What Did You Do in The Carol Corps, Mom?

My Unlikely Membership in the Hashtag Army That Launched a Marvel Blockbuster

I was a 45-year-old woman standing in a line with a stranger dressed head-to-toe in blue spandex. She had a large gold star emblazoned on her chest. We nervously chatted while awaiting a chance at a duck face selfie with comic book author Kelly Sue DeConnick (why duck face selfies? See here.) DeConnick was the writer responsible for transforming Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel, into Earth’s Mightiest Hero: Captain Marvel.

I took in my new friend’s impressive cosplay, complete with tall red boots, meticulously based on artist Jamie McKelvie’s design. I loved it, but I thought to myself, “Well, I’m a fan, but I’m not that kind of fan.”

A few months later, no one was more surprised than me when I crossed the finish line of the Disney Princess Half Marathon dressed head-to-toe in blue spandex, a gold star emblazoned on my chest. It was time to admit it. I’d enlisted in the Carol Corps.

 

Origin Story

It had all started innocently enough. I’d been taking my kids to New York Comic Con for a few years and nurturing their love of comics and pop culture. But while I was geeky about other things like Star Wars and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and spent my 70s childhood watching Wonder Woman and Isis, I’d never actually read a comic book.

That all changed when I heard DeConnick interviewed on the Marvel Comic Con livestream. She was talking about Carol Danvers. I could tell she was a woman who had more than a few miles on her odometer before taking on the mantle of Captain Marvel. She was a woman with a past. And she was definitely a feminist. I needed to know more.

I screwed up my courage and walked into our local comic shop, prepared for the experience I had read about on Twitter–gatekeeping dudes who would make me feel like a fake geek girl. Instead, they welcomed me with open arms and handed me the first two volumes of DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run.

Cracking open the first book, I found the Gen X super hero I never knew I needed. The character Carol Danvers made her debut in Marvel comics the year I was born. She’d amassed six aliases (including Warbird, Lady Marvel, and Ms. Marvel) before accepting her destiny as Captain Marvel. She flew jets in the Air Force, ran security at NASA, hung with the X-Men, and edited a feminist magazine. A typical Gen X job jumper. It wasn’t exactly folding shirts at The Gap, but I could still relate.

Carol had been through her share of men. She forged deep friendships with women from a range of generations. She had a beloved cat named Chewie, an homage to Star Wars.

Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Carol Danvers

Many people with more comic book knowledge than me consider Captain Marvel to be the most powerful Marvel hero. She dabbles in time travel. She’s invulnerable. And she can punch the hell out of a dinosaur when required.

While I love her exhilarating battles with aliens and villains, her human flaws are what connected me to the character. Carol makes a lot of mistakes. She badly misjudges situations and has to fix things. She’s still angry about past slights. She can’t let stuff go. That sounded familiar. Captain Marvel hooked me.

#Carolcorps

I was hardly alone. The new Captain Marvel was a success by comic book standards. Kelly Sue DeConnick connected with her fans on social media and at comic conventions. She shared openly about her life as a working mom and she promoted the work of other women. Following her on Twitter led to following other Marvel writers and editors and discovering the Carol Corps.

The Carol Corps isn’t a secret society. Follow the hashtag (#carolcorps), and join the conversation. You’re in. Show up for a meet-up with the Women of Marvel or stay home and work on your “Higher Further Faster More” cross stitch. Cosplay. Don’t cosplay. Get a tattoo. Skip the ink. Add “︽✵︽” to your Twitter bio. If you say you’re Carol Corps, then you’re Carol Corps.

The Carol Corps is a gender inclusive refuge from misogyny. Community members celebrate and support women characters and creators in comics and science fiction. Many have also picked up Kelly Sue DeConnick’s independent comics, including the genre-exploding, feminist manifesto Bitch Planet.

Marvel caught on to what was happening. They introduced new women-led books, including a new Ms. Marvel, Muslim-American teenager Kamala Khan. Marvel employees Sana Amanat and Judy Stephens started the Women of Marvel podcast to provide a forum for their own fandom and promote the work of diverse creators.

A Long Wait For The Big Screen

On the film side of the House of Ideas, though, the brand took heat for canceling a planned Black Widow movie just as DC was announcing its Wonder Woman vehicle. In 2014, Marvel Studios announced that Captain Marvel would be the first woman character to lead a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Carol Corps celebrated and took a certain share of credit for this turn of events (Black Widow’s movie is back on, with filming scheduled to begin soon).

The long wait for the movie, including a delay when Marvel decided to release Black Panther first, tempered the Carol Corps’ euphoria. Then there was the all-important casting announcement. Academy Award winner Brie Larson thrilled fans on social media with posts that made it clear she embraced the Corps. She’s continued to live up to the almost impossible expectations of fans as she makes her way through interviews and red carpet events.

As Captain Marvel nears its premiere, my hero is everywhere. Where once it was difficult to find a T-shirt or action figure depicting the character, fans now have their pick from shelves loaded with Lego kits, dolls, books, shoes, Halloween costumes and even nail clippers. She’s no longer “our Carol.” She belongs to everyone.

Still, when Nick Fury sent his distress signal via beeper to Carol at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, I was the only person cheering loudly in the theater. Most people didn’t recognize Captain Marvel’s symbol. Would she be able to gain enough recognition among moviegoers to silence the naysayers who still blame lady Ghostbusters for everything wrong in the world?

So far, the answer is yes. Advance ticket sales for Captain Marvel have been as mighty as a blast from her sparkle fists. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity Wars scored bigger first-day sales. Most sources estimate opening weekend domestic box office income will hit somewhere between $120 to $150 million.

DeConnick handed over the reins to the Captain Marvel comics and moved on to other projects, including a new run of DC’s Aquaman, but her heart is still with the Carol Corps. She consulted on the movie and even has a brief cameo. When I saw her at Comic Con in October, she couldn’t talk about specifics, but she wanted those of us gathered around her to know that she was very happy with the movie, and that the Carol Corps would be as well.

Our chance to see for ourselves is finally here.

My Captain

Hillary Kwiatek

Disguised as a mild-mannered internal communications specialist at a prestigious university, Hillary Kwiatek usually devotes her writing talents to explaining the employee wellness program.

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