Welcome to Pull List, a new monthly comics column. We’ll look at everything from decades-spanning titles to oneshots and miniseries, from graphic novels to caped crusaders to webcomics. There’ll be a strong focus on works with high marks in diversity and feminism, out-of-the-box artistic creativity, and envelope-pushing, as well as some old school silliness every now and again.
Being a comics fan ain’t easy, especially if you don’t fit the outmoded paradigm of straight white male. As someone who doesn’t meet two thirds of that criteria, I avoided the whole comics thing for ages. I had the joy of growing up with the X-Men, Justice League, Superman, and Batman cartoons, and the supreme displeasure of discovering that comics-on-tv was pretty much the only space in which I was allowed. For years, whenever people asked me my favorite comics characters, my go-to were Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, Jubilee, Storm, and Oracle, but my knowledge of them was strictly television-based.
Not that I didn’t try to get into print. No one bothered me when I bought Preacher or Hellboy at Borders, but if I dared enter a comic shop without knowing Jason Todd’s entire convoluted background down to the issue then I was clearly only there as a bitch taunting the noble male geek or as the bitch belonging to a noble male geek. If I was stupid enough to ask for recommendations with the caveat that I only wanted comics that didn’t treat women like sexual plot points or relegate PoC to background characters, you could practically hear the record scratch. With one question I went from stared at unicorn to glared at feminazi. So I gave up on comics and instead consumed creatively edgy and progressively diverse graphic novels like Y: The Last Man and Sandman.
With the MCU (and, to a vastly lesser extent, the DC movie reboots), it’s less that the tide has turned but that popular culture is finally paying attention to the shift. With the recent announcements that Sam Wilson is the new Cap and Unnamed Woman Who Will Be Thor will be joining Miles Morales and actor Michael B. Jordan in adopting mantles formerly held by white men, the tidal pull is getting stronger and stronger. (Meanwhile, DC continues to be all kinds of frustrating.) But that’s not why I wanted to write this column. We could be here all day talking about diversity and how the industry is or isn’t becoming more inclusive. Instead, let me tell you about what brought me back to comics. First was the Tumblr-based discovery of the Carol Corps and, by extension, the incredible Kelly Sue DeConnick. Second was finally finding a comic shop with a proprietor that treated me like a person, relished my questions, and eagerly filled my pull list with so many recommendations I could barely keep up. The first thing I bought? Yep: Kelly Sue’s Captain Marvel.
Origin Story: Captain Marvel made his first appearance in 1967, and his first solo title a year later. Six others (4 men, 2 women) have held the title, including a NOLA cop and a ton of aliens, not to mention the additional half dozen or so who pop up in alternate realities, like in Warren Ellis’ “Ruins” miniseries and evil Lord Mar-Vell from the Cancerverse. Carol Danvers first appeared in 1968. Before becoming Ms. Marvel when Kree genes merged with hers, she was in the US Air Force. She was also subjected to one of the worst storylines in comics history, “The Rape of Ms. Marvel.” The various and sundry Captain Marvels have been in and out of The Avengers, and several of them turn up in the reboot.
In 2012, DeConnick and artists Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, and Filipe Andrade (among others) promoted Carol Danvers from Ms. Marvel to Earth’s Mightiest Hero, and gave her a whole new costume in the process. Carol’s thrilling adventurousness and stubborn impatience have endeared her to new and old fans alike. The 2012 series is available in 3 volumes: “In Pursuit of Flight” has issues 1-6; “Down” has 7-12; and “Avengers: The Enemy Within” has 13, 14, and 17. DeConnick returned in 2014 with an all new series, and 5 issues have been released thus far.
Much has been said about Strong Female Characters and Trinity Syndrome. Fortunately, every female character DeConnick gets her hands on is the exact opposite of that, and there are a ton of them, each with a personality and something to say. They aren’t strong as a plot device, nor are they reduced to their sexuality or level of attractiveness. Captain America is vocal and admiring about Carol outranking him. Her romantic interests respect her powers rather than resent them. Even her human companions are treated as equals by all players. The male characters aren’t just treating her like they’d treat a dude. No, they’re treating her like a person, like they’d treat everyone. She isn’t a girl playing dressup, but a woman with a job to do, and not even Tony Stark meddling with her calendar can get in her way.
Captain Marvel is more than just an excellent comic about women. It’s an excellent comic all the way around. There’s a lot to love about Carol Danvers. Hell, there’s a lot to love about Kelly Sue DeConnick. The artwork is crisp and gorgeous—artist Filipe Andrade is my personal fave—and there’s an obvious and welcome lack of Rob Liefeld stylization. The dialogue is full of wisecracking banter and quippy casualness, and it’s an absolute delight to read. All the characters, male, female, superpowered, human, and variations thereupon, are petty, shallow, loyal, self-centered, mule-headed, embarrassed, determined, scared, charming, irritating, and everything else that makes us human. They don’t feel like decades-old characters spawned by a billion dollar corporation. They feel like real people trying their best to deal with impossible situations. Hera help me, I’d give just about anything to have a cup of coffee with Captain Whiz Bang and Spider-Woman.
You could hardly pick a better entry point for modern, progressive comics than Captain Marvel. Even if you’re not hip to the character or mantle’s expansive history, DeConnick offers enough to keep the newbies from feeling overwhelmed and the vets from getting bored. Beloved characters, famous and otherwise, make guest appearances, including Mar-Vell himself. DeConnick wisely reboots Carol’s origin story in a way that generally adheres to tradition while also pulling her out of victim mode. The storylines are riotous fun (dinosaurs!) and heartbreaking (brain tumors!). Captain Marvel is everything I ever wanted in a superhero comic, everything I was previously denied. She’s singlehandedly doing Wonder Woman and Lois Lane’s share of the patriarchy smashing. Everything DC’s New 52 got wrong, Kelly Sue DeConnick got right.
Best place to start is with Captain Marvel volume 1, “In Pursuit of Flight.” Find your nearest local comic shop here.
Tune in next month for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Rocket Raccoon,” and “Legendary Star-Lord”…
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.