Addressing the fallout of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s five-part Enemy Within storyline, issue #17 of Captain Marvel sees the conclusion of Carol Danvers’ role in the Infinity event. Returning home to New York City after the massive crossover affair, Carol is still grappling with catastrophic memory loss, result of the trauma she suffered while saving the city from the Kree villain Magnitron. She’s lost her apartment in this storyline and soon Carol finds herself without a home, surrounded by the faces of friends and loved ones she no longer recognizes. With nothing to grab onto, she’s struggling to find her place in a strange world. What results is a stellar issue from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, artist Philipe Andrade, and colorist Jordie Bellaire, serving as a successful launching point for new readers and showing the poignant side of the superhero genre with a reverence for classic action/adventure storytelling.
Kit, the young daughter of one of Carol’s neighbors, immediately emerges as a key figure in this issue. As Carol’s self-appointed sidekick, seen in previous issues as a kind of fangirl in-training, we see Kit and the neighborhood children reenacting the heroic exploits of their favorite Avengers. When a skirmish with some other children leaves Kit and her friends a bit disheartened, Carol arrives to comfort them, applauding the suit-making efforts of Kit’s friend Gilbert in his attempts to emulate Iron Man. This scene establishes Carol’s role in the neighborhood, as well as her relationship with the children, in a way readers don’t often see in comics anymore. While many heroes are far removed from the communities they protect, Carol is in her element among the common people. Walking the streets in her Captain Marvel uniform, Carol is a representative of the superhero community, in direct engagement with the regular people in her neighborhood. She protects them, but she also interacts with them in everyday social circumstances, serving as a pertinent and relatable role model to the children who admire her.
However, this scene also rings quite poignantly, as we discover that Carol is simply trying to comfort the children. She doesn’t remember much of her life before Enemy Within, and what she does remember is vague, fragmented and uncertain. Telling Gilbert that his suit was just as good as Tony Stark’s Mark I Iron Man armor is a lie, having only seen photos of it now that she no longer remembers this part of her life. Even as some of Carol’s dearest friends arrive at her apartment to help her move, she doesn’t remember them, just going through the motions. When she does reach out to Frank, urged by her romantic feelings toward him, this innate vulnerability compounds Carol’s frustration, even as Frank returns the sentiment. Carol’s struggle with identity and memory, while a reoccurring theme throughout much of her history, is made very real and intimate.
The villain subplot deals with the larger unintended social implications of Carol’s public visibility as Captain Marvel. Scorned businesswoman Grace Valentine loses an important feature in Beat Magazine to a piece on Captain Marvel, setting her down on a violent path as she lashes out at New Yorkers. Despising their naiveté for placing all their hopes in the hero, Grace orchestrates a plan to undermine and assassinate Captain Marvel during a public ceremony. While Grace’s plot is straightforward and unremarkable, as revenge is a go-to trope in superhero fiction, it serves to propel Carol back into the spotlight as Grace commandeers all the screens in Times Square to expound her plan. Even with hijacked military attack drones trained on Captain Marvel, the crowd of New Yorkers rallies behind her, refusing to back down in the face of violence, and bolstered by this support Carol puts an end to Grace’s theatrics.
The closing scene sees Carol and Kit in Carol’s new apartment in the crown of the Statue of Liberty (as it was rented to her by the city). There Carols tries to apologize to Kit for being unable to teach her how to be Captain Marvel, only to be met with Kit’s real role as her sidekick. Kit shows Carol the comic book that she made documenting Carol’s history as Captain Marvel, who she is and why she’s so important, to teach Carol everything she needs to know. As Kit sits down with Carol to read it to her, the focus shifts to Jersey City to the bedroom of Kamala Khan. A sixteen-year-old girl who, like Kit, looks up to Captain Marvel, Kamala offers the readers a hopeful glimpse of the future as Carol’s successor, taking up her old title as Ms. Marvel.
What begins as a stock superhero action story takes a step forward to become something so much more meaningful. This issue really serves as the best the genre has to offer: The hero struggling with personal obstacles, her support network coming together to buoy her along, and the community rallying behind her as a symbol of hope. DeConnick deftly balances the intimate microcosm of Carol’s injuries with the macrocosm of her role as an Avenger, and the inadvertent consequences that spring up along the way. While many books have done this throughout the history of the genre, few come to mind as recent examples of this successful kind of composed storytelling, touching on so many different issues at once with both clarity and resonance. Helping to further achieve this balance is the character Kit. In a clever decision on DeConnick’s part, Kit steps in to function in the role of the nostalgic reader, the child who grew up on superheroes and comic books. This use of the character as the self-declared sidekick, helping Carol come to terms with her memory loss, grounds the story in a sense of realism and brings Carol’s story home for the reader.
Beyond its function in the story, the use of Kit as the sidekick is important in the history of the genre, as Captain Marvel symbolically passes the torch to a young girl. This intergenerational female hero/sidekick relationship is something not often seen in a genre populated by male heroes, who regularly transfer titles and powers to the boys and young men serving as their sidekicks and heirs. While we do see this exchange occurring in books like Hawkeye, as Clint Barton shares his title with protégé Kate Bishop, and between Batman and the numerous Batgirls, it’s rarely seen specifically between women. This is echoed in Kamala’s introduction, who we will see again when her title debuts in February, as the future successor to Carol’s old title as Ms. Marvel. It poignantly sets up a mythology for this title and hero, and invites young women to openly share in this heroic fantasy as they rarely have in the past.
If you’re not reading Captain Marvel, you should be. Issue #17 is an engaging and emotionally satisfying read from start to finish, full of heart as well as good old-fashioned superheroism. A great starting point for new readers, and a wonderful return to order for longtime fans, this title looks to have a bright future ahead of it.
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