Kelly Sue DeConnick

52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work: Kelly Sue DeConnick.

52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.

Kelly Sue DeConnick came onto the Captain Marvel book during a transitory period where they shifted Carol Danvers from essentially wearing a big black thong and calling herself Ms.Marvel to updating her costume to something more modern so she could change her title to Captain Marvel.  Many consider these iconic changes to the character as serving for a precursor to the current female overhauls happening all throughout the comic industry right now.  During her time with the character, Kelly Sue has taken Carol Danvers from time traveling adventures, to deep sea robotic battles and even into space.  With these changes to the character only a few years old now, there’s no telling where DeConnick can and will take the character next!

Captain Marvel Vol 1:  In Pursuit Of Flight

Captain Marvel Vol 1 In Pursuit Of Flight coverWith a new costume and hairdo, Carol Danvers takes on the name of her deceased hero, Captain Marvel.  Coming to terms with the many sudden changes in her life as well as an ill friend, Carol Danvers fights to truly come into her own while she takes over the mantle of Captain Marvel.  As she’s whisked away through a time traveling adventure, Carol meets her long time hero, Helen Cobb, as well as an elite team of World War 2 female pilots known as the Banshee Squad.  Carol and all of the ladies she meets during he trip through time discover much about themselves and each other as they face plenty of challenging tasks along the way.

Kelly Sue DeConnick pushes Carol Danvers in a direction that cements her as one of the premiere female superheroes for not only the Marvel Comics publishing line but in comics overall.  Some people consider her approach to the character as supporting feminism, to which I agree with to a certain degree, but the far more important fact is her approach to the character shows evolution.  In my opinion, Kelly Sue DeConnick has done more for females in comics in the last five years than almost anyone else in this industry ever has, save for Gail Simone.  DeConnick’s approach to Captain Marvel helped to re-energize and push for stronger females in comics, not just as characters but on the creator side of things as well.  Since the re-branding of Captain Marvel we’ve seen absolutely stellar series with female leads from Marvel staring the likes of Black Widow, the new Ms.Marvel, Elektra, and Storm just to name a few.

Captain Marvel Vol 1 In Pursuit Of Flight interior 1Upon first describing Kelly Sue’s depiction of Carol Danvers, you may hear people use the terms “strong, independent female”, which is absolutely ridiculous.  You never hear a male character described that way but it seems whenever a solid depiction of a female character occurs she has to be portrayed as strong and independent.  It’s impossible to dispute that Carol Danvers is not both of these things, but that’s not what makes her important.  DeConnick writes her as a kick-ass hero who, at times, even takes charge ahead of Captain America.  Carol Danvers has vulnerabilities under DeConnick’s penmanship, some of which give you the feeling that DeConnick can all but relate to far too well.  That has to be the reason why Carol comes off so well on the page, because her problems are some the writer can truly tap into, not ignoring the fact that Carol has a history littered with odd events but never using those to bog her or the story down.  Not to turn this post too personal but both Carol Danvers and Kelly Sue have had well documented cases of alcoholism only to be completely sober now.  In some ways you could believe that Kelly Sue isn’t writing just about Carol Danvers, she’s also writing about herself.

Although the pacing can be a little odd in this one, the story is still plenty of fun in a way that will have you cheering for Carol from start to finish.  The first issue is a perfect introduction to the character, establishing some of her supporting cast, displaying Carol both in and out of the costume and showing brilliant dashes of her unique personality.  It’s a one-and-done story that tells new readers this is exactly who Carol Danvers is now and she is incredibly awesome.  For the remainder of this volume Carol spends a lot of time dealing with time travel hi-jinx, as she is given the gift of an old plane from hero deceased hero, Helen Cobb.  When she takes the plane out for a test flight she is thrown way back in time to Peru during the second World War.  For the next several issues she works with an all-female squad of ace pilots, the Banshee Squad, fighting to survive against the bizarre alien tech used by the enemy.  The alien tech has some direct ties to Carol Danvers’ powers before she is yanked away yet again to a few decades later where she gets to meet the woman who gave her the time traveling plane in the first place, Helen Cobb, as a much younger and exciting version of herself.  In some ways she actually mirrors Carol as you see her in the early stages of the story.  There are a few plot points that feel a little confusing but hey, that’s what happens sometimes with time travel stories right?

An important meeting between two ladies who love the sky.
An important meeting between two ladies who love the sky.

