Mighty Captain Marvel #0 (Marvel Comics)
Margaret Stohl (writer), Emilio Laiso and Ramon Rosanas (artists). Covers by Elizabeth Torque, Ian Herring, Dave Johnson, Phil Noto, Khoi Pham and Ramon Rosanas.
This prelude to the new Captain Marvel ongoing series deals with the ramifications of last year’s Civil War II, as Carol Danvers tries to keep from falling to pieces under the mounting pressure that comes from being both the world’s premiere superhero, and its first line of defence against all manner of interplanetary threats. As written by Margaret Stohl (a bestselling novelist and newcomer to the world of comic books), Danvers is a complex heroine, who comes into this series with some major emotional baggage. The weight she bears comes not just from her duties as commander of the Alpha Flight program, but also her well-deserved feelings of guilt and (quite literal) alienation – much of which is a result of Civil War II.
Like Marvel Comics’ first Civil War event from a decade ago, Civil War II used superhero battles to explore a larger philosophical theme. Whereas the first Civil War looked at the post-9/11-topical issue of civil liberties versus national security, Civil War II dealt with the more abstract conflict between the concepts of predestination and free will. Both Civil War stories attempted to present balanced arguments on both sides of their respective conflicts, but both also had a side that was generally accepted as the de facto antagonists – Iron Man’s quasi-fascist regime in the first Civil War, and Carol’s Minority Report-inspired Pre-Crime Avengers in Civil War II. Thus, as with the post-Civil War Iron Man books, we now have the problem of a high-profile series starring a character that is very much responsible for some extremely morally questionable actions, including the deaths of several beloved heroes.
In recent years, Captain Marvel has become a figurehead for a new wave of comic book feminism, both in terms of the character herself and the creative teams behind her series. This issue sets the tone for Mighty Captain Marvel by juxtaposing her past struggle to establish herself as a preeminent figure in the male-dominated worlds of the U.S. Air Force and NASA with her more recent activities as Captain Marvel. The concept is sound, but the execution rings false – it seems like a way to excuse, or even romanticise a streak of fascism that crept into the character during the Civil War II story, by hand-waving it away as just another fight against the evil patriarchy. In particular, there’s a recurring motif to this issue, which claims that Captain Marvel “doesn’t fly away from everyone else, she flies for them” – and for me at least, that simply doesn’t work. I appreciate the attempt to show how Carol is uncomfortable with being treated as a rock star-type-idol, and how Stohl tries to ground her larger-than-life story with relatable details like her love of the Boston Red Sox. The problem is, while Carol herself is conflicted, the story itself treats her as being more unassailable, as if it’s saying that sure, she’s made some mistakes, but she’s still the Mighty Captain Marvel, beloved hero to all, right?
I’m not so sure. There remains a huge dissonance that comes from treating Captain Marvel as an A-list hero, while paying minimal lip-service to the fact that because of her, two Avengers are dead, and one was beaten into a coma. If this is a story about Carol Danvers finding redemption by learning to forgive herself, I’m not sure I can get behind that – I’m not even sure I believe she should be forgiven, either by the readers or by the in-universe world at large. Why would her fellow heroes ever trust her again? Why should her fans be sympathetic to a fate she absolutely brought on herself?
Then again, given that Civil War II was a critical and financial flop, it’s quite possible that no one really cares about any of this except me. In which case, hey, here’s a book starring a strong female lead, which features awesome artwork, good pacing, and some snappy dialogue. If you’re willing to ignore the inherent moral implications related to the larger Marvel Universe (or just don’t care, which is certainly valid), this gets an easy recommendation. Personally, I want to give this series another few issues before I decided whether or not I’m ready to accept Carol Danvers as a hero again.