PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Losses, Journeys, and Ascensions: 'The Life of Captain Marvel #5'

Carol Danvers life will never be the same. That's a good thing.

The Life of Captain Marvel #5
Margaret Stohl, Carlos Pacheco

Marvel Comics

19 Dec 2018


Evolution and reinvention is a common part of any comics superhero narrative. For characters older than the internet, MTV, and disco music, it's a necessary fact of their fictional lives. Some characters are timeless and don't need to significantly change. That's why Superman is still able to wear red underwear and not seem (too) ridiculous to modern audiences. A character like Carol Danvers, though, needs more shake-ups than most and Margaret Stohl recently gave her the biggest she's had in decades.

The Life of Captain Marvel has the plot, upheavals, and shocking revelations to be a major turning point for Carol Danvers. The events of The Life of Captain Marvel #4 significantly alter her circumstances, but not to the point of a full-fledged retcon. Finding out she's half-Kree, and her mother is a Kree warrior, doesn't just change the context of Carol's story. It effectively reshapes her identity. She's no longer some hotshot pilot who gets caught in the crossfire of an exploding alien device. She's someone who is now divided between two worlds, having a human and alien side that constantly pull her in different directions.

With the truth of her heritage revealed, The Life of Captain Marvel #5 acts as a culmination of those secrets and their consequences. Stohl puts Carol in a vulnerable position and for someone who can smash asteroids with her firsts, that's saying something. Her past and her mother's secrets are coming back to haunt her in the form of a Kree assassin. She barely has time to process the revelation about her alien heritage. She has to start operating as someone with ties to two worlds, knowing better than most that alien politics is rarely civil in the Marvel universe.

While many retcons have a tendency to get convoluted, the stakes for Carol are pretty straightforward. The Kree, in their vastly ruthless wisdom, determine that Carol's mother failed in her mission. For that, she has to die. The Kree don't believe in allowing a margin for error. It means Carol has none, either. She has be both Kree and human to protect her mother. For the first time, she has to embrace every part of who she is and where she came from. It's quite a feat for someone who had been struggling with identity issues before she found out she was half-alien. It also helps set the stage for moments that will likely define this character for years to come.

(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

This isn't one of those fights where Carol can just grit her teeth, make a few Star Wars references, and punch her way to victory. It's far more personal, requiring Carol to wear her heart on her sleeve every step of the way. It brings out the best in her as both Captain Marvel and Carol Danvers. Every circumstance and obstacle adds dramatic weight to every action-packed moment. The battle takes place in Harpswell, Maine, a place where Carol has many fond memories as a child. The primary target is her mother. It forces her to do something that Captain Marvel rarely has to do, which is show her vulnerabilities.

Stohl brings out the best and worst of Carol's emotions. The narrative she weaves ties defining moments in Carol's past to the unfolding conflict in the present. These flashbacks do more than remind her how far she's come and how high she's flown over the years. It fits the stunning revelations from previous issues into a new context. It doesn't fundamentally change the sequence of events. Carol is still the same hotshot pilot who finds herself at ground zero of an exploding alien device. It just adds new complications to the mix.

Carol being half-Kree may not affect how she conducts herself in a fight, but it has an obvious effect on how she sees herself.The Life of Captain Marvel begins with a personal crisis, but learning the truth about herself and having to fight alongside her mother gives her a new perspective. Sthol's use of flashbacks and Carlos Pacheco's colorful artwork help reinforce this every step of the way. Even for Captain Marvel, it's overwhelming. It creates moments where she fully embraces her Kree side, but her humanity never wanes. If anything, it grows stronger.

(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

For a while, that strength will be more than sufficient. This is what Carol does, regardless of what the stakes are. She raises the bar, ups her game, and wins the day through unwavering determination and overwhelming power. That is often the standard narrative for Carol, especially since taking the title of Captain Marvel. At first, it looks as though The Life of Captain Marvel #5 will remain true to that narrative. That's not how it plays out, though. However, that ends up making the story even more dramatic.

Despite all the added motivation Carol has going for her, it still isn't enough. She still saves her home town from destruction, but it comes at a cost. To some extent, it's more of a loss than a triumph. The aftermath hits her harder than any enemy she's ever fought, alien or otherwise. Whereas her Kree side does all the heavy lifting, it's her human side that bears the burden. Just like her Kree side, though, she embraces it. The emotions on display are some of Sthol's finest accomplishments as a writer.

Even though the battle doesn't involve invading alien armies or giant space gods, it leaves a mark on Carol that's sure to affect her for years to come. It hits her harder than any renegade Hulk or alien assassin ever could. For once, she has to come back down to Earth and let herself be Carol Danvers, the woman, instead of Captain Marvel, the high-flying Avenger. It's an intensely personal moment that acts as both a beginning and an end to her journey.

The final resolution of The Life of Captain Marvel #5 sends a clear, but heartfelt message. Carol's life will never be the same. Her past doesn't change, but she sees it differently now. The connections she once avoided now become more meaningful. She sees herself differently than before. She can no longer distance herself from her family, even as a space-faring superhero. She has strong personal ties to both the stars and small towns in Maine on Earth.

It's a fitting balance for a character that has undergone so many changes in recent years. With a movie on the horizon and Brie Larson's star power behind her, Carol Danvers' success keeps rising and The Life of Captain Marvel #5 helps raise her story even higher.

(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.