The second “Captain Marvel” trailer has dropped. There’s a lot I’d love to talk about. For now, though, let’s just take a moment to marvel at what awaits us in March 2019.
The second “Captain Marvel” trailer has dropped. There’s a lot I’d love to talk about. For now, though, let’s just take a moment to marvel at what awaits us in March 2019.
It shouldn’t be that difficult or controversial to create compelling female superheroes. In a perfect world, it would be no different than creating quality male heroes. As long as they’re compelling, enjoyable, and foster great stories, that should be enough.
Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. You could even argue it has become even worse in recent years for female superheroes because they’ve become entwined with identity politics. It’s no longer sufficient for a female hero to just be likable and interesting. They have to take part in the never-ending whining contest that dominates outrage culture.
As a lifelong fan of superhero comics, this really frustrates me. I get that comics, like any medium, often reflect the issues of the time. That’s not new and comics have taken positions in those issues. Iconic stories have been crafted around them. The current situation with female superheroes, however, is less a reflection of the times and more a liability.
To illustrate this point, I’d like to single out two female superheroes, Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan and America “Miss America” Chavez. Both characters were created within the past 10 years. They’ve also been cited as prominent figures in the recent push for diversity within comics that has caused a lot of uproar or all the wrong reasons.
What sets them apart is that one character, Kamala Khan, has become a success story by most measures. Since her debut issue in February 2014, she has become popular and beloved. She has received and won numerous accolades and her graphic novels have made it onto the New York Times Best Sellers list. I consider myself a fan of hers. She’s one of my favorite female heroes.
On the other end of that spectrum is America Chavez. She debuted in 2011 and went onto have her own ongoing series. Unlike Kamala, though, her series received no accolades, sold poorly, and did nothing to endear her to fans of superhero comics. She has had opportunities to establish herself as a quality female hero. With few exceptions, she has failed at every turn.
These two characters represent a stark dichotomy in the current world of female superheroes. One provides a template for success. The other is a cautionary tale of how not to create a compelling female superhero in the current climate. It’s pretty striking how two characters created within a similar cultural environment can go in such wildly different directions. However, that difference also carries with it plenty of lessons.
To be fair to the medium I love, creating female superheroes today is very different compared to past decades. If Wonder Woman, Storm, Carol Danvers, or Supergirl were created today, they wouldn’t have the same impact. They came out at different times and under different circumstances. Those circumstances played a key role in how they became iconic.
Great female superheroes, and quality female characters in general, have traits that allow them to resonate in any era. However, the timing and influences have to be right for them to carve a place in popular culture. Kamala Khan and America Chavez dealt with similar circumstances when they debuted. That makes them a good case study in how female superheroes can succeed and fail.
Why Kamala Khan Succeeded
I still remember the day I read Ms. Marvel #1. I hadn’t been planning to buy it. I remember clearly that it was a light week, in terms of comics. I happened to have a few extra bucks to spend. I had heard that there was going to be a new Ms. Marvel. Having been a fan of Carol Danvers, I decided to check it out.
I’m glad I did because that one fateful issue made me a Kamala Kahn fan for years to come. The story it told struck all the right chords. It presented a character who felt real, genuine, and relatable. The fact that she was a girl, a Muslim, and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants was secondary. She still felt like a character that I could be friends with if she were real.
The reasons why Kamala was so endearing had little to do with how many diversity points she scored and everything to do with how the writer, G. Willow Wilson, went about developing her. She spent almost the entire first issue just revealing who Kamala was and what sort of life she had. We learn about her family, her friends, her hopes, her dreams, and even her favorite hobbies.
She quickly becomes more than just another teenage character. She’s a self-professed fangirl who writes fan fiction, plays MMO games, and loves gyros. Wilson approached developing Kamala the same way Stan Lee approached developing Peter Parker. She developed the personality before turning them into a superhero.
When Kamala finally does get her powers, Wilson establishes a solid reason for why she’s a hero. Just getting powers isn’t enough. Unlike Peter Parker, however, she doesn’t need a loved one to die. Being a fan of superheroes and having decent parents puts her in a position to make that choice without anyone dying. That, alone, makes her worthy of admiration.
From that point forward, it’s easy to root for Kamala. She carries herself as someone you want to root for. She personifies how fans of superhero comics are inspired by their heroes. Her having a chance to be a hero like the ones she idolizes isn’t just endearing. It’s special. That’s why she succeeds and why it’s very likely we’ll see her enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point.
