Yesterday, at their kind-of-secret press event, Marvel Studios announced Phase Three of its movie franchises and effectively exploded the Internet.
I was at work at my library when the announcement happened, in the midst of an ongoing project to move our Young Adult section. Quickly looking at my phone, I saw that they had announced a Captain Marvel movie for 2018.
Then I started crying.
Why would the announcement of a movie slated for almost four years from now make a grown woman cry in the middle of her workplace? Because I’m a Marvel lifer. I’ve been in the Marvel boat since day one. I started reading the X-Men at six years old and I never stopped. I was the only kid in the 3rd grade sporting a Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters patch on my jacket and in high school, I filled pages of notebooks with X-Men fanscripts, that I later re-typed and sent to Marvel (at the time, they were accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I would like to extend my retroactive apologies to whatever poor intern had to read a 15-year-old’s script where Nightcrawler and Jubilee have their own team and TOTALLY MAKE OUT). While the mutants were always my special love, I still branched out. I learned about the Avengers, I became a Captain America fangirl, I read everything I could and I studied character encyclopedias and wikis to fill the gaps in my knowledge. I wanted to be able to win every trivia contest. I wanted to know everything. I was deeply emotionally invested in the lives of characters that appeared, at that point, only in tiny halftone print on the pages of comics I read and re-read until they fell apart.
Historically, there’s been a lot of good will at Marvel to spread a message of diversity – I mean sure, the 90’s were a dark time for comics in general, but Marvel was sort of founded on the principle that it was the progressive choice: the forward-thinking, all inclusive house of ideas. These weren’t gods in made-up supercities, they were people. Families. Diverse teams of realistic characters who happened to have superpowers, living in New York City, mingling with normal humans on a day-to-day basis.
What makes Marvel special is that Marvel characters are relatable: I have always identified with mutants because I’ve felt like a mutant myself. I see the struggle to be good and moral in Steve Rogers, and I relate. I see the interpersonal relationships that make the Marvel universe tick reflected in my own life.
So, back to why a Carol Danvers movie made me cry: Carol Danvers is the kind of hero I want to see in my media. She is smart, and strong, and multi-talented. She’s older, experienced, a pilot, a leader. In recent years, under the capable hand of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Carol has blossomed into a character that inspires women and allows them a common interest to come together: the Carol Corps meet-ups at conventions worldwide attract hundreds of attendees, their online network yields collaborative academic papers, shared craft resources, and a message of support and togetherness. There’s no vetting process, no gatekeeping. You don’t have to gain approval to join the Carol Corps, you just have to love Captain Marvel.
Carol Danvers has given women (and men!) a hero that is flawed but strong, nuanced, a superhero that is not defined by any one characteristic. By giving her a movie, it puts a genuinely well-rounded female character into the spotlight, it sticks her right up there with Thor and Iron Man and Captain America and says to anyone who thought that a female-lead superhero film couldn’t sell: don’t you lady me, son, I’m an Avenger.
If you’re interested in knowing about Carol, I say don’t get bogged down in her backstory – it’s a doozy. Start with DeConnick’s run. The first trade is a blast and requires almost no prior knowledge of the Marvel universe, the second book delves more into dynamic with the rest of the Avengers team. Kelly Sue herself tweeted earlier today that the upcoming #9 issue (the series got a new numbering earlier this year) is going to be a good jumping on point, too.
The announcement of a Black Panther movie for 2017 was also a pleasant surprise – the rumor’s been running around for a few years now, but I personally never thought it would happen. Black Panther is a pretty deep cut for the “civilian” crowd (as in people who haven’t spent their entire lives steeped in Marvel), but hey, if any random person on the street can tell me who Rocket Raccoon is these days, then why not? Representation matters, and to see Black Panther get his own film in a solid step in the right direction.
Black Panther, or T’challa (his real name), is the ruler of the fictional country Wakanda, first appearing in Fantastic Four #52. As ruler, he is also charged with managing the supply of rare Vibranium that sits underneath Wakanda, which makes for an interesting play between what it means to be a superhero and what it means to be a leader and a diplomat. What was always most important to me, personally, about T’Challa is that he had a relationship with, and was later married to, Storm. Storm is awesome.
