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.
I’m all for creators getting respect, and a share of the pie. But they shouldn’t be their own bosses. It used to not matter whether a writer knew everything about everyone. They had editors who, even if they didn’t know everything, knew how to look up everything. There were mistakes sure, continuity errors. But for all that was out there, an amazing organization that when Constrictor appeared dead in Marvel Team Up XXX, he had a reason for his return in Iron Fist XX. Or whatever. The Sasquatch stuff is just inexplicable, except that I really have no idea what editors do anymore, other than report on what deadlines creators are going to make or not. A lot of creators liked to brittle at editorial control, but almost all great company or book runs had a strong editor guiding it, and the bad stuff usually had someone questionable in charge.
And I can’t get over that in this day and age with two women writing it that we are still getting Black Widow ass shots from the artist.
Yeah, a good editor was a valuable thing. I wish they’d bring that back. 🙂
I remember in the Millennium letter column Steve Englehart said he always used to roll his eyes at writers and editors who had no idea what was happening in other books of the line. Then he cast Terra in the book and discovered she was dead in Titans and he’d had no idea.
I agree the creators need editors though editors can take supervision to an extreme, of course (Dwayne McDuffie’s JLA for instance).
“Then he cast Terra in the book and discovered she was dead in Titans and he’d had no idea.”
Sounds like he owned up to the mistake, at least.
He was kind of amused/embarrassed to discover he’d become what he mocked, but own up he did.
Becoming what we mock is a risk we all take. 🙂
True that. I’m very happy I’m sappy over my wife in the way I used to tease people about when I was single (I was never serious in the teasing, but even so).
“Every character is somebody’s favorite.” I’ve been saying that for years. I even have a second, related saying- “every version of a character is someone’s favorite version of that character”. (Note that it doesn’t follow that every version of every character is someone’s favorite character.) I can understand why the second is difficult for writers to work with, but the first should be pretty easy- do your research, and treat all the characters with respect.
Really, if you want to write a completely different character, why not create a completely different character?
Yes, that’s it exactly.
And, good observation, Alaric. Also true. The second, of course, means that if you write a character you can’t please everybody – because you won’t be writing their favourite version – but you should at least get to know something about them first.
I haven’t read any of the “Alpha Flight” era Captain Marvel, precisely because I was sure my favorite Alpha veterans weren’t going to used well as supporting characters.
Good instinct, Dredd – go with it. :/
So I followed that link to the Alpha Flight forum and read the preview of Mighty Captain Marvel #125. I think you’re right. The author made a bunch of assumptions about what Alpha Flight is. She apparently does not know that they are Canadian, that their “cadets” would be called Beta, Gamma, or Delta Flight, or even the most rudimentary things about the team’s history. She seems to believe that Alpha Flight is a space-based defense initiative run by some other body, possibly SHIELD or the Avengers or whoever the Marvel Universe is letting run things. The fact that Alpha Flight can’t exist without a space station, that they answer to the Black Panther because Steve Rogers isn’t available, basically everything anyone says about Alpha Flight, it’s all wrong. Completely wrong.
Now, granted, I haven’t read Alpha Flight since Byrne left the book, and he was going off the rails a bit by then anyway, but I’m baffled; absent a company-wide reboot of the DC Comics variety, how did Alpha Flight become something that bears absolutely zero resemblance to anything it started out to be, with no acknowledgement of how any of it changed?
“She seems to believe that Alpha Flight is a space-based defense initiative run by some other body”
In the interest of fairness: the current writer inherited that plot point, she didn’t invent it.
I’ve read some weirdly entitled takes in my time, but ‘I haven’t read this comic for twenty years and somehow that shows I know more about it than the current creative team’ is almost parodic.
This comic is set in current continuity. Continuity has moved on since 1994. If you don’t like that, you’re wasting your time reading or commenting on comics set in current continuity.
Is there any evidence that most readers DON’T remember continuity better than most current creators, who are allowed to do pretty much anything they want, history and logic be damned? Do you have any examples to conuter the many examples of cluelessness, or was this just an appeal to authority?
“She apparently does not know that they are Canadian”
My brain — hurts!
From the Wikipedia Alpha Flight entry:
“A new version of Alpha Flight debuted as part of the All-New, All-Different Marvel event. This version is a space program that is Earth’s line of defense from extraterrestrial threats and resides in the Alpha Flight Low-Orbit Space Station. It’s (sic) prominent members consist of Captain Marvel, former head of SWORD Abigail Brand and three original Alpha Flight members: Aurora, Puck and Sasquatch. The first wing of the Triskelion is where the ground crew of the Alpha Flight space program resides.
“During the Civil War II storyline, it is revealed that the Alpha Flight Space Program is overseen by its Board of Governors which consists of representatives of the different nations of Earth and other planets that share the Alpha Flight Space Program’s interests. Known members of the Alpha Flight Space Program’s Board of Governors are Black Panther of Wakanda, Henry Peter Gyrich of the United States, Philippe Beaulieu of Canada (revealed to be a revived Master of the World in disguise), Mentor of the Shi’ar, Bar-Konn of the Kree, an unnamed Rigellian ambassador, and an unnamed Kronan ambassador.”
Doesn’t explain things like Sasquatch’s “nerd stuff” line, of course.
Sounds to me like the New Coke of super-teams. There’s a reason I dropped all Marvel titles after Gail left Agent X. Of course I did pick up Hawkeye and the few Power Pack comics they did since then.
Alaric, I find that that all outlines the changes but doesn’t really explain them.
I’d like to see something explain it all in-series; the closest thing we’ve got is a general ‘some things in the Marvel Universe changed after Secret Wars II‘, which… kind of…?
So the US, Canada (via a supervillain in disguise), Wakanda and four extraterrestrial races have control of a space-based military operation, and all the other nations of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America and the South Pacific are all okay with that? Weird.
I’m reminded that in the Ostrander/Truman Hawkman series, other nations were indignant that the US got to keep Katar and his spaceship and the associated tech just because he landed there.
I’ve been reading Alpha Flight the whole time, and I can tell you – Jim knows more about it than the current creators.
His comment that he hasn’t read it in twenty years is an acknowledgement that maybe he doesn’t know what’s happened – but trust me, and most of the people who’ve commented on this review – the continuity hasn’t ‘moved on’, the last two writers have shown they don’t know it.
That said, I’d like to enforce that Captain Marvel is not a bad series per se; and that all my talk about Alpha Flight within it was meant as a specific example of a widespread problem.