Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review # 22: "Captain Marvel - 'In Pursuit of Flight' and 'Down'"

Marvel's use of the "Captain Marvel" name has been hilarious at times. Seizing the trademark after DC lost it, they've had to sporadically produce a Captain Marvel comic every year or two in order to keep it. This became a problem when - in the early 80's - Jim Starlin had the company's first Captain Marvel (the Kree "Mar-Vell") die of cancer. So they created the light-powered Monica Rambeau, calling her the new Captain Marvel. As an Avenger, she didn't always have her own series, so they reprinted old Mar-Vell issues. Then Rambeau would have a one-shot every couple of years. From there it led to several sons, a Skrull Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell being plucked from a different point in time, Mar-Vell being cloned, Noh-Varr being called "Captain Marvel" on the Dark Avengers team, etc., etc.

Now, finally... they may have a keeper.

Carol Danvers - the former Ms. Marvel, Binary and Warbird - is the best Captain Marvel ever and that includes "Shazam." Finally coming to terms with her relationship with Mar-Vell, she finally decides to adopt his name, launching this series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. For the first time, after being a female knock-off, an obscure cosmic entity, a drunk, and a paper leader of the Tony Stark-controlled Mighty Avengers, Danvers is getting the big push. Being an A-list hero is what Danvers has always wanted, and - damn it - DeConnick is doing everything she can to make that come true.

Volume One has Carol, sporting an incredible new costume, inheriting a plane from her idol, pilot Helen Cobb. Right out of the gate, DeConnick enforces Danvers' love of flying with or without an aircraft. As a surprise, it turns out this plane mysteriously has the ability to fly through time. Danvers ends up in the 1940s with a group of femme fatales fighting Kree tech that should definitely not be part of the Asian side of the Second World War.

(Quick aside: I don't know if this was the inspiration for a series of covers where Danvers stands in on WWII-era posters, or vice versa, but... holy s***, are they good.)

Later, Carol hops back in the plane, traveling forward and meeting a much younger Helen Cobb while she was still alive. The two fly off in their mysterious time machine, and end up at Danvers' origin story (with a nice wink to the dialogue style of the late 70's.) Shockingly, Cobb tries to steal Carol's Ms. Marvel powers. It leads to a confrontation where Danvers finally, FINALLY, grabs some A-list confidence and some A-list cred.

This character arc - for Danvers - is incredible. It's also an achievement. Carol has existed in this continuity for decades. Marvel has tried EVERYTHING to push her over the hump, including practically making her a God. It just goes to show that the right writer can make all the difference in the world. It has to be more than a coincidence that a woman is responsible. Not just a woman, but one who is married to Matt Fraction, who has enjoyed much more success as a writer than she has and is a critical tour de force in the company at the moment. Carol Danvers and Mar-Vell were never married, but it has to be more than blind chance that DeConnick grabbing for that brass ring personally has Danvers doing the same thing. Not only do they grab it, they crush it in their hands.

The momentum doesn't stop. DeConnick follows up with an arc co-starring the previously mentioned Monica Rambeau. The two of them - in a friendly way - pick each other apart perfectly. In my AvX Companion review I noted that Danvers needed to team up with Rogue more. Her partnership with Rambeau beats the crap out of that, and a giant monster made of airplane parts while they're at it.

You'll notice that airplanes and flying have been a constant theme in this series. And, of course, in a writing masterstroke, DeConnick turns it into an absolute gut-punch that to me is episodic brilliance on the level of Ed Brubaker's time on "Captain America" or Peter David's on "X-Factor."

This series belongs with the best of them. Marvel has three critical darlings right now: Mark Waid's "Daredevil," Matt Fraction's "Hawkeye" and this. Kelly Sue DeConnick deserves it, the Captain Marvel name deserves it, and the character Carol Danvers - after being jerked around for decades - deserves it. It's a shame that more people aren't reading this right now.

But, hey, if it gets cancelled you know it'll be back. After all, Marvel has a trademark to maintain.

It's never been worth more.

Rating(s): 9.5/10 ("In Pursuit of Flight"), 8.5/10 ("Down")

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