Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Captain Marvel 12, originally released February 11th, 2015.
Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!
Super Mario Bros.
Drew: Ah, the MacGuffin hunt; is there a more straightforward objective in all of fiction? Sure, that may also make it one of the most common objectives in all of fiction, but that hasn’t stopped it from generating some truly great stories. It’s just a clean, simple way to motivate characters to action. “We need the thing for reasons” is the general gist, but there’s actually a cleaner, simpler motivation if the MacGuffin was stolen from the hero. Now the “reasons” don’t need to be mired in mythology about the significance of the “thing” — getting back what is rightly theirs is more than enough justification for action. This is exactly the scenario Carol finds herself in in Captain Marvel 12, jettisoning any need for exposition in favor of high-flying space action.
Finished with her adventure on Earth, Carol is dropped off back at her ship, only to discover it empty and in shambles. Apparently, Haffensye pirates boarded her ship to kidnap Tic and Chewie, and its now Carol’s duty to get them back before the Haffensye hurt them. Like I said, it’s about as straightforward a motivation as you can hope for, which frees up a lot of room for cleverness. Indeed, in the spirit of stripping things down, writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Warren Ellis deliver one of the smarter spaceship battle scenes I’ve ever seen by simply tying Carol’s hands in basically every way she can.
It turns out, the only thing functioning is the force shield, which Carol uses as a club to bash the approaching ship. It’s a fun, creative solution that comes from taking options away, but that’s kind of what this issue is all about.
As Harrison slowly gets back online, Carol is left to devise a plan for recovering Tic and Chewie. With only herself and Harrison’s navigation system to guide her, Carol plots a course through “The Endless Envelope” in hopes of cutting off the pirates, but it turns out that was a terrible idea — apparently the Endless Envelope is a region of compacted space, such that it takes ten times longer to travel through. That’s a heady sci-fi concept to unload, but because this issue’s exposition load is otherwise pretty light, there’s plenty of space here to introduce it without feeling rushed or shoehorned. Obviously, my favorite detail is the giant waterbear Carol encounters.
A tardigrade might be a little obscure for illustrating the insane proportions here, but I get the impression that Ellis and DeConnick (though that sure feels like an Ellis detail) just want to make us aware of how batshit these animals are. Indeed, they’re the only animals known to withstand the vacuum of space, which makes the choice logical, if still a bit inside baseball. This may be entirely coincidental, but one of the projects studying the survivability of tardigrades in space has the decidedly nerdy title of TARDIS.
Actually, nerdiness is another runner of this issue. This issue makes explicit reference to Return of the Jedi and Dumb and Dumber, and — if we’re willing to give credit for the idea of an AI with humor controls — Interstellar. The first and last may be coincidental (at least in-narrative), but it’s obvious Carol is doing schtick here:
And if that wasn’t clear enough, Carol actually calls it a joke in the next panel. That’s certainly the kind of timeless joke that worms its way into the lexicon — and very well may predate its use in the movie — but just like “don’t call me Shirley”, I’m not sure we can entirely divorce it from its popularized “origin”. DeConnick is clearly a writer who revels in these kinds of nerdy in-jokes, but we get these hints every once in a while that Carol is, too — she named her cat Chewie, after all. That’s certainly an endearing quality for me — I plan to someday have a conversation that doesn’t include a Seinfeld quote — and I think this issue plays it reserved enough to keep it from becoming grating (as Deadpool is sometimes wont to).
Patrick, I’m afraid I don’t have a unified theory on this issue, but I can say that it avoids all of the problems I had with the last one — except, of course, the lack of any time with Carol’s supporting cast. However, the one-on-one time with Carol feels equally valuable, and with her basically stuck in the Endless Envelope, I think we can count on more of that next time. Does that sound like a fun proposition to you?
Patrick: Fun enough, sure. Drew, I don’t think you should be too worried about not being able to wrap this issue up in a critical little bow. You and I tend to get the most excited about a comic book when we can clearly articulate what the thing is about, and this issue actively resists any such opaque statements of meaning. The meaning is the story, which is part of what makes it so accessible and such a successful example of narrative in this medium. There’s such a clear line from cause to effect throughout, and that’s something that David Lopez’ delightfully linear art imitates whenever it can.
Consider that there’s not real “action” being depicted in these three panels. We don’t have the script in front of us, but it easily could have read “Carol throws a switch to wake up Harrison” and Lopez could have given us a single drawing showing Captain Marvel flipping a switch. Unlike other procedurally focused pieces of storytelling, this isn’t particularly stylized, like you might see in an David Aja issue of Hawkeye or an Andrea Sorrentino issue of Green Arrow. Lopez isn’t attempting to woo the reader with slick graphic coolness, but he is emphasizing the way one event gives way to another. It’s a simple demonstration of cause, effect, consequence.
Lopez expands this simple idea with the shield swipe Drew mentioned above. The story of that move is told in three panels on consecutive pages. First the wind-up, then the swing, then the hit. There’s other business on those pages too, just to remind us of the human (and non-human!) players inside the spaceships that are duking it out, but it’s essentially the same story as Carol throwing that switch, told in the exact same way: cause, effect, consequence.
That may not be revolutionary, but it does illustrate a commitment to simple storytelling, which is something this issue excels at. Ask me if I know what a Haffensye Pirate is. (“Some kind of pirate?”) Doesn’t matter, does it? We can blow right past a lot of those mythological details because no matter what, we understand what’s happening.
The only time in the issue where we don’t instinctually know what’s going on is coincidentally when Carol’s journey comes to a screeching halt. We need to have the concept of the Endless Envelope explained to us, so the story gets paused for that explanation. How awesome is it that the story only stops to catch its breath when the character is literally forced to slow down? Also, to Drew’s point, not even a hiccup in the way the this creative team tells a story is going to stop Carol from making another reference — this one from Contact.
They should have sent a poet, right? I swear, that expression is ripped right off of Jodie Foster’s face.
I don’t have too much else to say about this issue, but that’s really to the piece’s credit. I think it more or less expresses itself perfectly — a feat which is made all the easier by the simplicity of that message. Plus, it ends with aliens holding up a cat in a Hannibal Lecter mask — what more could anyone possible ask for?
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