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Cover of Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1, Marvel Comics (2015).
The Cover of Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1, a four-issue alternate-universe miniseries.
David Lopez/Marvel Comics

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The pressure on Captain Marvel is overwhelming — and it always has been

How the ‘Carol Corps’ fandom shook the comics industry, and could return for Marvel’s tentpole take

There’s a famous quote from Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run that feels especially relevant as the film version heads to the big screen:

“Have you ever seen a little girl run so fast she falls down? There’s an instant, a fraction of a second before the world catches hold of her again... A moment when she’s outrun every doubt and fear she’s ever had about herself and she flies.”

Marvel’s first tease of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel revealed Carol Danvers’s new costume and her surprising new haircut in 2012. Now, it’s 2019. That isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of comic book canon, or even Danvers’ own history, but in pop culture time, seven years ago might as well be the Jurassic.

The character’s fandom, the Carol Corps, was forged in a different time. What does it look like on the eve of her movie? The pressure is high for both Carol and her fans to keep flying higher, but it can feel like Carol has been set up for that fall.

Comics has never been a particularly welcoming space for new fans, especially if they aren’t white and male. I started buying individual comics issues for the first time in 2011, after years of hoarding trade paperbacks and borrowing from the library. I was hesitant to step back into a comic book store, but the creation of a Ladies’ Night that met at my local shop — and the announcement that Carol Danvers was going to be Captain Marvel — seemed like a sign. It was finally safe to set up my own pull list.

For the most part, I was right. As an industry and a fandom, comics still has a lot of problems — but overall it’s far more friendly to women, especially white women, than it was prior to that moment. It wasn’t all Carol and Kelly Sue, of course. Books like Nimona, Lumberjanes, Giant Days, Gotham Academy, DC Bombshells, and the new Ms. Marvel helped usher in an era driven by young female characters in strong stories. That doesn’t even touch on web comics or manga that are even more popular with female readers. The comics industry appeals to a much broader demographic than the stereotypes would have you believe, and the Carol Corps were a part of that.

Cosplay variant cover of Captain Marvel #1, Marvel Comics (2016).
The official variant cover of Captain Marvel #1 (2016), featuring cosplayer and Marvel producer Judy Stephens.
Marvel Comics

At the height of the group’s popularity and engagement, it felt like the Carol Corps was everywhere. Tumblr was full of posts sharing favorite panels and cosplay guides, fans were showing up in costume at conventions and marathons and on issue covers. Whispers about the cancellation of Captain Marvel, or even that of other diverse titles, brought the specter of the Carol Corps, a threat to editors and publishers that might dare to test their loyalty and wrath.

Since then, there have been shifts in the social media landscape. Yahoo and later Verizon acquired Tumblr, once the best place for the Carol Corps to gather and share their love of the character. And in December 2018, users were given two weeks notice on sweeping changes; an attempt to deal with porn bots and inappropriate content. The site is still functional, but has been gutted of older fans who want to safely be able to post content for adults. DeConnick herself has been pulling away from social media, like a lot of users have. The writer was absolutely instrumental to the original organizing efforts that brought the Carol Corps together. The group definitely still exists as a fandom, but not as visibly and centrally active as it was in the heady early days.

It doesn’t help that the Valkyries, one of the other driving forces behind Carol Corps, imploded late last year. Originally a Facebook group where women working in comics shops could network, vent, and commiserate; the Valkyries quickly became a go-to voice for women in the American comics industry, both on and behind the pages. But rumors of issues inside the group came to a head in 2018, when it was revealed that racism and bullying were rampant, and exacerbated by the actions of the founder and moderators. The decision was made for the Valkyries to fold entirely, and the Carol Corps lost another ally.

Even at the height of the Carol Corps’ activity, Marvel didn’t exactly make it easy to keep track of what was happening. Since 2012, in a regrettably typical pattern for Marvel Comics of the past decade, Captain Marvel has had five #1 issues. Numbering was even restarted in the middle of DeConnick’s run. While experienced comic fans might be able to keep that straight, newer readers — a demographic that includes many of the Carol Corps — were less experienced with publisher shenanigans, needing to rely on each other for guidance on what was coming next and how to find it. It didn’t help that a lot of female readers trade wait, buying collected editions of multiple comics instead of the monthly issues.

Marvel’s 2016 Civil War II event gave Carol a lead role, exciting many fans, until they realized that her goal in the story was to use another character’s ability to predict the future to punish people for crimes they had not yet, and might never, commit — she was the thought police. She also took center stage in the poorly executed and badly received death of James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Fans weren’t simply upset about Carol’s behavior, which deviated so far from her past and their expectations, but also the choice to center her and erase the black man she was supposed to be mourning, a boyfriend that she’d seen only a handful of times and a romance that felt underdeveloped to some.

