Just How (Very) GOOD is the Current CAPTAIN MARVEL Series…?

Posted: February 24, 2015 in COMICS
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‘Flerkens’, ‘Sentimaults’, Intergalactic Pop-Stars… I’d been intending to post about this all last year, but never got around to it: just how much I’ve been enjoying the current Captain Marvel title. It’s soooo good.

The entire current run of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s series has been a joy to me personally. There’s a simple charm to this book in its straightforward, uncomplicated approach, permanent sense of humour and sense of adventure. Kelly Sue DeConnick has such an addictive handle on Carol Danvers that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever writing her again, while the David Lopez/Lee Loughbridge art and colour combination is effortlessly attractive, easy on the eye, and allows the stories to flow fluidly from panel to panel and issue to issue, drawing you along like a love-sick puppy.

Part of the joy of the series is how easily it flows, how uncomplicated it is, how unladen with continuity overload it is and how unaffected by other titles or events going on at Marvel (which can become far too taxing in other titles). Sure, there’s crossover elements, like with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but it doesn’t effect the self-contained flow of the central story, which maintains a refreshing integrity and a simplicity of intent most of the time. The current Daredevil title is something that does the same, but good though it undoubtedly is, it isn’t quite as entertaining to me as Carol’s adventures are.

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Captain Marvel, aka the one-time Ms Marvel, has been a personal favorite of mine for a long time and it is notable how long the character was in the wilderness of the Marvel Comics world following controversies in the eighties (covered in this post); and yet having been brought back to the fore in more recent times she now finds herself one of the company’s primary faces, most popular icons and soon-to-be cinematic hero too. It’s been a hell of a comeback, and this current Captain Marvel series demonstrates what a continuing loss to Marvel she would’ve been had she been kept in her long limbo.

Carol, as she is portrayed now in this title, is the Carol that she should always have been all along. On a more superficial level, I also have to say I’ve been much happier with her ‘look’ as it has has been in the last few years, which is far better than the soft-porn motif she seemed to have been stuck in before that (as befalls all too many female comic-book characters). It’s presently a toss-up between Carol and Jessica Drew for the best-written female hero at Marvel these days, in my opinion; and Carol probably just about wins it (though I’ve just read the first few issues of the new Spider Woman series and have to say that the quality level so far of that title – if sustained – will make it a very close call). It seems to me, curiously, that ever since Carol evolved from the old ‘Ms Marvel’ title (now occupied by another female heroine) into ‘Captain’ Marvel, an improvement/seasoning of her character also occurred.

The story occupying most of the series in 2014 was a fun ride of an ongoing narrative, the various issues somewhat blurring together and with the quality being pretty much at the same high level throughout, albeit with a few dips towards uneventfulness here and there. Without dissecting each issue point-by- point, there’s plenty to engage across the sequence of issues. For starters, those first few pages of Captain Marvel #1 were instantly engaging and perfectly set the stage for the tone and quality of the series to follow; clearly telling us that we were in for an exotic, swashbuckling cosmic adventure with Marvel’s premier and most endearing super-heroine at its core. Sending Carol into space as a long-term ‘cosmic avenger’ was, as a concept, always a winning idea and a fantastic basis for a monthly series.

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There were a lot of #1’s on the shelves last year, some of them better than others, but Captain Marvel #1  really demonstrates how to do a #1 most effectively.

The opening sequence in the alien marketplace on Planet Ursa 4 with all its Mos Espa-esque Star Wars evocations is immediately comfortable and familiar even while being new and exotic. The Star Wars reference is something that occurs to you frequently over the course of the series, the worlds and backdrops Carol finds herself in often having that iconic ‘long time ago, far far away’ feel to them. This actually becomes an active and knowing homage at times, from Carol’s cat being named ‘Chewie’ to other scattered Star Wars references (even her ship is called ‘Harrison’); but that opening sequence in #1 felt wholly inviting and comfortable for someone like me, being a long-time fan of science-fiction in general and Star Wars in particular. That opening sequence also showed us four visually engaging characters we weren’t familiar with yet (but would come to know over the next few months) in a terrific Reservoir Dogs type image with Carol at its centre (pictured above).

Having the narrative begin with a sequence chronologically set six months further ahead in the series and then snapping back to the ‘present’ was also an effective way to begin things, giving us a glimpse of things to come and making us more invested in how we’ll get there (chronologically, we return to Ursa 4 and that scene in #4). Captain Marvel #1 acts as a suitably entertaining entry-point into the Carol Danvers mythology for newcomers while also catering just as much to longer-standing fans. The Carol Danvers we’re reintroduced to in Captain Marvel #1 is immediately fun, endearing and engaging. I could take or leave the James Rhodes angle, but the sequence of Carol and Iron Man casually dealing with two street thugs while Stark pitches her bold new outer space mission to her is fun, offering one last Earth-bound bit of Avengers-ing for Carol before her epic sojourn into the stars, while the inevitable arrival of the Guardians of the Galaxy in #2 (“It’s not flerkin, it’s a cat!”), and in general any interaction between Carol and the Guardians, is guaranteed fun of course.

