Monday, 15 June 2015

Marvelling at Captain Marvel and the Carl Corps #1

Or a look at scalable character design in CM&CC #1
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kelly Thompson, David Lopez, Lee Loughridge and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

Frankly, I don't really care about Secret Wars. I mean, I like several of the creators involved and I'm sure that if you are a core Marvel reader it's an exciting and rewarding read. But as someone who tends to read the more idiosyncratic, creator driven comics around the periphery of the Marvel Universe apparatus, this event is mostly a big headache. My books are being derailed for various alternate reality tales and then some sort of new-status-quo-reboot thingy is happening. It is exhausting and I'm not sure if I have the energy to deal with these reading logistics when I could just be reading other comics that don't require continuity gymnastics. So maybe it is more accurate to say that I do care about Secret Wars, and that I just dislike it.

That said Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps is *delightful*. It presents an alternate reality status quo where Captain Marvel is leading a squadron of women pilots who protecting some sort of enclave or base from enemy incursions on Battleworld (whatever that means...). But that is all secondary because this is a comic that continues working on the themes of heroism and teamwork of the series and showcases the creative team's ability to rapidly build rich ensembles of characters. It's more great stuff in the vein of Captain Marvel proper and while I might not care at all for Secret Wars, I'm very happy this Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps exists. 

(Incidentally, the ability of Team Captain Marvel to generate quality stories as Carol Danvers is thrown by editorial whim into radically different situations (now New York, now space, now Battleworld) is really impressive. To be able to build a thematic, consistent narrative through all of that is quite an accomplishment.)

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps is also interesting in that contains some really great, scalable character design that I think is worth taking a look at.

There will be *SPOILERS* for CM&CC #1 below.

The central character design challenge of Captain Marvel and the Carol Crops #1 is that it's a comic about a group of military pilots. Military Pilots in the real world almost universally wear uniforms, use face obscuring helmets and masks, and fly the same model of aircraft within squadrons. It is therefore difficult to distinguish individuals within a military unit. This of course, is terrible for storytelling, where it is really important to be able to assign actions to individual characters and to distinguish between them on the page. So there is a practical storytelling pressure to give every character their own fighter type or jumpsuit look and basically go full space pirate at all times. But since technicolour swashbuckling isn't particularly martial, this approach doesn't translate well to a story about military aviators. Which means a balance has to be struck somewhere between military conformity and narrative necessary individualism.

Since Captain Marvel is a comic that doesn't mess around, it deftly negotiates this compromise by building characters who all operate within a certain degree of uniformity but who all display small touches of individuality that are visible during all levels of storytelling. 

When taken as individual people the Carol Corps are pleasantly distinct looking group of women. Each of these pilots, despite wearing variations on a common uniform, manage to look unique on the page with small character touches that makes each stand out as their own person from Blaze's old-fashioned feeling beauty-spot mole to Pancho's screw-the-rules sunglasses and lip piercing. What's great is that this all translates to the cockpit. A combination of helmets decorated with pilots name and logo as well as carefully chosen facial characteristics (freckles, mole, piercing, black skin, or chin skin imperfection (warts? scars?)) keep each character looking distinct and recognizable even wearing a combat helmet. This design motif scales up yet again to the actual fighter planes which, while all one model, each display a painted nose cone playing with the motif of the helmet designs. This again allows the aircraft themselves to be instantly recognizable and tied to their relevant characters. It's quietly really adept comics.

The result of all of this is a group of military pilots who look like military pilots but we are able to keep track of whether the story is in the barracks, chatter between cockpits, or punching holes in the sky. It's also an approach that manages to create distinct, individual characters who wear their personalities in their designs in a really obvious and compelling way. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps may only be one issue long, but I already have a sense of who these women are, how they relate to each other, and care about their outcomes. And what more can you ask from a first issue?

Marvelling at Captain Marvel #15: triumphs and tribulations
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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