Reviews: the Life of Captain Marvel

Published On July 18, 2018 | By | Comics, Reviews

The Life of Captain Marvel #1,
Margaret Stohl, Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Fonteriz, Marcio Menyz, Marguerite Sauvage,

(cover artwork by Julian Totino Tedesco)

It’s fair to say this is one of the week’s big new comics releases, the start of a new series taking a fresh angle on one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful heroes against a backdrop of increasing interest in Carol Danvers ahead of the forthcoming Captain Marvel movie. It seems like a good time to start a new series, partly to build more interest among existing fans, but also to tempt in new readers, aware of the film coming and wondering who the character is, but daunted by the years of back story they would have to catch up on (often a problem for new readers).

Carol may be one of the great success stories in Marvel Comics of recent years, but arguably she’s not as well known outside regular comics readers as Spidey, Captain America et al, who have had decades longer to sink into the general pop culture. I had to explain to a friend (minor spoiler warning if you still haven’t seen the most recent Avengers film, skip to next paragraph) what the symbol on Nick Fury’s communicator meant at the very end of Infinity War; he’s heard the name but never read any of those comics so the symbol meant nothing to him at that point. This turns out to be a pretty good place for someone like my friend to start reading Captain Marvel ahead of that movie, as it offers a pretty straight line into Carol’s world for anyone totally new to the character, while still offering the long-time reader some interesting insights into her past that have shaped and formed her adult self.

This first issue takes two overlapping stories from Carol’s life, flashbacks to her youth with her brothers, mother and father, summers spent on the coast of Maine, drawn by Marguerite Sauvage, while Carlos Pacheco draws the pages set in the present, where, during a battle with fellow Avengers, Carol experiences memories of the childhood. The first couple of pages, drawn by Sauvage with a lovely, softly coloured, almost soft-focus touch that infers a warm, happy memory, give way to the present day battle, then the flashbacks, panels of Sauvage’s art interjected between Pacheco’s more strongly coloured and inked work, contrasting, disturbing. These are not the happy memories we thought they were, and they spark a fury inside Carol, and a burning, violent anger in a being as powerful as she is could have quite dreadful consequences. Even She-Hulk notices and comments “that looks like Hulk-sized anger to me” as she badly beats her opponent well beyond what is required to subdue her.

As Steve Rogers restrains her and tries to calm her down Carol is clearly having a horrible anxiety attack, not just the raw anger but the struggle to even talk or breathe. These are some hurtful memories, and they revolve around her father – and today is father’s day. Tony Stark, no stranger to having problems relating to his parents, talks to her about her problems – he’s still Tony Stark, making cracks and remarks, but he’s also quite clearly a friend who is worried about her and trying to be supportive. She has to go home, to Maine, but while there are little delights – her mum has made one of her favourite snacks, she can smell it from the porch and experiences that lovely feeling most of us have when going home as an adult but being looked after by mum like we were almost a kid again, that wonderful warm feeling.

But there’s that old Thomas Wolfe adage of “you can’t go home again”. The problems caused by Carol’s father still affect her family years after his death. They haunt her and have driven her to go home to try and process them, but it’s clear her brother and mother really don’t want to talk about it, this is a whole family still in the shadow of that man, even after he’s gone. Stohl avoids the more well-trodden route of families-with-a-past reconciling – this is more emotionally twisted for all concerned, messy, like real life often is. For every moment of pleasure – the expression on Carol’s face as she flies through the air, or plays basketball with her brother – there are numerous heavy, very emotional moments, all serving to remind us that Carol is not just the iconic, powerful Captain Marvel, she’s a person, with all those human needs, emotions, memories and frailties inside, no matter how powerful her body is.

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