I possess no inside information about how Marvel Studios executives land on the characters that will move from the comic book page to the big screen, but I am totally convinced that there would be no Captain Marvel movie in the offing without Kelly Sue DeConnick. By the time it was announced that an adventure featuring the superheroic alter ego of Carol Danvers would be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Three, DeConnick was well into her transformational run on a character who’d been around since the late nineteen-sixties and taken up a more significant role beginning around a decade later, when she graduated to the costumed identity of Ms. Marvel and her own series as part of the publisher’s concerted effort to get a few female–fronted titles onto spinner racks.
Well-meaning as the various efforts to give Carol a prominent place in the Marvel Universe might have been, they were often marred by dismaying indignities, a problem undoubtedly attributable to (or at least compounded by) the comics being created almost entirely by men. Even the pesky fact that she remained mired in a feminized version of an established superhero identity for a full thirty years after a more gender-neutral moniker became available was a manifestation of the character’s perpetual misuse. DeConnick changed all that, starting with the transformation into Captain Marvel.
What could have been little more that the tedious costume-swapping that happens when writers run out of ideas for characters with decades of mileage was instead a perfect expression of how DeConnick saw and respected the character of Carol Danvers, especially her history as an Air Force pilot. Whereas countless other writers took that foundational part of Carol’s history as incidental, DeConnick hinged her characterization on it, smartly determining that it held the key to the daring and fortitude that would send her bounding across the universe. That made it incredibly pleasing that DeConnick was able to take advantage of a line-wide dive into an alternate reality to close her tenure with the character by essentially plunging her into the superhero equivalent of a World War II flying aces story.
DeConnick succeeds like few of her peers largely because she brings a clear and vital point of view to her work. While that’s clear across her oeuvre, including in the current ongoing Pretty Deadly, the most potent expression of that perspective is in the Image Comics series Bitch Planet, which boasted one of the best first issues I’ve ever read. A science fiction series set on a prison world populated by women who’ve been deemed non-compliant, it has the makings of a towering epic, the sort of comic that subtly shifts the form on its wobbly axis. Already, the series has proven to be fearless and brutal, confronting the reader with the ugliness of patriarchal marauding. It is a cry of defiance against the dehumanizing strictures of societal norms stacked against acceptance of the full range of female voices. Bleakly funny, relentlessly tense, and vibrant in every way, Bitch Planet is the subtext of DeConnick’s other writing made hard and pressed onto the page, its forthrightness serving as a blast of resounding truth.
As my practice of filing reminiscences of comic books consumption under the heading “My Misspent Youth” implies, I wrestle with some residual embarrassment over my lifelong reading habit. There are times, rare and valued, when that tinge of shame evaporates. Sometimes the turnaround is even more dramatic. Reading DeConnick’s writing makes me proud that I’m a fan of comic books.
—Doris Kearns Goodwin