THE LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 / Writer: Margaret Stohl / Present Day Penciller: Carlos Pacheco / Present Day Inker: Rafael Fonteriz / Present Day Colorist: Marcio Menyz / Flashback Artist: Marguerite Sauvage / Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles / Cover Artists: Julian Totino & Tedesco / Publisher: Marvel / July 18, 2018
The best thing about Margaret Stohl’s The Life of Captain Marvel #1 is that it doesn’t feel or read like a first issue in a new series. So often #1s don’t do much of anything. The Life of Captain Marvel #1 explores elements of Carol’s childhood, setting the stage for how she operates as an Avenger. The story explores a journey back to Carol’s summer home in Maine and the reality that her family has never really dealt with the trauma of physical and mental abuse at the hands of her father. As a part of Marvel’s Fresh Start series, The Life of Captain Marvel #1 is definitely one for your pull list.
Spotlighting the friendship between Carol and Tony Stark is a smart move for this first issue. Honestly, outside of comics, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel isn’t that well known. Using Tony Stark/Ironman as a supporting character will help new readers–particularly those who might be new to comics or picking this up in anticipation of the Captain Marvel film slated for March of next year–connect and see the parallels. Both Carol and Tony have complicated relationships with their fathers and unhealthy coping mechanisms. As Tony might be a little further along in coping with his own “Family PTSD” as he calls it, making him a peer who knows where Carol has been is refreshing and necessary.
The toughest criticism I have of the story is that the emotional impact of some of the intense action isn’t as powerful as it could be. There are two major dramatic action moments in the issue that connect directly to the legacy of abuse and trauma in Carol’s family. The one with the most time devoted to it is the catastrophic event that keeps Carol in Harpswell. Unfortunately, this falls a little flat because, as readers, we have not had enough time/story to emotionally connect to Carol and, particularly, her mother and brother.
The most resonant scene actually comes at the very beginning of the issue. As the flashbacks to Carol’s childhood begin to alternate with her work on a mission with the Avengers, the reader feels an almost visceral reaction to Carol’s state of mind. The contrast of Carol, as a screaming child, fighting back against her father and a screaming Captain Marvel pummeling her enemy, breaks my heart in a way later events do not. Both moments are very important in revealing Carol’s character, her motivations, why she reacts the way she does; but the first scenes of the book do that more effectively than the latter scenes. To be fair, the intended emotional weight of both scenes is strong and will land differently for different readers, depending on their frame of reference when it comes to abuse and trauma.
One of the strongest elements of the book is how the artistic team of Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Fonteriz, and Marcio Menyz beautifully convey the cycle of abuse and trauma through the use of line and color. When Carol returns to Harpswell, even though it is present day, colorist Marcio Menyz uses softer colors and tints, more pastels with less intense depth. The longer Carol stays in Harpswell, the drama increases, and so does the intensity and saturations of the colors. The soft yellows and oranges give way to intense blues and blacks, making the pivotal car crash and explosion that much more intense. The softer colors return in the aftermath of the explosion. The clothing, diffused sunlight, Carol’s conversations with Tony, all return in less intense values, giving the false impression of calm. Of course, it’s just the lull between violent episodes, and anyone with experience in an abusive home knows this. For the artistic team to support the tension and conflict of Carol’s mental state and home life with her family in this way is truly beautiful.
Marguerite Sauvage’s flashbacks steal the show. Sauvage builds the flashbacks with a dreamy quality that clues the reader in on the important details of Carol’s childhood, helping us understand who she was and the baggage that came with her from childhood. Beyond the softness of memory, Sauvage does something that really makes the images feel vintage, like old pictures. I had to look it up, but she seems to be using a variation of the Ben-Day Dots used famously by Lichtenstein. Her version, sort of half-tone, gives a throwback feeling to comics of old that used that technique all the time. Doing so invites the reader to linger on the images, to flashback to their own childhood memories of summers far from home. Sauvage, solely responsible for the flashbacks, skillfully captures both the carefree feeling of youthful summers at the seashore as well as the jarring pain of child abuse.
I’ve read other works by Margaret Stohl and very much enjoyed them. What really caught my eye was her welcome to the reader at the end of the story. She writes about how The Life of Captain Marvel #1 came to be. I enjoyed reading this but I had to stop and take a moment to really appreciate a small paragraph she devoted to what it means to be a human and a hero. “I’ve learned you might not ever feel like a hero, and you might not even realize you were on a hero’s journey until you get to the end But I’ve also learned it’s about sticking with a character, even if that character is you. It’s about sticking around and sticking the landing, messing up and speaking up and still showing up, no matter what. Sometimes it’s about learning how to root for yourself.” There’s a 100% chance I’m going to use that quote in my Modern Myth: Superheroes classes this year. It’s perfect and The Life of Captain Marvel #1 is a perfect start to a promising series.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars
I’m a curious, creative, comic(al) woman. I am unapologetically Team Cap, but not HydraCap because there is a line in the moral sands of the universe and that whole thing is on the other side of it. I teach high school students all about the joys of mythology through comic books, graphic novels, and films. I wandered into the comic book world in 2015 and is a proud member of the #DoYouEvenComicBook gang.