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Kelly Sue Deconnick on the Evolution of Carol Danvers to Captain Marvel [Interview]

Marvel Comics announced its new Captain Marvel series at Wondercon over the weekend, which passes the torch of the Captain Marvel title to a new hero: former Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers. The ongoing comic, which launches in July, will be written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Sif, Osborn) and illustrated by Dexter Soy. Deconnick talked with us about what the new title, new costume (designed by Jamie McKelvie, below), and the complicated and often traumatic history of the character will mean for Deconnick’s vision of Carol Danvers, and what the future holds for making superhero comics about, by and for women.

ComicsAlliance: We’re told that the new Captain Marvel is going to “redefine what it means to be a hero.” Can you unpack that a little bit? Is Captain Marvel going to take on a role that has implications not only for how we perceive Carol Danvers, but how we perceive Marvel heroes more broadly?

Kelly Sue Deconnick: I’m betting [editor Steve] Wacker wrote that. He and I had a conversation early on wherein we were talking about this book, Carol’s character, and what it means to be a superhero. We were trying to identify the things that move and inspire us. We talked about sacrifice. We talked about how, you know, if you’re out doing your thing and a supervillain comes at you and you defend yourself, you may be really cool to look at, but you’re not really being a hero. Relative to Carol’s history specifically, if you’re in the employ of the government and you’re rounding up your former colleagues for registration… is that really a transcendent hero moment? Which isn’t to say it wasn’t in character — it was very much in character.

But Carol’s been a good soldier for a while now. We want to help her find her way back to her more iconoclastic roots.

CA: Why the name change from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, and how did that idea come about? What is the new title intended to evoke about the character, and how is that change going to play out in terms of character and plot?

KSD: I literally don’t know who first had the idea. It pre-dates my involvement by years. I think it’s been on the table for a while because it’s such a natural progression. [Ed. note: Editor Steve Wacker added that he "has been trying to get this name change since my first day editing the book about five years ago, so this has been a long time coming."]

Have we talked about the chambered nautilus before? It’s one of those metaphors from nature that blows my mind. This little cephalopod is in a constant process of outgrowing its shell and every so often it builds a wall behind itself and moves on to its next space. It’s an idea I come back to all the time, moving on to the next place. In terms of character, that’s what this is for Carol; as she takes on the mantle, she’s growing into her Next Place.

CA: Carol Danvers has suffered a lot of identity crises and trauma over the years, from melding her personality with Rogue to actually becoming a Kree-human hybrid, not to mention getting brainwashed and having that alternate dimension rape baby, and later becoming an alcoholic. With this somewhat literal opportunity to redefine the character are you going to try and integrate those elements into the new Captain Marvel, or do you plan to focus on other, less-screwed up aspects of the character?

KSD: I don’t want to or intend to negate anything, but nor do I feel the need to go back and address the Marcus debacle. Not directly, anyway.

And this isn’t going to be a book about alcoholism; but it is a book about an alcoholic–if that makes sense. I think part of what makes people respond to Carol — what makes me respond to her, certainly, are these imperfections — in the language of recover, these “character defects.”

But she’s not… she’s not a mess. She’s not a train wreck. She’s an amazing person–an overachiever, who was her own woman, accomplished and remarkable before she ever had powers. And now? Even more so. I’m interested in the fact that she makes mistakes, that’s she’s quick-tempered and a bit of a control freak. I like those things about her.

So, I guess I’m not entirely sure how to answer the question. I mean, if you read her Wiki page and try to extract her character from her biography… she comes across like a walking red flag, like a woman in the constant state of an identity crisis, who literally fights some version of herself over and over and doesn’t know who she is. But the magic of Carol is that when you read her, that’s not who she is.

That’s not the woman I’m writing; the woman I’m writing is a long way from perfect but she knows herself. She transcends her history.

CA: So what made this project more appealing to you: the history of the character or the opportunity to do something new with her?

KSD: I haven’t taken a clean slate approach, so I guess if it’s one or the other, I’d have to go with the former. That said, bearing in mind my previous answer, I think what drew me to the project was that I liked her. I like Carol. I grew up on Air Force bases. The culture of the pilot is deeply meaningful to me in ways I have a hard time articulating and that’s what’s makes me want to write this book.

I pitched Carol as Chuck Yeager, you know? Or — Shaun White! The last time we spoke, for Sif, I think we talked about Shaun White, didn’t we? I’m not certain, but I think so. I’m kind of obsessed with Shaun White. I took a DVD of Shaun White to the hospital when I gave birth to my son. His physical elegance and his ease in front of the camera alone are inspiring, but he’s got this… this dedication to excellence and this straight up courage that just… it personifies everything I want to be and everything I am not. He flies. HE FLIES. Forty feet in the air on a slip of wood. And it’s not good enough for him to be the best in the world, he has to be constantly besting himself.

Carol has a similar appeal to me. She’s got that thing — that need to faster, further, higher, more… always more.

CA: Part of what defines the greatest superheroes is the iconic and easily-identifiable core of their characters. In a sentence-long nutshell, how would you describe Carol Danvers to new fans or people who don’t feel like they really understand her?

