Captain Marvel (2012) v1: In Pursuit of Flight
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $14.99
Alternative: Free with a Comixology Unlimited subscription
Alternative 2: Issues 1 through 6 of Captain Marvel (2012) are available individually as part of a Marvel Unlimited subscription
Release Date: December 19, 2012
Collects Issues: 1-6 of the 2012 Captain Marvel series
Alternate Collected Edition: Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero v1 (Collects issues 1-12 of the 2012 Captain Marvel series)
|The ‘Mightiest’ of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is back! Ace pilot. Legendary Avenger. One hundred percent pure bad-^&*. Carol Danvers has a new name, a new mission – and all the power she needs to make her own life a living hell. As the new Captain Marvel, Carol is forging a new future for herself, but finds she can’t walk away from a challenge from her past! It’s a firefight in the sky as the Banshee Squadron debut – but who are the Prowlers, and where has Carol seen them before? And how does secret NASA training program Mercury 13 fit in? Witness Captain Marvel in blazing battlefield action that just may change the course of history! Avengers Time Travel Protocols: engage!|
A note on continuity: Carol Danvers to this point has alternatively gone by Ms. Marvel, Warbird and Binary. The first time she took the name “Captain Marvel” was in the House of M crossover in 2005. This was an alternate reality story and she would not wear the title again until 2012, so I’m not really counting it.
However, prior to Captain Marvel #1 in 2012 she did have one other appearance with that codename. The week before the launch of her solo title she appeared as Captain Marvel in Avenging Spider-Man #9, which was part one of a two part story. For whatever reason this story is not collected until a later tradepaperback, so I will cover it when I get to that book. There are no particularly pertinent plot points to cover from those two issues, so you’re not missing much reading it out of order.
When we last left off Carol Danvers had just finished her stint in a Ms. Marvel solo title which mostly reinvigorated the character after decades of neglect. It wasn’t a perfect restructuring of the character, but it increased her profile and gave Marvel a female character they could push as a lead.
By 2012 the “Captain Marvel” title had been handed off no less than six times between both men and women. The name was not in active use in 2012, with the two most recent wielders Phyla-Vell and Noh-Varr each having taken on new names instead. That wasn’t exactly a coincidence since the push for Carol to be Marvel’s lead woman was in full swing.
In July 2012 Captain Marvel #1 was launched by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Dexter Soy. Carol had a new costume designed by Jamie McKelvie to go with her new codename. Gone were the bikinis and one-piece bathing suits, and in their place was a full bodied jump suit colored in red, blue and gold. It also had a headpiece that Carol could trigger at will which bundled her hair up in a mohawk to approximate a Kree’s centurion plume. It was, quite simply, a striking and simple design.
Marvel put a lot of promotion into the launch and gave quite a bit of media coverage to Carol. Kelly Sue DeConnick went to the Internet and raised as much awareness as she could. She even founded the Carol Corps, which encouraged fans – particularly young women – to promote the title and get word out that Marvel was finally giving Carol her due. It was a movement built around empowerment, and it worked well for the book. It became enough of a thing that the Carol Corps name was even adopted for an alternate reality version of the book during the Secret Wars event.
Thoughts on Pursuit of Flight
Both Carol and writer Kelly Sue DeConnick had a lot to prove with the new Captain Marvel title. They had to not only prove that Carol could lead her own book, but also live up to the legacy of her new name. This latter point is what the book focuses heavily on, and attacks from multiple angles. The entire first arc is Carol musing not just on the Captain Marvel legacy, but on the legacy of women in aviation.
The first issue is largely about setting the stage and Carol’s status quo, but once we get past that it turns into a time travel story. A plane that Carol inherits from a famous woman aviator named Helen Cobb becomes a magic Kree time machine and off she goes. There is a hand-waving explanation for the magic powers the plane has, but in the end it’s of minimal importance to the story.
The time travel mechanic is just a way to explore some less famous moments in aviation history starring women. We see the ferry flight pilots of World War 2 who transported planes from the factories to the front lines (albeit in a combat situation with Kree aliens, which is… odd), and also the potential women astronauts of the Mercury 13. Mostly all this is to show how hard women have fought to be taken seriously in aviation over the years. And, of course, it’s true. The individual characters like Helen may be fictional, but they represent real people and organizations (Helen is probably a stand-in for real-life aviator and Mercury 13 candidate Jerrie Cobb). These are the people who didn’t get their chance just because of their gender.
Historical note tangent: the Mercury 13 actually made it a bit farther into training and flight readiness checks than portrayed here, but the program did end up getting closed. Jerrie Cobb was rated in the top 2% of astronaut candidates regardless of gender. There was also a legal battle raised by the women to get the program reinstated, but they were rejected on the grounds of not being test pilots (which women could not be at the time) nor rated on jets (which women had no access to fly). Scott Carpenter and John Glenn both stood up for the women and testified on their behalf. In the end the battle went nowhere and the women of Mercury 13 became a footnote to history.
