This past weekend, I finished up Ms. Marvel (2014). There I was, in the back of a car heading west from Augusta towards Atlanta on a hot Saturday evening, my iPhone closer to my face than probably necessary, trying not to cry like a baby as I wrapped up one of the most charming and uplifting stories I’ve read in a long time.
This would not have happened a few years ago.
I did not grow up reading comics. I had some Far Side collections and I read Calvin & Hobbes, sure, but comic books? Nope. Not really. In fits of desperation and boredom on family trips I would dig around in my extended family’s homes for things I could try and read, and it was there that I toiled slowly through Asterix & Obelix volumes in Finnish, giving myself headaches trying to read in Finnish when I wasn’t used to it. It wasn’t until late high school and early college that graphic novels came across my radar, but even then the only ones I laid eyes on were the ones everyone seems to have read. The Watchmen. 300. Things they made into movies. Friends of mine tried repeatedly to get me to read comics, particularly those who loved the X-Men. But the format frustrated me. I didn’t like getting 15-20 pages of a story at a time. I didn’t like having to wait for volumes to come out.
Joss Whedon almost got me into comics. I read Fray because I was a fan of Buffy, and I read the tie-in comics to Firefly out of sheer desperate need for more of the characters. It was a near-miss, something that might have taken had the Buffy Season 8 comics not been so wildly disappointing (which is a conversation for another time). The first few issues live in a mostly-empty comic book box on my shelf, mixed in with a few issues of the comic adaptation of my favorite book, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn (which I own in graphic novel format. It’s beautiful. You should own it, too).
You could say I glanced off the atmosphere of comic book fandom, ricocheting back into space like a comet with a bad trajectory. Something was missing. Or rather, in hindsight, I had yet to find the right character. Someone whose voice, whose story, would drag me in and keep me there, grasping for anything else I could find.
That someone was Captain Marvel.
In 2014, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run of Captain Marvel began. The first issue, its cover bright in bold yellow, red, and blue, features a powerful image of Carol Danvers, fists against her hips in what can only be described as a pure propaganda piece: “Here is your hero, reader. Open this cover and get to know her.”
I didn’t meet her until there were a good two volumes of material to read through (a calculated effort on Sarah’s part, I’m sure). A day came along when she came to visit and she thrust two books into my hands. “You have to read these.”
Years of good recommendations have established that Sarah knows what she’s talking about. But, because they were comic books, I set them aside. It took me an excruciatingly long time to open them up. I want to say it was months. But when I did, it was like something came over me. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing, Carol’s voice, her power, her character… it all came together for me within those first issues. Dexter Soy’s compelling, heavy line art coupled with the attitude and intelligence brought to the character by Kelly Sue hit me right in the face with the sheer, unstoppable force of Carol Danvers. As I read on, I got to experience so much of what makes comics so rich a medium for storytelling: Kelly Sue’s run of Captain Marvel has quite a few different artists involved, and I was introduced in only a few volumes to Dexter Soy, David Lopez, and Filipe Andrade.
In those pages I found a hero and a role model that finally reflected what I had always been wanting to see. A strong, intelligent woman, with power and attitude, who is also just and fair, who stands for what she believes in, who supports the people around her. Her history is also pretty damn impressive: she’s been an Air Force pilot, a spy, she’s worked at NASA, she’s an Avenger… hell, she outranks Steve Rogers. While her comic book history has been long and at times, controversial, her current iteration is a powerhouse. I was hooked.
So here I am, a few years later, a subscriber to Marvel Unlimited with an insatiable appetite for comics. Since Captain Marvel, I have read myriad comic runs, including Age of Ultron, Punisher (2008), Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, Astonishing X-Men (2004), and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. I also have an ongoing list of things my friends have recommended to me, including quite a lot of Hulk, Star Wars, and X-Men stories.
This brings me back to the road, where we started. I finished Ms. Marvel so full of joy and delight. Not only was Kamala Khan an absolute pleasure herself, but her enthusiasm and excitement over meeting Captain Marvel was something I felt on a visceral level. There on the page, in Kamala’s own fangirling, I saw a feeling I had felt so strongly myself only a few years earlier. Carol Danvers means the world to me, and she (and Kelly Sue) are the reason I even read comics at all.
Marvel has announced that Captain Marvel is getting her own movie, though it was pushed back to make room for Spider-Man’s latest origin story, and I for one cannot wait to see it. All I hope is that the woman who ultimately is cast (cough Katheryn Winnick! cough) for the role lives up to everything the comics have provided. Kelly Sue DeConnick set the bar, as far as I’m concerned. Let’s hope Marvel does us all a solid and lets Carol fly right over it.