For the first time in what feels like ages, a Marvel comic is released without being stuffed to the gills with advertisements. That might actually speak to a problem in the publishing world of securing advertisers, but it’s welcome to be able to read an entire comic and only get a grand total of four interior pages that serve as ads. Of course, this makes it all the more glaring when Marvel itself inserts a two-page house ad for Avengers Academy during what is supposed to be a touching, poignant scene of Carol Danvers heading into space. Half of all the ad space in Captain Marvel #1 not only takes the reader out of the scene in question, it came from the title’s own publisher! It’s the kind of ridiculousness that can only come from the corporate environment.
And now the boss is giving me the look, so I better wrap up that aside.
The reason I brought that up is, apart from that nonsense and the uselessness of the Marvel AR gimmick (whoops, here he comes again), yeah, this first issue of the new/old Captain Marvel series is actually a pretty decent comic. This in spite of it reproducing the exact same structure that Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley utilized for Avengers Assemble #5–opening fight scene that begins with a double-page splash followed by a whole lot of talking before the hero flies off at the end–but rather than double down on snark and cruise through the plot with almost casual disinterest, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy reintroduce the former Ms. Marvel, her relationships, and her fixation on her own hopes and dreams. In one sequence, Danvers narrates about an aviation idol of hers and how her powers disqualify her from achieving the same level of recognition (not being able to hold competitive records). This gets offset by the pure joy she experiences when able to go into free-fall from the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, suggesting the running theme for the title will be passion vs. achievement and the desire for both. Rather than hide behind structure, DeConnick and Soy use it to branch the story into parable about women in the military: a flashback sequence elaborates on Danvers’ relationship with her idol Helen Cobb, which is overlaid with a letter the elder pilot left for her, where DeConnick dispels any notion the women have “daddy issues” or are broken-hearted, but simply pursuing service to fulfill their own dreams. For that (woefully broken up) final sequence, Soy depicts Captain Marvel’s ascent with understated triumph in a series of panoramic shots before finishing the issue with a splash page.
It helps that Soy has a pop sensibility, following the lead of Paolo Rivera’s early collaborations with Paul Jenkins by mixing painted composition with cape comic action. No page space is wasted. Even the two-page spread that opens the issue–a device that has been misused so much in recent comics–avoids this: the primary action, Danvers and Captain America (who banter about how she technically outranks him, implying that taking the name “Captain Marvel” might be a ‘demotion’) battling the Absorbing Man, is fixated slightly up and to the right of the center, but then balances it out by including fleeing bystanders and a four-panel sequence on the edges of the image to make sure there is nothing gratuitous about this shot and that the scene moves. In the letters column, editor Stephen Wacker mistakenly identifies Soy’s palette as “impressionistic.” The Impressionists were focused on warm colors and accentuated brief mood over the subjects of their work (hence the name), whereas Soy’s work uses cool colors and, apart from some roughness here and there, has defined figures; it really bears more resemblance to the Hildebrandt brothers than to Monet, as they had a similar penchant for catching the eye. This also extends the sense of humor that plays out in DeConnick and Soy’s pages; not just in the dialogue, but in the visuals as well: one page involving Danvers making coffee for a friend of hers bears resemblance to the coffee-brewing montage from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (to the point I almost wish Marvel AR would include the “swoosh” sound effect from that film for this scene).
The real test of Captain Marvel will be if this issue’s conclusion signals a break from the biggest problem of the Ms. Marvel series that preceded it: the attempt by Marvel to make Carol Danvers their Big Deal Female Super-Hero, a vague and narrowly-defined term that shackled the character the same way Wonder Woman had been for years. Marvel’s certainly been pushing this series as their solo-heroine title, even engaging in a little bit of guilt-tripping to get people to buy the comic, which is not the way to handle any title. As the unfortunate ad placement showed, Marvel can’t get out of its own way. Whether DeConnick and Soy can wriggle free of this limitation remains to be seen, but for now it looks promising.