The Life of Captain Marvel

Being, as I am, a big-time Carol Danvers head, The Life of Captain Marvel sounded like something that should’ve been manna from heaven to me.

I came to it with great enthusiasm. With Margaret Stohl writing and Sana Amanat as a consulting editor, this should’ve been compulsory reading material for any Captain Marvel fan.

The set-up seems fitting and promising enough: essentially a foray back into Carol’s past, her upbringing in New England and her parents.

The way this premise is established at the beginning of the first installment is pretty good: with Carol literally having flashbacks and a meltdown while on a mission with the Avengers. While letting rip on a villain-of-the-week, she flashes back to scenes of her abusive father mistreating her mother. The way the two sets of events – the memories and the real-time/present incident – mirror each other in terms even of actions and words is effective.

After this meltdown, Tony and the others decide Carol needs to take a break and go home. It’s a good set-up. And the Carol/Tony material early on is a nice way to pave the way for the rest of this story. We then get Carol returning home to where she grew up and we find her alienated from her family and unable to connect. But I like how Tony reconnects with her at the end of The Life of Captain Marvel #1: it’s a nice book-end.

The main story – Carol’s reunion with her family – wasn’t all that engaging to me. And this proves to be a problem throughout the series. I know I should be more interested in this, and I know it fills out more of Carol’s background and history, and I know it’s supposed to be poignant and humanising. But I found it difficult to concentrate on this material.

Maybe it’s just me: maybe other people found it more engaging than I did.

But, as I said, for me this was a problem for the whole duration of this series. At the same time, I don’t want to be too hard on it – firstly because no one forced me to read it, and secondly because this series seems to essentially be Margaret Stohl’s parting love letter to Carol Danvers (as she is stepping away from writing Captain Marvel comics after this), so I can entirely understand what she was going for here and what the point of this story was.

In The Life of Captain Marvel #1, we learn about Carol’s estrangement from her father who she was not fond of (and who is deceased), as well as the less-than-rosy relationship she has with her mother and brother. We also see Carol’s brother involved in a terrible accident that results in a brain injury and renders him unable to walk and in need of care.

This forces Carol to remain at the house, despite Stark’s calls for her to come back to work (it turns out, she has been here for nine months by now already). She also then discovers hidden letters, seeming to reveal that her father had been having an affair. At the same time, Carol unknowingly triggers some sort of device – which sends out a signal into space, summoning someone or something to Earth.

There’s actually a lot of ground covered in just this first installment: a lot happens. Again, it’s just not that interesting to me – which is not the same as saying it’s bad.

One of the artistic tricks that works well here is that the flashback sequences are drawn by a different artist (Marguerite Sauvage) to the present-day scenes (Carlos Pacheco). It’s clever, as it helps visually and tonally distinguish remembered events from real-time events.

That continues to be the case throughout the series, which is visually highly absorbing. But the lack of interest (or at least my lack of engagement) generated by the story itself also continues through the series.

Across the other installments, nothing really happens that makes any impression: it feels a little soap-opera-ish. A Kree warrior coming to hunt down Carol (or, as it turns out, her mother) doesn’t really liven things up much either: though it does lead to the big revelation concerning Carol’s mother, who – it turns out – has been harbouring a massive secret for years.

In case anyone here intends to read this series and hasn’t done so yet, I won’t spoil what that revelation is. But it’s pretty big: and it significantly alters Carol’s backstory.

This twist was the most interesting thing this series had to offer. Though it could’ve probably been reached much earlier, even in the first installment – and the sense, really, is that five comic books were not needed to tell this story.

The finale has Carol and her mother working together to fend off the Kree assassin: and finally coming to terms with each other as they do so. I know it’s meant to be poignant – and it kind of is. But it doesn’t really make the preceding instalments really feel all that worthwhile. And also – again, I’ll be vague to avoid spoiling it for anyone – the conclusion kind of renders the whole affair even more pointless, since this revelation can’t really go anywhere or lead to anything else.

The one thing I will say for the conclusion is that the reunion between Carol and Tony at the Sea of Tranquility (on the moon) is a really nice scene: finishing up where we started, with Danvers and Stark.

But there’s not much more to be excited about here. It’s an average-feeling conclusion to a very average-feeling story that should’ve probably been something weightier and more impactful.

Certainly for a five-part series with a title like ‘The Life of Captain Marvel’, I was really expecting something more.

That being said, this series isn’t outright bad. It’s very well illustrated and colored. And it has some moments. And it does give you some new insight into Carol’s childhood and background, as well as one very significant revelation that changes her backstory.

Perhaps I just came to this looking for something else.

S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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