Today, Drew and Suzanne are discussing Captain Marvel 11, originally released January 14th, 2015.
Drew: It’s no secret that I don’t have a lot of patience for tropes. Predictable situations, reactions, or patterns are crutches for serialized storytellers, which is only made more apparent by those writers who manage to avoid them. Still, I do understand that certain tropes can be comforting — and perhaps even important to the identity of the work of art in question. I’m willing to forgive The Twilight Zone having the most obvious twist endings, because that’s kind of the point. That willingness to forgive certain tropes varies from person to person, as can be seen in the varied reactions to Christmas movies, albums, and episodes. Are they cheap cash-grabs? Charming acknowledgements of the season? Unfortunate acquiescences to the Christo-normativity of America? Christmas stories aren’t my favorite (I swear, if I see another reimagining of A Christmas Carol, I’m going to lose it), but I’ve seen enough pulled off well that I’m willing to at least have an open mind. Unless, of course, I’m consuming that story three weeks after Christmas, in which case, my patience for Christmas tropes dwindles right back down to zero.
I’ve never held an issue’s release date against the story itself — indeed, I would generally argue that a work of art should be evaluated on its content alone, without consideration of what time of year it was released — but this issue truly relies on being a Christmas story. I appreciate that Santa Claus is a legitimate character in the Marvel universe, so should be as free to make cameos as any of our other favorite mutants, but I think he’s functionally treated as a seasonal character. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me before just how willing I was to accept “Santa Magic” in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, or just how out-of-place that particular deus ex machina feels during any other time of the year, but this issue offers a surprisingly compelling case against using the character even a few weeks after Christmas.
Actually, for a kind of controlled experiment of just how much release date has on my reaction to a Christmas story, we need look no further than my comments on Captain Marvel 10, from the round-up of 12/17/14. Granted, that issue was different from this one in just about every conceivable way, but the key distinction is that, while, on December 17th, I was excited about the idea of a story set in New York at Christmas, January 14th leaves the same premise dead-in-the-water.
But maybe I’m overstating the timing issue — the other differences between this issue and the previous one illustrate my problems with this volume more generally. Specifically, I loved issue 10 for its focus on Carol’s Earth-bound extended cast, and the more street-level focus that accompanies them. I appreciate that Carol’s powerset allows her the kind of far-flung space adventures she’s been having for the past 10 issues, but none of that has hooked me quite as well as Carol trying to juggle her superhero responsibilities with the rest of her life. Issue 10 reminded us that that anchor of a normal life is still there, we just haven’t been paying attention to it, and unfortunately, issue 11 snaps right back to ignoring the cast.
That is, with the notable exception of Tracy, whose bedridden status unfortunately renders her more as a prop here than a character. I can’t deny that I was touched to see Carol make the trip back just to see her sick friend, but this issue doesn’t give us much in the way of making that friend a living, breathing person. Moreover, the focus on a comatose Tracy feels like a bait-and-switch after the madcap fun in issue 10 that focused on virtually everyone else. That’s not inherently bad — I think gears shifting suddenly like this when a loved one is in the hospital is totally appropriate — but the poignance comes from that sudden tunnel vision. Instead, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick inexplicably injects a standard “villain reveals master plan to hero while the hero is seemingly captured” plot into the mix, bringing plot machination on top of plot machination (did I mention the Santa Magic?) into an issue that is apparently about the relationship between two characters.
I don’t want this to turn into a list of what I would have done differently — I want to evaluate the piece at hand, not pitch my own ideas — but it seems like DeConnick could have solved both of my problems if she had made this story about the togetherness of Carol’s “family,” rather than about the evil schemes of two villains this volume ultimately isn’t interested in. I mean, wouldn’t Carol’s other friends have been with Tracy, anyway? Wouldn’t Carol want to see them while she’s back? Wouldn’t that have been a more touching (and less seasonal-specific) message than “Santa Magic”?
Woof. Suzanne, this is one of those occasions where the more I think about the issue the less I like it, so I suspect you may have found more to like here than I did. David Lopez is as dynamic as ever here, but with so many nits to pick with the narrative, I never got around to the art. What did you think of this issue?
Suzanne: Drew, I’m going to echo your sentiments about Christmas special fatigue. When you don’t celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or any of the winter holidays, the near-constant commercials, Santa displays and Christmas music can be wearying. But I learned long ago to embrace the parts of December that work for me — coming together with family and friends, adding some lights and cheer to a cold and dreary time of year. Maybe that’s why I completely discard the Santa Claus cameo and embrace other elements like Carol’s connection with Tracy and her ability to translate her off-world adventures into relatable stories.
Artistically, David Lopez really hits his stride in this issue. He creates an atmosphere that matches the excitement of Times Square during the Christmas season. Lopez manipulates scale, framing Carol and Lila with the imposing skyscrapers and buildings of New York. There’s also a peaceful tone set by the snowflakes decorating the city skyline. He manages to include some fun fashion choices, like Lila’s trendy boots and the return of Carol’s floppy winter hat for a second volume of Captain Marvel. Lee Loughridge’s maintains warmer tones that are vibrant throughout and contrasts between the buildings and city streets with the more sterile atmosphere of a hospital unit. I’ve criticized Loughridge in previous issues for washing out some panels, but this wasn’t the case here. One of my favorite pages highlights Carol’s darker dress with a background saturated with June Covington’s signature glasses. I like how the glasses become more abstract, giving the reader Carol’s perspective as the toxin begins to impair her senses.
As for the appearance of Grace Valentine and June Covington itself? I could have done without their evil machinations this time around. It acts as more of a distraction from the greater plot, although I do see the value of building up Carol’s adversaries. Can’t there be one issue when the heroine spends time with her family and friends, a small holiday reprieve? This is particularly important in a series like Captain Marvel, as Carol specifically takes time away from her adventures in space to see her friends for the day. Instead of this conflict, the series would be better served with Carol reestablishing connections with people like Kit after so much time away. I would like to see more buildup of the conflict between Carol and Grace Valentine as well — how easily Carol (and Santa) apprehend her! Despite its flaws, I did finish this issue craving more issues featuring Carol and her earthbound cast.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?