By Liz Fisher
“Legendary Relationships” is a regular column which will examine relationship moments between women in popular media.
I’m in love, readers. I’m in love with Captain Marvel, both the character and the new run of the comic of the same name written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel is tough, intelligent, proud, sarcastic, loving, cocky, and just a touch reckless. In short, she’s a heck of a lot of fun.
The first two issues of the new Captain Marvel run have been an action packed good read from start to finish. Another thing the series is packed with is well-developed relationships between its female characters. Within the first issue alone we are introduced to two women who seem central to Carol’s life.
We learn about midway through the first issue that Carol is looking after friend and former co-worker Tracy Burke who is undergoing treatment for cancer. They have an easy sarcastic banter with one another. “Damn chemo. 90 degrees out and I’m freezing my balls off,” Tracy remarks as Carol hands her a cup of coffee. “You don’t have balls, Tracy,” Carol replies. “You don’t know that,” Tracy volleys back. The affection that lies behind this back and forth is clear on the page and it’s obvious that Carol is dedicated to looking after her friend.
But perhaps the most interesting relationship in these first two issues and the one that gives us the best insight into Carol’s character is her relationship with mentor and fellow pilot, Helen Cobb. We learn through her narration that Carol had two heroes when she was a kid, her father and Cobb. In issue one, Carol learns that Helen has just died.
Through flashbacks we see Carol get the chance to meet her hero. The meeting ends with Carol challenging Helen to fly with her. Helen accepts. The reader is left to understand that this was the beginning of an important relationship for both of them. Throughout the flashback and into present day where Carol attends Helen’s funeral, we read Helen’s reflections on Carol and their connection with one another:
“Knew you the second you set foot on my property, kid. Even young as you were, how could I not? Folks want to blame someone for gals like us. ‘Her daddy was unkind’ or ‘some fella broke her heart’…Hogwash. You and me’ve always been like this. Always a little removed. Always...dreaming. Of higher, further, faster…more. Always more. We came into the world spittin’ mad, running full bore…To or from what, I ain’t never been able to tell. Over the years, I’ve come to think of these particular traits as the shared attributes of a chosen people…the Lord put us here to punch holes in the sky. And when a soul is born with that kind of purpose…It’ll damn sure find a way. We’re gonna get where we’re going, you and me. Death and indignity be damned…we’ll get there…And we will be the stars we were always meant to be.”
For the reader who has never met Carol before, this is a fantastic introduction to the character and is backed up by what we see of her in action. It also lets us know that Carol found a kindred spirit in Helen, someone who shared her craving for adventure and her determination to make a mark on the world.
In issue two we see Carol take to the skies in Helen’s old plane in order to defend a record Helen set that has never been recognized. Even separated by death Carol and Helen’s relationship is a tangible thing which gives weight to the story and provides the reader another window into who Carol is by highlighting one of the connections that helped her along her path. We see Carol’s fierce loyalty to her mentor and her determination to ensure that Helen is remembered as a hero, the star she was meant to be and Carol knows she was.
It's refreshing to see relationships between women at the heart of a superhero comic and I hope this is a trend that will continue in Captain Marvel. Well written and interesting female superheroes as the central focus of a title are difficult enough to come by and finding them in books that celebrate relationships between women is more difficult still. Whether that’s an oversight, because writers equate fewer deep ties to other women with the strength necessary to be a superhero, because many writers don’t value relationships between women and respect the profound effect they have on women’s lives, or because of some other reason entirely I can’t say.
Whatever the case, the focus given to women’s relationships in Captain Marvel seems the exception when it comes to female superheroes rather than the rule. There are other exceptions, Birds of Prey and Bryan Q. Miller’s run on Batgirl are two that immediately come to mind, but often female superheroes are isolated from others or teamed up with mostly male counterparts. Those stories can be great too but what DeConnick gives us with her take on Carol Danvers is a woman who is clearly shaped by and shapes the women around her, who learns from and takes care of women she respects and loves deeply. There's a place for that kind of story in superhero comics too and I'm pleased to see Captain Marvel doing it so beautifully in a way that strengthens both the characters and the narrative.