It seems like each week I’ve got a new reason to say that Marvel beat DC in the relaunch game.
First it was by having their previous canon actually mean more than a handkerchief full of whale bile, then it was the streamlining and consistency of their premier super-team into less of a miasma of metahumanity and more an easily-digestible team of movie stars and random yahoos. Now, it’s their depiction of feminism – in and out of universe. DC copped a lot of flak for having only one female writer at the time of their reboot (and not a very good one at that) and a bunch of superheroines depicted as having had balloons and silicone implants for parents. On the flip-side, Marvel is kicking lots of ass with lots of ass-kicking women, some of whom are even written by the somewhat larger feminine talent pool they currently possess.
If there’s one book that has concretely proven that a lady superhero doesn’t have to be awesome by shedding all but a square inch of fabric from their person, it’s Captain Marvel. Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and backed by some of the weirdest art I’ve seen since Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Carol Danvers – probably the youngest Air Force Colonel in the history of America’s military – is struggling to adjust to her new status as the fully-clothed, fully-powered and fully-feminist hero Captain Marvel. It seems she’s got some some alien tomfoolery going on in her brain that gives her the blessing of superpowers but the suckiness of impending amnesia and possible cancer. So, while dealing with this mixed bag of superheroic traits, she travels back in time to fight with an all-girl squad of soldiers in the middle of World War II, meets her past self and does battle with a childhood hero of hers, battles a robot made of sunken airplanes and air-tackles some kind of bird-lady by jumping off a flying motorcycle.
And they say superhero comics are unoriginal these days.
In a nutshell, this is a book for people wanting something different from garden-variety superhero fare. It’s like a mashup of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Back to the Future and Heroes, and takes a few of the life-on-the-street aspects that Hawkeye put to good use. Carol is a really well fleshed out character, with struggles, conflicts and dialogue that are at once believable and at the same time engaging with readers. She’s not a plastic bimbo with a fetish for barely-covering superheroine stripper outfits, nor is she an testosterone-poisoned man-lady with nothing but an insatiable bloodlust and barely-contained lesbian subtext. The new Captain Marvel is smart, funny and kickass as well as still being pretty sexy (if you seriously don’t find something hot about the all-encompassing blue and red suit she wears, you need to reassess your standards). Most importantly, she’s not there as eye candy for less-than-discerning male readers. She’s there to tell a story, not to be ogled at with digitally-enhanced curves and legs that wouldn’t look out of place on a Bond girl.
The story itself does a great job of escalation, peppered with nice character moments; taking the two books as parts of a whole, there’s a distinct direction towards something big. Little bits and pieces of a myth arc are dropped, and by the end of the second book it’s apparent that we’re working towards a tremendous pay-off. All the little disparities the book has seem to fit nicely together, even if they go from one extreme (World War II girl scouts) to the other (Megatron’s bastard child made of airplanes). It’s a solid, satisfying read.
The artwork is the only major thing that brings the story down. Emma Rios and Dexter Soy are certainly not esoteric illustrators, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but problems start to crop up when the characters’ skins look as green as a Skrull and the physical proportions take on some weird dimensions for both boys and girls (see the image above for an example). While I’m all for seeing different, more abstract art on a page compared to the chiselled abs and paintbox colours of most other superhero books, this one gets a little too abstract. It can kinda throw you out of the story when great, human dialogue is juxtaposed against almost hyper-animesque visuals, but if you can knuckle through it then the ultimate rewards the story gives you are worth it.
While underappreciated and, to my mind, far too under-exposed, Captain Marvel’s first two books are solid efforts with engaging, unique stories, some cracking wit in the dialogue and art that can be off-putting but is worth getting through. It also decisively proves that a female superhero doesn’t have to show off her ass in order to kick some.
BEST QUOTE: “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go punch a dinosaur.” – Captain Marvel