Captain on the Page

This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 8th March 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.

Kelly Thompson is one of the writers on my ‘instantly get this’ list. Her work has taken in everything from Jem and the Holograms to Jessica Jones and the shortly ending, and already missed, West Coast Avengers. Regardless of subject, her scripts are fiercely compassionate, very funny, cheerfully weird and pragmatic. The first arc of her Jessica Jones run, teaming Jess with the fantastically profane Elsa Bloodstone, Monster Hunter is a great example of this. By herself, Elsa is a bloody-coated Threepenny Opera who fills the available space. Paired with Jones, and with Thompson’s hand on the wheel, Elsa is still magnificent and awful but also part of a plot instead of towering above it.  I’ll be talking about her Jones run to date here in a couple of weeks but today, I wanted to talk about her work on Captain Marvel.

With the movie opening today (7.40 tonight for me! Woooooo!) Marvel have sensibly relaunched Carol Danvers’ ongoing series and even more sensibly given it to Thompson. Her steady hands guide Carol back from an extended sabbatical (See the also excellent Margaret Stohl and her work on The Life of Captain Marvel) to active duty.

Oh, and an interview.

And reconnecting with her boyfriend.

And dimensional travel. Or is it time travel?

Either way, Carol finds herself on a dystopian version of Roosevelt Island, ruled by a third rate but suddenly disturbingly well resourced villain called Nuclear Man. Thankfully, the Captain has back up and along with Spider-Woman, Hazmat and Echo gets to work on solving and/or punching the problem.

We’re two issues in as I write this and the thing that really jumps off every single page is how good Thompson is at writing Carol Danvers. A character who, prior to her Kelly Sue DeConnick led renaissance, was too often written as Ann Coulter with superpowers has become a smart, pragmatic and cheerily self-aware lead. Carol knows she’s exceptionally strong and physically capable. She knows how to lead people in a manner that doesn’t put them in danger. Most of all she knows she can’t do it all. The hard fought lessons of the last few years have made her a leader who is instinctive as she is confident. When the Captain talks, you listen, regardless of whether their second name is America, or Marvel.

Better still, Thompson writes Carol as someone you’d just like to spend time with. She’s the ‘cool, slightly weird older sister’ a lot of the Marvel universe needs and her friendships here are a joy. I would read an entire book of her and Spider-Woman bantering together and the introduction of Hazmat, a young mutant with erratic radiation-based powers, neatly expands her circle of friends. Not just because of their shared mockery of Iron Man but because of who Carol is; someone strong enough to help and smart enough to make sure you want or need that help first. Which, given the central plot of the series so far involves her and Spider-Woman leading a ragtag team of women in armed revolt against Nuclear Man, is even more reassuring. Brilliantly, Thompson doesn’t take away from the other characters either. There’s a scene in the second issue where Carol is assessing how well the others did before she got there and is genuinely very impressed. And says so. There’s no machismo, no chest pounding or emotional over-connection. Instead a group of capable, tough, women who are holding things together and suddenly, with Carol’s arrival, realize that backup is here. It’s honest, compassionate and fun characterization that aces the Bechdel test and gives the book a unique, ensemble, feel that works brilliantly.

But comics are a team sport and every single team member here is top class. Carmen Carnero’s art is exactly what the book needs; science fiction exuberance combined with remarkable awareness of characters’ physicality. Carol’s deadpan sense of humor is pretty much the book’s co-star and Carnero’s work excels at selling the jokes, and action, through her posture and expression. Plus the fight sequences are fast, big and nasty. Never, ever go up against a flyer with super strength. Subsonic curb stomps leave a mark.

Tamra Bonvillain’s colors are equally impressive and help land the book’s unique approach. This is 2019 New York (Albeit on Earth 616) and it looks, and is lit, like it. There’s a pleasing, naturalistic feel to the colours which really comes into it’s own in the second issue as we hit the dark future(?). It feels rugged and lived in, an untidy future canvas for the conflict to play out across. It’s really impressive stuff, as is VC’s Clayton Cowles’ lettering. Cowles’ work makes sure the emotion, pacing and character of everyone involved comes across and on a book like this that’s especially vital. Like the script, art and colour work, it’s excellent work, expertly done.

A lot of people are going to go looking for Captain Marvel comics in the wake of the movie and this is one of the absolute best places to start. Smart, tough, funny and compassionate, this is everything that makes the character great from some of the best creatives in the field. Go get it.

Captain Marvel issues 1 and 2 are out now. Find your local comic shop herefind mine here and Comixology here.