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The Carol/Rocket dynamic is in my view even more bankable than Stark/Rocket, while it also occurs to me reading #2 and #3 that Carol and Peter Quill have a natural chemistry that may be more obvious than that developed between Quill and X-Men’s Kitty Pryde (I’m no match-maker, however, it’s just an observation). ‘Settler City’ on Torfa is a terrifically realised setting, as in general most of the settings are; the ‘Sentimault’ are a particularly great-looking alien race amid a very interesting, exotic and complex alien society. Reading these issues proves somewhat nostalgic in a mixed way, making me think not only of other comics, and not even only of Star Wars or of old-style episodic Star Trek, but even such childhood treasures as the Thundercats series. Yet the Captain Marvel title is also its own entity, carving out its own special identity; an identity that I hope is sustained through any coming changes at Marvel this year.

‘Tic’ also proves to be a likeable enough tag-along, creating a nice dynamic; having Carol more or less alone on that ship and wandering the stars in an isolated, Silver Surfer type manner might not have worked so well. The same fail-safe was put into The Legendary Star Lord solo title when Peter Quill was given his own series last year, the necessity of having a sidekick and quasi-sentient ship-computer ensuring the hero always has another personality to play off of; though at the same time I do think Carol as a character is more capable than Quill is of doing that sort of true-solo, introspective narrative and remaining readable.

Once the opening arc is resolved, the fun interval of Captain Marvel #7/8 demonstrates DeConnick’s and Carol’s capacity for the comedic side of things in that same vein that works so well in Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy series (Chewie the “Flerkin”, Rocket’s antangonism, Rocket reprogramming Carol’s ship to “speak Cat”). #9 exhibits all of the series’ addictive qualities, even if Lila Cheney remains a highly acquired taste and having to resolve an alien marriage dispute doesn’t sound like the stuff great comics are made of. The royals of Aladna all speaking in rhyme all the time (with Carol and Tic having to do the same) is the kind of goofy premise that wouldn’t necessarily work in a lot of other titles, but in this incarnation of Captain Marvel is exactly on the right side of Buffy-style charming and funny without ever getting annoying.

The retro cover for Captain Marvel #10 meanwhile is a thing of gleeful joy the first time you see it, with its decidedly old-school, Golden Age art and proclamations; ‘a Modern Marvel from the House of Ideas!’ it declares in what is a perfectly measured way to mark Carol’s 100th solo issue. I so need to get that cover posterised for my wall.

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The issue itself is pretty low-key, but, in keeping with the tone of this series, is more focused on characters and relationship dynamics than big adventures or sequences; which lends itself to less of the superhero silliness we often find elsewhere and more of the endearing, human dimension of things. #10 isn’t a Carol story at all but is an issue told through letters sent from Earth by the people she cares about most (couriered by Lila Cheney), which proves to be a sweet way of reestablishing key character dynamics after several months of far, far away space-faring. #10 also gives us some substantial Jessica Drew, which is never a bad thing, and her letter to Carol reminds us that Captain Marvel and Spider Woman make one of the most likeable BFF’s in comics and is something we need to see more of. For one thing, a Carol/Jessica monthly tag-team title of sorts would be a great thing to have happen at some point in the future (and is right behind only a Doctor Doom solo series on my wish-list). And Jessica’s heartfelt one-to-one with a bemused looking rat was a highlight of my year.

What all of this also demonstrates is how much scope there is for this Captain Marvel saga; most of what we’ve seen so far in this volume has been relatively small-scaled and yet made so entertaining that you have to wonder how great this title would get if Carol’s adventures step up to a more GOTG scale storytelling. Or maybe that’s not the intent; either way I hope the series continues for a good span of time and that Marvel doesn’t balls up the continuity or try to do another reboot of everything. I’ve been averting my eyes to all the over-hyped talk of what’s supposed to be happening in Marvel Comics later this year; but the rebooting business is in danger of gutting the integrity (and ruining the continuity, not for the first time) of various titles and is generally becoming more insulting than exciting.

Someone up there and Marvel HQ needs to understand that allowing writers and series’ to have a solid, respectable run and maintain their creative flow, continuity and integrity is what makes for quality storytelling – and not repeatedly launching big, overblown ‘events’ designed to reset everything in the universe.

For one thing, I want to see Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run carry on for a while yet and for all Carol’s potential within this cosmic solo-title framework to be fully explored. Anything less would be a waste and an injustice. On a side-note, though I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the upcoming Captain Marvel movie (sorry, but for every Iron Man or X-Men movie there’s also a Green Lantern or Elektra), what I keep thinking would be awesome would be a Carol-centered animated series; especially in the style of this current title, which would lend itself so well to a weekly cartoon serial. There’s been some really cool stuff done in that medium lately; the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series (in which Carol featured prominently) was superb and the Ultimate Spiderman series is really fun. The Hulk and the Agents of Smash series is awful, but two out of three makes decent odds and there’s no reason at all to think Carol Danvers wouldn’t make for top-of-the-range Saturday morning viewing.

But assuming that doesn’t happen, I could happily have several more years of this monthly title in its current form; as I said, I just hope Marvel doesn’t balls up the continuity and potential with its ‘big event’ later this year. Finally, a confession: I’ve had a major crush on Carol since I was about thirteen. But that has no bearing on good I think this series is.

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