A Review of Avengers Assemble’s “Captain Marvel”

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It is no secret how this blogger regards Carol Danvers.  I prefer to ignore her existence entirely as a general rule, being particularly insulting when I do mention her.  But there are certain times when this character must be acknowledged and mentioned, or even discussed at length.  Having seen the Avengers Assemble episode “Captain Marvel,” it seems that this is one of those times.  I have largely left my disparaging comments at the door.  This is an entirely different kind of post from previous articles.

One of the men who helped to create the Carol Danvers solo series reportedly stated that a reader of the comics, “…might see a parallel between her [Carol Danvers’] quest for identity, and the modern woman’s quest for raised consciousness, for self-liberation, for identity.” (Did anyone else miss the point of that convoluted quote?  I did.)

This description by writer Gerry Conway opens a window into Danvers’ role in the Marvel Universe(s).   From his suggestion it is possible to see that Carol Danvers is intended to be the Feminist epitome:  she is stronger than most of her male compatriots, faster than them, she shoots energy beams from her hands, and she is nigh indestructible.  Feminism’s consistent cry that, “Women are just as good as men,” is perfectly played out in Danvers’ character.

However, the results are far from flattering for women.  Captain Marvel’s most endearing quality is her superpowers; in creating the Uber Woman, Marvel missed the mark by a good many miles.

This is something which Marvel Comics seems to have tacitly recognized, although they have not admitted it aloud in interviews or writing.  Instead they told us in the early 2000s that they were “determined to have the character take center stage in the Marvel Universe.”  Apparently they have chosen to use this time to do this.  They have changed her codename to Captain Marvel, given her a new suit, and a new personality in order to make her a more central character in their universe(s).

But so far these changes have not made Danvers any more important to the brand than she has been for the last five and a half decades.  It is also worth noting that Marvel has tried relabeling the character in the past.  Carol Danvers has worn two other alternate codenames since she debuted as Ms. Marvel; these were the monikers Binary and Warbird.  Neither of these names lasted very long – the writers inevitably ended up falling back on her original codename after trying to make her new guises “stick.”

Why did they have to return to her original name?  Marvel Comics has never definitively stated any reason why, to the best of this writer’s knowledge.  But if I had to guess, it was because her new names were unable to generate an appropriately large and suitably well-paying fan base.

If at first you don’t succeed, however, try, try again.  Marvel is attempting the same rebranding trick now.  This time, though, they have gone a step further by overhauling Danvers’ personality.  Previously Danvers simply changed suits and codenames, while her personality remained intact.  But if the Avengers Assemble episode “Captain Marvel” is any indication, her new characterization is no more helpful than her previous deportment.  If anything, it is far more exasperating.

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Instead of continuing in her former mild-mannered, polite aspect, Danvers’ debut episode within the Assemble universe shows her rudely cutting across the male Avengers’ courteous pleasantries and interrupting their valid questions or comments.  But the most aggravating of all is her continuous, offhand dismissals of the men’s warnings and help during combat.  Her attitude, once about as offensive as a pebble’s, has been altered so that she is snobby, arrogant, and Matronizing.  Where she once could not be heard for being polite, now she cannot say “Hello” without it sounding derogatory.

This is not a winning portrayal for the character, and it only gets worse as the episode progresses.  During the show Danvers repeatedly mocks the male Avengers when they extend their assistance and friendship.  She scoffs at their suggestions that she may need their help in the present or in the future.  She also scathingly refuses their offer of a place on the team – which she eventually receives anyway.  Danvers looks down on all the men on the team during the episode.  Yet this should be hard to do if she is supposed to be as good as they are, shouldn’t it?  If they are on the same level, she cannot look down on them.  She has to look them in the eyes.

This does not occur within the show at all.

As for Danvers’ hypothetical “friendships” with the male Avengers, those appear to be non-existent by all but the most desperate measurements.  The most frustrating of these “amities” within the episode is the supposed Air Force/Army rivalry she shares with Cap.  It is true that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force have something of an affable rivalry.  So do the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.  But this theoretical source of contention between Danvers and Cap within the episode is nothing less than a thinly veiled attempt to make Captain Marvel look good, while at the same time putting Steve Rogers in her shadow.

What happens, entertainingly, is the reverse.  As he does in most cases, during the show Cap stands above Danvers without half trying.  Cap demonstrates his usual magnanimity, courtesy, and the benefits of his experience during the show.  And he does this with his usual just-a-kid-from-Brooklyn charm.  Danvers on the other hand suffers in this “rivalry.”  She comes across as a small-minded, bigoted, and egotistical fool.  She disdains Cap’s assistance, his generosity, and the benefits of his experience.

