Thursday, March 4, 2010

Carol's Last Dance: A Farewell to Ms. Marvel

On the last week of February, on the year 2010, the fiftieth and last issue of the current Ms. Marvel series was released. Until last week, it was the currently longest female-fronted ongoing series from Marvel (I believe only Spider-Girl had a longer run in the past). It is not surprising that the Ms. Marvel series was canceled, as it wasn't exactly setting the chart sales on fire, but it does carry a certain poignancy because of something Aaron Kimel, a regular commenter and reader here at The Weekly Crisis, pointed out:

Mere coincidence that Marvel's longest-running female solo book died before Women of Marvel month began or intentional decision to avoid the apparent mixed message of ending the series DURING Women of Marvel month?

Now, this isn't a completely serious statement, as Aaron pointed out later in the comment section, but it does raise a good point. It is a rather strange mixed signal that Marvel is sending: on one hand, we have them promoting not only March as Women's Month, but the whole year is going to involve a celebration of their female characters, and on the other hand we have them canceling a long running ongoing series that stars a female character. Despite being a huge fan of the Ms. Marvel series in it's first couple of years, I'm actually not very upset that the book is coming to an end. Hit the jump to see exactly why.

There's two fundamental things you need to know about the Ms. Marvel series.

First of all, it was completely written from start to finish, by Brian Reed. That's fifty issues, plus three one-shots, all written by the same person. How many other series can boast such a claim? If we stick to current and modern examples, you can certainly mention Ed Brubaker on Captain America, Brian Bendis on Daredevil and Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter David on X-Factor, Geoff Johns on Green Lantern, maybe Grant Morrison on Batman (it don't think it's been fifty issues, but close enough), and probably not much else outside of long running creator owned titles. Notice anything on that list? Most of those writers are the "superstar" creators, the kind that can carry a book under their name alone.

Brian Reed is not that kind of writer. I do not mean this as an insult towards him, I actually like him quite a lot as a writer (otherwise I wouldn't be writing this, right?) but he is just not in the same level as those others I just listed in the "household name" category. And yet he stayed in the the title for a long time and he wrote an immense body of work, almost four years and a half of material, surrounding a single character, all in the same series that never was quite a commercial hit. In other words, it was a labor of love, and it shows: there's a palpable feel of affection and respect for the character of Carol Danvers that comes through in the series, one that manifests by exploring the world of Ms. Marvel through various lenses and different situations. We see Carol as a fighter, a solider, a lover, a leader, and even a mother figure, among others.

Which brings me to the second thing you need to know about the Ms. Marvel series: it was always about Carol's personal journey into becoming the best she could be.

To understand how this came to be, we must go back to the events from House of M. When the Scarlet Witch altered reality, Ms. Marvel was transformed into the Captain Marvel of that world: a beacon of hope, a symbol of tolerance, and a protector of the world. When reality went back to normal, Carol Danvers was left with the knowledge that she could be the best superhero in the world. This is her main motivation through the majority of the series, and we see her struggling with this newfound sense of unlimited potential and responsibility, she tries her hardest and doubtlessly makes mistakes along the way, she questions her actions and she rationalizes what she must do next in order to become the best superhero in the world.

In the end, it all boils down to one realization (image courtesy of Anika from Fantastic Fangirls, in her own  article about Ms. Marvel)

But here's the crazy thing, I did not stay with the Ms. Marvel series all the way to end (although I should have), I dropped it some time ago. I guess that's part of the reason why I am not upset that the series is canceled, seeing as I was not reading it anymore, but there's a more important reason: I think it should have ended earlier, this realization should have come sooner. I thought that the perfect moment for Carol to learn this was at the end of the Secret Invasion arc. During Secret Invasion, Ms. Marvel traveled all the way from the Savage Land to Manhattan, the epicenter of the invasion, all by herself. There, she battled a bona fide battalion of super skrulls, all by herself. She used a combination of her intelligence and her powers to not only turn the tide of the battle, but to protect hundreds of civilians.

It should be worth noting that during the majority of the series, Carol had a pretty well rounded support cast: Spider-Woman was her best friend, who she could relax and be herself around, Wonder Man, who supported her and provided emotional back-up (not to mention a love interest), AraƱa as her trainee, and even the members of Operation Lighting Storm as her underlings. This changed in the final stages of Secret Invasion: she was truly by herself, with no one to trust or to help her, in the bleakest situation possible, against a horde of enemies that wanted nothing but to utterly destroy all the she swore to protect. She fought back with all her might, with all her resources, and with all her heart. In the end, she persevered, she passed the test with flying colors, she truly became the greatest she could be.

It would have been a logical and well timed event to end the series, on a high note, and with lots of open possibilities. The series, however, went on for longer. It had interesting ideas, but this was basically the sophomore slump that many TV shows go through on their second season. It did not capture me in the same way as it had earlier, I lost interest and eventually dropped the title when they announced that Moonstone would be taking over the title. And now, about a year and a half later, the series is canceled.

