Ms. Marvel aka Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers has had long and storied past. A past that’s rife with tricky subjects, retconned origin stories, and attempts at fleshing out her character. In Marvel Comics’ latest Epic Collection her adventures taking place primarily in 1978 and 1979 (with stories from 1992) are collected. This was an interesting time for the character as she got a new costume, a slightly augmented origin, and had the help of Chris Claremont in making her more well rounded and as impactful as any male hero.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Chris Claremont weaves complex plots and compelling characterization in the conclusion of Ms. Marvel’s original adventures. The highlights are many: Ms. Marvel meets the Avengers for the very first time. Mystique makes her first appearance. A battle with Ronan the Accuser brings Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel together and leads to an all-new look for our heroine! Encounters with underground lizard-men, Deathbird, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Sabretooth set the stage for a controversial Avengers saga and a life-altering battle with Mystique and Rogue. The story reaches its epic conclusion in a Marvel milestone including Ms. Marvel, the X-Men and the Avengers!
Why does this matter?
In the extras section of this book, there’s a letter from Chris Claremont written in 1978 discussing the character. It’s a fabulous explanation for what he was going for, how the costume came about, and why this character was so hard to take on but so rewarding. You get the sense Claremont took this character very seriously, understood the pitfalls others had made with her, and wanted to make a superhero book about a strong female lead. He succeeded for the most part, although there is some strange Stockholm Syndrome storytelling here (not written by Claremont). Another fun fact from this letter is how Stan Lee hated the old costume but loved the black version emblazoned on this cover, although originally Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum wanted it to be white. Lee switched it to black due to printing complications with an all-white costume at the time.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Most of the stories contained here are written by Chris Claremont with Peter Gillis, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, George Perez, Bob Layton, and Simon Furman working on issues later in the run. While some of what is contained here has since been retconned, it’s worth noting Claremont did a lot to develop this character and make her as strong and respectable as any other hero at Marvel Comics. Many heroes pop up, from Spider-Man to Doctor Strange, and Carol takes it all on. There are cooky stories for sure, like Beast fighting Ms. Marvel after she breaks into the Avengers Mansion by accident (“I don’t know my own strength”), but that’s a sign of the times.
There are certainly other more problematic signs of the times like Ms. Marvel reflecting on her new black costume as great, but she can’t gain “a gram of mass, it’ll show. So what do I need food for anyw[ay?]” The character is overly sexualized in the art from time to time too. That said, her adventure with Mar-Vell helps define her much more than just a woman caught in an accident — she can fight with the rest of the best heroes, and she even beats all the men at Thing’s poker game.
Things get complicated with Avengers #200, which famously had Carol give birth to a baby after being kidnapped and essentially raped by a villain. The heroes are all happy for her, which is bizarre, and practically shame her into being sickened by this baby. Carol isn’t quite clear on what happened, until later in the story when the baby grows to become a man within hours, explains everything and that he is in fact a clone of the villain that impregnated her, and that they should run off together. Oddly the Avengers allow this even though Carol is a victim of this villain’s psychological warfare. After all the hard work Claremont put into the character it seems a few writers undid what he accomplished, which is why it’s nice to see Claremont rectify that with Avengers Annual #10 (1981). It’s fascinating reading these stories first hand as they give you an idea of how characters can be broken down and built up again.
The collection ends with Carol seemingly forgiving the Avengers for what they did (even though Claremont had her sickened by them) in Marvel Fanfare #24 (1986). This story is quite short but ends this collection well since it reveals Carol’s new superhero form as the hero Binary. It also has an interesting friendship between her and Logan that’d be fun to explore further.
As far as art, Jim Mooney and Mike Vosburg do most of the drawing and do a good job of keeping it clean and high quality for the time. There is certainly a lot of Kirby inspired positioning of the hero as she reaches out at us or gets flung around. George Perez chips in too and of course does a great job. Frank Miller’s issue is an interesting one, focusing on the poker game mentioned above, and you can see some hints at his future work on Sin City shine through in an artistically rendered page of the characters playing poker (see above).
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The history of this character is troubling certainly — I talk about that in my panel recap from SDCC 2017 — and it can be hard reading these stories today. The sexualization of the character even when Claremont was writing her is also odd (there’s a scene where Carol is taking a shower, nude of course, and says it’s sinful…I mean come on!), but it’s a snapshot of a different time. If you can get over these troubling choices I think you can have a blast reading this.
Is it good?
A great collection since it houses so much history, even if some of it is kind of bad. You’ll come away from reading this having more respect for Chris Claremont’s contribution to the character as well as the bumpy and sometimes troubling history of a now hugely popular character.
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