Pitch me: Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel 1.0
Do you like bronze age comics? The original run of Ms. Marvel has all of your favourite bronze age weirdness, with a side order of well-meaning—albeit sometimes confused—feminism. And it’s written by Chris Claremont, so there’s mind control, bondage, and incredibly hot, incredibly powerful women. It’s a genre unto its own. What you can expect from Ms. Marvel: evil robots, evil alien princesses, tentacles, mind control, identity crises and identity porn, and most of all, sisters doing it for themselves.
Carol Danvers (aka Ms. Marvel), debuted as a supporting character in 1968, in the pages of Captain Marvel. Carol was an ordinary human; the head of security for a NASA facility that the alien Mar-Vel (aka Captain Marvel) sort of screwed over, in the midst of his even more bronze age-y adventures. Carol and Mar-Vel were allies and friends, but they didn’t have a particularly deep connection, and Carol herself wasn’t particularly significant in the grand scheme of Marvel Comics. Not until Carol was mutated against her will by the Kree psyche-magnetron (magical science apparatus thing). Her DNA was fused with his, and she became the first Kree-Human Hybrid, with all of Mar-Vel’s powers, but none of his natural control over them. And thus was born Ms. Marvel.
The early issues of Ms. Marvel deal with the problem of Carol’s forced mutation. While her body seems to handle the transformation just fine—she immediately turns to superheroics—her mind doesn’t. Her personality spilts into two: normal Carol, now a civilian working in magazine publishing; and the Kree heroine Ms. Marvel. Carol overcomes this pretty quickly, reconciling her two personalities and bending her capable, ambitious mind to becoming the best hero she can.
But Carol’s mutation, mental distress and eventual triumph set up a theme that will dog the character for years to come. Carol keeps being pushed into the fridge, and then busting the hell out.
Ms. Marvel 2.0
It’s a theme that’s picked up again in the 2006 relaunch of Ms. Marvel, this time penned by Brian Reed. This run of Ms. Marvel begins in the wake of The House of M. Carol has been a valued, mid-tier hero and Avenger for many years, but in the House of M alternate reality, Carol is the world’s most popular superhero. This discovery is a life-changing experience for Carol—she’s reminded of her old ambition to be the best of the best, and she wonders what happened to that drive, over the years since she first became a hero. Ms. Marvel 2.0 is distinctly 2000s-y, and while there are plenty of echoes of her bronze age adventures, Carol spends just as much time embroiled in political dust ups, and world-traveling espionage. What you can expect from Ms. Marvel 2.0: spies, moral ambiguity, existential angst, and yes, robots and tentacles.
Taken as whole, Carol’s story is the story of women in comics, in sometimes creepy, sometimes triumphant miniature. She keeps getting knocked down (for being a woman, for being a feminist, hell, just for being there), and then getting back up again. It isn’t always easy for Carol, and it isn’t always an easy read, but it’s a great story. The overriding theme of Ms. Marvel is that no matter the hardships she endures, no matter how pear-shaped her life has gone, she will always come back, stronger and smarter than before.
For maximum effect I would recommend going from Ms. Marvel 1.0, to Avengers (70s), Avengers (90s) and then Ms. Marvel 2.0, all of which are widely available in hardcover and trade paperback.
And when you’re caught up, check out the upcoming Captain Marvel, by Kelly Sue DeConnick:
And this isn’t going to be a book about alcoholism; but it is a book about an alcoholic—if that makes sense. I think part of what makes people respond to Carol — what makes me respond to her, certainly, are these imperfections — in the language of recover, these “character defects.”
But she’s not… she’s not a mess. She’s not a train wreck. She’s an amazing person—an overachiever, who was her own woman, accomplished and remarkable before she ever had powers. And now? Even more so. I’m interested in the fact that she makes mistakes, that’s she’s quick-tempered and a bit of a control freak. I like those things about her.
So, I guess I’m not entirely sure how to answer the question. I mean, if you read her Wiki page and try to extract her character from her biography… she comes across like a walking red flag, like a woman in the constant state of an identity crisis, who literally fights some version of herself over and over and doesn’t know who she is. But the magic of Carol is that when you read her, that’s not who she is.
That’s not the woman I’m writing; the woman I’m writing is a long way from perfect but she knows herself. She transcends her history.
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