With all that being said, I am glad that Ms. Marvel finished, still under the pen of Brian Reed, and achieved what it had originally meant to do. Fifty is a nice, respectable, and big round number, not to mention that it's twice as long as what the first Ms. Marvel series was. Brian Reed's run did not reinvent the wheel, but it made it roll nice and smoothly all the way down to the finish line, leaving behind a legacy that hopefully will be fondly remembered by its fans, as in important if not perfect run. Somewhere down the line, someone is going to look at it as their inspiration for the next Ms. Marvel series, and that's a happy thought for me.

So farewell for now, Ms. Marvel, but I am sure we will see you soon.

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Phillyradiogeek said...

I begain picking up Ms. Marvel with the Secret Invasion arc, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, so much so that I stuck with the title until issue #47 (haven't caught the Mystique arc yet). I hope some dangling plotlines get picked up somewhere else (the Storytellers, her possibly growing relationship with Spider-Man, etc.).

Anika said...

I agree that moment in Secret Invasion IS Carol at her best, and as such a good finale to the Best of the Best idea. They very nearly lost me with the Moonstone switch. I was honestly angry that her title was being handed over, as if "Ms. Marvel" is the brand and it wasn't really ever Carol's. But I really like Reed and I liked the idea of Dark Reign (the whole of it, not just in this title), so I kept reading. And it turned out it actually was still Carol's story; to me, the end of the Moonstone arc was absolutely excellent, and I believe necessary for Carol to reach her conclusion to be her best instead of the best.

One of my favourite quotes is "There are no happy endings because nothing ends." I really, really appreciate that the series didn't end on a high note, after Secret Invasion, or in the final issue. I know it makes me the odd duck but I guess Brian Reed gets me, so that's something :)

KentL said...

So Carol's best friend was Spider-Woman? Was that pre-Invasion? If so, how did they deal with the fallout there? That probably would've made for interesting stories.

McE said...

The first run of Spider-Woman made it to issue 49 - Ms Marvel beat her by one.

That's going to make for some awkward moments the next time they get together for lunch.

Aaron Kimel said...

I would very much like to speak to Brian Reed about the apparent shift in tone after the Battle of Manhattan arc. I loved that arc, but afterwards the series was much less light-hearted. This is not to say that it was bad by any stretch of the imagination: the Ascension storyline had some VERY powerful issues (e.g., Carol visits her dying father; Carol is captured and tortured). But, there wasn't the same sort of human interaction. Even Carol's teamwork with Rossi and Mason lacked the joy and interest of her previous team-ups. And though this new serious tone seemed to portend emotional stories, the death of Carol was handled so abruptly that it was barren of emotional impact, other than a feeling that I was just cheated.

No successful solo series is ever really a solo series: the supporting cast makes it work. Reed abandoned the (somewhat) established supporting cast (Wonder-man, Aaron Stack, Sleepwalker, Agent Sum, Arana, Sarah Day, Chewie!). Indeed, they barely appeared again after Battle of Manhattan. (Aaron Stack appeared in one issue and Agent Sum appeared as a reporter questioning Moonstone after Carol's "death".)

At the same time, we were suddenly removed from Carol's mind: throughout the series we had had access to Carol's inner monologue through thought boxes with distinctive lightning bolt. After Secret Invasion, they were removed and we were left to guess at Carol's motives. It certainly added to the mystery of the Ascension storyline, but it makes it harder to enjoy the ride without Carol's amusing, self-doubting thoughts. I think that's what made Carol compelling and lovable.

I further think Reed made a mistake by setting up a lot of storylines and then just letting them go to waste in lieu of the Dark Reign. Here's what I can come up with off the top of my head: the fate of William Wagner, her (Kree) boyfriend captured by A.I.M. and reportedly taken to Orlando; the relationship between Carol and Wonder-Man; the fate of Gavin the storyteller; what became of A.I.M. - her nemesis - after MODOK "died" (Head Case!); the fate of Warren Traveler; the fate of Warbird - the alternate reality Carol; the connection between HYDRA and the crazy Super-Skrull; the secrets and origin of Agent Sum. I just felt that we should have been given some answers to these questions that the series raised.

Having said all that, I should mention that I was a big fan of this series and really grew to love Carol over its course. I hope she remains a large part of the greater MU.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I never picked up Ms Marvel, but hot damn if you don't give it a good sell here. I like that you're even handed with it, you're not yelling from a rooftop and nor are you openly and only criticising. You're simply presenting the case as it relates to the facts. That's a nice change of pace for comic journalism. It is appreciated.

I may come across Ms Marvel one of these days, in a cheap eBay lot of a convention bin, so I now hope I do. It'd be worth giving it a try and thinking of what will very soon be the good ol' days.

Kirk Warren said...

I used to follow Ms Marvel myself. I reallye njoyed the time they had with operation lightning storm and use of Nextwave personality Aaron Stack, as well as other members at the time.