KSD: You’re looking for Kung-fu Billionaire, aren’t you? Let’s see…

“Crackerjack pilot races to prove her dead daddy wrong.”

CA: What are you hoping the new costume will convey about her, as a hero and a person? Do you feel it addresses some of the criticisms by fans and critics about the tendency to costume superheroines for cheesecake over both style and function?

KSD: Look, I liked the black swimsuit and thigh boots. It looked great on a cover! But when I really started trying to think like this woman it just… didn’t work.

This does. Jamie McKelvie designed it. It looks like the dress uniform for the superhero branch of the military and I think that suits both her character and her history.

Of course, I think it’s sexy too, but that’s how I’m wired. I think uniforms are hot. This looks like a uniform — we call it her uniform. Most importantly though, it makes story sense. It makes character sense. I love Lady Gaga and I love Dazzler. Carol is not Lady Gaga or Dazzler.

CA: Marvel has weathered some criticism about the lack of female solo titles in its publishing line, something CA has discussed at length with editors Axel Alonso and Jeanine Schaefer. What your take on why it’s been difficult for female solo titles to gain traction with fans?

KSD: Habit?

And, I mean, when so many of our female heroes were conceived as boobed versions of their male counterparts — Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman — it’s a tough sell. They’re, like, the side dishes, supplements — something you might want to get in addition to your main course, but they’re not the reason you picked that restaurant in the first place. They’re not the meat and potatoes. They weren’t conceived of as meat and potatoes and we don’t package them that way.

Has there ever been a Sue Storm solo title? Even a one-shot? I feel like that would be the ultimate challenge in many respects. Both to write it and to sell it. I want to look that up. Who would know that? Hickman probably knows. If such a thing exists, I need it.

CA: What’s the best way to boost interest in female-led titles, both in terms of Captain Marvel and more generally?

KSD: I’m feeling so daunted in this respect right now; it’s hard for me to spin a positive message.

As an industry, we have to make more female-led books that are actually worth buying. Nevermind the Bechdel test, try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft. They have to be protagonists, not devices. [Before anyone flips out on me, can I point out that I said we need to make "more." I didn't say we're not making them. We're making them. Industry-wide, we are making them--but we need to make more.]

The mid list is dying, isn’t it? Comics are a bit behind the curve coming out of the recession and it looks to me as though the working theory has been that the top, say, 10-20 books are going to sell the numbers that they’re going to sell and the mid list books are going to sell the numbers that they’re going to sell*, so if we stop making the mid list books and we put our resources into making more of the top selling books/characters/creators, we’ll double our profits, right?

I’m a small business owner. I’m out of my league here. I don’t mean to suggest I know how to run a multi-million dollar corporation better than the folks who are doing it. And I’ve been a professional in superhero comics for all of 3 years. It is entirely possible–likely, even–that I have no idea what I’m talking about. But. With all those caveats in place, I will say that I wonder if what’s working to stop the bleeding right now is what’s going to be best in the long run. I don’t pretend to know; I wonder.

How do we make room for women at the top?

Bah… maybe this will all be for the best in the end, regardless. Who knows? I can’t help but think we’re poised for a huge industry shift in many regards.

I’ve drifted away from your question. Are you shocked?

[*By "sell" I should clarify that I mean "be ordered" not "sell through." Remember, unless a book is returnable, the customer isn't the reader; it's the store.]

CA: More generally, as a female creator writing a female hero at one of the Big Two superhero publishers, what do you think is the best way to improve representations of women in superhero comics (and the number of women making them)?

KSD: It’s a vicious circle. Money talks. Ultimately, this is a business and whatever sells best will receive the most support. We need break-through titles and characters. We won’t be able to do it until one of us does it. Follow?

From the creator’s side, mentorship is key. I would not be where I am at Marvel today if I didn’t have Brian Bendis in my corner.

We still have such high barriers to new readership… that’s our biggest problem, I think. I have Thoughts and Ideas in that regard, but I’m not sure this is the time or place.

CA: How important do you think women are — as creators and readers — to the future of superhero comics?

KSD: I think women are vital to the future of the superhero comics and the entire industry — as creators, as editors, as consumers, as retailers.

You know who’s really smart about this? Gail Simone. We keep hearing from the internet that women don’t buy superhero comics. Meanwhile, Simone is over on Tumblr quietly cultivating a vocal, powerful and dedicated female readership for her Bat books. She’s got something like 14K followers on tumblr, I think? They’re not all women of course, but it seems a majority are. These are women readers and creators who aren’t waiting for someone to give them a seat at the table; they’re prepared to sit, throw their money down and demand to be dealt with.

I like them a lot.

CA: All gender critiquing aside, can you tell me some awesome things that might happen in the comic? Will there be robots, or monkeys, or robot monkeys?

KSD: There will be robots! And astronauts! And dogfights! (Not the kind with actual dogs.) Dudes will get kicked. Stuff will, in fact, ‘splode.

CA: Roughly how many things can we expect to see explode?

KSD: A bajeeeeeeeeeellion. Most importantly, we aim to blow YOUR MIIIIIIIIIIIIND.

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