Trouble with Comics

Captain Marvel #1

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Artist: Dexter Soy

Marvel Comics

Carol Danvers is like a lot of Marvel females. A sort of love interest who gained superpowers and then went through a lot of shit like power loss, rape, and alcoholism, because that’s what happens to women in the Marvel Universe. Maybe worse in the DC Universe. 

Writer DeConnick has a lot to either work with, avoid, or synthesize with Danvers’ history. She ends up choosing a strong version of Carol, not touching on her addiction or emotional problems, but there are problems with the execution. The first section of this issue is a fairly typical fight scene that shows off DeConnick’s wit and then just keeps going, with Carol making one wisecrack after another. Spider-Man would tell her to dial it down. Choosing The Absorbing Man as the bad guy is smart, because he’s historically dumb and a chauvinist, so he can make her look good and deserving her own book again. But there is a problem, because as soon as you see Captain America’s shield and think, “Hmm, if he absorbed that, maybe he’d be invincible,” Carol is thinking the same thing, but in a way where you know there’s a twist. But damn if I can figure out why absorbing the shield leads to his defeat.

Now that we’ve sort of established Carol’s competence via a confusing tactic, it’s time to resolve the issue of how a former Air Force colonel is going to be called Captain Marvel. Captain America plays on the fact that it wasn’t really Mar-Vell’s name, either, and that it’s a legacy that not only has Carol already assume (as Ms. Marvel), but that it’s one Mar-Vell wanted for her. After a filler scene where Spider-Man compliments her hair, she decides to take the name.

Then we’re into the third and most confusing act of this little comic play. It turns out Carol wasn’t lying to Spidey to get out of a date—she really is going to take care of a sick friend, only before that we have a confusing recollection of the wit and wisdom of Carol’s friend Helen, who isn’t the one she’s caring for. Once we get to her actual friend, who seems to be suffering from cancer, that’s a good scene, but then we get to old Air Force buddy/mentor Helen and we end on a weak note, the promise of a fighter jet duel (or maybe Carol is just going to race her with her superpowers). Why do we care about that? Also, why go in the last third with the use of first person narration when you haven’t used it earlier in the issue?

It’s a well-meaning book, with basically good ideas and spotty execution. It does have a distinctive look, or at least distinctive now but ubiquitous in the mid-’90s when Marvel cranked out lots of painted or pseudo-painted Marvels clones. It’s not bad, Soy’s art, but I’ve always found that painted style a little stiff for humor. Or maybe Soy just isn’t very good at facial expressions and body language. For the jokes and dialogue and no overtly stupid ideas, it’s better than half the superhero reboots out there, but I think we should expect more.

—Christopher Allen