Will the Real Ms. Marvel Please Stand Up

Posted by Anika

The last issue of Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel landed this past Wednesday and I braved the rain to buy it the day it was out. The two men in front of me in line at the comic book store spent $124 (on a huge stack of mixed titles) and just over $80 (on every Siege tie-in out this week and a couple miscellaneous titles, including Ms. Marvel) respectively. I spent $7.30 (on Ms. Marvel 50, New Avengers 62, and a candy bar). Then I went to Starbucks and spent $3.65 on a Grande Green Tea Latte. I relate this story, if you can call it that, not to call out comic books as too pricey a habit (a comic is the same price as a coffee) or to call out comic book fans as silly for spending the money (hey, if I had an extra $125, I’d certainly buy a few more titles) but to give the following statement a little bit more weight.

I own every issue of Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel.

And the last panels of its ultimate issue clinched why. It doesn’t end with a bang. The fight with Mystique, while “messed up“, is not that important to either the overarcing Marvel plot (Siege) or the overarcing Ms. Marvel plot. It’s just another day in the (admittedly extraordinary) life of Carol Danvers. But that is exactly why I love it: what happens, throughout the run, is secondary to how it affects Carol. Even, notably, when it isn’t actually Carol who is the title character. Moonstone’s turn as the main Ms. Marvel is a lesson, and a turning point, for Carol just as much as — honestly, I think more than — it is for Karla. I go to movies, watch television, and read comic books for character. Not the story, not the plot, not the action, not the pretty — though all of these contribute to character — but for character arcs, character interactions, and character integration. Arguably, any individual character title should put character first, but it is not at all always the case. This one does. The whole of Ms. Marvel is not perfectly perfect and spectacular, it’s not ground-breaking, it’s not the Best Comic Ever Written. But it is my favorite comic book and if it isn’t clear (and I don’t know how it can’t be), Carol Danvers is unequivocally my favorite comic book character.

Here is how Reed’s story begins.

Here is how it ends.

Ms. Marvel is a coming of age story about an adult woman. With super powers.

It’s Amazing, Jem
Patience, now, frustration’s in the air and people who don’t care
Well it’s gonna get you down
And you’ll fall, yes you will hit a wall but get back on your feet and you’ll be stronger and smarter
And I know ’cause I’ve been there before, knockin’ down the doors, won’t take “No” for an answer
And you’ll see, ’cause if it’s meant to be nothing can compare to deserving your dream

Best of the Best
Circus, Britney Spears
There’s only two types of people in the world
The ones that entertain and the ones that observe
Well baby, I’m a put-on-a-show kind of girl
Don’t like the backseat, gotta be first

Ms. Marvel started with Carol going back to full time superheroing and hiring a publicist to build her reputation. She is a show-off, and a thrill-seeker, she loves the spotlight, and she doesn’t like to lose. Ever.

Civil War
All These Things That I’ve Done, The Killers
Over and in, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done

Operation Lightning Storm
One Headlight, The Wallflowers
Well, it smells of cheap wine and cigarettes
This place is always such a mess
Sometimes I think I’d like to watch it burn
I’m so alone, and I feel just like somebody else
Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same

Carol was one of Tony Stark’s strongest and most visible supporters during the battle over the Super Human Registration Act and she is rewarded with her own command. It’s a good fit, and in many ways, everything she’d wanted. But the Civil War and its aftermath took a toll and despite soldiering on, she remained uncomfortable in her own skin. I do especially like her interaction with Arana. Carol wanted very much to be a mentor but she never had a proper one herself and she tripped up rather spectacularly.

Monster Smash
Supergirl, Krystal
I’m supergirl and I’m here to save the world
And I wanna know
Who’s gonna save me?