Captain Marvel and War Machine in Civil War II #1, Marvel Comics (2016).
Carol cradles Rhodey’s body in Civil War II #1.
Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez/Marvel Comics

After DeConnick, Carol’s stories were shepherded forward by the likes of Margaret Stohl and Kelly Thompson, a run in which she teamed up with the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight run was drawn by fan-favorite Kris Anka. Even with a wealth of talent on the Captain Marvel books, fans dealt with the departure of the central creative figure of the Carol Corps, confusing numbering and crossover events, and the corruption of their favorite character. It’s no surprise that some members of the Carol Corps followed DeConnick rather than Marvel, adopting blocky Non-Compliant tattoos and orange jumpsuits — from the writer’s next series, the creator-owned Bitch Planet — in the place of red, blue, and gold for Captain Marvel. It certainly didn’t help that Marvel whiffed a couple major feminist events in the industry, failing to protect Chelsea Cain and female editors from online attacks.

When Marvel Studios announced that Captain Marvel would be the first female-led movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Carol Corps surged with support and enthusiasm. But even here, it feels like Carol has been given a Herculean task, or perhaps a Sisyphean one. For years, Kevin Feige and other Marvel execs have been repeatedly given lukewarm quotes about the possibility of a movie about one of the many powerful women in Marvel’s roster, offering promises of more representation “in the future.” One has to wonder just how much they really wanted to make a Captain Marvel film, rather than just trying to avoid the wrath of fans armed with hashtags like #WheresRey, or celebrities like Jessica Chastain, that have been calling for a Black Widow movie for years.

Los Angeles World Premiere Of Marvel Studios’ ‘Captain Marvel’
Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige at the Los Angeles premiere of Captain Marvel this week.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Carrying a movie without any previous introduction in a team film is an additional pressure that shouldn’t be underestimated, especially when there are several female heroes that could have gone first. It’s astonishing that a character who is unknown to the larger viewing audience is expected to carry the first solo origin film after Black Panther’s premiere. That she’s expected to immediately turn around and save the whole universe less than two months later is overwhelming.

That would be an extreme amount of pressure for Scarlet Witch or Shuri, who have the benefit of being recognized, understood parts of the MCU already. The expectations on Carol, on Brie Larson, and the Carol Corps is hard to imagine, because Captain Marvel isn’t just a measure of individual success. If Black Panther hadn’t been the box office hit it was, earning over a billion dollars, Ryan Coogler would likely not have been asked back to make another movie and it would be hard to imagine another Black Panther film at all. The same goes for Captain Marvel: Success or failure here will be used as an reason and excuse to create or not create more female-led stories in the MCU.

Haters have already started to come out of the woodwork in a blatant attempt to tank the movie. Caught up in ComicsGate — the vitriolic and violent attempt to suppress the voices of any creators and fans that aren’t white, straight, cis men — some people started a campaign to give Captain Marvel a terrible rating before the film has even come out. In response, Rotten Tomatoes finally stopped people from reviewing movies prior to their premiere. And the attacks aren’t only coming from disgruntled men with an axe to grind.

Last week a PR firm that has represented both Marvel and DC franchises sent out an email with the subject line “‘Captain Marvel’ Soaring Past ‘Wonder Woman’ in Fandango Pre-Sale Ticket Purchases.” The desire to pit female characters against one another isn’t a new one, but it’s particularly disappointing to see a PR company rely on bashing one female-led superhero film in an attempt to elevate the only other female-led superhero film of its era. Days later, Kelly Sue DeConnick herself reminded fans in an Instagram post that tearing down other women to express their love for Carol would disappoint the lady of the hour. The instinct to say Carol isn’t like “those other women” doesn’t do anything but diminish all women.

At every turn, Carol Danvers has been faced with adversity. The challenges of an uneven publishing schedule and a near constant rotation of artists, a lack of editorial and producer support, a high risk introduction to a universe in flux. Aggressive external forces that want to quash the success Carol and her Corps have enjoyed, and allies within the community that erode the good that’s been done. How can any single person, any single character — any single fangroup founded on their shared affection for that character — survive that kind of pressure?

There’s a second half to that famous DeConnick quote about little girls flying. “I need to find that again. Like taking a car out into the desert to see how fast it can go, I need to find the edge of me... And maybe, if I fly far enough, I’ll be able to turn around and look at the world... And see where I belong.”

The first half is catchy and universal; every little girl has had that moment and every woman, every person, who’s felt like they don’t belong has chased that flying feeling. But the second half is specific to Carol. She finds herself in adventure and effort, in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. The Carol Corps have followed her into every flight so far.

And even though it feels a little like the world is poised to watch them tumble, the chances are greater that both the pilot and her crew will take off into the air at the last possible moment — buoyed by community, and a desire to look back at the world to make sure everybody’s watching while they reach new heights.

A regular at Ladies’ Night at Graham Cracker Comics, Caitlin also an editor and counter-of-beans for the Ladies’ Night Anthology the treasurer on the board of Chicago Nerd Social Club. You can find their every day observations, pictures of their dog, and really terrible dad jokes on Twitter. Ask them about Rhodey, but only if you’ve got some time.