I’m a little behind the times on this one, seeing as Captain Marvel made her big splash several years ago when Kelly Sue DeConnick first took over writing duties and inaugurated Carol Danvers’s adoption of the title that had previously belonged to the long dead character Mar-Vell, an alien who protected Earth from the time Marvel Comics snatched the rights to the Captain Marvel character name until he died of cancer (I understand there’s a lot of stuff packed in there, and I honestly don’t know that much about Mar-Vell’s history, so let’s move on to other, less convoluted things). The new Captain Marvel series was a big deal because it signaled the beginning of Marvel’s initiative to diversify its lineup of superheroes with more women and people of color in prominent titles (within a year of Captain Marvel‘s publication, we saw Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel, the new female Thor, the black character Sam Wilson as the new Captain America, and news that Miles Morales, the black and Latino Spider-Man of Marvel’s Ultimate universe, would be transitioning into their primary universe). On top of all that, it’s also a remarkably well-penned book for which DeConnick has received loads of well-deserved praise.
My previous experience with Carol Danvers as a character in the Marvel universe is mostly limited to her brief stint in the early ’80s as an unofficial member of the X-Men during Chris Claremont’s run. During this period Carol had been de-powered by a run in with the then-villain Rogue (most people know her better for her long tenure as a prominent member of the X-Men), and through a bit of happenstance, she got swept up in one of the X-Men’s early space adventures with the Brood (a violent race of insectoid parasites who reproduce by laying eggs in the bodies of living hosts from other species) which resulted in her receiving new superpowers. She parted ways with the X-Men after she learned that they had let Rogue become a member of their team and spent some time adventuring in space with the Starjammers before eventually returning to Earth and rejoining the Avengers. The important thing to remember in all of this is that from the time when Claremont worked with the character, Carol has always been depicted as a highly capable, independent woman who doesn’t back down from confrontations.
We get that same throughline in DeConnick’s series, but with a lot more nuance. The impression I’ve always gotten from previous depictions of Carol is that she has a temper which inclines her to resolving issues with fighting. DeConnick keeps that characterization here (in the first issue Carol works out her frustration about considering a title change by beating up Spider-Man in the Avengers’ gym), but the focus remains firmly on Carol’s internal struggles. We get to see her thought process behind all the decisions she makes in the series, and it reveals that her aggression stems from major frustrations with her life, like the fact that being superpowered disqualifies her from legitimately competing for flight records as a trained pilot.
Essentially, DeConnick presents a Carol Danvers who reads as human in a way that even Claremont, who loved the character and did everything he could to dignify her whenever he wrote her, never did.
All this internal angst really pays off by the end of the first arc too, as the story culminates with Carol finding herself thrown through time to the precise moment when she first got her powers. I’m fuzzy on the details of Carol’s origin story, but the impression given in issue 6 of Captain Marvel is that the whole thing was an unfortunate accident that arose after Carol found herself in a damsel situation which Mar-Vell was trying to save her from. The great payoff here comes from all the build-up surrounding Carol’s frustrations with her life, and the sudden presentation of an opportunity to change her accidental origin into a purposeful one. Carol makes the decision to keep her powers with the full knowledge of the difficulties they’ll present her, and this simple change in perspective does a lot to redeem the character’s origin.
Art duties on the first trade of Captain Marvel are split between Dexter Soy and Emma Rios. Soy does the primary artwork on issues 1-4, and while his painterly style invests the panels with a great sense of motion and his splash pages are really impressive to look at, I found myself continually distracted by inconsistencies in design (here’s a tweet I put out showing how Carol compares to the head of Crusher Creel the Absorbing Man in the first issue; unless I missed something, I don’t think Creel’s powers have ever involved him growing exponentially in size as he loses more and more handily) and the fact that for a story filled with a multitude of diverse female characters, their faces all look pretty samey in Soy’s art (Tracy, an old friend of Carol’s who is in her sixties and has cancer, looks almost the same as Carol except for having dark shadows around her eyes). Conversely, I can’t get enough of Emma Rios’s art in issues 5 and 6. She has a heavily textured, wispy style that’s just endlessly interesting to look at, and despite the fact that her two issues here heavily feature Carol with another character who’s also a pale blond woman, they’re instantly distinguishable in any given panel.
All in all, Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight is a good jumping on point for this character, and a really good reiteration of Carol Danvers’s origins.