In an article for the New York Times dated February 28, 2019 by David Itzkoff, the reporter heaps praise on the “idea” of a Captain Marvel movie. The meat of the article is a giant pile of old tires filled with myths passed off as facts and lit to blaze by pull quotes from three comic book personalities who would rather push an obnoxious social justice agenda than extol the virtues of a character that has been and could again be a true feminist icon. Let’s see if we can spread out enough metaphorical FEM-12SC to see through the smoke.
This is a big article full of lots of things to talk about so we’ll break this down one piece at a time into nice, bite-sized retort McNuggets. For those of you reading along at home, pillows and blankets may be required or possibly popcorn, depending on how much of an appetite for watching the continual shit-storm surrounding this movie.
“By now, audiences have grown accustomed to superhero movies that put women in the spotlight. In 2017, “Wonder Woman,” based on DC Comics’ Amazonian warrior, was a worldwide hit for Warner Bros.”
One solid female led superhero movie does not make audiences in any way accustomed to a woman leading a blockbuster franchise. In fact, superhero IPs have a disturbingly bad track record in the public perception. Sub-par movies like: Supergirl, Catwoman and Elektra are perpetually in heavy rotation and widely distributed. If Marvel wants a strong female led superhero movie, they’re going to have to earn their audience. Their lead actress for Captain Marvel, Brie Larson, is not making it easy for them.
“The answer to the first question, at least, lies in a tangle of social, cultural and economic factors. They parallel similar issues that Marvel has faced in making strides toward female representation in its comic books over the past 60 years — efforts that gradually helped bring Captain Marvel to prominence in the publisher’s pantheon and make the movie more likely.”
Here’s the thing about Captain Marvel in the comics. She’s not prominent. She’s neither important nor famous. In fact, she’s ubiquitous as Marvel has been trying to force feed her into every major story-line for years. She’s notorious for being completely mis-handled by a string of uncaring and sloppy writers, male and female alike, that have saddled her with a string of unlikable neurotic quirks in lieu of an actual personality.
Make no mistake! This movie was made for two reasons. The obvious reason was branding. Captain Marvel is a no-brainer for marketing opportunities. The other not so obvious reason is that most of Marvel’s female superheroes that could potentially lead a major film franchise, were tied up at other studios.
Universal presumably owns the distribution rights to She-Hulk, just like they do The Hulk. Sony has the movie rights to the entire Spider-Man cannon, including: Spider-Woman, Mary Jane Watson, The Black Cat, Silver Sable and Spider-Gwen. Finally, until their merger is complete, Fox owns the rights to The Fantastic Four. This rules out characters like Susan Richards and Frankie Ray. They also own the X-Men, which pretty much rules out every other strong female superhero in Marvel’s stable, including: Rogue, Psylocke, Emma Frost, Mystique, Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Magick, Domino, Karma, Danielle Moonstar, Wolfsbane, Spiral, not to mention the ladies of Alpha Flight: Vindicator, Snowbird, Aurora, Talisman, Marina. The biggest potential movie lead of all is Storm who is of course inextricably tied to the X-Men.
“What Captain Marvel needed to be when she debuted in the 1960s is very different than what she needs to be in 2019, when she’s anchoring a major film,” said Kelly Thompson, the current author of the Captain Marvel comic book series. “The film has her poised to be more important to more people than ever, and comics gets to be the proving ground for the character.”
While current Captain Marvel scribe Kelly Thompson is absolutely correct in her assertion that Captain Marvel had to change with the times, she’s glossing over the fact that the Carol Danvers character has never proven to be a viable A-lister, capable of holding onto her own comic book series. If comics have been a proving ground for her, she’s utterly failed.
“But the actress, who has called for greater participation by women and people of color in the film industry and in the media covering it, said the global roll-out of “Captain Marvel” could help bring her advocacy to a wider audience.”
Brie Larson’s mishandling of her part of Captain Marvel’s marketing campaign has been discussed to death. It starts with the fact that if you feel the need to punctuate everything you say with, “I don’t hate white dudes.” you actually do hate white dudes, you know you do, you know you’re being rude and offensive, and you just want to feel a little better about your offensiveness by attempting to tweak the language of what you’re saying. It’s the exact same thing as saying, “No offence, but…” There is no part of Brie Larson’s press for Captain Marvel where she gets to exclude white dudes and come off as looking like anything other than a bigot. Captain Marvel will have to succeed as a movie in spite of its lead actress.
“In Captain Marvel’s favor, Larson said that while other Marvel heroes are weak and lowly at the start of their origin stories, “she was a badass before she got her powers.”
The thing is, Carol Danvers being a badass before she got her powers is irrelevant and ultimately uninteresting. Tony Stark was a genius, billionaire, philanthropist before he made the Iron Man suit. Pretty badass, but the thing we respond to is the origin where he was wounded, thrown into a cave and had to fight for his life and freedom. That’s a hero’s journey and it’s far more compelling than, “Oh, you’re a badass. Here, have some powers.”