This is not a way for ANY character, new or old, to make a good impression on viewers.  It is the best way to lower the audience’s opinion of her.

Falcon is similarly discriminated against by Danvers in her dialogue with him.  Left to fawn over Danvers as if she is a great heroine whom he has always wanted to meet, Sam receives no real reply for his manly deference.  In answer to his admiration Danvers persistently sidelines him in conversation and belittles his ability in combat – until Sam’s considerable technological and flying skills are needed to help save the day.  Then she is all praise and pats on the back.

Sam Wilson deserves better than that, people.  He has earned better.

Thor is also left to play the stereotype.  Thor is made to look like a callow buffoon during the adventure; throughout the show he is clearly supposed to represent the man who is emblematic of the “modern Neanderthal” who would rather smash things than think.  This “requires” Captain Marvel to “rein him in” on several occasions.  She literally grabs hold of his arms in one instance, which is utterly infuriating.  Why?

The Prince of Thunder is entirely capable of thinking, being particularly clever in his own right.  While Thor may prefer banging down the front door to picking the lock on the back entrance, the fact is that he is adaptable to the situation at hand.  To portray him as a backward, muscle-bound rube demeans not only the character but his audience.

We are not amused.

But what stood out to me the most when I was reflecting on this episode is the fact that Danvers and the Black Widow never exchange pleasantries, let alone dialogue, within this show.  Unlike most of the guys, Natasha does not bother to try and interrupt Danvers while she brags about saving the team from being “exploded.”  Most important to note, she also does not join in the other woman’s steady verbal abuse of the men.

I believe that this is something the writers overlooked, and that in future episodes they will try to rectify what I have pointed out.  However, I also believe that there can be no commiseration between these two female characters over the “vanity” of men.  There are two reasons for this.  First, Natasha was conceived as a genuine female character and legitimate heroine from the start.  She was not created as a bone to be tossed to the Femi-Nazis.  Having clawed her way up and out of that mentality when she defected from the Soviet Union, Natasha is determined not to fall back into such a trap.

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Second, while Captain Marvel now bashes the guys simply for being men, Natasha respects and appreciates her male teammates much as she always has.  She recognizes the value of her male friends not only for what they can do, but for who they are as men.  For instance, their manhood is what makes them naturally concerned for her welfare because she is a woman.  Even when she is in a situation which she can handle (or believes she can handle) herself, they do not leave their natural male concern for her at the door.

Natasha does not scorn this concern from her male teammates, as Danvers does.  Rather, she welcomes it.  Yes, it can irritate Natasha if the guys are not quite quick enough to figure out her plan and they begin to question her, fearing that she is preparing to do something rash or particularly dangerous.  But if she does end up in over her head, then she knows they have her back, even when she thinks she does not need them there.  The male Avengers’ evident desire to keep her safe does not enslave the Black Widow.  It frees her.  Natasha knows her male friends have her best interests at heart.  They do not want to exploit her, they want to protect her and be there for her.

Why am I so certain of this?  How can I be sure that the writers not only overlooked writing dialogue for Natasha and Danvers but that, if they tried to do it so that the two agreed on the “ineptitude” of men, such a discourse would ring false?

I can be sure of this fact because the Black Widow has been exploited by men in the past.  She was subjugated from her earliest years by the men (and the women) who created and maintained the Soviets’ Red Room program.  She was an expendable tool to them.  This resulted not in self-liberation for her but in a non-existent childhood, during which she was expected to behave and function as an adult.  This was then followed by an early adulthood completely devoid of compassion, friendship, happiness, and respect.  The men in charge of the Red Room did not value Natasha – they used, manipulated, and abused her.  And while they did this they considered her to be “just as good as a man” at her job.

We know how Natasha feels about this.  She regrets her past sins while under the Soviets’ control, and she was so determined that they would never get the chance to mistreat women again that she shut down the original Red Room program, presumably with extreme prejudice.  In the episode “Seeing Double,” the writers established 2R – the rebuilt Red Room program – in the Assemble universe.  Natasha’s first round against Widow wannabe Yelena Belova showed that she desires to end this new program of enslavement in the Soviet mold, too.  Looking at her attitude in this case, how can we think that the Black Widow would turn around and support a twisted feminism which views women in the same unsavory light that the Soviets did?