Black Panther was also in the Illuminati (a secret group of Marvel heroes that does things like decide to trick the Hulk and then launch him into space “for his own good”) for a time alongside such famous Marvel gasbags as Doctor Strange, Namor, and Tony Stark, but left when he determined that that those guys are all jerks.
I’ve encountered Black Panther on-and-off in team and crossover books over the years, but never really spent much time reading his solo title. There are definitely trades available to check out, but my personal recommendation is reading (if you can find it) issue #5 of the confusingly titled Avengers Vs. X-Men: Versus, which features a vignette where Black Panther and Storm fight while reflecting on their failed marriage. It will make you sad. Sorry about it.
The Inhumans, also getting their own film in 2018, are another group of Marvel characters that were not on my shortlist to get their own movie – my speculation is that they are serving as something of a stand-in for the X-Men (proven already, to an extent, by the fact that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are being called “Inhumans” rather than “Mutants” in Avengers 2). For those not in the know: the Inhumans are special humans who were genetically modified by the Kree a long time ago. They get their powers at puberty, after entering a chamber of Terrigen mist. Recently, their homeworld of Attilan was destroyed. It crashed into the Earth, and now sits in the river off of New York City. A bomb of Terrigen mist went off, triggering thousands of latent Inhumans all over the planet, including Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel.
The main Inhumans you should know are: Black Bolt, king-boss of all the Inhumans until the recent events that exploded Attilan, who can’t speak without destroying things (like all of Attilan, for example), his wife Medusa who has magic wiggly hair, Karnak, who is very smart and good at punching, Gorgon, who has super-stompy horse feet, Triton, who is like a fish dude or something, Crystal, who can manipulate oxygen (and was married to both Quicksilver and Ronan The Accuser. Seriously, if you look at her wikipedia page, it’s mostly about who she was married to/involved with.), Maximus the Mad, who is—guess what – crazy (and psychic), and Lockjaw, a big fat teleporting dog with a tuning fork on its head.
Yeah, the Inhumans are weird.
If you want to get to know them better, I recommend the aptly titled Inhumans by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. The new Ms. Marvel series by G Willow Wilson also explains the concept pretty well, and you should really just be reading it anyway.
Of course, the MCU is headed, and has been headed, towards an Infinity Gauntlet film since we first saw that sneaky little peek of Thanos at the end of Avengers. This was confirmed at Tuesday’s event, with the two-part Infinity War (aka Avengers 3) announced for 2018 and 2019.
Why should we care about a purple dude with a big chin floating around on a space rock? Because Thanos is actually one of the biggest bads in the Marvel universe. He first appeared in 1973 and is actually something of a sad character — in love with Death, he wants to do anything he can to impress her: including put all the infinity gems, stones containing unbelievable amounts of power, into his glove and destroy half of all life with one snap. The weird things dudes do when they think you’re “friendzoning” them!
In the Infinity Gauntlet, he kills basically everyone in order to impress Death before deciding to become the universe (???). His daughter Nebula (remember her from Guardians of the Galaxy?!) decides to go ahead and take the Infinity Gauntlet off his abandoned body and undo all the stuff her dad did. Then Thanos goes to work on a farm. I’m not kidding.
Also one time Thanos had a tiny helicopter that said “Thanos” on it.
These announcements are exciting because they promise a Marvel movie universe that is inclusive, expansive, and has room to include more diverse characters as time goes on. For most of my life, I’ve loved these and other Marvel characters and the way they interact with each other with an intensity that felt stupid, unwarranted. I related to them, but only in the confines of my bedroom, or in circles of fellow geeks. Now, I’m given the chance to share them – with you readers here in this article where I get to explain the Inhumans, with my three-year-old little sister as more Captain Marvel merchandise surely becomes available, and then with audiences in theaters as they are projected on screens, larger than life, the size of my imagination. I cried today when I heard about the Captain Marvel movie because after a lifetime of being a part of a community that always felt, to an extent, like it didn’t want me there, I am finally beginning to see myself represented– not only as a woman, getting a female superhero movie, but as a Marvel fan who has genuinely believed their message of inclusiveness and progression for most of my life and is now seeing that faith rewarded. For those of us on what used to be the margins of comic book fandom, these are the heroes we deserve – heroes reflective of our life experiences, heroes with depth, nuance, diversity. Whether you’re a lifelong Marvel zombie, a comics newbie, or just someone who wants to watch the movies, these are pretty exciting times.