I'm going to remember this day for the rest of my life.
Now, I realize how melodramatic that sounds, which -- for me -- isn't quite characteristic. Sentimentality aside, yesterday heralded a change that will take hold of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the years ahead, following Marvel Studios' announcement of a nine-film lineup that includes "Captain Marvel" and "Black Panther." While this is certainly exciting, you may find yourself scratching your head over why this would hold any more significance than, say, any big announcement from Comic-Con International. So, let me tell you a story.
I can't say that I remember my first consciousness of comic book culture. By the time I reached an awareness of it, it already surrounded me -- perhaps not in the theaters, not as much as today, but definitely on the small screen. I have flashes of "Super Friends" and the '90s "X-Men" cartoon from my youngest years by virtue of the fact they were around, but there came a time when superheroes were the only thing I'd chose to watch on TV. Reruns of "Batman: The Animated Series," "Justice League," "X-Men: Evolution," anything of that nature I could get my hands on. In sharing this, I'd like to impress upon you just how accessible comic culture was thanks to television, even for someone who had no direct tie to the books themselves. It's come to the point where my generation -- and those that follow -- have and will grow up with a deeper understanding of superheroes than those previous.
I wouldn't step into a real comic book shop until I was in my late teens, but until then, I grabbed anything available to me -- although what I could find was patchy and not very consistent. (My first comic book was "New X-Men" #126 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly; I'm sure you can imagine how that went) As the people around me "grew out" of such things, and without anyone to guide me, I dwindled off for a spell, stuck watching countless reruns of the "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" movies and reading my good friend Wikipedia. But then "Iron Man" happened, and the world changed.
Again, with the theatrics! But that's how it felt to me, that quiet, shy girl who squirreled away her sparse comic book collection because no one else knew or seemed even remotely interested in them. Suddenly, people my age were talking comics -- friends who'd never expressed interest before, classmates, co-workers -- and I felt a little less strange, less immature, a little more comfortable with my hidden obsession. Maybe the world at large didn't change so much, but mine did, and -- as the franchise grew -- the characters that I'd been acquainted with for so long began to appear all around me, on T-shirts and hats, bumper stickers and mugs. For the first time, comic books were becoming really, truly accessible to me. For a while, I walked on air.
But as the years stretched on, something seemed to be... missing. And as my involvement in online comics communities grew, I began to recognize what that missing element was: central female protagonists. (I hesitate to use the word "strong," as it suggests physicality, and to its credit the MCU has had several kickass ladies who never needed to rely on their muscles.) The movies' main women's stories had, largely, revolved around their partner or paramour, and the one that didn't -- Black Widow (more on her in a bit) -- fell victim to Kevin Feige's hemming and hawing about lady-led films. "This isn't for women," that voice seemed to chide, reawakening the alienation and self-doubt I'd felt in my preteen years, "You don't belong here." Although that voice may not have been speaking the whole truth, it certainly felt that way. Unlike the Young Adult novels of my youth, the movies that I loved so much -- the world I so desperately wanted to be a part of, filled with wonder, laughter, and the suggestion that anything is possible -- whispered to me, "You don't get to be your own hero."
If that's how I saw it, I can't imagine how many other female fans felt stuck in that rut. Fortunately for me, however, I stumbled across something truly wonderful that brought me back in full: Kelly Sue DeConnick's "Captain Marvel" #1. I hadn't even wanted to pick it up at first, but -- at my boyfriend's insistence -- I brought it home. Just as I was slipping out of that world, Carol Danvers seized me the shoulders and said, "Not today." In DeConnick's run, Carol wasn't in the background of an ensemble, she wasn't the girlfriend or the partner -- she was her own damn hero, and her words and heroics inspired me. Finally -- finally -- I found a hero whose motivations and attitude resonated with me. "Captain Marvel" gave me the confidence to charge right back into comic books. For all my dabbling, particularly in the "X-Men," where I'd found so many similar characters, I'd never been so involved; with the Internet as my guide, I flung myself right back in the game.
But that's not all I got. Because of "Captain Marvel," I found a horde of similar-minded folk, women of all ages who had felt that same isolation and alienation I had; really, a group of people who'd found not only inspiration, but each other, through their love of Carol Danvers. (Well, I'm sure the Internet helped, too.) For the first time, I realized I wasn't as alone as I'd thought. With DeConnick at the helm, the Carol Corps forged a truly unique, fiercely inclusive safe space for women of the like I'd never encountered before, but hopefully will again.