“THE CHARACTER OF CAROL DANVERS has been on a journey of her own since Marvel introduced her in the comics in 1968. At the time, she was not much more than a Lois Lane-type love interest for a male hero (an extraterrestrial soldier who was the publisher’s original Captain Marvel).”
Carol Danvers was not originally introduced as a “Lois Lane type love interest for a male superhero”, She was introduced as the head of security for a top secret missile base that was being infiltrated by an alien soldier and the shtick was, she knew it but couldn’t prove it. She had a hard time of it because she was a woman in what was perceived as a man’s job, but she was confident and competent. She just had the bad luck to constantly get thrown up against super powered robots and aliens.
In fact, the original Captain Marvel, the Kree soldier Mar-Vell, had a love interest, Una. She was a Kree doctor which he would eventually end up putting down after her resurrection by an alien symbiote. It took a change in writers before Carol Danvers was ever shoehorned in as a love interest for Mar-Vell, and that entire subplot was mercifully forgotten shortly after she got her super powers.
“Marvel, where its audacious editor Stan Lee led a roster of talented writers and illustrators, was celebrated in that era for its inclusivity. But its earliest efforts at female representation can now seem like tokenism.”
Tokenism? I hardly think so. In fact, Stan Lee and many of his writers in the 60s and 70s created a litany of female superheroes, including Carol Danvers, that exist to this day because they were written every inch as interesting and heroic as their male counterparts. Marvel was celebrated for its inclusivity because they were inclusive and they embraced equality. What they didn’t do was hire people based on their gender or their politics, regardless of their writing talent. They hired based on merit from a talent pool limited to men and women who would accept work for hire conditions. Even with that, Marvel still didn’t lack for female representation, unless we’re suddenly pretending that icons like: Linda Fite, Marie Severin, June Brigman, Bobbie Chase, Mary Jo Duffy, Carol Kalish, Mindy Newell, Ann Nocenti, Louise Simonson, Mary Skrenes, Laurie S. Sutton, Kim Yale and many more, never worked for Marvel.
“You can’t help but think that if Stan Lee wasn’t a conscious sexist, he certainly was so traditional,” said Heidi MacDonald, editor of The Beat, a comics culture website. “He gave his female characters the weakest powers — ‘Oh, I can get very small.’ ‘I can turn invisible.’ ‘I can move a teacup with my mind.’”
Let’s be very clear here! Heidi MacDonald has an agenda that puts Heidi MacDonald’s website and it’s special blend of social justice politics ahead of everything else. She comes at every interview with a blind hatred for anyone who doesn’t share her opinions, and she’s big into revisionist history.
The three characters she references in this quote are: The Wasp, who could do everything her partner Ant-Man could do, plus she could fly on her own, plus she had stinger blasts, plus she ran her own multi-million dollar company. Oh yes, she also led the core Avengers team longer than anyone except Captain America.
The Invisible Girl could only go invisible for the first 21 issues of The Fantastic Four. During that time she proved herself invaluable as an infiltrator and forward observer for the team, saving everybody’s lives on multiple occasions. The power of invisibility is utterly badass on its own but in issue 22 the same creative team gave her a powers upgrade that pretty much turned her into an invisible green lantern without the pesky ring thing.
As far as, “I can move a teacup with my mind,” MacDonald is talking about Marvel Girl who in her first appearance: picks up The Beast, spins him like a top and gently sets him back down, she telekinetically moves a big group of Army guys out of her way, and she grabs a firing missile and tosses it into the ocean. It’s a lot more than a teacup. Jean Grey of course went on to become one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe as Phoenix.
Stan Lee was a progressive liberal and well ahead of his time. He fostered an environment of creative freedom that allowed for new and differing opinions. That’s why Marvel Comics were embraced by the counterculture movement, feminists, and progressive groups like The Black Panthers with equal enthusiasm.
“In a nod to the growing feminist movement, Marvel transformed Danvers into Ms. Marvel, giving her a solo series in which she battled intergalactic villains and wore a navel-baring costume.”
The introduction of Ms. Marvel in Ms. Marvel #1 was far more than a simple nod. It was a full blown attempt to create a superhero that could function as a feminist icon. Writer Gerry Conway credited his wife Carla as co-creator and did a fantastic job of explaining the behind the scenes genesis of Ms. Marvel, and why he felt the time was right to start a conversation about feminism and equality. As far as the navel-baring costume, it was a nod to the original Captain Marvel’s costume, she was pretty much invulnerable, she had the abs for it, there was nothing wrong with it.
“The character would go in and out of vogue over the years, a period when many women would drift away from comics. The publications became harder to find at bookstores and newsstands, and female readers were alienated by sexist story lines and artwork that reduced women to sidekicks and stereotypes.”
Sooo… Carol Danvers never went in and out of vogue. In fact only two writers ever really advanced the Ms. Marvel character. Chris Claremont had a solid feel for Carol Danvers and used her to great effect in the back half of the original Ms. Marvel run. Later Claremont cleaned up the ruin of Carol Danvers’ life thanks to a horrible story by Jim Shooter and David Michelinie. He used her as an excellent supporting character, eventually giving her more power than ever as Binary in The X-Men. Later still, Brian Reed resurrected Carol Danvers from the limbo of forgotten Marvel Characters and produced a solo series that lasted several years.