What really drew me to it though was the House of M interpretation of the character. I liked ther esolve to be better, to be the hero she knew she could.

The problem with the series though was that it never quite got there. It went off with trying to tie together the less dubious qualities of the character, like the past with the Brood, her different powers over the years and so on.

Where you quote the Secret Invasion arc as the peak of the series, I think it is where it finally went off the rails for me. She didnt jsut defend herselfo r innocents when fighting the Skrulls - she outright murdered them. She was sadistic, even going so far as to sit and watch one die and deriving pleasure from it. Even in war, that's not how killing other living creatures should be done, especially by a character trying to reach for a Superman ideal like she was in House of M.

I ended up losing respect for and interest int he character at that point. It was clear she was no longer striving for those goals and was hardly the same character I was first interested in. I checked in at times for the date with Spider-Man and what not, but never really cared for it much after that point.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Anika: I'm glad you agree with me regarding the point of my article, it means a lot coming from probably the biggest Ms. Marvel fangirl I know. That being said, I kind of wish I had stuck with the title until the end.

@KentL: That's actually a very good point, that I don't think was ever answered. I think Carol and Jessica have always been friends, but the one that shows up in this series was probably the skrull.

@Aaron: That's a very accurate description of the change that Ms. Marvel went through. Also wow, when you list them all down, that really is a lot of dangling plot lines that were left unanswered. I'm particularly interested with William's fate, which I had forgotten completely about. I'm kind of surprised that hasn't been touched upon at all.

@Kirk: I do agree that the "Sitting and watch him die" moment seemed strange. It was a cathartic moment, although not a very heroic one. I didn't mind the fact that she killed skrulls in the heat of the battle, but that one did bring me out of it and question if she would really do that.

Frank said...

I'm disappointed Ms. Marvel is ending, mainly because I felt it was picking up new steam under Sana Takeda's artwork but Reed kinda rushed it to an end with the Mystique storyline. I certainly hope Marvel give Sana another title to work on soon.

I also found it a bit irritating that they'd cancel Ms. Marvel and then start up a Black Widow monthly two months before the series ended. I don't think Iron Man 2 will give this character enough steam to justify her own ongoing series.

Anonymous said...

I really wanted to like the Ms Marvel series when it first started, and not because Frank Cho was doing the covers. I liked the concept of her essentially being Superman in the House of M universe, and wanting to recapture that in the 616 timeline. Certainly after her bout with alcoholism in Kurt Busiek's run on "Iron Man", she was certainly damaged goods like Hank Pym was. And while Hank now seems poised to truly overcome his checkered past and become a first-grade hero (and is certainly showing it in "War of the Hulks"), Ms Marvel just plain missed the mark.

I could argue that such an ambitious goal was at odds with the foundation-shaking events that followed "House of M". It's tough to act like the top dog when Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were fighting over whose vision of the Marvel Universe was best. If you believed you were Superman, would YOU take orders from either of them? Instead of buying into the "Whose side are you on" debate, she should have asked, "Why can't there be more options?" Instead, she chose Tony's side. Even Peter Parker wised up that being Tony's dog was like Lex Luthor putting a leash on the Man of Steel, and fought back hard. If Carol did have any doubts about her working for Tony, she should have been far more assertive & defiant. Hey, if you want to act big like Superman, act BIG.

MisterSmith said...

The weird part for me is that despite liking the book for the most part I've always had a problem with the book when it was focused on Carol. I always found her to be a little...self absorbed? Whiny? I don't know what word I'm looking for but whatever her problems were, I could rarely find myself to care.

But Arana? The next generation. Machine Man? Hilarious. Moonstone? Dark and manipulative. Carol Danvers...wanting to be the best? I'm pretty sure that's the basic thought going through the head of just about EVERY superhero. It just doesn't do much for me.

And yet? I think I'm already starting to miss this series.

EricfromOttawa said...

Nice article. Perhaps I'll check out the trades (which I hope doesn't raise the ire of those who supported the book monthly).

In a strange way, I kind of like it when a series lasts in the range of 40-60 issues. It means that we got ongoing character story, more than just a mini anyway, and quite often a series that ended before it's creative downturn.

A couple opposing examples that come to mind are Gotham Central (a wonderful series that lasted 40 issues) and the first run of Thunderbolts (which started out amazing, then fizzled and carried on too long).

Small note, Sensational She-Hulk (1989) is another past Marvel title that lasted 60 issues.

Anonymous said...

>I believe only Spider-Girl had a longer run in the past


Radlum said...

Great article; you actually got me interested in the comic (along with the Fantastic Fangirls article) and the character. I bought the last four issues (they were all I could find about her) and loved Takeda's art and Carol's final speech; also, her interaction with Spider-Man were very interesting, tough it's kind of sad that, possibly, no other writer is going to pick that storyline and take the relationship further.
Anyway, Reed may not be one of Marvel's best writers, but I liked his work, I hope he gets another chance at the character soon.

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