The male Avengers, unlike her Soviet handlers, do not use, manipulate, or abuse Natasha.  Only the most confused would claim such lunacy.  Natasha is a member of the team by her own choice, and her male friends never ask her to take risks outside of her ken.  On the occasions the risks to her during a mission are considered too high by the men, she usually takes those on herself, always over their protests.  When this happens, she does not accuse them of believing that she cannot handle the crisis.  The Soviets, remember, considered her expendable.  The male Avengers do not.

If you contrast the Black Widow with Danvers, you will see just how boorish, petulant, and childish Captain Marvel’s new characterization is compared to Natasha Romanoff’s.  As an immediate example from the episode under discussion, Black Widow illustrates her high opinion of her male friends when she asks Hawkeye what happened on the mission in Helsinki that Danvers had mentioned.  His emphatic “Do not want to talk about it,” earns an affectionate smile from Natasha, not a scoff of irritation at his imaginary “manly stubbornness.”

Now weigh Natasha’s fond expression against Danvers’ sneering “You’re adorable” remark after Hawkeye saves her from a Kree drone missed in an earlier battle.  It puts everything in perspective and easily demonstrates which woman is the better heroine and person.  Danvers was in the process of asking for help from the Avengers when Hawkeye acted first and destroyed the drone.  He was kind enough to not only to save her from the device but to “spare” her the need to ask for aid, repaying her for her help in Helsinki.  And yet she responds by treating him as though he was a teenager showboating for the lady?  Which knucklehead wrote that brilliant little bit of dialogue?

In their attempt to make the Uber Woman when they revamped Danvers’ character, Marvel Comics has instead made an uber failure.  Carol Danvers is supposed to represent the 21st century woman?  I would rather be represented by a stray cat.  A female cat may be haughty, but at least she never pretends to be anything less than she actually is.

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“But, Mithril,” I hear some of you complain, “everybody says/knows Carol Danvers has been popular throughout her history!  You cannot help but admit that, even if you do not think she is particularly great!”

Okay, let us say for the sake of argument that Carol Danvers is, actually, as popular as Marvel Comics insists she is.  If this is so, then why have they changed her codename throughout her career?  Most heroes who have had many codenames over the course of their history have had to do this in order to find the one which “fits” them best.  It is a bit late in the game for Danvers to still be searching for the perfect moniker.  Her first codename worked just fine.  I know this because I cannot shake the habit of using it in verbal conversation.  I would use it in writing if it would not confuse the issue, but that is not possible since Kamala Khan started using the call sign Ms. Marvel.

And if Danvers is so popular, why did Marvel feel it necessary to say in the early 2000s that they planned to make her “take center stage in the Marvel Universe”?  If she has “always” been popular with the fans/readers, then they should not have had to do this.  They have not done it with the Wasp, the Invisible Woman, or the Scarlet Witch.  In fact, almost all of their other leading heroines’ monikers remained the same coming into the new millennium, and have remained unaltered.  Why does Carol Danvers need special attention if she has always been – and continues to be – so popular?

Why has Marvel given Danvers such a radical personality alteration?  Costumes come and go over the years, but personalities are seldom revamped in this manner.  If Carol Danvers is – and always has been – as popular as they claim, then why has Marvel Comics had to strive so hard over the course of her existence to make her impress their readers?  Why can she not stand on her own two feet, like all of Marvel’s other famous heroes and heroines have down through the decades?

The Avengers’ Mansion/Tower is popular as well, readers.  It is prominent in almost every comic because it is the team’s base/home, and plenty of stories begin or end there.  Stan Lee said that he used to run into people on Fifth Avenue who were looking for the Avengers’ Mansion.  It was popular enough to prompt people visiting New York City to go out and look for it.

Is it possible – just possible – that Carol Danvers has been “popular” for the same reason as the Avengers’ home?  After all, if the writers and artists place Danvers in every comic they can besides her own solo series, then they may rightfully claim that she is popular based on the fact that she is present in many of the books they are selling.  They do not have to sell record numbers of issues from her solo series for her to be popular.  They just have to sell comics where she is present in some manner to make her so.

The fact of the matter is that Carol Danvers is a token player.  And since token players have no real use or value to readers/viewers, they are almost impossible to keep afloat for as long as Marvel has managed to maintain Danvers’ existence.  This is a feat of determination which deserves applause as such.  But in terms of helping the company, it is just an attempt to maintain an idea which has proved to be more harmful than helpful.

Personally, I think the company would be better served focusing on the heroines they have who are actually emblematic of real women.  Because the character of Carol Danvers will ALWAYS be inferior to these other heroines, and no amount of cosmetic changes or personality alterations will amend that fact.  This is the truth, readers…

… whether Marvel Comics likes it or not.

Until next time,

The Mithril Guardian

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