Captain Marvel and Superhero Empowerment

An interview with Kelly Sue DeConnick, excerpted from "Project Superhero."

Posted Mar 07, 2019

Marvel's next blockbuster comic book movie adaptation is "Captain Marvel," who also figures to feature big in "Avengers: Endgame." I'll admit that I wasn't actually a huge fan of Captain Marvel in the comics, regardless of gender or version (I'm looking at you Mar-Vell, Monica Rambeau, Genis-Vell, Phyla-Vell, Khn'nr, Noh-Varr, and Carol Danvers). That is, until I discovered the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. Her version of the hero and the stories she told within the pages of "Captain Marvel" blew me away.

Kelly Sue DeConnick's Captain Marvel was a paradigm changer for the character and laid the groundwork for the Marvel movie. So, when I was writing my YA book "Project Superhero" and looking for inspirational and empowering folks for my 13-year-old protagonist "Jessie" to interview, I reached out to Kelly Sue back in 2012. To her credit and my everlasting gratitude, Kelly Sue was keen to participate in my project, which involved getting a letter and responding as with a real teen girl.

Kelly Sue's Captain Marvel is a great role model for empowerment and achievement especially for girls and women. What follows below is an excerpt from "Project Superhero" containing the correspondence between the real life Kelly Sue DeConnick and the fictional Jessie.

Monday, April 6 (Perseverance)

This is a MARVEL-ous diary entry! Captain Marvel, that is! Cade is feeling better and I got an answer back from Captain Marvel writer Kelly Sue DeConnick!

E. Paul Zehr & Kris Pearn
Kelly Sue DeConnick with Jessie in "Project Superhero".
Source: E. Paul Zehr & Kris Pearn

Dear Kelly Sue,

Wow. I am super excited to write to you. I’ve just read a bunch of your Captain Marvel comics—your stories are something else!

I didn’t really know much about Captain Marvel at all before, actually, even though the character has been a Marvel hero since 1967. But when I learned about the science fiction bits and how Captain Marvel gets power from an alien “Kree” technology and then Ricki (she works at Curious Comics where I get all my books and she’s awesome) told me about how your Captain Marvel—Carol Danvers—is such an amazing female superhero! It’s cool how you took Ms. Marvel and morphed her into Captain Marvel! It really made me want to ask you some stuff!

For a school project, I am trying to sort out what it would take to get the abilities of a human superhero. I settled on Batgirl. (BTW, don’t get me started. It was a whole thing all on its own trying to pick one superhero to focus on.)

I’m trying to train to be a superhero, but my friend Audrey thinks a better idea is to build a superhero. Her fave is Iron Man. She’s been reading Iron Man forever and was super stoked when Pepper Potts got her own suit to use.

Audrey’s mom is a biomedical engineer and Audrey wants to build an exoskeleton like Iron Man. “Ambitious much?” I asked. But anyway it’s a cool project. Sorry, got a little off track. Thanks for considering my questions!

Do you think it’s better to become, to be, or to build a superhero?

As tempting as it is, I think it’s a mistake to compare our experiences for what is “best.” What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely qualified to live our lives our “best.” If there’s a lesson to be learned from Carol, I think that’s it.

Maybe it sounds goofy, because you are writing Captain Marvel, but who is your favorite superhero? Is it different now from when you were my age? (I’m 13.)

It’s not goofy! When I was 13, my favorite superhero was probably Wonder Woman. I was born in 1970 and so the Linda Carter "Wonder Woman" TV show got its hooks in me early. These days it’s hard to say. Probably Captain Marvel, though!

Is Captain Marvel the most powerful superhero you can imagine?

She’s not, actually. But I don’t really want her to be. You follow? If she were the most powerful being in the universe, it would be hard to imagine situations in which she was challenged and Carol’s challenges are the opportunities she has to learn and grow. Just like you and me, huh?

I think one of the things that makes Carol special to me is that I find her relatable. I can imagine that her thoughts, emotions, and experiences are something like my own. If she were the most powerful being in the universe...well, we wouldn’t have very much in common then.

What does it feel like to write a girl superhero who’s so amazing?

It feels pretty good.

Did you always want to write comic books? Like even when you were a teenager? Is it fun?

I didn’t. When I was your age, I wanted to be an actor. My degree is actually in theater. I love my job, though. It’s hard work, but it’s fun and especially rewarding when I get letters from curious girls like you, Jessie.

I look forward to watching you punch holes in the sky. 

Your friend,

Kelly Sue 

I really like how Kelly Sue describes Captain Marvel as relatable. Just like I’ve been doing with Batgirl.

But I never thought of it quite the way she describes it: how heroes and superheroes can be so strong but still have weaknesses and fears.

But they go and do things anyway.

(c) E. Paul Zehr (2019)