I’ve been reading Captain Marvel (later The Mighty Captain Marvel, but that’s really just a continuing series with its age changed by deed poll.
Oh, and a complete change in creative team. So at least there’s a reason to restart the numbering this time. :))
The earlier of these two series was written by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, with art by Kris Anka and colour by Matthew Wilson.
The current series (Mighty) is written by Margaret Stohl, arted by Michele Bandini, coloured by Erick Arciniega.
The two series blend very well – if I hadn’t just gone looking for the info, I wouldn’t have noticed the creative teams had changed.
They tell the story of Captain Marvel as Earth’s last, best defence against alien incursions on a space station. It’s a decent premise, and should be a lot of fun – except…
These series make a good launching point to discuss a couple of problems with some creative decisions in comics these days.
The first problem is this: A lot of characters these days are ditching their secret identities; possibly on the grounds that they’re ‘unrealistic’ and ‘part of the fun of reading superheroes’.
The problem with that is, we end up with characters who are constantly on the job, constantly being superheroes and never being people. It’s often said that you can never get to know your colleagues in the office environment; and that’s what we’re seeing here. Somebody at work.
It’s been a big problem with the X-Men for a long time, and it’s a problem here. While I think you can do a good story about somebody who’s constantly on the job – if it’s an exciting job like Carol’s or the X-Men’s – I think the current writers aren’t up to the challenge, leaving the reader distanced.
The writers try hard, and even do some things that really should be endearing – like bringing in a child for Carol to take care of.
There’s also a romantic subplot between two station workers that’s about them as people; it just feels perfunctory, and we don’t really know the people involved.
The attempts at humour also lead to cringeworthy lines like ‘The weirdo geardo with the beardo’?!?
Every frickin’ guy in this series who is old enough has a beard! (And there’s nothing weird about this particular beard.)
And what’s with all the stupid haircuts?
Overall, even those personal touches never make the series anything more than a workplace. While Carol’s job is more exciting than filling out paperwork or making buildings for a 3D computer model, it’s still just a job. We never get to know her.
So, if it’s just okay, why am I reading it?
Alpha Flight. And that brings me to my next point:
I’ve been in panels at conventions where writers complain about the restrictions placed on them when they work in shared universes. They’ve got all these ideas about stories they want to write, and they want to use existing characters to do it.
I’m not on their side.
I often tell a made-up version: say a very good writer/artist creates a character who wields a katana; but not just any katana – a very specific one, with kitsune running around the handguard, which represent the hero’s trickster soul. Specific patterns on the handle relate to the hero’s family. The readers get to know this weapon as much as they know their hero.
Then the next artist comes along, hears this character uses a sword, and draws a gladius.
How do you think the fans will react to that artist? Will they say ‘here’s a great creator who’s really good and does their research and cares about what they’re doing’? ‘Here’s somebody who gets it’? ‘Here’s somebody who cares how the fans feel about the thing they’re fans of’? Will they say ‘Wow, I really want more stuff by this person’? Will they listen to whatever ‘clever’ ideas this person wants to write about if they have to betray the characters to write them?
I read Captain Marvel because Alpha Flight are there. I could write a whole article on how much I love original Alpha Flight (here’s one I prepared earlier). I know it’s not what the series is about, but it is why I read it – so that’s how I primarily judge it. Especially since it wouldn’t grab me as a series without them.
The problem is this: Alpha Flight, in this series, are furniture. I’m convinced that the creators, who have been given control of ‘my’ team by TPTB, have read names and vague descriptions and nothing more. Not only that, but they keep finding new ways to remind me.
The series is set on the Alpha Flight Space Station. There was a lot of speculation on the Alpha Flight forum about why; it’s never been satisfactorily explained in-story. After a while, looking at all the evidence, I figured it out: the creators read the name ‘Alpha Flight‘ and figured they were some kind of Air Force. Look at Mighty Captain Marvel #125, talking about the destruction of the space station: “We just need to change our name from Alpha Flight to Earth–” Why? Alpha Flight didn’t go into space as a unique team (not counting times like Contest Of Champions or Secret Wars II when everybody went to space) until issue 55 of their series, and they did just fine with that name.
Sasquatch has been in his Sasquatch form the entire time, without the slightest reference to being able to change to human form; he even flies jet fighters and goes to baseball games in Sasquatch form. In at least one issue, one of the artists even drew him as a sasquatch, not the Sasquatch. With a beard.
Another time, he’s carrying some kind of sciency-type-machine, and complains ‘nerd stuff’ is heavy’.
I’m not sure that’s something a biophysicist who got his powers trying to duplicate Bruce Banner’s experiment should be saying. (Even if he is also an ex-footballer; though I don’t know that the writer knows that, either.)
Puck has a big, bushy beard (like all the males in Captain Marvel, except one teenager, as mentioned). At first, I didn’t have a problem with it; I didn’t like it, but I could believe Puck would grow it.
Later on, I decided the reason is because writer had read he was a dwarf, and everybody knows dwarfs have beards, right?; or maybe because all men in this series have beards. I can still believe Puck might’ve grown it, but I’m less forgiving now.
I’m not mentioning Aurora, because the series barely does.
I’m only skimming the surface of ways they keep proving they don’t know my team.
I just don’t think people should be writing and drawing characters they know nothing about. Either choose different characters or do basic research.
There’s an old saying in comics: ‘Every issue is somebody’s first’. I think there should be another – and I don’t think I’m the only one who’s said this: ‘Every character is somebody’s favourite’. Alpha Flight are mine.
My point is – do your due diligence. If you’re a writer or artist assigned to do a certain character or characters on a monthly basis – look them up. Look at a picture of them. Read their bios. This is the bare minimum, people, and these creators haven’t even done that.
Mighty Captain Marvel is not bad; it just isn’t particularly good.
These problems are rife across comics, unfortunately.
How many examples can we think of of new creators taking over and not understanding the characters they’re writing? How many can we think of where it’s a constant battle, no time for fun or for character interaction? I leave it to you if you consider it a problem.