The first time I attended the "Women of Marvel" panel at New York Comic Con, I choked back tears at seeing so many women and girls packed into the same room, celebrating something I'd loved as far back as I could remember. When DeConnick took the mic and said, "You are not alone," it felt as if she were speaking to the little girl inside of me who'd been terrified of mentioning her interests for fear of being labeled. I'm honored to have attended that panel and, of the many people in that room with me that day, I realize that I was one of only a lucky few who could afford such an opportunity. As comforting as it was to see like-minded people online, it's another thing entirely to witness the excitement and joy first hand. On that day, and on the panels that followed, I remember wishing I could share this moment with everyone who was moved by women in comics.
I don't have to wish anymore. With the announcement of the "Captain Marvel" film, that niche nature of celebrating women in comics comes to a fore. As important as comics are to many of us, they certainly don't have the accessibility and widespread acclaim of their cinematic counterparts. "Captain Marvel" has the ability to reach people outside of the comics community as well as within it. For the girls like me, who grew up feeling so alone, this is everything; this is the call to action, the turning point that shows that they aren't just some bit part in someone else's story. When that theater is packed with MCU fans eager for the latest installment, it's going to leave an impression on some little kid who's been looking for their own personal hero and finds one in Carol Danvers. Although I realize "Wonder Woman" is in the works, it's almost certain to be geared towards adults considering the nature of that universe; with "Captain Marvel," we'll likely have our first kids-inclusive superheroine. And you know what? As silly as it may seem at first, that's going to mean the world to a lot of people -- including me.
That brings me back to Black Widow. Let me first make one thing clear about "Captain Marvel" -- I am ecstatic. I am thrilled. I'm over the moon. It feels as though a weight has been lifted from my chest, that the tense knot in my stomach has eased. However, as psyched as I am about "Captain Marvel," the fact that Black Widow has been left in the cold can't help but cause discomfort. This shouldn't have been an "either/or" situation; it's nonsense to argue that one or the other deserves a film more, when in reality it should have been both. In yesterday's announcement, Fiege lumped Black Widow together with Hulk, saying that both will have big roles to play in the MCU to leave you satisfied -- but he must have forgotten already that the Hulk has had two feature films and his own cartoon, where Black Widow has had none.
What's more, a "Black Widow" film is a treasure trove just waiting to be mined. With Scarlett Johansson's star power (need I remind you, her "Lucy" beat out box office darling Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson in "Hercules"?), she'd rake in an audience on her name alone. Further, the established films have left her plenty to do. Here, I'll pitch one for them: The flashback to the ballerinas in the "Avengers 2: Age of Ultron" trailer brings back a flood of memories that Natasha has suppressed. With all her talk of "being unmade" in the first "Avengers" film, she's constantly worried that there are memories she still can't recall thanks to her brainwashing. When Wanda's hex opens a door in Natasha's mind that she hasn't realized was closed, she remembers that she was only one of the Red Room's dozen or so victims. In a "Jason Bourne"-like spy thriller, Natasha goes on the hunt for the other members of the Red Room, resulting in a deadly showdown between her and her successor Yelena Belova. Is that so hard to imagine? Now, Marvel, here's a thought: Why can't we have both? With a slew of male-led films across the spectrum, is it so wild to imagine two female-led films in two different, character-based styles?
My gentle criticism aside, the MCU is certainly headed in a fantastic direction; though I chide for Black Widow's slight, other films -- like "Inhumans" -- leave open a world of possibility for more women and people of color. I realize I can't speak for everyone, but the idea alone of "Captain Marvel" -- and, for similar reasons, "Black Panther" -- sends chills down my spine, even if it's the former that reaches me on a highly personal level. Alongside "Agent Carter," "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Jessica Jones," this reflects something we all know in a huge way: The comic book community isn't just a boys' club anymore. So when I say that I will remember this day for the rest of my life, I mean it -- because my world has changed again, and you're damn right that it's for the better. As Captain Marvel takes us higher, further and faster than the MCU has ever been before, I'm positive that somewhere -- somehow -- a little girl will realize that she can be the star she was always meant to be.