Marvel really didn’t pull completely out of newsstand distribution until 2013 and by then they had the bulk of their back catalog in graphic novels that were readily available at bookstores and libraries. Comics definitely weren’t hard to find in the 80s and 90s outside of a comic book store. Women didn’t drift away from comics and they weren’t alienated by sexist story-lines. They simply weren’t there to drift away. In defense of the artists of the time, it’s incredibly disingenuous to call out any artwork for reducing women characters to sidekicks and stereotypes when the onus for that is completely on the writer. Incidentally, the “sexist story lines” hyperlink leads to Avengers #200 which is universally reviled as one of the worst stories in comic book history, and we live in a world where Mike Diana’s Boiled Angel is a thing.
“In the ’80s and ’90s, we made comics that were actively insulting to women,” the writer Kelly Sue DeConnick said. “Women left in droves. Because why are you going to read stuff that’s actively insulting to you, that you have to get at a specialty store where you’re not always welcome?”
In the 80s and 90s I was right there in the trenches with Kelly Sue DeConnick, first on Warren Ellis’ forum and later with her husband Matt Fraction writing for his online magazine SAVANT. We were crying for female readers and trying every trick we could think of to get women interested in comics. The 80s and 90s were a great time for comic books where things like The Sandman and Transmetropolitan existed side by side with Lenore and Gloomcookie, to name a tiny few. There were lots of things to entice female normies into the world of comics, they just weren’t superheroes. The women who read and enjoyed superhero stories were always criminally rare and no amount of Steven Hughes or Jim Balent T & A was ever going to drive them away. Like today, there just weren’t enough female comics readers to sustain any series without the fervent support of the male fan base.
“In the preceding years, DeConnick said, “she had gone from wearing a gymnast’s leotard with side boots to a thong. It was the most disingenuous thing in the world.”
Not once in the history of Carol Danvers as a superhero has she ever worn a thong as part of her costume. The evil Ms. Marvel (Dr. Karla Sofen) had a thong design worked into the variant of the original Ms. Marvel uniform that she wore, but to confuse the two would be awfully disingenuous.
“I grew up on Air Force bases and have a real soft spot for the history of aviation,” DeConnick said. “My argument was, Carol is Air Force — so was Pappy Boyington, so was Chuck Yeager. You can have swagger and you can still be military.”
Um, this is going to sound really SJW, but just remember I don’t hate white dudes. Maybe next time you decide to name drop some cool Air Force people in support of a toxic feminist agenda you might go with someone like Jeannie Leavitt, Susan Helms, Pamela Melroy or Eileen Collins. They might prove a little more relevant to your argument.
“At the same time, female readers were returning to comics, encouraged by new publication formats and more inclusive plots and characters.”
Here’s another harsh truth about the current state of comics. Judging by the sales of Marvel’s forced diversity characters, and the number of them that have been dropped, redone, or collated into a single title, not only are female readers that were never there in the first place not coming back to superhero comics, but the few male and female readers that were there are leaving in droves.
Marvel Comics has always been progressive and diverse. That isn’t the problem. The new generation of Marvel writers (with a few exceptions) is the problem. They turn out consistently poor writing and hamfisted attempts at forcing their political agendas into stories that are so thin on plot that the politics are glaring. They regularly insult and debase their readers, they refuse to take any sort of educated criticism and they thumb their nose at the business of comics production. Every single one of the new “diversity” Marvel characters could be easily salvaged. In fact, for all the griping everybody did about Eve Ewing and the way she was hired, she’s actually started turning the Riri Williams character around, proving that a skilled writer can fix anything.
“Even Marvel seemed prey to a longstanding Hollywood fallacy that while women will watch movies about men, men will not watch movies about women. “Because women are low-status in our culture,” DeConnick said, “you will aspire up, you will not cross-identify down.”
If the idea of, “You will aspire up, you will not cross-identify down,” even remotely applied to genre movies, Wonder Woman would not have been any kind of success, and we wouldn’t have the litany of strong female heroes From Ellen Ripley and Princess Leia to Lisbeth Salander and Letty Ortiz. Genre fiction has been creating and sustaining strong female leads since the mid 70s. Should there be more? Absolutely, and there is no one stopping filmmakers from creating more. Just like with comic books, genre fans will always respond to a killer story, no matter who the hero is. The Captain Marvel movie is not reinventing the wheel, but Brie Larson seems to have conveniently forgotten all of the strong female characters that came before her. Then again, like the actress says…
“Part of why I’m pushing really hard now is because I do have a little bit of power, and I’m going to use it,” she said. “You don’t know when it’s going to shift again or who’s going to have the power next. But I’ll push it as far as I can. Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Hopefully Captain Marvel will be a success in spite of its conceited lead actress. Maybe, just maybe MCU Carol Danvers can rise above the nasty mess of social justice politics that has crushed her in the comics.