Although I could gush all day about how great Kelly Sue characterizes Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, it takes more than just characters to make a story work.  Kelly Sue shows that her knack is to definitely write awesome female characters but she also shows she can write an exciting history piece and interject it with weird comic mishaps.  This story could’ve easily been a convoluted mess of time travel but it’s broken down into manageable arcs wherein none of these arcs run more than three issues.  You essentially get three different stories that all interconnect but still stand up just fine on their own as well.  Kelly Sue manages the 1940’s timeline quite well as she plays up the struggles of being a female during that time period and inverts the misconception that women are weak all throughout that arc as she uses characters like the Banshee Squad, who are better pilots than most of the men from that time period.  Later on, you’re given a glimpse at the incident that gave Carol her powers and new readers get a bit of history while older readers get a more personal take on the scene.  All around the way Kelly Sue crafts her story and her settings is a great bunch of reading regardless of your taste in comics.

Good ol’Spidey.
Good ol’Spidey.

Collects:  Captain Marvel #1-6.

Best Character:  Carol Danvers.

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “…And we will be the stars we’re meant to be.”  – Carol Danvers.

Best Scene/Moment:  Captain Marvel giving orders to Captain America – Issue 1.

Best Issue:  Issue 1.  Although all the other issues that follow this issue are great and fun, issue 1 just epitomizes who Carol Danvers is, perfectly capturing what the character stands for and feels.  As I mentioned above, it’s a great one-and-done tale that still connects with the rest of the story and sets up some personal stakes for the character.  There isn’t a richer character depiction of Carol in any other issue than this one right here.  If I still need to sweeten the pot for you, it’s got an incredibly powerful scene showing what Carol does for a “rush” and she even does a bit of sparring with Spider-Man.  Awesome.

Why You Should Read It:  You’re going to read this volume to see how women should truly be written in comics.  There isn’t a better or stronger female writer than Kelly Sue DeConnick in comics right now.  Captain Marvel is to Marvel what Wonder Woman is to DC only she’s more with the times.  Carol Danvers just has those aspects to her character that I’m sure any woman, and even some men, can relate to.  The characterization is just stellar and proves that women can be handled in a tasteful manner in comics if you know what you’re doing.  If you want an awesome female superhero who takes names, kicks butt, and is just all around awesome than Kelly Sue’s Captain Marvel stuff is definitely for you.

Pretty Deadly Vol 1

Pretty Deadly Vol 1 coverKelly Sue DeConnick first teamed with artist Emma Rios on the Marvel limited series Osborn before working together on a few issues of Captain Marvel.  The two came together yet again for the Weird Western comic, Pretty Deadly.  The creative team was up for several Eisner Awards in 2014 for Pretty Deadly including DeConnick for Best Writer, Rios for Best Penciller/Inker and Best Cover Artist, and Jordie Bellaire for Best Coloring.  The intial print run for the first issue was a fan favourite and sold out quickly.  Together Kelly Sue and Emma Rios brought together one of the more original western comics being published today.

A Mason falls in love with a beautiful woman and fears the eyes of covetous men.  To protect the love of his life, the Mason locks her up in a tall, stone tower, away from the prying eyes of the rest of the world.  But the woman loathes the fact that she is locked away from the world, realizing that this isn’t a way to live life.  She calls for Death to come free her from her prison and the unexpected occurs when Death falls in love with the woman.  Together the two give birth to a daughter, Ginny, before the women passes on to the realm of the dead with her lover.  Many years later, Fox and Sissy travel among the West to spread the tale of Death Face Ginny to the rest of the world.  The two companions unknowingly draw Ginny’s attention upon themselves as they set out about trying to prevent a series of events that would dismantle the world forever.

Pretty Deadly is a neigh impossible comic to compare to anything because it is genuinely one of the most oddly unique comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  I’ve admittedly read this first and, thus far, only collection of the story at least three times now over the last year or so and every time I not only take something different from it but I understand the story much better than I did the time before.  As such I want to address some of the flaws before I move into the more positive areas in regards to Pretty Deadly because at first glance it’s easy to see why this series draws a mix of praise and ire.  When you actually break down the collection and take a strong glimpse at it though, you not only see the hard work that went into making this series but also how great it actually is.

Pretty Deadly Vol 1 interior 1To put it bluntly, Pretty Deadly can be confusing.  The series has an incredibly rich lore that it draws from, a lore of which is explained in varying degrees of success and failure.  From the opening moments, a fair amount of information is thrown at you.  You’re informed of Death Face Ginny, the daughter of Death, and how she is a byproduct of the greed men can experience.  Due to the greedy nature of the Mason, the lover of the woman who eventually birthed Death’s child, he loses the love of his life and in turn provides Death with the love he’s unknowingly always sought.  Maybe it’s the pace of the exposition or maybe it’s just the way the characters actually deliver the information, nonetheless it does come off a little awkwardly.  On top of the other plethora of characters thrown at you from the get go, there’s other bits of exposition throughout the story that just stumble instead of flourish.  It just seems to simply be a matter of pacing and not giving enough time to flesh out these story beats.  They’re great ideas that definitely enhance the experience for the reader but making this collection six issues instead of five would’ve given the story more room to breathe and potentially provide a bit more clarity to how events occur as well as how they’re delivered.

