Captain Marvel is finally in theaters this weekend! And if you suddenly find yourself as much of a fan of Carol Danvers as many of us have been for years now, you might want to dig in deeper.
While Danvers has been a figure in Marvel Comics lore since the late 1960s, primarily a very long spell as Ms. Marvel (the moniker now held by the most delightful Kamala Khan), it’s only since earlier this decade that she assumed the mantle of Captain Marvel and began her rapid ascent to the top tier of Marvel heroes. In just the past several years, there has been a treasure trove of great Carol stories in the comics, so here are five trade paperback collections to get you started on your Carol Corps adventure…
The Life of Captain Marvel
We’re going to backtrack through this list, aka countdown back to Carol’s CM debut – and we’re kicking things off with this fairly recent run from novelist Margaret Stohl, whose era writing Captain Marvel began in December 2016. (She’d previously worked with Marvel on a Black Widow YA novel series, Forever Red). Stohl had been at the helm of Carol’s arc for a while when this five-issue series released in 2018, but it’s arguably been the biggest splash she’s made from a storytelling perspective – in that she took a long-held presumption about Carol Danvers’ origins and completely blew it up. While some fans were miffed about this – retconning any character’s origins is almost always, at least initially, treated with suspicion – what ultimately made this case so unique and worthwhile was that, on a multitude of levels, it actually strengthened the legacy that intrinsically ties Carol to the title of Captain Marvel, and as a result minimized a lot of the cringier character relations and storylines that occasionally marred the first couple of decades of her existence. Did we side-step spoilers enough there? We tried! Also interesting is that, while Carol’s origins in the film apparently differ somewhat from the traditional comics, it also differs with what Stohl does here. (Side note: LoCM also features this wonderful moment between Carol and Tony Stark, which goes a long way toward healing the painful rift that Civil War II drove between them prior to this.)
Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight
When the tenure of Kelly Sue DeConnick (much more on her in a moment) ended, the direction that Carol’s adventures would take was a big question mark; thankfully, not one but two excellent writers stepped up to the plate. Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters – well known for their work in television, most notably as the show runners of the magnificent and much-missed Marvel’s Agent Carter – were an unexpected but great fit to steer the ship. Rise of Alpha Flight sees the high-flying Captain somewhat grounded following her previous cosmic adventures alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy; she takes command of the Alpha Flight space station, the cosmic waypoint hovering in the skies directly above S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Triskelion. Fazekas and Butters’ approach earned comparisons (favorable ones, if you ask us) to Star Trek: Deep Space 9‘s diplomacy-in-space based storylines; for Carol, much of the conflict is in striving to excel at her new job. She clashes something fierce with her second-in-command Abigail Brand – that hard case S.W.O.R.D. agent created by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday back in Astonishing X-Men – though her friend Wendy Kawasaki (a fine borrow from DeConnick’s run) is back as science officer. Really though, deep down inside, she totally misses flying around and blasting things. Something which her old pal Rocket Raccoon senses almost intuitively. (See below.) Plus, art by the most excellent Kristafer Anka!
Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More
And now, we delve into the DeConnick Era: Where you’re sure to see the biggest cross-over between the MCU’s take on Captain Marvel and the comics. Though Higher, Further, Faster, More was not the first of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s runs on CM, it’s arguably her strongest, in which she sends our hero out into the cosmos to face off against all sorts of intergalactic riff-raff and most assuredly imbues Carol with all the power, pathos and humor that makes her, as DeConnick coined when we interviewed her last year, “a good character for a complicated world.” This run has not only that aforementioned team-up between Carol and the Guardians, but a load of whizz-bang space battle action; some fully-realized and engaging supporting characters amongst the alien encounters; and of course a stunning-at-the-time revelation about Carol’s cat, Chewie that… well, the movie just opened, so on the suspicion it may go there with MCU kitty Goose, our lips are sealed. All this and the sheer delight of David Lopez’s art; perhaps no other artist has so deftly captured every facet of Carol’s personality, from the Chuck Yeager swagger to her corny dad-joke humor moments, to the pure energy of the Hala. Enjoy this face journey!…
Avengers Assemble: Science Bros
Yep, there’s a recommendation on this list that actually isn’t Carol’s solo title at all! It is, however, also one of DeConnick’s best Marvel runs, when she took over on Avengers Assemble from Brian Michael Bendis in 2013. While this book was originally conceived of as a tie-in for the Avengers feature film the previous year, it rapidly took on a life of its own and “Science Bros” – a nickname coined for scientifically-inclined Avengin’ buds Tony Stark and Bruce Banner that started as a fanfic-inspired meme – was a too-good-to-pass-up title for DeConnick’s Iron Man/Hulk centric arc. Of course, theirs isn’t the only tag-team energy that sings in this book; with Captain Marvel in the mix, she forms a supreme pair with the A-list snark of Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman. (Boy, what we wouldn’t give to have her in the MCU at some point. “Huuuulk…make me a sandwich!”) This is a fun peek at what the Avengers dynamic might look like on the big-screen now that Carol has joined the party: The story elements are terrifically balanced, in that when the you-know-what hits the fan it’s serious, but when things get funny you’ll cry with laughter. Example: This peek at one of the funniest endings in Avengers history, after Tony and Bruce lose a bet with Carol and they’re forced to hoof it from Avengers Tower to the Baxter Building in their birthday suits. The dialogue. That last panel! Perfection. (If you want the whole context of this scene, it’s right here. That last page is a classic.)
Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight
And here’s where it all began for the Carol Corps: The first collection of DeConnick’s issues starring Carol Danvers, Earth’s Mightiest Hero. That Jamie McKelvie-designed costume which is now a piece of comics and movie history, in a burst of primary color cover glory drawn by Dexter Soy. DeConnick explored Carol’s military background and what it means to be a woman in uniform pretty head-on here, including a rather spectacular time-travel arc where she finds herself alongside an the all-female Banshee Squadron in WWII. It’s a richly written slow-build that leads brilliantly into the full-tilt second volume Down, which overlapped with the Avengers books in “The Enemy Within” storyline and featured emotional lows (Carol might have a Kree-engineered “time bomb” of a brain tumor) as well as highs (She punches a T-Rex IN THE FACE. Seriously.) What In Pursuit of Flight indelibly leaves in the reader is that unshakable drive, the ain’t-gonna-stay-down attitude that has so deeply defined Carol as CM, and is the direct inspiration for her movie counterpart; the very first issue, collected here, features the most heart-rending example of this. Helen Cobb, a famous Air Force pilot who mentored Carol, has died and left the younger pilot her airplane, as well as a rather tremendous letter. Fans of Captain Marvel embraced DeConnick’s words here like a talisman; it’s pretty spectacular stuff:
“Knew you the second you set foot on my property, kid. Even as 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 this world spittin’ mad, runnin’ 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 the 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.”