Why America Chavez Failed
Take everything I just said about why Kamala Khan works and why she’s so lovable. Then, reverse it completely. That’s basically who America Chavez is and why she’s more a joke than a success.
On paper, America has a lot going for her. She’s not just another generic female hero. She’s Latina, she’s a lesbian, and she comes from a very different world, literally and figuratively. In terms of diversity points, she checks as many boxes as Kamala. She has her own unique style and she even uses a familiar moniker that has been successfully used by others.
Beyond those traits, however, there’s nothing about her character or her story that will get superhero fans cheering. She’s not relatable like Peter Parker or Kamala Khan. She’s from a place called Utopian Parallel, which is exactly as boring as it sounds. Her world was threatened with destruction, but her parents sacrificed themselves to save it. They’re the only respectable heroes in her story.
America, for reasons that are poorly told and poorly developed, decides to prove that she’s as good a hero as her parents. Her world is a utopia. It doesn’t need her. As a result, she just looks for a world that needs heroes and happens to choose one that has a massive glut of them. Already, her judgment is questionable.
If you’re expecting me to explain the depths of why she’s a hero and how she distinguishes herself, I’m sorry to disappoint. That’s the extent of her heroic journey. She doesn’t answer the hero’s call as much as she looks for an excuse. She doesn’t work her way into the world of heroism. She just throws herself into it and skips the part that makes it a meaningful story.
It certainly doesn’t help that she’s grossly overpowered in a way that makes every battle feel boring. Unlike other powerful characters, including Superman or Captain Marvel, there’s no real intrigue to her abilities. Whereas Kamala Khan and Peter Parker struggle, seeing their powers as burdens at times, America Chavez rarely strains herself. When she does, it feels forced and contrived.
On top of all that, America never comes off as a likable person. In nearly every scene she’s in, she carries herself with an in-your-face, screw-you, I’m-better-than-everyone attitude that isn’t the least bit endearing. She basically tries too hard to be a badass female hero, but forgets the part where heroes are actually supposed to be admirable.
It’s not enough to just punch a Nazi, which she does at one point. Being a hero means embodying ideals that go beyond gender politics. America Chavez’s story is so contrived, at times, that it feels like the most shameless kind of pandering. It’s why those who bemoan Marvel’s diversity push often cite America Chavez as the personification of everything wrong with that effort. Sadly, she gives them plenty to work with.
Lessons For The Future
I have high hopes for Ms. Marvel. I even hope that, at some point, America Chavez becomes a solid character. There’s plenty of room for new characters that resonate with everyone, regardless of gender, race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of established characters, either. Heroes can be anyone. That’s what makes them icons.
Now, I understand that there are plenty of people out there who don’t like Kamala. I don’t deny that she has her flaws and she’s had some pretty unflattering moments. I also understand that America Chavez has her share of fans who think I’m not being fair to her. I don’t claim that my take on her is definitive.
I singled these two characters out because I believe they embody the struggle facing female superheroes in the existing cultural climate. Like any creative endeavor, there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Kamala Khan and America Chavez provide important lessons on what to do and what to avoid. They include, but aren’t restricted to, the following.
Lesson #1: Build the character before the hero
Lesson #2: Appeal to everyone and not just a select few
Lesson #3: Make their struggle feel real and genuine
Lesson #4: Give the character a distinct and endearing voice
Lesson #5: Don’t just rely on punching Nazis
There are many other lessons to be learned from characters like Kamala Khan and America Chavez. Some of those lessons have to be learned the hard way, but they’re worth learning. More quality female superheroes can only help the genre, as a whole. Superheroes, by definition, are supposed to inspire others to be better. That inspiration need not be restricted to gender, race, or any other distinction.
Some characters are iconic from the get-go. Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman all managed to establish themselves as special early on in their history. They’re the lucky ones, though. Most characters have to go through a long, arduous process to reach the top tier of superhero icons. A lot of them never make it, but those that do are special in their own right.
These days, the character who best embodies that spirit is Carol Danvers. You don’t have to go back too far to remember a time when she was relegated to the superhero B-list. As Ms. Marvel, she had her share of fans. I was one of them. She also had her place in the annuls of Marvel lore. However, she was never able to break through and join that elite club occupied almost exclusively of Stan Lee creations.
