Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Captain Marvel

Guys, can we talk about someone special for a moment? Someone bright and powerful and unique? Someone who has toiled in obscurity for a long time, and is finally getting their day in the sun?

No, I'm not talking about the Rock Lords, though god knows we're all praying for that glorious day. I'm talking about Captain Marvel. More specifically, I'm talking about this lady:

Captain Marvel, reporting for duty

I want to talk about the new Captain Marvel but in order to appreciate just HOW awesome she is, there are two bits of backstory that we need to scoot through,. If you're not a big continuity nerd, I promise to keep it quick and light.

Firstly, we have the schlub to my left. The original Captain Marvel. He was created by Stan Lee in 1967 with the sole purpose of messing with DC, who had their own character by the same name. This led to a copyright dispute that Marvel was pretty much guaranteed to win, on account of Marvel being the entire name of their goddamn company, and books starring DC's Captain Marvel have been called SHAZAM! ever since. I kind of think that they should have just taken Stan Lee's other proposal, where the entire DC editorial staff were tarred and feathered and dumped in the middle of Times Square - it would surely have been less humiliating. Anyway, Marvel's Captain Marvel is a Kree warrior named Mar-Vell and literally nobody has ever cared about him ever.

The other person that we need to talk about is Carol Danvers. Poor old Carol has been kicking around the Marvel world since 1968, usually as Captain Marvel's sidekick, originally using the superhero name Ms. Marvel. Terribly progressive for the time, even if her costume was garbage and her main plotline involved Rogue stealing her powers and wiping her mind. Comics! Anyway, she hangs out on a bunch of teams, gets brainwashed and impregnated by a guy named Marcus, gives birth to a child that RAPIDLY AGES INTO A CLONE OF MARCUS WHO SHE FALLS IN LOVE WITH, and makes a wide range of fashion choices that ranged from the dubious to the banal:

Seriously, though, that Marcus thing was terrible. See this Cracked article a breakdown of just how gross it was, though I wouldn't recommend it if you're somewhere where you can't take a shower immediately afterwards.

Anyhow. We're washing our mouths of that nastiness and fast forwarding to 2012. Captain Marvel dies, or goes to space, or just straight up pops out of existence because nobody gives a damn about him. And then something wonderful happens:

That's right, Ms Marvel steps up and becomes Captain Marvel. That costume design is by the great Jamie McKelvie, the artist behind Phonogram and Young Avengers and a great deal of other books in which beautiful women wear stylish clothes, usually along with too much eyeliner and blue streaks in their hair and a love of bands that you and I aren't cool enough to ever have heard of. He's one of the finest artists working today, and when it comes to the Captain Marvel costume he knocked it so far out of the park that we may as well not even HAVE parks any more.One part of Carol's backstory that had been neglected up until now was her military background, and he brings it back beautifully, incorporating the sash and the button up gloves while making the whole thing sleek, dynamic and powerful as hell. "Re-imagined costume" usually means "hideous, overdesigned piece of garbage," but this is the rare exception that takes an established, mid-range character and makes them amazing.

So. Ms. Marvel becomes Captain Marvel. She gets her own book, written by the stellar Kelly Sue Deconnick. She has a major storyline in Avengers, called "Enemy Within." She flies around, punches bad guys, overcomes hurdles and becomes a hero. And the fanbase - especially among women -  EXPLODES.

Lindsey Cepa, photographed by Geek News MTV
Seriously, I've been reading for two decades now, and never have I seen a new character be taken up with such speed and fervor. Less than a year after her appearance, comic book convention HeroesCon held a dedicated panel for fans of the character, a privilege usually reserved for established titans like Batman or Wolverine. Referred to as a meeting of the Carol Corps, it was a smash hit among fans, and even more so among cosplayers. The event had to be moved to an even bigger room, and even that one was packed out. Cosplayers in particular have taken ahold of the character with both hands, to the point where it became incredibly difficult to pick the right pictures for this post. One great thing about her current costume is that it's composed of several iconic elements that can easily be pulled apart and remixed to suit the individual wearing it, while still leaving no doubt as to who they're dressed as.
Multiversity Comics NYCC Party

These days, a major convention without a meeting of the Carol Corps is impossible to imagine. Heck, this year Emerald City Comic Con held one at the Museum of Flight, the location of which was chosen as a reference to the character's background as a pilot. All proceeds from that little gathering went to the Girls Leadership Institute, just another aspect of how great the Captain Marvel fandom is. Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick turns up to quite a few of them herself, to be mobbed and feted by her fans. That's the other key ingredient in the Captain Marvel explosion - creator engagement. Comics Alliance's Kate Leth has a breakdown of that event here. Deconnick is unabashedly a fan herself, as excited by fanart and cosplay as any of us. She's clearly just writing stories and characters that she would want to see as a reader, and it seems like the audience agrees.
ECCC 2013, photographed by Review2AKill

Something else wonderful about the Captain Marvel fandom? It's inclusive. It's so inclusive. There's a lot of talk about fake geek girls these days, a lot of ink spilled over the concept of nerd gatekeepers and who is and is not a real nerd or geek or whatever term you want to use. Maybe it's because this version of the character is new, meaning that there's no learning curve to diving in, or maybe it's because Deconnick has been such a great brand ambassador. Perhaps it's because women in geekdom get used to being excluded, so when they become the driving force of a fandom they become more accepting of others in response. Maybe Carol fans are just inherently awesome people! I don't know. All I know is that, looking at these pictures, it really seems as though anyone and everyone can dress as Carol. There are light and dark skinned cosplayers, fat and thin. You even see the occasional guy playing her, which is extremely rare.
ECCC 2014 Celebration

It's not just cosplay, though. Something that comes along with a female-led fandom is a wide range of nerdy, crafty goodness. Chief among them - and I'm going to admit to a touch of bias given that I live with the creator - are these gorgeous Captain Marvel pendants from The Reluctant Femme. For her perspective on what makes the character so wonderful, take a look at this great essay.

What's so different about Captain Marvel, though? New characters come along all the time, and existing ones get fancy new duds every month. What is is about this reboot that's sparked so much love? It's simple. It speaks to women. There's already a built-in fanbase for any well written female character, but if you want it to be a smash, you have to get the women in as well. Carol is a bold, powerful female character, the sort that female readers have been hankering for for decades now. She doesn't have her ass or her boobs hanging out, she doesn't wear ridiculous heels or twist around to face both boobs and butt at the viewer. Not that there is something inherently wrong with sexy characters - I like both Catwoman and Power Girl, and they both traditionally get given quite sexualised portrayals - but I think that there's a real exhaustion among female readers (and more importantly, potential readers) with the sexualised nature of female superheroes. They want someone whose boots they can place themselves in and feel powerful. Fearless. The way that make readers can with Batman, or Iron Man, or Wolverine, or...you get the idea. Someone who is feminine without being weak, someone who can be funny without seeming silly, or being a 'ditz.' Someone badass. And that someone is Captain Marvel.

Kelly Sue Deconnick and friends at HeroesCon 2012, photographed by Comic Book Resources

No comments:

Post a Comment