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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Dexter Soy (issues 1 and 2), Dexter Soy, Rich Elson, Wil Quintana, Karl Kesel, Javier Rodriguez (issue 3), Dexter Soy, Al Barrioneuvo (issue 4)
Colours: Will Quintana (issue 4)
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel

What’s it about?
Captain Marvel is a relaunch of a 45 year old character (in reality, not in continuity) known as Ms Marvel, or Carol Danvers.  Carol is an air force pilot who was caught in an alien explosion, granting her superhuman powers – flight, super strength, invulnerability, and energy beams that she can shoot from her hands.  She’s a powerhouse, probably on a par with Superman.  This relaunch updated her costume from a swimsuit-and-sash style to a full body uniform that has in more in common with the early 2000’s X-Men films, and it changed her name to Captain Marvel, more in fitting with her military background.
In this story she meets with an old friend and is catapulted back through time to the 1940s, to meet a group of Women Airforce Service Pilots fighting on a Japanese occupied island.  On her journey back to the present day she is bumped through various different years, meets her childhood heroes, and gets to fly planes with some of the most talented women of the 20th century.
If you think you’ve seen the name Captain Marvel here before you’d be right, as there is also a Captain Marvel in DC comics - a boy granted gifts from the Gods and transformed into a mythic being.  A lengthy legal battle between Marvel and DC gave the rights to the name to Marvel, so DC have renamed their character Shazam.  You can read about DC’s Captain Marvel books here and here. 
What’s good about it?
This series made me a Captain Marvel fan.  I've read Carol in Ms Marvel trades and I did not like her.  I found her characterisation dislikeable, and the art and plot dull.  However, this collection - well, this drew me right in.  This book shows Carol as a determined, snarky individual.  She can be sarcastic, but she’s got an inner resolve about her that I appreciate.  Then again, no matter how engaging Carol is there is no denying that it’s really the other characters which make this book glow.
This book reads as a celebration of women’s achievements and tenacity.  These characters are glorious.  They love, they argue, they work hard, they drink, they debate, they fight, they live, they get angry.  They are fabulous.  The story doesn't sugar-coat them: we see their faults, but it makes them real.  It's a fitting tribute to women pilots, both in the second world war and in the years after.

Carol's new costume is gorgeous.  It’s sleek and stylish.  It’s just so pleasing to the eye.  I'm not talking the politics of superhero costumes here, I mean that on a basic aesthetic level it’s just an absolute pleasure to look at.
What's bad about it?
This book is very much an ode to women, womanhood, and women's achievements.  If you find that a bit too political, or a bit on-the-nose, then you might find this a bit much.
What’s the art like?
A fellow named Dexter Soy does the most of the art on issues 1 to 4.  Issues 5 and 6 are done by Emma Rios.

Soy's art looks painted but it has been done digitally.  However, there is a richness to it that digital art often lacks.  There's a lot of shading - in the folds of the uniform, in the character's hair, and in the debris of the action scenes.   This contrasts nicely with the bright, primary colours of Carol's uniform - she literally outshines the other heroes.  Carol has muscles but is also drawn with delicate features.  She looks determined.  She dresses like real women do.  Occasionally there's some weird anatomy - see Carol's breasts on the left - but this is few and far between.

Given that this is a book in which planes feature heavily, I should say that even with my limited knowledge of, and interest in, planes I think they look pretty good.

In issue 3 there are a couple of flashbacks, each drawn by different artists, in a style reminiscent of the era they are set.  I won't say more because you don't want spoilers!
In issue 4 the final few pages are done by Al Barrioneuvo and Wil Quintana.  This again reflects a new era that Carol has travelled to.  The art is complementary to Soy's - it's heavy on the ink and there's character in the faces, but it is not as rich as Soy's work.
The final two issues are done by Emma Rios (see below) and she has a completely different style.  Her women are what I think of as proper dames - comfortable in their skin, delicate features but with an iron force of will.  She's got a great eye for period detail and delivers the storytelling through the colours as much as the action.
I'm hard pushed to say whether I prefer Soy's or Rios' art.  Both are effective, both styles draw me into the story, and both are very pleasing to the eye.
On the lettering - most of the words are in standard capitals but some of Carol's narration is in a handwritten style.  Thankfully it's fairly clear, so it is readable.
Note - a  lot of the art in this post is from sample pages that Marvel released pre-publication.   This is why some panels have no lettering on them.  When publishers want to stir up interest in a comic without giving the story away, they release pages with the dialogue and narration removed.

Other information
Price: £10.99
ISBN: 0785165495

You will see that the cover of this trade has a Marvel Now! logo on it.  This is a new initiative started recently by Marvel to indicate which of their books are good starting points for new readers.

Further reading
The second trade in this series is called Down, details are on Amazon.
The digital comics shop Comixology has a lot of Ms Marvel back issues available.  Her first appearance (and first ongoing series) is available here.  Her second series is available here.  The current series (from which this trade collects issues 1 to 6) is available here.

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