I’m going to take this moment to talk about Chewie, Carol’s cat. She is a holdover from the House of M, and her very existence says so much about Carol’s character. The idea of the House of M is that Wanda’s magic gave everyone what they want most. Carol was made Captain Marvel, the most famous, most popular, most powerful, most special, most loved superhero in the land. And she was given a cat. Because Carol’s greatest wish is not only to be the very best of superheroes. She also wants someone to love.

Secret Invasion
Avalanche, Thea Gilmore
Well they sold you back your outrage
In a neat little shrink-wrap and a beautiful face
And you think that you’ve found your purpose
While they’ve been trailing the breadcrumbs of a watertight case
So you’re shouting but you’re shouting softly
So no-one can hear you and get the wrong idea

Carol is a company girl. She likes structure, she likes rules and regulation, she likes the chain of command. She’s worked for a number of organizations, mostly military and paramilitary — the Air Force, the CIA, NASA, Homeland Security, SHIELD — and she has been burned. In each instance, she was better to the job than it was to her. Think of Clarice Starling’s treatment in Hannibal; she’s drummed out the FBI because she’s not willing to compromise her own morals, the same ones that drove her to join in the first place. Hannibal asks “(If you turned me in)…would they have you back, you think? The FBI? Those people you despise almost as much as they despise you. Would they give you a medal, Clarice, do you think? Would you have it professionally framed and hang it on your wall to look at and remind you of your courage and incorruptibility? All you would need for that, Clarice, is a mirror.” The same could be said of Carol Danvers.

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Mat Kearney
We push and pull and I fall down sometimes,
I’m not letting go,
You hold the other line
Cause there is a light in your eyes, in your eyes

I think the “Ascension” trade is my favorite of the series. It delves into Carol’s past, including her childhood, the Air Force, her first meeting with Tony Stark and how it led to her time with the CIA. She visits her family and meets up with Michael Rossi again. And it even includes the happenstance encounter with Spider-Man that eventually leads to their (adorable) rooftop friendship.

Fun fact: I named my iPhone Essential.

Dark Reign
Don’t Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds), The Cardigans
And the song you sing today wasn’t always in your head
The words you try to say are the ones you should’ve said
They’re glistening like diamonds, go out and find them
The world is full of diamonds, go out and find them

Karla Sofen is a fascinating character in her own right. This song is for both Carol and Karla in that neither has a good relationship with their family (understatement), and that both struggle to understand how to not let the emotional fallout from that reality rule them. Family is supposed to be the foundation, without that they’ve had to dig deep to stand tall. It has left both with difficulties relating to other people on a personal level.

War of the Marvels
Sometimes I Feel Like Alice, Lisa Mitchell
Because it feels like I have just woke up in a world where down is up
And up is a long way from here
In the big wheels where they keep on turning
They don’t slow down, you just keep on learning
Well my name’s not Alice but I know how she felt when her world started turning into something else

Catherine Donovan is almost my favorite part of the series. I’ve read a lot of criticism about the Storyteller/Catherine plot-line; asking why would Carol, the woman with the quest to be the best superheroine ever, secretly want to live a “normal” life? Well, I think they just don’t get it. No real person is only strong or only vulnerable, why should our fictional people be? It is absolutely believable, and in character, for Carol to want to be both: the best of the best (Captain Marvel), and the best of the rest (Catherine Donovan). Catherine doesn’t carry with her any of the baggage, or history (please note her Corona in the picture), that Carol lives with, and none of the superhuman expectations Carol places on herself. She is free to be only as complicated as any woman. Which is, of course, inexplicably complicated.

Best You Can Be
Happy, Leona Lewis
So what if it hurts me? So what if I break down?
So what if this world just throws me off the edge, my feet run out of ground
I gotta find my place
I wanna hear my sound
Don’t care about all the pain in front of me, ’cause I’m just trying to be happy

The most notable difference between her determination to become “the best of the best” and her determination to become “the best she can be” is right here: “Guess I’m just feeling good and I want to tell someone about it.” She was feeling good enough when she began her quest to be the very best. But she was also alone. Here, she goes to find her friend, bribe him with a chili dog, and speechify. It’s no longer about proving herself to everyone. It’s about sharing herself with someone.

