Retelling a superhero’s origin story can be a good way of introducing the character to a new audience. The best reinterpretations make us see characters in a new light, and in The Life of Captain Marvel, written by Margaret Stohl, Carol Danvers’ story is reimagined in a major way. Stohl takes Captain Marvel back to her New England roots, revealing insight into her complicated family life. The graphic novel is certain to please long-time fans of the character and act as a gateway for new readers.
Home is where the hurt is
The story begins with Carol recalling her childhood in the town of Harpswell Sound. A fun day of swimming turns ugly as Carol’s dad reveals himself to be violent and abusive. In the present, Captain Marvel is in the middle of a battle, and the memories affect her so badly that she has an anxiety attack. After getting some advice from Iron Man, Carol decides to return to Harpswell to confront the trauma she’s been avoiding for years.
“Fear is flowers in the snow, where no flowers should ever grow…a soldier in dress whites, still as a stone…a flag pulled flat and tight…just like the square of cold astroturf you’re standing on. Fear is the key of a B flat, the first slow notes of taps before you realise what they mean and where you heard them last…your brother Stevie’s funeral.”
“You thought this time would be easier. But nothing about Pops was ever easy. Fear is reaching for words when there’s nothing left to say. When I opened my mouth to speak, I could hardly breathe. Like he’d sucked all the oxygen from the world when he left it…left me.” – Captain Marvel
Carol reunites with her family and old wounds are ripped open. Her brother, Joe, resents Carol for leaving when their father was sick, while she has nothing but bad memories of the man who raised them. Joe storms off and gets into a car crash, forcing Carol to stay at home to look after him and their mother, Marie.
The situation becomes even more complicated when Carol finds old love letters from her father to another woman. After confronting her mother about the letter, Marie reveals her true heritage as a Kree warrior who came to Earth on a mission. The letters were written to the woman she used to be, before she became a housewife and mother.
“That was my choice. When Captain Mari-Ell became Mrs Joseph Danvers, I became the person I was meant to be. Just not the person your father had fallen in love with. Those letters that broke your heart, Carol? They were written to another woman, the one he was afraid of losing. Mari-Ell. Someone I no longer am. Someone I no longer want to be.” – Mari-Ell
Carol and her family are attacked by a Kree sentinel dispatched to Earth to punish Mari-Ell for abandoning her duty. Despite Carol’s best efforts, the sentinel overpowers her and manages to kill her mother. Carol vows to honor Mari-Ell’s memory and be the woman that she was always meant to be. So, rather than ending on a tragic note, I thought the graphic novel contained a message of hope.
Stohl’s interpretation of Captain Marvel is one of the strongest parts of the graphic novel. The reader can feel her pain in every panel as she struggles to reconcile the past with the present. Carol’s anxiety and PTSD is brought up several times, and I thought Stohl did a great job of capturing the sense of powerlessness that occurs when people suffer from anxiety attacks. There’s a scene where Carol panics so much that she falls into the sea and almost drowns. It’s a poignant sequence because Captain Marvel is meant to be one of the most powerful superheroes in the universe, but even she can’t fight against the crippling effects of her mental health disorder.
The character’s relationship with her mother is one of the major themes of the story, and I thought it was told beautifully. Mari-Ell is presented as wise and conflicted, proud of her daughter for who she became, but ashamed of keeping the secret for so long.
“When I look for Ma in our old family albums, I don’t even see her face anymore. Now she just looks like some kind of bright star to me, Captain Mari-Ell, daughter of Hala, a ball of cosmic dust and burning light. But as much as her light hurts my eyes, I can’t look away, and I can’t outrun her or even outfly her because nothing is faster than light.” – Captain Marvel
I was also satisfied with how Stohl tweaked the origin of Carol’s powers. In the original story, Carol received her abilities from an exploding device and her backstory was overly dependent on her connection to the original Captain Marvel. Her reinvention as a human and Kree hybrid helps her stand apart and gives her more agency.
The Life of Captain Marvel is a fantastic graphic novel that breathes new life into a character that has been around for over fifty years. I guarantee you’ll be feeling emotionally wrecked once you’ve turned the last page. Buy it now on Amazon.