This is ultimately a superhero comic, so after the trip down aviation history it diverges into Carol’s history. We see where she gained her powers, and how Helen Cobb tried to steal those powers in a re-write of history. They fight, they argue and so on. Honestly this is the weakest part of the book and it’s clear it mostly exists just to fill genre expectations. The message is more important than the vessel in this case, although that doesn’t excuse it for being a random tangent in this book.
That is really what ends up defining Captain Marvel v1: In Pursuit of Flight – it’s the message, not the story. There are two core objectives for this book. The first is to give Carol Danvers a direction and purpose. The second is to establish a legacy outside of Captain Marvel for Carol to live up to. The plot and story are just means of reaching these two objectives. There are times when this is frustrating, and times when it works out. For the most part, though, the story just kind of jumps around and things happen because they need to. The story is okay on average, but the message is strong.
It would be easy to make the book about Carol living up to the legacy of Mar-Vell, Genis-Vell and all the others, but that’s missing the point. That would put Carol in the shadow of the men and women who came before her (mostly Mar-Vell). By moving the idea of legacy from Captain Marvel to the heroes of women in aviation it stays much more in line with what the character is about. It becomes a question of carrying on a legacy rather than living up to one, which is an important distinction.
Thoughts on the Art
Dexter Soy is the primary artist of the book with chapters one through four bearing his signature. Emma Rios is brought on to finish the book’s final two chapters, and the style shift is jarring. Dexter Soy tends to favor heavier line work with deep shadows, while Emma is much scratchier and thinner with her strokes. She also favors a more exaggerated, cartoonish style. Of the two I would have to say I preferred Emma’s endcap issues, but neither of the two really strikes my fancy all that much.
Some other artists come on to fill in the gaps in places. Rich Elson, Wil Quintana, Karl Keser, Javier Rodriguez and Al Barrionuevo all contribute to the book at times. These are mostly blocked off as side stories or one-off pages, but a few squeak in some regular page work as well. Overall they do a decent job of blending their styles to match the purpose, but none of them really gel with the others. Given that these appear to be filler jobs you can’t really expect much.
On the whole it is not a particularly good looking book, and I think it is largely a misfire in that regard. On the plus side panel layouts are good and the story flows easily. There are also a large number of characters introduced and they remain distinctive. It’s just the styles are not really to my taste, and it brings the reading experience down a few notches.
Women in aviation have had to face many obstacles over the last 100 years. That is certainly true of almost every other field, as well, but aviation has always felt like a particularly big hurdle. With the exception of Amelia Earhart there are no household name women aviators to look up to. It wasn’t even until Sally Ride flew on the Challenger in 1983 that Americans sent a woman into space (the Russians did it in 1963 and 1982). There are plenty of role models if you’re willing to dig in and do the research, but none that are easily recognized.
While Carol may not be a real person she does bring attention to women in aviation at almost the same level as Ride or Earhart. With her movie coming next year girls and young women will have someone they can point to as a guide. She’s powerful as a superhero, but she was strong before then, too. Even before she was Ms. Marvel she was a top pilot and the head of security at a top-secret base. She has clawed her way through hardship every step of the way. You cannot say that she hasn’t worked for what she has.
It is also important to note that Carol is not an icon of perfection, either. That will be something that comes up more often in later books in this series, but it pops up a bit here. She is hard-headed and arrogant, and she’s quick to take the bait in a fight. But, then, she has to be. These may not be virtues and ideals to live up to, but they are things that Carol had to get to where she is. The book even states this outright through Helen Cobb with all the rules she breaks just to get noticed at all. This is important because this is the same struggle that many will face. Even today when this all should be a thing of the past the struggle for minorities and women is real, and to present it otherwise is disingenuous. Carol has had to wage this fight all her life, and it would be dishonest to have her come through without scars.
For a new reader coming in from the movie next year I don’t think this is necessarily the best entrance book. Marvel seems to be filling that spot with The Life of Captain Marvel at the moment, so this might fit better as a second or third volume. Fortunately, you don’t need to know much about Carol to get into this book since it dodges almost all of her history outside of her origin. This could easily be viewed as a stand-alone product, and there’s a certain amount to be said for that. It also sets the theme of Captain Marvel’s current direction, which is important, but I wish the story that overlaid it was stronger and not hindered by superhero genre trappings.
At the end of all of this the storytelling is all over the place, but the message is important and focused. It would have been the safe route to have this book be about the legacy of Captain Marvel and a history of that. Kelly Sue DeConnick didn’t want to take the safe route, and as a result we have a stronger Captain Marvel for it. This is a flawed character that we can still admire. She has two legacies to carry, and we know from this volume that she has the skill to do it.