The Story, Brandi Carlile
You see the smile that’s on my mouth, it’s hiding the words that don’t come out
And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed, they don’t know my head is a mess

All of these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been and how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything when you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true…I was made for you

Hidden Track: The Real Slim Shady, Eminem

Posted by Anika
email: anika@fantasticfangirls.org
twitter: magnetgirl

  • This is a great tribute to Brian Reed’s work on the series!

    Do we know what’s in store for the Ms. Marvel title?

  • Anonymous

    This was great! It’s neat to see why people stick with a book (I this case until the end). And I love it when you add your character mixes.

    I now wish my comic book store sold chocolate bars, though

  • This is a fantastic article. I’ve never actually read any of this book, but now that it’s over I may have to give the trades a chance. Lovely song choices, too!

  • Umm, anonymous was me, hence the whole I love your mixes thing.

    Silly cellphone acting wonky.

  • Pablo

    Is it me or is the idea of Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man being chili dog pals like, really great? I’d love to see more of that in New Avengers or Amazing Spider-Man.

  • Anika

    Thank you all! I encourage picking up the trades :)

    @Caroline — No, no news about her at all post-Siege. Poke-poke Marvel!!

    @Jenn — I did wonder who that was (and was narrowing it down, you’d made the list, haha).

    @Pablo — Oh, it is not just you. I ADORE it and encourage more anywhere (poke-poke Marvel, again)!

  • I love this! Great work, Anika. I wish it wasn’t ending.

  • i think my comment got lost :((

    short of it: Yey Brian Reed, thanks for a great article, Anika!

  • CmdrPowers

    A very excellent overview of the entire run. Well done Anika!

    For more glimpses of Carol’s future, check out the Siege Heroes and Villains dossiers. Norman seems to have a pretty healthy respect/fear of Carol Danvers. When you check out New Avengers #62, you will see a very heartwarming scene between Steve Rogers and Carol Danvers. It bodes well for the future. The woman who led the Mighty Avengers and is second in command of the New Avengers deserves a solid place in either of the two upcoming Avengers books.

    Thanks again, Anika!

  • Red Mask

    As much as I appreciate Reed’s efforts, I did expect more from him. I agree with many points here, but it just didn’t quite get there. I regard Ms. Marvel like any other superhero comic. It needs consistent growth and challenges that are worthy of Ms. Marvel’s caliber.

  • rawhidekid

    Carol is so fat and ugly. She doesn’t deserve her own title.

    I was hoping for a Karla Sofen monthly but instead they had her job to the fatty.

  • Anika

    Thank you again, all.

    @CmdrPowers — Absolutely, their moment in New Avengers fills me with glee!!

    @Red Mask — Yes, the enemies in Ms. Marvel are pretty low grade, especially in the beginning. But I’m someone who finds as much drama/challenge to appreciate in the idea of the New Avengers watching the Oscars together as a straight up fight. So while I expect and want and enjoy the superheroics, I find personal challenges to be worthy, too.

    @rawhidekid — I am choosing to take that as a tongue in cheek reference to Karla’s treatment of Carol. If I’m wrong, no need to correct me.

  • Aaron K.

    Carol wasn’t so much “given a cat” to love as she found a random cat in a burning building and threw it at her archenemy. That might be a distinction worth making. :)

  • Ravenswald

    A very nice summary and nice to see someone understanding the point Reed was trying to bring across. I do feel he could ahve resolved all of Carol’s issues (especially getting back with her family) but one can’t have everything.

    It actually inspired me to write a series to fill in the holes I thought were left. Ignoring her physical attributes Carol is a very attractive and real character that like many of us tries to be the best of the best only to discover that all they really needed to do was to be the best they can be.

    May she fly again. And soon.