There's a powerful movement happening in comics right now. It has defied expectations and adversity, thriving in previously uncharted areas. It is comprised and spearheaded by comics' most scarce resource -- new readers -- in a time when comics seem to be bending over backwards to welcome newbies with continuity driven crossovers. The movement held their first big meeting this past weekend, nearly a year after their inception.
That movement is the Carol Corps, and that meeting was the first Carol Corps panel at HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina. If I had any doubt prior to attending the panel that "Captain Marvel" represents the future of comics (which I didn't), it would have been punched into orbit after experiencing the full force of the Corps.
Even if I had missed the first Carol Corps panel, which would have sent me into a crushing spiral of regret, their presence was felt on the HeroesCon floor all weekend long. This was my second year attending the show, so I was there last year as "Captain Marvel" writer Kelly Sue DeConnick entertained the fledgling Corps and Carol curious last year with Captain Marvel buttons and Dexter Soy's preview pages for the first issue. Even before its release, "Captain Marvel" managed to play a small part at the 2012 HeroesCon.
This year, as far as I'm concerned, "Captain Marvel" stole the show.
DeConnick's line was long, filled with every type of person imaginable all united under one goal: meet Kelly Sue. The laughs, smiles, autographs, photos and gifts exchanged between the writer and her readers made for the most entertaining event at the con. They weren't fans seeking signatures for a stack of comics; they were fans with a sincere connection to an artist's work. The sincerity and excitement radiated outward from the table, and at times I just stood there to feel good.
Back to the Carol Corps panel: It was big. The last panel on Saturday proved to be so popular that it had to be moved to a bigger room. Friendly HeroesCon volunteers (there are no other kind, by the way) were stationed in the panel halls to direct people to the new location. The larger room was packed, easily the most attended panel I saw at the con. Among the attendees were a half dozen Captain Marvels and a male to female ratio that screamed "representative of the human race." Kelly Sue spearheaded the panel alongside Carol Corps superstar Nicki Coley and fantastic Carol cosplayer Kit Cox. The structure was free form, following introductions, a few announcements and a quick trivia contest to determine which lucky two readers got a sneak peek at the new Carol-centric crossover "The Enemy Within."
One of the first questions was, of course, about Carol's redesign as she was promoted from Ms. to Captain, from a fan who misses the lightning-bolt leotard. Truthfully, this could have been awkward, and it sorta was watching someone show dissatisfaction with a costume that a number of people in attendance had carefully (and awesomely) crafted to wear. But the panelists defused any awkwardness by being honest, respectful and understanding. Any discussion about Captain Marvel's new uniform has to touch on topics like feminism, the patriarchy, the male gaze and, you know, the ridiculousness of superhero costumes in general. All of these topics can, and often do, devolve into heated arguments. It's a testament to the intelligence and classiness of all involved, including the man who asked the question, that it didn't.
It was great to hear Kelly Sue go into why a new look was necessary for the story she wanted to tell. It was also great to hear Nicki Coley give heaps of praise to Power Girl's even-more-revealing classic costume. She made an excellent point, one that I will now do my best to paraphrase based on my memory of something said this past weekend.
"Power Girl owned her classic look, boob window and all, especially when drawn by Amanda Conner. I never felt that Carol truly owned her old look, but Carol does own this new look." That's really it, isn't it? That makes perfect sense, and the thing is... I love the Dave Cockrum design too, but I now see that Carol didn't own it the way she owns her new Jamie McKelvie designed duds.
The panel also contained plenty of another thing that Carol owns: camaraderie. As Kelly Sue talked about the importance of Captain Marvel's female and inter-generational friendships, I felt the same thing all around me. People were smiling at each other, laughing, and having a good time. One Captain Marvel cosplayer brought cookies, y'all.
But the most eye-opening part of the panel took place closer to the start, when Kelly Sue took a poll of those in attendance. She asked people to raise their hands if the following statements were true: if "Captain Marvel" was the first comic they read, if "Captain Marvel" was the first comic to get them into a comic book store, and if "Captain Marvel" was the first book they ever put on a pull list. People raised their hands for every single one, more and more with each question Kelly Sue asked.
That's when I realized "Captain Marvel" and the Carol Corps are the future of comics. The book's success cannot be measured in sales. It has to be measured in the passionate, new, lifelong readers that it has attracted. These are the sought after new readers who are actually new to comics! The future of comics cannot just be catering to the same fanbase that's stuck around for decades. It has to expand, and it can't just expand to snatching other companies' readers either. It has to get new ones.
I assume that the movies do an okay job of drawing in new readers, but then again I've never seen a group of passionate new readers rally around a book because of a movie. The internet's passionate Avengers fanbase isn't creating fanart around Jerome Opena's Marvel NOW! designs, they're still freaking out about that awesome movie. "Captain Marvel" has, somehow, created fans from literally nothing. It has pulled in readers that did not exist before, readers that love spending money and promoting the hell out of the book online.
"Captain Marvel" has accomplished all of this by starring a character that doesn't talk down to the demographic it represents. This isn't a book about a woman marketed towards the male comic book buying audience, but it also isn't a book about a woman marketed towards the female comic audience either. It's a book about a superhero marketed towards comic book fans, wherein that hero is treated with the amount of care and respect that we all want to see in those we admire.
I think women read "Captain Marvel" because it stars a woman who is treated as a whole person. Numerous panel attendees were able to articulate why they loved Carol without resorting to the standard powers and fights-centric reasons. They respect her ambition, her drive, her lame sense of humor, and her swagger. Panel speaker Kit Cox cited Carol's air force history as what drew her to start reading comics again as an adult, proving that it's who the character is that's important, not how efficiently they blow stuff up with their fists.
If you haven't tried the book yet, the current "Enemy Within" storyline is so far providing the character-driven, high-concept, rock'em sock'em action "Captain Marvel" has become known for. If you haven't tried it out, you really should. The Carol Corps is always looking for new recruits, and this is a movement you really need to get in on.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).