Should You Grab It? The Life of Captain Marvel #1-3

With the Captain Marvel trailer release and the announcement of a new creative team in January, things are abuzz with news about Carol Danvers. She has shot into the spotlight to bring us higher, faster, and farther. Unfortunately, in the years since Carol’s taking of the mantel, beginning in 2012 with V.C.’s Joe Caramaga (Letterer), Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), and Dexter Soy (Artist), her solo-books have not always flown as high as their aspirations.

Captain Marvel, carrying a suitcase, lands in front of a rural house
The Life of Captain Marvel #1 – Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco

The most recent entry into the list of Captain Marvel’s solo books is The Life of Captain Marvel, written by Margaret Stohl with Carlos Pacheco (Pencils), Rafael Fonteriz (Inker), Marcio Menyz (Colors), Marguerite Sauvage (flashback artist), and VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer). The Life brings Carol back to a summer home in Maine. While previous series’ reminded us of her Nor’easterner roots through a love of the Red Sox, we now we get a detailed family backstory. Unfortunately, Marvel could not let Carol just have a family.

Instead, it has to have drama. So, Carol had a physically abusive dad who dies before the series begins. However, that hold over from the original Ms. Marvel series isn’t enough, so within the first three issues her brother gets in a drunken car accident and coma and … I just don’t get it. Carol has since-she-became-a-superhero-trauma, so why add more? Since becoming Captain Marvel, we have rarely seen Carol talk about her family and all of a sudden there they are, getting into major car accidents. It’s like Marvel thinks every woman must have recurring family issues.

These added tragedies would be less annoying if they were the only issue with the series. Unfortunately, they aren’t. Specifically, the art of this series makes Carol’s summer home town look like a Stepford Wives set. Whether it’s the artist or the colorist, the number of blondes in this tiny town is a little scary. Additionally, somehow none of the fisherfolk, none of the workers at the doughnut shop, nor any one in the flashbacks is a person of color. Reading this made me question ever going to the Northeastern United States in real life.

While the rural Northeast of the United States is not known for being super diverse, any small town has at least one person of color, and it feels like a disservice to Carol as a character to have her not notice. She just finished working with a diverse team of folks on Alpha Flight and mentors multiple women of color, including Ms. Marvel, not to mention living in New York, a city leading the country in diversity.

Considering she fights for justice, not noticing how white your nostalgic summer hometown is seems like a misstep in storytelling and character growth, as well as an awkward choice in art and color. Maybe Carol is the sort of white woman to not notice these things, but I hope not. The last poke in the eye is that the one building we see destroyed in the town is a South Asian restaurant, but we don’t even see the (hopefully) South Asian owners. Instead, we just see a white man lament its loss.

This series continues these problems with its big third issue reveal. It’s a retcon we heard rumors of earlier this year. and it’s that Carol’s Mother is a Kree. Or at least has a magically appearing Kree-like outfit and can fly, reminiscent of the flying nun in a good way.

As a recap this series:

  • Adds to Carol’s family baggage
  • Made basically everyone in the story white
  • Then, they took away Carol’s agency when it comes to getting her powers

While it’s not great that Carol first got her powers due to Mar-Vell in the original Ms. Marvel run, she got them because she wanted to be able to protect herself. Instead, this retcon means that they are bestowed on her by birth. By doing this Marvel removes something that made Carol Danvers, as both Ms. and Captain Marvel, great. That she lived and breathed by her choices.

As a character, Carol was allowed to choose, and she chose to demand more and got more because she wanted it. At least in the beginning, there was no fight for her family, no revenge, just her and her personal desire to do and be better. While she didn’t always pick the best side, such as in Civil War II, that was okay because no one is always right. So, why make her inherit her powers? We don’t gain anything and get an inevitability that suggests, rather than work to get higher, further, and faster she was owed it from birth

I hope the upcoming film and next series does something different from this, because while there are problems with Carol’s backstory, a lack of current family tragedy, being from an extremely white area, and now destined for Kree powers by right of inheritance was not what these problems originally were. While The Life of Captain Marvel holds potential for an interesting childhood backstory, as the flashback stories show Carol’s burgeoning independence and interest in piloting, the overall feel of this series’ retcons are ones that devalue the things that made Carol a standout character from the start, which is exceptionally disappointing.

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina (aka @punuckish) is a Filipine-Polish archaeologist and anthropology graduate student who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and loves comics and pop culture. Her academic work focuses on how buildings and landscapes aid or impede the learning of culture by children. In general, she is an over-educated fan of things; primarily comics, comics-related properties, cartoons, science-fiction, and fantasy. This means she takes what she knows and uses it to critique what she loves. Recently, she has brought such discussions to the public by organizing and moderating panels at comic cons centered on anthropology/culture related topics.