No comic book character becomes iconic without going through a process. Sometimes, it happens unexpectedly. It’s hard to imagine that Stan Lee knew Spider-Man’s popularity when he first introduced him in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. Most heroes only gain that status through a combination of luck, appeal, and growth. In the case of Carol Danvers, these factors aren’t always present. Indeed, throughout her history, she makes due with limited opportunities. In a world that contains the likes of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine, that’s understandable.
Then, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick comes along and takes Carol Danvers to new heights with her run on Captain Marvel in 2012. After years as a supporting character stuck in niche roles, Carol finally establishes herself as someone worthy of being in the upper levels of Marvel’s pantheon of icons. By shedding her former title and embracing that of Captain Marvel, she becomes someone who can hold her own in a landscape crowded with notables. That ascension isn’t always smooth and even stalls somewhat due to the events of Civil War II, but it brings out the complexities of a character that finally has a chance to realize her full potential.
With an elevated role in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck Captain Marvel film staring Brie Larson on the way (anticipated release date: March 2019), the MCU is pressed to get fans involved in the story of this young Captain Marvel. Comics writer Margaret Stohl, who has been doing most of the heavy lifting on Carol’s story after DeConnick’s departure, has an opportunity to add new layers to Captain Marvel’s ongoing growth through The Life of Captain Marvel #1. This comic is not so much a re-telling of Carol’s origins as it is an expansion of her story.
It serves as a new bridge between the present and the past of a character whose story isn’t as well-known as the Peter Parkers and Steve Rogers of the world. This gives Stohl an opportunity to build on the non-alien portion of Carol’s story and she really runs with it. There aren’t any epic space battles, Hydra agents, or Hulk-like monsters, here. Most of the story takes place in Harpswell, Maine. It’s not the Kree home world, but just being there ends up hitting Carol harder than a fleet of Kree warships.
She doesn’t go to Harpswell out of nostalgia. What prompts this homecoming has nothing to do with a high school bully or a childhood crush. It has everything to do, however, with Father’s Day, an occasion which makes Carol relieve some very unpleasant memories. However, these are not the kinds of daddy issues that make for one too many John Hughes movies. Rather, serves as the basis for one of the biggest upheavals in Carol Danvers’ life that doesn’t involve aliens.
This story is a stark contrast to the standard narrative surrounding Carol since she took the mantle of Captain Marvel. Part of embracing that title means flying higher and looking forward, something Carol doesn’t hesitate to do when there are aliens and Hydra soldiers to punch. She’s a tough, driven woman who just happens to have the kind of power and grit to go farther than most people imagine. The idea of her still being anchored by unresolved issues in her past seems antithetical to the arc she’s been on for the past several years. However, that’s exactly what her character needs.
That’s not just because she has a movie coming out in March 2019. Carol’s eagerness to lead the charge into a fight makes her one of Marvel’s most prominent superheroes, as well as an inspiration and a leader. It also puts her in a position to confront painful memories, of which she has a few. For years, the most notable issue she’s dealt with is alcoholism. But Stohl doesn’t try to revisit that, here.
Rather, Carol’s memories of her past are largely filled by her father’s bad temper. Her present life addresses the consequences of his actions and how they affect her and her brother, Joe Junior. What happens to him as he reconnects with Carol puts her in a situation where she can’t just fight her way out of a problem like Captain Marvel. She can’t just fly away from the problem, either. She has to stick around in this place of her childhood that brings up so many unpleasant memories.
As a result, Stohl provides some overdue but welcome insight into Carol Danvers. Her experiences with her family and her reaction to the tragedies that unfold do more to humanize her character. It’s not just that she interacts with her family and espouses her love of donuts. She willingly opens old wounds and reveals that, for all her power and bravado, she still struggles to cope. This provides a new context for who her character is as a person, rather than an accomplished superhero. That she’s annoyed with Harpswell for using her personal history to promote tourism to the town reveals that there’s a disconnect between Carol Danvers and Captain Marvel.
It’s a similar struggle that affects Peter Parker. One’s problematic past is also a struggle that Kamala Khan, Carol’s biggest fan, is just starting to cope with in her role as Ms. Marvel. There are other complications she doesn’t know about, yet, that may deepen her wounds. There’s even a hint that aliens are involved with her past problems, which is in keeping with Carol’s tendency to attract other worldly trouble.
Indeed, the potential for major revelations, as well as space battles mixed with personal upheaval, is certainly there. The details are somewhat vague, almost to an excessive degree. However, this story does enough to set up an internal nuanced battle, if you will, for Carol.
The Life of Captain Marvel #1 gets the timing, the context of this return to home just right for Carol Danvers. It’s one of those defining stories that needs to be told before a character can achieve the superhero level of a Captain America or Iron Man. Carol is already ascending and with Brie Larson set to bring her to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s safe to say she’ll get there.