In a month where I seem to be dropping a lot of superheroine titles (Batgirl, Batwoman and Phantom Lady) I had been reading, Captain Marvel need not worry about the chopping block. Though Dexter Soy’s art had been underwhelming me, things took a turn for the better when Al Barrionuevo appeared halfway through issue #4 to introduce us more clearly to the young Helen Cobb and her cadre of would be lady fighter pilots. He evoked pretty well a post WWII era of nascent women’s rights, where the women of the Mercury Program were dreaming well beyond the likelihood of possibility to do more than test-fly jets.
And that was just setting the stage for #5 and #6, when Emma Rios took over to immerse us in a scrappy adventure that looks sort of like what would happen if Guido Crepax was creating a Valentina strip for Vertigo. Only with less toplessness and more beating up old dudes with brass knuckles — which is a compliment, by the way. Rios and DeConnick have a history, and they manage to create a tale that feels nothing like any previous Ms. Marvel comic, but yet captures Carol’s attitude (she’s already a multi-year Avenger, guys, she has nothing left to prove to anyone) perfectly.
Because what this first time-travel arc turns out to have been, all along, was a convoluted origin story. Which is fine, because what better place to start a new run with the title character than by dusting off the cobwebs and seeing exactly where she came from? DeConnick and Rios do a fine job in #6 of taking us back to that fateful cave where Yon-Rogg hid his Psyche-Magnitron, the Kree Miracle Machine that could have killed everyone, but instead managed to give Carol a version of Captain Mar-Vell’s powers.
She was a brave woman years ahead of her time way back then, and she’s only developed more positive traits over the years (with a few setbacks like Brood-abduction and alcoholism, but them’s the breaks). DeConnick throws it all into high relief by having Carol compete with her former idol/mentor, Helen Cobb, whose younger past-time version is more reckless and daring than the contemporary aged and sick one. She’s so scrappy, when she witnesses how Carol acquired the ability to fly without a plane, she decides to grab some of that gusto for herself.
Earlier portions of the story dealt with those would-be female jet pilots, and an all-female military mission stranded on a foreign island (however unlikely that might be) fighting alien technology. But by getting closer and closer to Helen and to Carol’s established origin, the story has become more grounded and crucial. The last time Carol debuted a series, she was trying to emulate the “better” self she became in Wanda’s altered House of M reality. The time before that, she was coping with memory loss and the early after-effects of what the Psyche-Magnitron did to her. By focusing on female icons for Carol to interact with, DeConnick has avoided the usual ploy of pairing Carol with male agents, allies or nemeses in order to more clearly focus on her unique traits. It’s a novel approach for the character, even at this late date, and it reads much better with Rios’ European-style line art than with Soy’s bombastic but murky paint.
Let me be clear: I had no problem with the name Ms. Marvel, or with her long-running costume. A) You don’t mess with a Cockrum design, period. It’s still working for Storm and whichever Phoenix we currently have, and his gift to Ms. Marvel saved her from her original bare midriff and scarf look that made zero sense. But B), it’s important to remember it wasn’t he who turned the modest bathing suit into the thong of recent years (which readers quite fairly decry in the welcome letters pages running in each issue). It might have been George Perez, in fact, but let’s blame Frank Cho for taking it to ridiculous extremes instead.
Actually, the covers have been outshining the interior art all along. It’s clear from the loving fan art that the new costume has already engendered a following, but have you noticed something? Carol’s hair has been getting longer and longer since the initial butch makeover. You better watch out, or those modest leggings and sleeves might start inching their way back to the classic Cockrum thigh boots and gloves sooner rather than later. It’s hard to fight the sexy.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.