As a long-time Captain Marvel fan, I’ve been waiting for years for a Captain Marvel book to hit top-form again. Over the last few years, it’s almost happened – but never quite enough.
Having Kelly Thompson at the helm seemed like it might be the perfect fix, as I’ve really liked a lot of Thompson’s work on other books, especially the Katie Bishop Hawkeye book and the new West Coast Avengers title.
The frustrating thing about the first arc of this current Captain Marvel series is that Captain Marvel #1 is sooooo good… but the several-issue story arc it sets up is significantly less good.
It feels like a poor arc to have dominating the first few installments of a new series: something of a momentum dampener.
But first I want to talk about how good Captain Marvel #1 is – and then how good Captain Marvel #8 is when we finally get back to the core story.
Captain Marvel #1 might be one of the single comic books I’ve enjoyed most in recent months. Again, as a big fan of Carol Danvers, I’ve been frustrated in recent years, watching Captain Marvel jump from reboot to reboot, often of questionable or lacklustre quality. I’ve been waiting – hoping – for something that could recapture the quality of the Kelly Sue DeConnick run from a few years ago, which to me still feels like the definitive Captain Marvel run.
And it hasn’t happened.
But this first installment of this current Captain Marvel seemed to come close. It really hit the mark on every level. I had a big smile on my face while reading every page of this book: the rich, colorful art, the attention to character dynamics and relationships, the sense of return, the sense of family and familiarity.
This first book got everything right: from opening with Carol and Jessica Drew fighting a monster in Manhattan, to Tony Stark showing up, to the reunion with Rhodey, and to the classic Avengers showing up at the end to come to Carol’s aid and welcome her back.
The relationship between Carol and Jessica might be my favorite in all of comic books: I never tire of seeing them together, especially when they’re superheroing. Not to mention that Jessica Drew is so criminally under-used right now in current books. Seeing them together again felt like a homecoming.
But this story is essentially a homecoming – of Carol from space and back to Earth, where she is going to have re-adjust.
Her scenes with Tony are terrific too, written perfectly. Really all of this is written perfectly. There’s a love for and familiarity with and between these characters that just oozes out of every page and seems effortless on the writers’ part. Here’s Carol and here’s Jess, and here’s Tony, and here’s Steve Rogers and Thor… and everything just feels like it’s back where it should be.
This felt like the book for me. Like Carol – and I, as a fan – were both back where we wanted to be.
As I said, unfortunately it then goes off in a different direction entirely. The ending of Captain Marvel #1 sets up the premise for the following installments: which is that Carol gets sucked into another dimension or reality, an alternate New York where alternate versions of familiar characters – like Jess and Hazmat – are fighting a dystopian war.
Essentially, Captain Marvel # 2 – 5 just weren’t for me.
Which is really frustrating, because I loved Captain Marvel #1 so much. It’s not that the premise is particularly bad, nor is it that those installments are without charms – it’s really more that this was too early to digress into that kind of story. Captain Marvel #1 had such good character work and seemed to be building momentum… and then we immediately divert into this gimmicky story that takes up the entirety of four whole books.
It’s really a story that could’ve been held back for later in the run: and these first installments should’ve carried on from the groundwork laid in Captain Marvel #1 and built on those issues and dynamics more.
In fact, I might even go so far as to suggest jumping straight from Captain Marvel #1 to Captain Marvel #8 and skipping the stuff inbetween.
There are a few vaguely enjoyable things to be found in Captain Marvel #2 – 5 (such as Carol’s merging with Rogue); but I just wasn’t in the mood for this kind of story to take up so much space. I’m sure some people liked it – which is fine, as this was for them then.
For me, I was just waiting for this storyline to end.
When it does end, and we get to Captain Marvel #6, things immediately get better.
Captain Marvel #6 and #7 are in fact the only War of the Realms tie-in books I read (I stuck only to the mainline War of the Realms title): and they’re a fun little ride. I mean, how couldn’t it be fun? Carol teaming up with Black Widow and Doctor Strange to fight Amora the Enchantress and an army of the undead? Carol and Strange being body-swapped and forced to adjust to each other’s bodies?
Sure, the body-swap thing is a gimmick. But it’s a fun one; and it actually leads to some good character work. By having Carol try to adapt to Strange’s body (and his magic) and having Strange trying to exist in Carol’s body, we get some new insights into both their characters.
It’s also fun having Natasha there the whole time to observe the whole bizarre situation and make quips about, while also pointing out how similar both Strange and Carol are to each other.
The initial reunion between Natasha and Carol is also really nicely written, paying loving attention to both characters and their relationship, similar to the Carol/Jess scenes in Captain Marvel #1. Captain Marvel #6 in fact feels like its following directly on from Captain Marvel #1 nicely – with the entirety of Captain Marvel #2 – 5 having been an unnecessary detour.
In fact, Captain Marvel #8 is even better – my favorite book of this series so far. Captain Marvel #8 in fact feels like it follows on directly from Captain Marvel #1: we’re back to the great, integral dynamics with Jessica and Tony, etc, and much more focus on Carol’s situation (rather than gimmicky plot set-ups).
Captain Marvel #8 is fully of tension, with growing mystery and intrigue surrounding Carol’s illness and diminishing powers: all of this happening to coincide with public and media opinion turning against her as she is outed as an alien and her loyalties and actions are called into question. Meanwhile a mysterious new hero shows up out of nowhere and starts stealing Carol’s thunder, solving problems that Carol would’ve previously been solving and getting all of the public recognition too.
The dramatic qualities are significant as we watch Carol struggle through this complicated crisis. It’s also really nice to see Jessica and Tony working overtime to try to figure out what’s wrong with Carol. This is great stuff: endearing, well grounded in history, and intriguing all at the same time.
If this had followed directly on from Captain Marvel #1 (as it kind of feels like it does) – without the multiple-issue detour inbetween – this would’ve been probably the best monthly Marvel book out there this year.
Nevertheless, it does bring the right things back into focus and restore the quality level.
With the series seemingly back on track, hopefully this can go on to become a standout run in the Captain Marvel catalogue. The ingredients, dynamics and intrigue are certainly there.