That all changed when Kelly Sue DeConnick came along and reinvented Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel in 2012. That process, which has since become one of my favorite runs on a comic book series of the past 10 years, helped Carol finally break into the upper echelon of superheroes. With a movie coming out in 2019 staring Brie Larson, it’s safe to say she’s entrenched.
I could write a dozen articles about why Carol Danvers’ character resonates more now than it did when she first showed up in 1968. I’ve already mentioned some of the unique challenges she faces as she enters rarefied air among Marvel heroes and female superheroes, in general. However, I want to focus on one particular aspect of her character that helps her stand out.
As it just so happens, it’s also part of her character that recently underwent a major upheaval in the comics. Among other comic book fans, it has been controversial. I’ve certainly seen more than a little whining on message boards and Reddit. I have my share of criticisms too, but I intend to justify why I believe this is a promising new era for Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers.
The upheaval in question occurred in a recently-launched mini-series called “The Life of Captain Marvel.” Written by Margaret Stohl, who has been guiding Carol’s journey for several years now, I cannot recommend this series enough. It is, by far, one of the best Carol Danvers stories ever written. Years from now, it will likely mark a major turning point for her story.
That’s because Stohl does something that’s both critical and controversial to Carol’s history. She makes a major alteration to an aspect of Carol’s life that doesn’t change her past, but puts it in a very different perspective. That change, in my opinion, makes Carol a much more intriguing character.
If you want to avoid spoilers, you should probably stop reading here and check out the series. Again, I highly recommend it. The big change, however, takes place in the fourth issue. Here, her mother, Marie, drops a bombshell revelation on Carol that rocks her world. She reveals that she’s half-human and half-alien. Specifically, she’s half-Kree.
Anyone who saw “Guardians of the Galaxy” knows why that’s a big deal.
Anyone who has a passing knowledge of Marvel history knows why that’s a huge deal.
The fact that she’s half-alien isn’t that unique. Peter “Starlord” Quill has a similar heritage. The reason it’s such a big deal for Carol is because it changes the context of how she got her powers and the role she plays in the greater Marvel universe.
Before this change, Carol’s powers were somewhat of an afterthought. Like Spider-Man, they were the result of an accident. Her’s just involved alien device called the Psyche Magnetron. She got caught in an explosion and that explosion allegedly fused her DNA with Kree DNA to give her superpowers. It’s not the most contrived origins story, but it’s not exactly epic.
To some extent, getting her powers by accident undercut all the work she did before that. Even without powers, she managed to carve out a successful career in the air force and NASA. That work became somewhat superfluous once she got superpowers. Unlike Peter Parker, she was already on a heroic path. Getting powers just seemed like skipping a bunch of steps.
With the revelation by her mother, there’s more connective tissue between her journey as Carol Danvers and her journey as Captain Marvel. Her mother, who comes out as a full-blooded Kree warrior, tells Carol that the accident wasn’t the sole cause of her abilities. It was just the catalyst. These are her exact words.
“What humans see as Kree powers are just our biological adaptations to a life of combat. They’re triggered in battle, usually around adolescence. Sadly, most of us have known war by then.”
This implies that even if she hadn’t been caught in the crossfire of the Psyche Magnetron, her Kree abilities would’ve come out at some point. For some fans, including die-hard Captain Marvel fans, it feels like this is denigrating her origins. I respectfully disagree with that notion. I believe this gives Carol’s story a new kind of appeal.
In terms of how superheroes become iconic, how they get their powers and how they choose to use them plays a huge part in their appeal. I would argue that just making Carol an ordinary human who got caught in an accident has limited appeal. Like I said before, she’s not Peter Parker. She’s not an average person. She’s more like Batman in that she’s an overachiever who strives to do more.
Her being half-Kree adds a new dynamic to the mix because it makes Carol a product of two different worlds. She is born on Earth and lives her whole life as a human. However, she now has this alien heritage that has already influenced her life in ways she didn’t understand. You need only look at the mass appeal of Superman to see why that story is compelling.
Being half-Kree means Carol suddenly has a connection to a race that has waged war on Earth before. She also has a connection to a world that has blatantly experimented on humans before. At the same time, her human life wasn’t exactly ideal. Unlike Superman, she was not raised by picture perfect parents like the Kents.
