Even in victory, Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel) discovers a new vulnerability that brings out the best in her.
Whenever there's a major war, it's only when the dust settles that we learn just how devastating the struggle really was. When wars end, there's usually a period of jubilation and celebration. The victors throw parades in the streets. The losers, while defeated and devastated, can at least let out a sigh of relief, knowing the bloodshed is over. That feeling, much like a victory parade, is often temporary. Nobody gives much thought to those who must clean up after that parade, figuratively and literally.
Captain Marvel is, by all accounts, on a winning streak. Ever since Kelly Sue DeConnick elevated her to the status of Marvel's Wonder Woman, Carol Danvers keeps jumping from victory to victory. Whether she's holding down multiple solo titles or inspiring new generations of heroes in Kamala Khan, it's pretty clear that she's doing okay for herself. Now with Brie Larson's star power and a movie set to debut in 2019, she's well on her way to carving her face on the Mount Rushmore of superheroes.
This ascension, however, is not without cost. No superhero ever became iconic or got to carve a giant statue of themselves without pushing a little harder and upsetting a few fans in the process. The narrative in Civil War II checks all the boxes in terms of putting a price on Captain Marvel's ascension. It put her in a position to be either vindicated or vilified with very little gray area in between. As a result, she's no longer this universally praised symbol of girl power. She's a walking message board of controversy.
This presents a unique challenge for Margaret Stohl in The Mighty Captain Marvel #0. With the dust settling from Civil War II, what does this mean for Captain Marvel moving forward? How does she continue her ascent into that special place usually reserved for Captain America, Spider-Man, or any other hero that ever appeared on a lunch box? Stohl addresses this challenge by making a concerted effort to humanize Carol Danvers. For the most part, she succeeds.
The Mighty Captain Marvel #0 isn't built around the tried and true formula of having Captain Marvel punch, blast, and flex her way through a threat. For her story and her character to gain greater complexity, the plot needs more substance than style. The substance here paints a different, but intriguing picture of who Carol Danvers is and where she's at right now.
Civil War II effectively forced Captain Marvel to into a difficult role and in many respects, she still clings to parts of that role, even though it costs her some close friends. Stohl makes it a point to emphasize how much Captain Marvel wants to confront dangers before they blow up in someone's face. In the Marvel Universe, where everything from Thanos to talking ducks can randomly show up, this is not entirely misguided.
That element is key to making The Mighty Captain Marvel #0 work. It's also key in making Captain Marvel a balanced character. She never comes off as arrogant, angry, or petty. Stohl goes to considerable lengths to show how the outcome of Civil War II haunts Carol, so much so that she's battling intense nightmares and crippling insomnia. Sure, she can deal with these issues by punching asteroids and arm-wrestling She-Hulk, but it still torments her. The very human side of her still shows.
This human side is emphasized far more than her Kree side. This makes the story work because it creates a conflict for Captain Marvel that she can't solve through punching. This requires her to use coping skills that ordinary humans who can't punch asteroids actually use. She enlists the aid of a therapist. She reaches out to her closest friends, namely Spider-Woman. She tries burying herself in her work. These are all skills that both a superhero and an overworked high school teacher can use.
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This goes a long way towards humanizing Captain Marvel. She's more vulnerable here than she's ever been in a situation that didn't involve Thanos or a raging Hulk. However, that vulnerability never becomes too overplayed. When humanizing a character, it's easy to fall into the same trap that many Disney princesses stumble into. They become vulnerable so they either start crying or break out into song. Carol Danvers never does that here. Instead, she tries to grit her teeth and push forward. It's the kind of tactic that would've made Frozen and Brave a much shorter movie.
The humanization and vulnerability bring out the best in Captain Marvel, but it also highlights some of her flaws. Anybody who didn't side with her in Civil War II probably isn't going to side with her after reading The Mighty Captain Marvel #0. She never apologizes for doing what she did. While the loss of her friends haunts her, she doesn't regret the decisions that led to those losses. It creates a strange mix of tension within the character that's difficult to resolve.
That tension plays out in a narrative that isn't always cohesive. One minute, Captain Marvel is dishing out orders with Alpha Flight to aid in alien refugees. The next, she's in a diner with Spider-Woman in need of a hug. The sequence of events is a little choppy, but it never becomes chaotic. Emilio Laiso's artwork also does a lot to highlight the dramatic moments that gives this issue its impact.
For those wanting to see Carol Danvers punch and blast things in a large-scale cosmic conflict, The Mighty Captain Marvel #0 will be a disappointment. That isn't the story Stohl tries to tell here. Those looking for a story that builds on the dramatic shifts Carol endures during Civil War II, however, will find plenty to appreciate in this issue. Any punching or blasting she does is just a bonus.
In many respects, this comic acts as an epilogue for Civil War II. Carol Danvers is such an ambitious character, wanting to do more than just tie up villains and drop them off in front of police stations. That ambition shows in both her ability to punch things and her desire to ensure the danger doesn't punch back. It sets her apart from many heroes and Brie Larson would be wise to reference The Mighty Captain Marvel #0 in preparing for this role.