By Eli LaChance
Last time we covered nearly 50 years of Carol Danvers leading up to the modern version of the character in 2012. If you missed that post, you can find it here. With the movie breaking box office records, we’re back to finish what we started and look at the second genesis of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. You can catch our spoiler-free review of the film here.
Captain Marvel is a name that comes with history; before Carol Danvers took on the name, the only iconic story featuring a character of that name was the one where he died. (Obviously, we mean Marvel Comic’s Captain Marvel name, calm down SHAZAM! fans) Fast forward to 2019 and it may hit many as a surprise that a tough woman with a sweet mohawk and a weirdo cat didn’t always hold the title. The character currently populating the pages of Marvel comics barely resembles the original 1960s superhero. In 2012, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick didn’t just come up with a new take on an old character; she used the established history as a springboard from which to create a character that would show a whole generation of women that there was nothing wrong with their desire to punch holes in the sky.
Kelly Sue DeConnick claims that she wasn’t even sure her 2012 Captain Marvel series would last more than six issues. Marvel did little to promote the book so its success hinged upon self-funded promotional campaigning by DeConnick which consisted of buttons, pins, and postcards. The book was an instant success. The first story arc allows the hero to revisit her origin, re-creating Carol Danvers as a character who is unapologetically defined by her own choices. This new flight-obsessed adrenaline junkie nothing like the tragic and tortured Carol of the previous decades with a new costume and a swap in honorifics, the character is distinguished from her past while still paying homage to her legacy. Instead of tragedy, this character is defined by her will. No-one familiar with the character is surprised by the success of the new film. Her greatest power comes from her dedicated and loyal fanbase. From the beginning of DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, the road to her success was paved by her grassroots fandom of people who were excited for the hero they’d always wanted to see.
While it might be hotly debated in some regions of the internet, the Carol Danvers version of Captain Marvel was always intended as a feminist character, at least in comics. DeConnick isn’t shy about the feminist themes that appear in her comic books, she actively works towards creating media that isn’t “actively insulting” to women. She’s spoken many times about the feminist ideas the inspire her writing. Just read the letter Carol receives from her personal hero that frames the narrative of the first arc. “Knew you the second you set foot on my property, kid. Even as young as you were, how could I not? Folks want to blame someone for gals like us. “Her daddy was unkind” or “some fella broke her heart” … Hogwash. You and me’ve always been like this. Always a little removed. Always… dreaming of higher, further, faster… more. Always more. We came into this world spittin’ mad, runnin’ full bore… To or from what, I ain’t never been able to tell. Over the years, I’ve come to think of these particular traits as the shared attributes of a chosen people… the Lord put us here to punch holes in the sky.”
In the first DeConnick story arc, Carol is hurled backward through time while attempting to beat her hero Helen Cobb’s flight record. The time jump is due to a very unique piece of Cobb’s historic aircraft. The climax of the story sees Carol being given the choice to step in during the freak-accident that gives her superpowers and to live a normal life, or do nothing and leave the timeline intact. When she decides not to intervene she then has to fight for her identity as Captain Marvel. This is the moment we mentioned above. Fans of this comic might notice that the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Mar-vell bares some resemblance to Helen, as the film cleverly combines the two characters for a much simpler origin.
“When we talk about [Captain Marvel], we say: Everything about her wants to go up. Head up. Heart up. Chest up. Chin up. Everything faces towards the sky,” – Kelly Sue DeConnick
Captain Marvel isn’t a cardboard caricature, she’s got depth and is emotionally balanced by a wonderful family of support characters, including her lovably strange cat Chewie(yep, they changed his name). They help keep Carol grounded, literally, as the best story sees Danvers struggling with a brain lesion that grows every time she flies. Her friends do everything in their power to care for our self-less hero and keep her out of the sky because if the lesion grows too large, Carol will lose her memories and everything that makes her who she is. No spoilers, but if you read our previous Carol Danvers post… I think you can see where that’s going.
It isn’t that the original Ms. Marvel is bad, but a side by side comparison makes it plainly clear that Deconnick’s Captain Marvel is NOT Captain Mar-vell nor is Deconnick’s Carol Danvers anything like Ms. Marvel or the Carol we once knew. Yes. Stan Lee created Captain Marvel, Roy Thomas created Carol Danvers, and Gerry Conway created Ms. Marvel. All of that is true, technically but sometimes technicalities don’t accurately describe reality. The modern Captain Marvel is DeConnick’s character. In a perfect world, the by-line of every Captain Marvel story that uses her template should say, “The modern Captain Marvel re-imagined by Kelly Sue Deconnick.” 2012’s Captain Marvel #1 is like the Giant Size X-men #1 of Carol Danvers stories, what came before is near irrelevant.
It may surprise some non-comic readers that in 2012 a superhero like DeConnick’s Captain Marvel would read as revolutionary. It was and still is somewhat rare in mainstream comics that we see a female hero who is so willfully in charge of her own destiny; who is defined by her actions rather than what she means to the team or her A-list beau. Everyone deserves to see themselves as the hero; women superhero and comic-book fans have always been here wanting a hero like Captain Marvel. We’re a decade and like 20 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and just now getting our first female superhero movie in their cycle. From Captain Mar-Vell’s love interest to well-intentioned and tone-deaf 70s superheroine to the icon we see today; Carol Danvers has seen some changes. Thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick, she will continue to inspire us to go “higher, further, and faster” than ever before.