Her mother, despite being a Kree warrior, was in an unstable relationship with Carol’s very human father. Their family suffered a devastating loss when Carol’s brother, Steve, died in combat. They never really recovered from that and, for most of Carol’s history, that loss kept her parents as a side-note at best in her journey.
With Carol’s mother being a Kree warrior, it changes her into something more than a woman who stayed in a bad marriage. It adds more layers to why she and her husband clashed. Even in the first few issues of “The Life of Captain Marvel,” her father comes off as a generic asshole. Finding out he was dealing with an alien wife makes his struggles a lot less generic.
In many ways, Carol’s parents represent her divided heritage. Her father didn’t want her embracing her Kree side and fighting alien wars. Having already lost a son, who can blame him? Her mother didn’t want to stop Carol from embracing both sides of her heritage, even though that was sure to leave her conflicted.
It effectively connects Carol’s superhero journey with that of her family. Those journeys involve some heavy losses, painful secrets, and destructive alcoholism. It’s something you’re not going to find with Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, or any of the X-men. It leaves Carol Danvers in an uncertain, but promising state.
It’s not yet clear how much of Stohl’s revisions will find their way into the “Captain Marvel” movie. To some extent, it helps that Carol’s origin isn’t as iconic as that of other heroes. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has already done some considerable tweaks to certain characters to make them fit the narrative. I have a feeling we’ll see plenty of that in the movie.
However things plays out on the big screen for Carol, I think her story in the comics just became a lot more interesting. I know there are some fans upset by this. I’ll even concede there are some parts of this revision I don’t care for. There was some appeal to Carol just being an ordinary human who worked her ass off to achieve what she did.
Every major revelation or retcon in a comic or movie comes at a price. You’re bound to upset some people. That’s unavoidable in a world full of such diverse tastes. However, I believe that Carol gained much more than she lost in “The Life of Captain Marvel.” I believe she’s bound to gain a whole lot more, both through her movie and through the new host of stories that can be told.
Whatever the case, I hope Brie Larson takes plenty of notes.
It’s a simple note. Can we all just take a moment to admire how awesome the Captain Marvel trailer is? That is all.
When a team is on an epic winning streak, it creates the perception that they have some supernatural ability to defy the law of averages and bend reality to their will. It happened to the 2007 New England Patriots. It happened to the 2016 Golden State Warriors. They had this aura of invincibility that made it seem as though they could never lose.
That made their eventual loss, both in championship games no less, that much more painful. However, I would argue that the winning aura of those teams pales in comparison to that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If the MCU were a sports team, it would include the likes of Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and Muhammad Ali in their primes and on crack.
To say that Marvel’s movie franchises are on a winning streak would be like saying a hungry lion has a slight edge over a wounded squirrel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t just made superhero movies the gold standard of the box office by raking in $16.8 billion worldwide to date. It has set the bar so high that even close rivals have essentially given up.
Disney, Marvel Studios, and Kevin Feige are riding higher than anyone thought possible, especially for those who still have nightmares about “Batman and Robin.” With both “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” breaking a fresh round of records this year, it seems as though that winning streak is only accelerating.
I say all this not just to belabor how much the MCU has accomplished over the past ten years. I say it as a fan who loves Marvel comics and wants to see it keep winning. However, even with “Avengers 4” set to come out next year and make another couple billion, I believe this streak of superhero movie excellence is vulnerable.
It’s no secret that “Avengers 4” will likely mark the end of an era. Kevin Feige has gone on record as saying that this movie will act as an endgame, of sorts. While makes clear that the MCU will continue, with movies planned out until 2025, he also indicates that there will be major upheavals.
That’s somewhat necessary because with the conclusion of “Avengers 4,” many of the contracts for MCU stalwarts like Robert Downy Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth are set to expire. While it’s possible that some may find a way to keep going, others like Chris Evans have made clear that their time in the MCU is almost over.
That means for the MCU to continue its winning streak, it needs to move forward with new characters, new actors, and new ideas. It has to find a way to keep this world moving forward, potentially without the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. That’s a huge challenge, even for a franchise on an unprecedented winning streak, and the comics have already failed to fill those voids.
