Patrick: Drew and I were just having a conversation about Carol Danvers and her Carol Corps. The idea that a superhero has legions of in-world fans makes perfect sense, just as it makes sense that there would be legions of fans in the real world. But the devotion and enthusiasm of Captain Marvel fans — both inside and outside of the Marvel Universe — is a of a different class. We noted at NYCC that members of the Carol Corps love being pandered to, and basically anything that came out of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s mouth elicited uproarious applause from that corner of the room (you know, that corner). From the outside looking in, that’s creepy and more than a little sycophantic. But the beauty in that fandom is just how egolessly they pursue it: they don’t stop to assess why Captain Marvel makes them feel this way, she just does. It’s a naked sincerity that’s echoed perfectly in this good-bye-for-now issue – an earnest celebration of Captain Marvel that dares you to have the time of your life.
Carol’s back on Earth after helping the Avengers win Infinity (whoops, spoiler, I guess), but she’s still dealing with the fact that her memory is totally gone. Luckily, she’s not alone in piecing her past back together — all of her friends are pitching in to help her get her bearings. Also, New York is preparing to give Carol the Key to the City for everything she’s done to protect them. Meanwhile, Grace Valentine — a software entrepeneur who’s already dangerously close to becoming a supervillain — gets her feature bumped from the pages of New York Beat magazine so they can run more glowing stories about Captain Marvel. As Valentine vents these frustrations to her mentor, he confronts her about the more nefarious features of her million-selling app (including tracking user locations!). So she flips out, and sends in drones to strike Carol during her big ceremony – one of those “if you won’t love me, at least you can fear me” things. The drones are programmed to only target Captain Marvel, and the good people of New York — having seen Spartacus on TMC — confuse the machines, giving Carol the chance to strike back.
There’s a ton of good emotional subtext here — none of which I conveyed in the summary — and I want to get to that in a second, but first: let’s be real. Grace Valentine’s turn at supervillainy is both too sudden and way too full of current event buzzwords. She designed an app that somehow espouses the virtues of objectivism while also gathering personal data to spy on her users and then she deploys drones to terrorize the citizens of NYC. Buzz-buzz-buzz-buzz. In that way, Valentine is the embodiment of modern American fears, with all the specifics ripped directly from the headlines. It doesn’t make her the most believable or the most sympathetic villain, but the threats she represents are immediately recognizable to the readers. And that’s what we needed – a problem that Carol, and her fans, can solve with gusto.
Captain Marvel is a populist character, and by that climax, it’s clear what DeConnick is doing. But there are clues throughout that sincerity and a willingness to get excited about things that are neat are the values at the heart of this issue, this series, and this character. My favorite scenes in the issue are between Carol and 10-year old Kit. In the first such scene, one of Kit’s friends is being bullied because his homemade Iron Man costume isn’t quite perfect. That’s when Kit drops a truth bomb about all criticism:
“Too dumb and too scared to make anything of his own.” DeConnick is placing herself in league with the army of fans that can’t help but love Carol, asserting that it’s more important to love something than to criticize it. I’ll admit that that’s something I struggle with on this website all the time. I like to think that my arguments are well-reasoned, and occasionally even well-researched, but at the end of the day, I’m simply discussing someone else’s creative expression. It is easier to criticize than to create – one requires courage and the other doesn’t. The same goes with loving Captain Marvel – it requires a certain level of bravery to love her with abandon.
Carol’s friends demonstrate this a couple times throughout the issue. Tracy and Frank both make themselves emotionally available to the character, even though she doesn’t remember them. That sounds so utterly draining, but they both do it with smiles on their faces. The best is that they light up with a spark of recognition when even the spikier parts of Carol’s personality reveal themselves.
Drew, there’s just so much in this issue that appeals to fans on a very graphic, very iconic level — did any of it feel like pandering to you? Or does DeConnick simply know how to wield these tools expertly? Between the focus on Carol’s star emblem, her moving into the Statue of Liberty, the chorus of “I am Captain Marvel,” and the litany of buzzwords in Valentine’s history, this issue is dripping with meaningful images. Do they all hit home for you? Naturally, the whole thing is wrapped up by a little comic book — the king of meaningful-image-media: too on-the-nose? Or is even asking that question too cynical?
Drew: Patrick, I think you nailed it with your comment on egolessness — there’s an earnestness here that makes this issue impervious to snark. You can feel how much DeConnick and artist Filipe Andrade believe in this message, so it never once smacks of pandering. Of course, it helps that the message is so uniquely uplifting. Between Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison’s recent departures from Green Lantern and Batman Incorporated, I’ve come to expect swan songs to pay tribute to the character, or even the departing creator, but DeConnick shifts the focus to the audience, thanking the Carol Corps for their support without ever dipping into hyperbole.
I wasn’t paying much attention to this series when it was launched, but I can appreciate that its success is hard-won. Female characters tend to have an uphill battle when it comes to anchoring successful series, even without a title change that might anger hidebound comics fans. I can only guess how successful Marvel thought this title might be, but I know nobody expected the phenomenon it has become. This series struck a chord with many fans, and I fully believe that DeConnick is genuinely grateful for their reaction. The fans saved Captain Marvel, and this issue reflects that beautifully.
In that way, I kind of don’t mind how undeveloped Valentine is as a villain. She’s not really a character so much as an idea — all we really know about her is that she’s some kind of “absolute objectivist.” She’s self-interest incarnate, the perfect villain to be defeated by Carol’s community rallying around her. Their support pushes Carol “Higher, Further, Faster…More,” as the teaser for Captain Marvel 1 suggests, just like the support of fans in the real world has made that new series possible.
The central role of Carol’s supporting cast wasn’t always there — who can forget the introduction of Wendy Kawasaki? — but has evolved as the Carol Corps picked up steam. DeConnick reflects this slow discovery of what fans want and need in Carol’s “Superhero Lessons” with Kit.
I initially read this “they teach me as much as I teach them” as a commentary on parenting, but it works for any creative endeavor, and is especially fitting for the kind of relationship DeConnick has with the fans of this series. Other creators might shy away from this kind of whole-hearted sentimentality, but it’s conveyed with enough sincerity to warm the cockles of even my coal-black heart. I fully admit to tearing up for the second time this issue while reading this scene.
It helps that Andrade is back for this issue. My first exposure to this series was issue 9, and I immediately fell in love with his lanky, adorable designs and dynamic, jazzy linework. Colorist Jordie Bellaire expertly picks up on Andrade’s ink washes, creating a vibrant, water-colored world that suits the open emotions of the issue perfectly. That brings me around to the first scene that made me tear up, as Carol stoops to give a kid some self-confidence.
I don’t know what it is — the way she crouched to meet Gilbert at eye-level, how expertly she homes in on what makes him proud, the enthusiasm of his “really-really?” — but something about this scene gets me right there. The fans may have taught DeConnick a few things about what Captain Marvel needed to be, but she clearly already knows a thing or two about true heroism.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?