, but the truth is I need to hear what she has to say even now, on a pretty much daily basis. I needed a hero like this at 8 and 12 and 16 and 19 and even now at 26. When she’s on the big screen in 2018, girls won’t have to wait until they’re an adult to see a hero they want to be.

Fly. Be bold. Honor those that came before you, but never stop pushing for your own dreams. Punch holes in the sky.

Post by Jennifer DePrey


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