That’s where Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers comes in. If you saw the post-credits scene for “Avengers: Infinity War,” you know why she’s about to become very relevant to the MCU. I’ve talked about her before and established how things could easily go wrong with her upcoming movie. I imagine I’ll have a lot more to talk about in the coming months.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Carol Danvers and her upcoming movie, which is slated for release in March 2018, is the most important movie in the history of the genre. I believe this movie may very well determine whether the winning streak of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues or finally falters.
I say that as someone who loves Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. Back in 2012, Kelly Sue DeConnick effectively reinvented the character in a way that convinced me that she deserves a prominent role in any Marvel universe. In my opinion, she’s essentially Marvel’s version Wonder Woman.
Her movie has so much going for it. “Wonder Woman” established that female superhero movies could be a hit at the box office and garner critical acclaim, despite the scars left by “Catwoman.” On some levels, “Captain Marvel” is facing a lot less pressure and it has the momentum of “Avengers: Infinity War” behind it.
However, the stakes are actually higher for this movie compared to everything “Wonder Woman” faced. Recently, Kevin Feige stated that Carol Danvers will be the new face of the MCU. From a purely logistical standpoint, that makes sense. The MCU needs a new unifying force if Chris Evans’ Captain America is to make his final stand in “Avengers 4.”
I believe Carol can pull it off, as well. She has taken on more leadership roles in the comics and has become a central member of the Avengers’ main team. Combine that with Brie Larson’s charisma and Carol Danvers has all the tools she needs to keep the MCU’s winning streak going.
I believe she can do this simply by being the kind of character that Kelly Sue DeConnick molded six years ago. That version of Carol Danvers emerged from years of being a secondary character in Ms. Marvel who rarely got a chance to achieve the same recognition as her peers. She’s a classic case of a character who elevated themselves by embracing a new identity, a new purpose, and greater ambition.
DeConnick established Carol as someone who achieves so much in one field, but dares to seek greater challenges beyond. She contributed to the Avengers for years, but never pursued a greater vision until she became Captain Marvel. That idea of someone looking to the stars, seeking to achieve more, and pursuing it with unmatched drive is what will help her succeed in ways on par with Wonder Woman.
At the same time, though, there are potential risks and Captain Marvel may be more vulnerable to them than Wonder Woman. While Kelly Sue DeConnick did a lot to reinvent Carol Danvers for a new era, she has faltered somewhat. Recent events in the comics have put her heroic merits into question for all the wrong reasons. Some of Brie Larson’s politically-charged rhetoric hasn’t helped either.
To some extent, Carol’s reputation has faltered because in elevating her status in the comics, she has been hit with the dreaded Galbrush Paradox. The quirks that DeConnick introduced, such as Carol being a Star Wars fan and having a love interest in James Rhodes, have eroded in recent years. In addition, even her artistic depictions have devolved by reducing her feminine features for no apparent reason.
In wake of the vitriol that Star Wars received for its portrayal of female characters, I worry that “Captain Marvel” runs the risk of inviting a similar backlash. If Carol Danvers is not sufficiently compelling, she runs the risk of getting hit with the Mary Sue label that has plagued Rey since “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
The worse case scenario, in my opinion, involves turning Carol Danvers into a Captain America or Iron Man stand-in. In the absence of these iconic characters, and their top name actors, Feige and those at Marvel Studios may be tempted to make her too much like them. That would be a huge mistake, especially for an organization on such a huge winning streak.
Carol Danvers is not Steve Rogers, nor is she Tony Stark. She’s not just a woman who takes on a man’s role either. She’s still a woman and, especially under DeConnick, her womanly traits were on display alongside her more badass features. It’s not groundbreaking because Wonder Woman struck just the right balance, having her fight alongside men while still acting like a woman.
In the best case scenario, Carol Danvers follows Wonder Woman’s example and establishes herself as someone worthy of carrying the MCU forward. Unlike Rey, she’s a character with plenty of compelling lore to work with. The key is finding the right blend that’ll help her fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At this point, without a trailer and only a few teases to go on, it could go either way for “Captain Marvel.” It could be the next in a long line of successes or it could be the MCU’s first failure. To date, Kevin Feige and those at Marvel Studios have shown time and again that they know what they’re doing.
Hell, they took an obscure series involving a talking raccoon and made it a global brand. Until they show they’re capable of screwing up, I’ll continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, though, I think it’s worth bracing for that inevitable setback. All winning streaks come to an end. I just hope “Captain Marvel” isn’t the one that ends it.