Monday, 1 June 2015

Marvelling At Captain Marvel #15

Or a look at the triumphs and tribulations of Captain Marvel #15
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez, Lee Loughridge, and Joe Caramangna; Marvel Comics

A really smart critic, whose writing I really enjoy, is overall pretty dismissive of the Superhero genre in general and corporate (Marvel and DC comics) in particular. As part of a discussion on this topic she challenged people about why they like Superhero comics and whether they had artistic merit. My stance on corporate Superhero comics is that at worst they provide some fun escapism, but at their best they can be really exciting, well made comics that transcend their genre-trappings to tell some really powerful stories. Captain Marvel #15 is one of those comics that transcends it's genre to approach a level of dramatic truth that I think exemplifies why I still read Superhero comics.

Of course, Captain Marvel #15 also tragically suffers from the kind of corporate comics nonsense that I find deeply infuriating.

I want to take a look at the triumphs of Captain Marvel #15, the things that make it a powerful work of art, and the tribulations of the issue, the unnecessary choices that try and cheapen a great comic.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Captain Marvel #15

The thing about Superhero comics is that punching spacegods, while exciting, is just pure escapism for me, and not especially heroic. While people who put themselves into danger on behalf of others are certainly heroic, I think that violence is objectively a sad thing. So I am kind of uncomfortable with glorifying fighting and combat as standards of heroism, as entertaining as explosions might be. But I am also stymied by such portrayals of heroism because they fundamentally miss an essential truth: there is so much ordinary, human heroism all around us. People perform amazing feats of emotional courage in so many ways; ways that are often quiet and private or seemingly passive and not punching spacegods. And I think this ordinary heroism is tragically largely missed by mainstream Superhero comics.

My wife's grandmother passed away on Christmas Day 2014. Grandma Shirley was a generous, warm, and wonderfully salty woman who was a regular fixture of every family gathering. She was very close to her whole family and she will be profoundly missed. She lived 91 years and saw her children grow up and prosper, knew her grandkids, and even got to meet some of her great grandchildren. She was, among many other things, a favourite travel companion of my wife during most of her wandering years.  She was also an old woman, in her nineties, and was suffering from a precipitous decrease in her health. She knew she was dying and had seemingly made her peace with it and managed to die in her home with her mind intact. Other than the timing, she died the way she wanted to. Death, even in the best of circumstances, is a fucking bastard.

Losing a loved one on Christmas Day is awful. However, while obviously sad, my family-thing rallied and has largely celebrated Shirley's life and taken solace that she died according to her wishes. And while Christmas next year is going to certainly have a pallor, my family-thing, with stoicism, humour, and each other, has done their best to keep living their lives. To do the next right thing. It's what Shirley would have wanted. I've never lost anyone I've so deeply loved and so I am absolutely stunned by the strength of my wife and in-laws. Deciding to walk forward, to take on life after death is an act of everyday heroism that takes as much courage as any Superhero who has ever punched a spacegod. My family, my wife, are fucking heroes. 

Captain Marvel #15 captures this reality. It is a comic that shows two "generations" of friends and loved ones banding together following a death and making that heroic, incredible decision to move on with their lives and continue living. It's on the face of it, a beautiful story. But it's also a moment of real, human heroism that stands out in a comic largely about the nature of heroism. This is a story that is True, that is resonate with something fundamental to the human experience, that transcends fiction and touches people. This is Art. And this is in a superhero comic book.

True art can be anywhere.

Captain Marvel #15 is an amazing comic by talented and honest creators. It is beautiful and triumphant.

Captain Marvel #15 is also a comic that is marred by it's corporate comics nature. While the story itself is powerful and transcendent beyond the trappings of its genre and medium, it's also ultimately hurt by it's genre and nature. Captain Marvel #15 ends with an uplifting moment when the dearly departed essentially lured her loved ones to the beach in a faux-ash scattering to help her friends celebrate life. It's a beautiful, uplifting perfect moment. That ends in Marvel Comics advertisement for Secret Wars (Hey! Hey! Everyone! Shut the fuck up! Did you know? SECRET WARS IS A THING! Guys! Guys!). Not only is there an ugly advertisement sitting like a turd on this perfect moment, but the tone of the ad is that everything is doomed because of Secret Wars. Which means that this near-perfect comic about celebrating life and moving past death, in the triumphant moment of catharsis, has a message of doom and death shat onto it. It is tone deaf and disgusting and emblematic of everything wrong with corporate comics. I am heartbroken that this was done.

Look, I have no idea who in the editorial chain approves or places these kind of ads. I do know that everyone who works in comics, works at Marvel, clearly cares about comics and making the best books they can. What I don't understand is how people who care so much about comics can mar their work, especially comics this special with stupid, unnecessary, tone deaf advertisements. And as a comic consumer who dropped ~$5CAN on this book I am really annoyed that an advertisement damaged this beautiful product that I spent a non-trivial amount of money on. It's really frustrating as a reader and a customer and it's emblematic of why some really smart critics do not have respect for Marvel comics. 

I profoundly hope this is corrected for the eventual collection and that Marvel shows more thoughtful ad placement in the future.

Howard The Duck #1: How a Marvel Ad hurt a joke

Marvelling at Captain Marvel #9: a rhyme map of a rock and roll space opera
Marvelling at Captain Marvel #4: Joyous collaboration.
Marvelling at Captain Marvel #3: When joke and story telling collide
Marvelling at Captain Marvel 17: A meta-fandom salute
Marvelling at Captain Marvel 15-16: On tie ins
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #13-14: On The Enemy Within
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #12: Demarcating reality and fantasy
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #10: A dramatic contract
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #9: How your brain tells time
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #7: Saving a reporter in distress... AND ITS A MAN!
Marvelling At Captain Marvel #1: An alternate reading order that I liked more

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