In a Marvel catalogue filled with multiple Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men titles, it’s easy for Captain Marvel to get lost in the melee. As one of only three female hero focus books at the moment (the other two being Red She-Hulk and Fearless Defenders), writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Avengers Assemble, Ghost) must be feeling the pressure for this book to be successful.
Happily, not only is the writing consistently excellent, but the combination of DeConnick and Dexter Soy on pencils for the start of the run tells us that this title is going to be something very special indeed.
I have always been impressed with Kelly Sue’s skills with dialogue, and as usual, the words jump from the page. From the very first panel in the very first issue, we’re reminded that Carol is a tough, smart woman, who’s happy to point out that she’s better than you. The snappy conversation with Cap as they’re fighting The Absorbing Man is witty, fond, and has some great moments where Carol asserts herself. I’ll also admit, I’m kind of glad to see her wearing pants, and the trend with redesigning female heroes to have more practical costumes is something I can really get on board with.
Despite the action packed start, there’s a shift to a more character focus mid way through, and while it could have been a mess with flashbacks, multiple locations, and some pretty serious angst, it reads incredibly easily. There’s also some foreshadowing that is so incredibly subtle that I’m not even sure if it’s intentional, but if it is then full credit to DeConnick. Brilliant work.
After the soul searching in issue #1, you would expect the series to continue down a similar path of a character focus with the odd bit of action thrown in. Think again. The next five issues are a full blown time travel story, and while it may be a large departure from the themes introduced in #1, it doesn’t at all feel wrong or off. Soy’s art suits the WWII era setting brilliantly, and Carol’s internal monologue reminds us that being thrown into the past isn’t exactly something she’s equipped to deal with.
The introduction of a group of all-girl commandos, known as the Banshee Squadron, is fabulous. The interaction between the Banshees and Carol is dynamic and compelling, and while often rapport between freshly introduced and short lived supporting characters can seem forced or rushed, this is not the case here.
There is a change in artist mid way through #4 when, once Carol successfully escapes 1943 to land in 1961, Al Barrionuevo takes over briefly. Barrionuevo’s art is pleasing, but not as edgy and filled with movement as Soy’s. The decision to change artists to indicate the time shift is a good one though, and it adds to the feeling that Captain Marvel has been very well thought out indeed.
The remainder of the 1961 (#5 and #6) story is pencilled by Emma Rios, who brings a wonderfully quirky style to the table. It fits the story beautifully, and while it’s not necessarily what I would normally look for in comic art, after a second look I found myself far more drawn to Rios’ work than at first glance. These two issues are filled with great moments of strength from the characters, and it’s just so refreshing to have women heroes, and non-heroes, who are independent, witty (for lack of a better phrase) BAMFs. Often when I come across female characters who are written by men, their strength feels like it’s ticking a box, rather than coming from any inherent character traits. DeConnick usurps this by not only writing women from a woman’s perspective, but doing it so well.
Carol’s time travel adventure closes with issue #6, which is outstanding. We see glimpses of Carol’s origin story, complete with original dialogue which may seem like lazy writing, but from a character and story standpoint fits perfectly. DeConnick knows who her audience is, and she’s taking a moment to remind us who Carol is, and why she is here. Rios’s art is beautiful, still keeping the element of whimsy that makes it so appealing. I was also thrilled to see the appearance of Jessica Drew, in a role that really helps push home home how much Carol’s friends care for her.
#7 and #8 are a short standalone story featuring Carol and Monica Rambeau (former Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar) beating the bejeesus out of a giant robot made from the scraps of planes lost in the Bermuda Triangle. It’s silly, fun, and a brief respite from the intense themes of identity and legacy that make up the first six issues. We also get Frank Gianelli, the sometimes irritating photojournalist who used to work for Carol at Woman magazine, along with that still ridiculous crush he has on her. Soy is back, Christopher Sebela joins DeConnick as writer, and they all work together to create two issues that are thoroughly enjoyable, and stunning to look at.
Issues 9-12 are a step in a different direction yet again. The foundations are being laid for a longer, crossover story arc for Carol here, and while she’s still in costume most of the time, there’s a far more personal, small time tone to these four books.
While I disliked artist Filipe Andrade’s style at first, I’ve grown to really admire his expressive, idiosyncratic style. The way he puts movement into every panel is pretty incredible, and Jordie Bellaire’s slightly washed out colours add to the feeling that Marvel is really willing to take risks with its art that are definitely paying off.
Carol’s daily life is in the spotlight during these four issues, and as usual, DeConnick’s brilliant skill with character interaction really shines through. Carol’s interactions with her friends, fellow Avengers, and in particular, the adorable Kit, are clever, heartfelt, and never outstay their welcome. DeConnick is by far my favourite writer of dialogue at the moment, and probably overall my favourite writer that Marvel has on their roster.
When a serious threat to her powers comes to light, we remember that Carol doesn’t always make the best decisions. She’s stubborn, cranky, and often self destructive. This has always been one of my favourite things about Danvers as a hero. She is often instrumental in her own downfall, and this makes her seem so much more real. I also love the way her ego and sense of pride contradicts her self deprecating moments. Even when she’s making bad choices – or perhaps because she makes bad choices – she always feels unerringly human. DeConnick’s take on this aspect of her character is truly inspired, showing us that while Danvers is tough, brash, and willing to tell everyone how great she is, she will also refer to herself as a glowstick in a circus suit without even thinking twice.
The first twelve issues of Captain Marvel are some of the best I’ve seen from any series. The consistency of both the writing, and the quality of the art, makes it an absolute must read. It’s a book full of friendship, heart, and really excellently written, flawed but genuine characters. If you’re not reading Captain Marvel, you’re really missing out.