The Life of Captain Marvel #1 Review

by Charles Martin on July 18, 2018

The Life of Captain Marvel #1 Review
Writer: Margaret Stohl
Penciller: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Rafael Fonteriz
Colourist: Marcio Menyz
Flashback Artist: Marguerite Sauvage
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Carol Danvers takes a brief trip home and a family crisis turns it into an extended vacation from heroing. There are some goofy Kree shenanigans lurking just over the horizon, but for now, we've got a story that's all about Carol and very little about Captain Marvel - and that's actually a great thing.

I am a gigantic anti-fan of Margaret Stohl's previous Captain Marvel comics. My antipathy is deep enough that my boss probably shouldn't have let me review this. I opened the comic with my schadenfreude knives sharpened and my low rating stars aching for deployment.

It is with surprise and great pleasure that I report: Life of Captain Marvel #1 is the best Captain Marvel comic published since Secret Wars. 

This issue drills down into the unhappy life of the Danvers family - Carol grew up watching an abusive father beat on her brothers. It's yet another kick on Carol's traumatic backstory conga line. She's been psychically and physically tortured, had her powers and memories stolen multiple times, overcome addiction, lived through the Marvel universe's most heinously stupid case of time-travel-mind-control rape, and dealt with six other nasty things I'm forgetting. Carol just can't catch a break. But that's okay (sort of (go with me here)), because "Carol in adversity" is actually the best Carol.

For me, the resonant core of the issue is a brief conversation between Carol and a holographic broadcast of Tony Stark. Tony's trying the chivvy her into donning the spandex again, and she's having none of it. Tony comes off as flippant to a fault, and Carol is just exhausted. Too exhausted to put up a joke-cracking facade. Being the Mighty Captain Marvel doesn't matter to Carol in this moment. The change is not only audacious, it's also illustrated with admirable restraint and subtlety.

And it is the perfect development to revitalize this character. It's something a lot of fans could have told Marvel a year ago: We don't need Carol to hit the hardest, fly the highest, or be the most central in all the events. We need her to be true to herself and face tough situations bravely. We need her to make hard decisions that matter to her, and questions like "Which side of this stupid hero vs. hero crossover should I be on?" and "Does the villain-of-the-month need punching or zapping?" just don't cut the mustard. 

To be fair to Ms. Stohl, it's not like "Carol's story is about sacrifice and triumphing over adversity" is a fresh revelation that's only recently come to her. She's tried to slip this theme into previous stories. Giving Carol tiny moments of moping during her bland pseudo-Star-Trek adventures never really worked, though. The contrast between emotional torment and superficial action just spawned a bunch of bathos. If Carol's struggles are featured at all, they need to be on center stage. This series shines a spotlight on them in a supremely promising way.

Is it perfect? No. There are some pacing issues. Both the first scene of Carol cracking up in combat and the last scene of incoming mysterious Kree hoodoo go on a little too long. 

I love the general idea of Marguerite Sauvage drawing Captain Marvel, but I want to see her illustrate full-strength Captain Marvel rather than just the Childhood Trauma Theater portion of the story. Ms. Sauvage does amazing work even within that limited scope, building a gorgeous hybrid style blending Alphonse Mucha and Norman Rockwell that effortlessly carries some of the issue's heaviest emotions.

Carlos Pacheco and Rafael Fonteriz aren't exactly fumbling the visuals on the majority of the book, either. Detailed settings, thrilling action, and expressive characters are all on glorious display. Captain Marvel has been blessed with a lot of good artists, but this performance truly sets a gold standard. The sole weak spot might be the face-shadowing in the nighttime cemetery scene. The art team leaves most of the other shading work in colourist Marcio Menyz's capable hands; to see big swaths of black ink appear on Carol's face for a few panels is jarring.

The Life of Captain Marvel opens by yanking Carol Danvers out of the air and presenting her with formidable family challenges. We'll be getting back to the "pew pew" sooner rather than later, but first, Margaret Stohl takes a necessary and highly successful breather to rediscover some of Carol's core truths. Ably supported with top-tier art and demonstrating a level of insight that's been sorely lacking in Captain Marvel's solo comics for too long, this script lays the groundwork for something truly special.

Our Score:


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Charles Martin's picture
Some people will say this issue's biggest achievement is getting rid of Carol's fauxhawk. Those people are awful.