As I mentioned above Pretty Deadly is confusing but to me, that’s kind of a good thing.  The story never veers into predictable, keeping you guessing the entire way through.  It does suck that if you aren’t paying attention when you hit the last page you go “Oh wait, what just happened?” but too many comics nowadays hold the reader’s hand instead of letting them figure things out for themselves.  It is the writer and artist’s responsibility to help guide the reader along with understanding the story but at the same time it is on the reader to pick up on some of the subtleties of the story or moments that are just as much spelled out for a reader as they are implied.  It’s refreshing to see Kelly Sue craft a story here that, although at times confusing, is still thought provoking and forces you as a reader to actually pay attention instead of just zipping through the book so you can say you “read” it.  Too often as a reader do I find myself placing down a comic and not really thinking about how I got to the end, all I know is that I got there.  With Pretty Deadly you have to keep up with the ground work that’s laid down otherwise you will feel left behind and I say that of this series as a way of awarding it with high praise.

Pretty Deadly Vol 1 interior 2The lore and the characters of this series is what definitely comes off strongest in this collection of stories.  It’s the timeline and backgrounds that Kelly Sue builds that are truly fascinating and immersive.  Learning the history to characters like Sissy, Fox, and Ginny are what provide the story with its legs, easily making some of the most exciting moments.  The bizarre folklore nature mixed in with elements of the Western genre feels like something that’s been largely unexplored in comics up to this point but it’s something that Kelly Sue easily defines with Pretty Deadly.

When looking at the characters, there’s a deep cast to draw from for Pretty Deadly.  Your three most fascinating characters are the ones I mentioned in the previous paragraph:  Sissy, Fox, and Ginny.  Sissy, a young girl who brandishes a vulture costume, is the most important character in the entire story and to say anything beyond that would ruin EVERYTHING.  She carries the average characteristics of any young girl you’d find; she’s caring, compassionate but also naive.  The character of Fox is yet again someone who I can’t speak too much about without spoiling why he’s important.  Needless to say he is probably the second most important character of this story because of what he provides to it.  He is a hardened, old man who has some rougher edges but cares deeply for Sissy and it’s their relationship that provides one of the higher points to Pretty Deadly.  Death Face Ginny, the daughter of Death, is essentially your female badass protagonist who is all kinds of awesome, something Kelly Sue seemingly has a fine handle on writing.  Her character doesn’t go through much evolution throughout the story but instead serves to be the Clint Eastwood of this Western.  It’s difficult to sit here and try to talk about these characters without spoiling everything because it’s best to experience the twists of this tale through reading it instead of just having it told to you.  Rest assured Pretty Deadly and its characters are so much fun to ride along with during this Weird Western tale.

Emma Rios does a lot of thin, long panels instead of wide ones. Made it kind of hard to find a good one that I could say something funny or insightful about. Her artwork is awesome though.
Emma Rios does a lot of thin, long panels instead of wide ones. Made it kind of hard to find a good one that I could say something funny or insightful about. Her artwork is awesome though.

Collects:  Pretty Deadly #1-5

Best Character:  Ginny

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “I’m all three.” – Ginny

Best Scene/Moment:  Fox tells Sissy a story – Issue 3

Best Issue:  Issue 3.  This is the issue where, if you’ve been paying attention, everything falls into place and makes copious amounts of sense.  There’s a hefty bit of exposition but in the best way possible as Fox tells Sissy, and in doing so the reader, what Pretty Deadly is truly all about.  It’s just sublime work on Kelly Sue’s behalf in making sure the exposition feels clean and crisp while being informative instead of being a boring instance of info dump.

Why You Should Read It:  This is one of the weirdest, most original comic books to have been produced over the last few years.  It’s a Western that’s also not a Western at the same time and is a Fairy Tale but again, is also not at the same time with a bit of weird Horror mixed in ever so slightly.  Kelly Sue builds a long reaching story that doesn’t hold your hand and will be well appreciated by readers who want to think instead of just read.  This is one of the comics that really taught me to read between the line instead of reading the lines themselves.   At times you might get confused but if you pick up on what’s being laid down, this story is a Pretty Wicked read.

Dylan Routledge
Dylan Routledge

Dylan is the Assistant Manager for Big B Comics Hamilton. In his spare time he loves to talk, read, and write about all things comic book related.

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