Carol Danvers (Re)Read: Marvel Masterworks: Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

I’ve been meaning to do a Carol Danvers Read/Reread for sometime, and when Saha gave me volume two of the Marvel Masterworks collection I decided that it was time to start! I’m calling it a (Re)Read project because I’ve read all the Captain Marvel bits, but I’ve only read a couple of volumes of Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel run and none of the Conway/Claremont run, so I’m really reading them for the first time.

I read a lot of Marvel comics when I was younger, but Ms. Marvel wasn’t one of them. In fact, I mostly stuck to the X-Men comics (particularly Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run), so the only thing I remembered about Ms. Marvel was that Rogue stole her powers and put her in a coma.

When I started reading the Captain Marvel comics I did look up Carol’s time as Ms. Marvel, and wasn’t impressed – as Ms. Marvel, she had been treated horribly by most of her writers, with oh so many problematic story arcs. What I didn’t properly recognise then was that Ms. Marvel’s solo comics was introduced in 1977, as Marvel’s response to the women’s lib movement.

Sadly, introducing an “empowered” female character didn’t stop them from giving Carol a costume meant to objectify her, and as mentioned in an apology in the introduction to this volume, none of the writers were women.

This volume collects the first 14 issues (stories by Gerry Conway and Chris Claremont, art by Buscema) of the 1977 run, opening with Carol Danvers starting her first day as editor-in-chief at a women’s magazine named WOMAN. Yep. What else would you call a magazine for women? *rolls eyes* Aaaanyway, Carol’s boss is J. Jonah Jameson which means that all my favourite parts of this run so far consists of Carol and Jonah butting heads.

Oh, and Carol meeting Peter (briefly) and Mary Jane Watson, who started out as Carol’s first friend at the Bugle and then… just disappeared?

Besides the obvious flaw in that it didn’t have women telling the story of a strong, independent woman, there doesn’t seem to be a proper direction in where the series was heading. Every other issue brought in a new villain for Carol to fight, and that was about it. The one discernable theme, I suppose, was Carol coming into herself and learning who she was as Carol Danvers, editor, and as Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel.

The first few issues showed Ms. Marvel as a kind of mystery that was obvious to the reader, but not to the characters – Carol Danvers herself didn’t seem aware of the fact that she was Ms. Marvel. Every time she changed into Ms. Marvel, she had no recollection of being Carol, and vice versa.

When she finally discovered the truth, Carol feared that Ms. Marvel was going to take over her life, and actively fought for control of her body. This made it difficult for Ms. Marvel, who had a precog ability she called “seventh sense” and knew whenever anyone needed her help. (I don’t know when they dropped the seventh sense thing from her power set, but I’m glad they did.) It took all of fourteen issues – and a lot of fights – before Carol finally realised that Ms. Marvel was not another personality trying to take over her body; Ms. Marvel WAS her, and she was Ms. Marvel. Only then was she able to control her transformation at will, and retain awareness of both identities.

Differences from the Carol I know: in the beginning, most of Carol’s powers resided in her costume, which was really weird considering how there was nothing much to the costume in the first place. This was explained with lots of hand-waving at first, before Carol finally got her powers proper, instead of having to rely on her costume. And of course, she was yet to have her full power set at this point.

I loved: the introduction of Tracy Burke, sometime after MJ faded from the picture – at least Carol still had a female friend around. I also liked the recurring friendship with Salia, Carol’s friend from NASA. Also the fact that I’m more used to a Carol Danvers who is really smart, but still prefers punching her way out of problems (Gryffindor through and through, that one). But this earlier version of Carol had to use her smarts to defeat her opponents more than once.

I hated: Salia’s death, which occurred off-page and felt very unresolved. It was like she died just so that Carol could go berserk and get her much-needed epiphany, and then? Carol was so elated by this epiphany that the death was no longer mentioned in the following issue. Carol didn’t even get to grieve. (I’m comparing this to her goodbye to Tracy in the Captain Marvel comics, which may not be fair because comics were different in the 70s, but still. This is coming out short.) Not to mention her costume. (One word: BELLY WINDOW.)

Neither loved nor hated, but I thought it was weird: (1) Carol kept going on and on and ON about being a Kree warrior, like in every other panel. Like, woman, I got it, you’re an awesome Kree warrior. I also get that you’re confused over whether you’re more Kree or human. I just don’t get why you keep repeating yourself. And (2), in issue 14 Dracula sort of appeared and did absolutely nothing and had nothing to do with the plot and I had to wonder why?

Conclusion: I have been reading other comics from the 60s and 70s and as disjointed as this one felt, it was still leagues ahead of, say, the first few issues of X-Men. (The way the boys – Bobby aside – fought and ogled over Jean! The way Wanda was portrayed! UGH.) And it was fun – I liked that from the beginning, Carol was strong and independent, yes, but also very flawed. She did what she thought was right, even when it ended with her fighting with herself, or making Vision think she was some sort of villain, or fighting as herself (well-trained, but presumed to lack superpowers) rather than relying on her alter-ego. I liked her character, but the stories here may not be the best introduction to Carol Danvers. Reading this, I’m glad all over again that she would be introduced as Captain Marvel without getting into her Ms. Marvel years in next year’s film.

The next Masterworks collection will include the rest of this run (it ends at #23), plus several other stories, including the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Avengers #200. What fun.

next: Marvel Masterworks: Ms. Marvel Vol. 2


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